The Basics of Roller Derby

What is Roller Derby?

Roller derby is a contact sport played by two teams of Five member roller skating in the same direction around a track. Game play consists of a series of short matches ("jams") in which both teams designate a scoring player (the "jammer") who scores points by lapping members of the opposing team. The teams attempt to assist their own jammer while hindering the opposing  jammer, in effect playing both offense and defense simultaneously. 

Roller derby is played by more than 1,200 amateur leagues on every inhabited continent.    

While the sport has its origins in the banked-track roller skating marathons of the 1930s, Leo Seltzer and Damon Runyon are credited with the basic evolution of the sport to its initial competitive form. Professional roller derby quickly became popular with more than 5 million spectators in about 50 U.S. cities in 1940. However, in the ensuing decades, it became a forms of sports entertainment where the theatrical elements eclipsed the athleticism until the 21st century with a revival of the grassroot elements of the sport. Although some sports entertainment qualities remain, such as player pseudonyms, creative numbers, and colorful uniforms, scripted bouts with predetermined winners were abandoned.    

Roller Derby Rules 

Basic Bout

Each game of the derby (called a "bout") is played between two teams, each with five players in a lineup at one time on the track. Each lineup is made up of one pivot, three blockers, and a jammer. 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 (but are often covered with a plethora of stickers). Each game is 60 minutes, made of two 30-minute periods that are further broken down into two minute jams.

Although some of the terms and rules are explained below, there is a whole slew of regulations that govern game play and what is and isn't allowable. Clarks-Villain Roller Girls plays by the official Women's Flat Track Derby Association rules, which can be found here.

The Pack

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 are in the front, with the two 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. A few seconds later a double whistle will blow and the jammers will start sprinting through the pack. This is the jam.

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. 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 cold. Derby is a full-contact sport and skaters will use all legal means at their disposal to get the job done. This includes hitting the opposing team with their shoulders and hips, pushing and pulling on their own team members, and doing a cool slingshot-like maneuver called a "whip" to speed their jammer through the pack. 


   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 as the power to call off the jam early. This can be used as a strategic maneuver to call off the jam before the other team has a chance to score. If neither jammer passes through the pack legally, no lead jammer will be designated and the jam continues for the entire two-minute period. 


Through it all, the blockers are doing their thing: blocking. Blockers can hit members of the opposing team with their shoulders, hips, and torso. It is illegal to use the forearms, hands, or head; the use of elbows is strictly regulated. Skaters who block illegally, start fights, or otherwise break the rules will face penalties which can include everything from time in the penalty box to a complete expulsion from the bout. 
Roller Derby Positions 

Scores points by lapping opposing team members

A blocker who may be designated as a jammer during the course of a jam. Establishes team strategy during play.

Assists the team's Jammer to progress through the pack. Hinders the opposing jammer by preventing her from passing.

Referees the game and keeps the skaters in line.