What is Roller Derby?
Roller derby is a full-contact sport played on quad roller skates. The sport is based on players, divided into two teams, skating around an elliptical track and points are awarded to a player (the jammer) by passing members of the opposing team. The team with the highest score at the end of the match wins.
Each game of derby is called a “bout” and lasts for 60 minutes. A bout is made of two 30-minute periods that are further broken down into two minute "jams". When a jam is about to start both teams field five players as a line up. Each lineup is made up of one pivot, three blockers, and a jammer, who scores the point. The pivot is recognized by her striped helmet cover, the jammer wears a helmet cover emblazoned with a star on each side, and the blockers have no helmet covers at all.
The jammer is designated by wearing a star on her helmet. The jammers must break through the pack once and lap it before beginning to score. Jammers from both teams can score on their second time through the pack, at which time they get one point for each opponent passed that are up right and legally in bounds.
The lead jammer is the first jammer to break through the pack passing all the opposing blockers and pivot in bounds and without penalties. As lead jammer she may, at a strategic time, call off the jam to prevent her opponent from scoring more points which she does by motioning her hands from her head to her hips repeatedly.
Pivots are blockers that can receive a ‘star pass’ from the jammer. That is, the jammer can transfer her jammer status to the pivot by taking off her helmet cover and giving it to the pivot to put on. This then makes the pivot the active jammer and they can continue to score points.
Outside of the pivot, each team has three additional blockers on the track. Blockers can hit members of the opposing team with their shoulders, hips, and torso. It’s illegal to use the forearms, hands, and head, and the use of elbows is strictly regulated. Skaters who block illegally, start fights, or otherwise break the rules face penalties which can include anything from time in the penalty box to a complete expulsion from the bout. Blockers play vital offensive and defensive roles, helping their jammer get through the pack while simultaneously working together to block the opposing team’s jammer.
The pack is made up of pivots and blockers. At the start of the jam, the pack lines up along the straightaway of the track – pivots and blockers in the front, with jammers positioned 20 feet behind. A referee or timekeeper will signal the start of the jam with a single whistle and the pack will start skating, with the jammers trying to sprint through the pack. This is the jam.
Each jam is a two-minute race to see which jammer can score the most points. The jammer earns a point for every member of the opposing team she passes after her initial lap. That may sound easy, but the opposing team is doing all they can to get their own jammer through the pack while stopping the other team’s jammer. Skaters will use all legal means at their disposal to get the job done, including hitting the opposing team with their shoulders and hips or pushing and pulling on their own team members.
Each jammer must make one complete pass through the pack before she can begin accumulating points. The first jammer to move through the pack legally becomes the lead jammer and as such has the power to call off the jam early – a strategic advantage that allows her to score points and then call off the jam before her opponent has the chance to score. If neither jammer passes through the pack legally, neither becomes lead jammer and the jam continues on for the full two-minute period. If the lead jammer loses their lead jammer status (for example, through a penalty) the jam also then continues for the full two-minute period.
Penalties and rules
Most current roller derby leagues use rules developed by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). You can read the full rulebook here:
In short the rules are:
*No back blocking (pushing from behind)
*No deliberate falling in front of another skater
*When using arms for blocking, the arm must be bent, not extended full length
*No use of elbows as a weapon to the chest or face
*No blocking 20 feet ahead of or behind the pack
*No grabbing or pulling a skater from the ground
*It is illegal to GRAB, HOLD or PULL an opposing player.