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About Derby

Courtesy of Women’s Flat Track Derby Association

I used to love watching roller derby on TV! Is it like that?

Yes and no. The fast-paced action, body checks, and whip assists are all still very much part of the game. However, flat track roller derby rules and the different physics of skating on a flat surface, versus a banked track, make the strategies and game play very different. Also, in its later years, televised roller derby was staged, like WWE-style wrestling. Flat track roller derby is a legitimate sport, and the hits, spills, and competition are all 100% real.

I bet you throw a lot of elbows, right?

Not unless a skater wants to spend some quality time in the penalty box!

There are plenty of legal ways to send an opponent flying into the third row but, to keep the game play safe and competitive, there are rules governing how and when players can make contact with each other. Throwing elbows, pushing or tripping opposing skaters, and “clothes-lining” opponents by linking arms with your teammate are among the prohibited actions that can earn skaters a minute in the penalty box. Like other sports, more serious offenses like fighting or intentional tripping can get a skater kicked out of the game.

What is flat track roller derby?

 Flat track roller derby is a fast-paced contact team sport that requires speed, strategy, and athleticism. The flat track version of the sport evolved in 2001, and has quickly grown to encompass close to 1,000 leagues worldwide. This is in large part due to the ease of setting up a flat track–it can be done on any flat surface that is suitable for skating, such as skating rinks, basketball courts, parking lots, and even airplane hangars. This greatly reduces the capital needed to start up a roller derby league, and allows small groups of people to get a fledgling league off the ground. The DIY spirit that drives the sport allows roller derby leagues to create their own unique identities and adapt their structures to reflect their local communities.

How do teams score points?

The skaters wearing a helmet cover with a star on it are the jammers. After making it through the pack of blockers once, the jammer begins scoring points for each opposing blocker she passes legally and in bounds. She can also score points on opponents who are in the penalty box and can get a fifth point if she laps the opposing jammer. Blockers are trying to stop the opposing team’s jammer while helping their own jammer get through.

What are all the playing positions?

A team’s full lineup for a jam will consist of one Pivot, three Blockers and one Jammer. Each team may field up to five players for each jam.

  • Pivot – The pivot blocker wears a helmet cover with a stripe on it. She generally starts at the first starting line and serves as the leader of her teammates playing in that jam. As most teams play the pivot position at the front of the pack, she is also often the last line of defense to stop the opposing jammer from escaping the pack.
  • Blocker – The other three blockers do not wear helmet covers. All blockers may all play offense and defense at any given time and frequently switch between offensive and defensive tasks. The rules do not differentiate the remaining three blocking positions from one another. However most roller derby teams choose to assign names and focus areas to the blocking positions for strategic purposes.
  • Jammer – The jammer wears a helmet cover with a star on it. She lines up at the second starting line and begins play at the second start whistle. The jammer’s goal is to pass opposing blockers and emerge from the pack as quickly as possible. If she is the first of the two jammers to escape the pack without committing any penalties, she gains the strategic advantage of being able to stop the jam at any time by placing her hands on her hips. Once a jammer laps the pack, she begins scoring one point for every opposing blocker she passes legally. She can continue to lap the pack for additional scoring passes for the duration of the jam.

Why don’t jammers score on the first pass?

The first pass is used to establish “lead jammer.” Lead jammer the first jammer to make it through the pack by passing her opponents legally and in bounds. The lead jammer gains the strategic power to end the two-minute jam early. The lead jammer is not always the first jammer out, and it is possible to have no lead jammer if both commit a foul while trying to clear the pack. If there is no lead, the jam lasts the full two minutes.

Is roller derby real?

The roller derby you may have watched in the 70s and early 80s was often scripted and rehearsed. The roller derby of today is real and is thought of as more of a sport than a spectacle. The skaters involved are athletes and take the sport very seriously. They train hard every week and wear their bruises and scars with pride. One reason there are so many referees rolling around is to enforce the rules, which are in place to protect athletes’ safety and preserve fairness. Among other things, skaters are not allowed to elbow, punch, grab, head butt, trip, or shove the opposing team. There are still plenty of hard hits, hard falls, and fast action.

What’s up with all those roller derby names?

Skaters are “normal” during the day. We work, we’re moms, students, etc. Roller derby is our escape from day-to-day life and our opportunity to embrace a tougher, edgier side of ourselves. When you step into the rink, your derby alter ego takes over.

Derby names are creative and fun and can either be tough or just plain funny. There are a few leagues whose skaters are starting to skate under their legal names.

What equipment do I need to play roller derby?

You will need a helmet, mouth guard, wrist guards, elbow pads, knee pads, and a pair of quad “speed style” roller skates.  You’re looking at spending from $150 to over $500 for your gear and, like everything else, you generally get what you pay for. 

What is the WFTDA?

The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association is the governing body for women’s flat track roller derby, and a membership organization for the leagues to collaborate and network. The organization develops and maintains the standardized rules for roller derby, in use by WFTDA member and non-member leagues internationally. The WFTDA also serves as the sanctioning body for flat track roller derby games, hosts regional and national tournaments, sets safety standards, provides roller derby insurance to athletes and leagues, and serves as a networking venue for flat track roller derby leagues to share resources and get advice. There are currently 133 WFTDA member leagues.