How to Play Roller Derby

At Raw Meat, we’ve started to do some no-contact scrimmaging. (And it’s awesome!!!) What’s a no-contact scrimmage? Well, it follows all the rules of a regular WFTDA game, but with absolutely no hitting. This is great fun, and it’s also great practice for all levels of skater. For the technically awesome skaters, scrimmaging offers endless opportunities to devise strategy. Derby can be as challenging and as strategic a game as chess. Very, very fast chess. Beginners, while they may not have the fancy skating moves, can still help their team enormously. By staying aware, and communicating with their team, beginners can save the day. But first, everyone needs to know the rules.

Derby can get complicated.Over the coming months, we’ll explore all sorts of strategies and techniques for kicking ass. Right now, let’s all get the same basic understanding of derby, and we’ll build from there.

Roller Derby 101

Roller derby is a simple game. It’s played on an oval track. There are five players per side, one jammer and four blockers. The blockers are both offense and defense. They try to stop the other jammer, and help their own jammer. Jammers are the ones who score the points. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins.

A Roller Derby bout is made up of a series of jams. At the start of each jam, the blockers line up on the Pivot line. The jammers line up behind them on the Jammer line. One whistle blows, and the blockers head off down the track. When the last blocker passes the Pivot line, the ref blows two whistles, and the jammers are off. The jammers have to get through the pack* once, then they can score. On the second pass through the pack, a jammer scores one point for each member of the opposite team she passes. If she’s able, she can keep circling the track and passing through the pack to get more points.

*Pack: The pack is defined as the largest number of skaters–from both sides–within 10 feet of each other. If a blocker is more than 20 feet away from the pack, she can no longer engage the other team’s jammer, and has to just let her skate by.

Each jam lasts up to two full minutes, however, the lead jammer has the right to call off the jam. The lead jammer is the first jammer to get through the pack without any penalties. If both jammers get penalties, there is no lead jammer, and the jam lasts two minutes. A Jam is called off by four whistle blows from the ref. It’s not over till that fouth whistle, so keep skating hard!

Here is a fantastic video that explains roller derby:

What About the Refs?

Derby is a complicated game, and without the referees, it would just be a bunch of girls skating in a circle, kicking each other’s assess. (Not that that sounds like a bad game…) Referees assign penalties, count the points, blow the whistle to start and stop the jams, and generally keep everything functioning smoothly. At Raw Meat, we have a number of fantastic refs who help us learn the complicated rules. Here’s a guide to the crazy hand signals they make:

Raw Meat Homework

Roller Derby gets complicated, so at Raw Meat we’re going to slowly master the rules and the strategy. For starters, let’s consider the role of blockers.

On each team, there are four blockers, as follows:

The Pivot: The Pivot wears a striped helmet cover, and she is the leader of her team’s blockers. She sets the pace of the pack, and gives tactical instructions to the other blockers. Assuming the Pivots are lined up to skate right at the Pivot line, the other blockers on her team must line up behind both Pivots’ hips, or it’s a false start.

The other blockers are 2, 3 and 4. (In some leagues, they might be 1,2 and 3, but never mind). In any given play, each blocker is going to have a specific job. We’ll get to some examples in the next few months. For now, just take away that there are four numbered positions, and in any given play, your number is going to have a role.

Remember that the blockers, from both teams, have to stay close to each other to form the pack. There are many strategies for slowing down and speeding up the pack, depending on where your jammer is. Just try to picture how the speed of the pack might help your jammer, or hurt the opposing jammer.

Here is an excellent explanation of a simple two-player wall from Rose City Rollers. Read through it, and just think about how this could work in a game. That’s it, that’s your homework. Always remember that at Raw Meat, we can use positional blocking, but never any hitting. We have skaters at all levels skating together, and we need to keep everyone safe. Our goal is to develop wicked skating skills and jedi mind tricks.

Bonus Points

Alright, for you keeners out there, there’s always more to learn.

Check out this roller derby glossary from Silicon Valley Roller Girls.
You’ll hear lots of these words at Raw Meat.

Review the WFTDA Rules, and try out the Raw Meat WFTDA Rules Quiz! Sorry, everyone, the cupcake offer has expired.

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4 Responses to “How to Play Roller Derby”

  1. punchy February 22, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

    Very rad! Thank you to the Raw Meat’s Meat-inatrix ๐Ÿ˜€

    I recall someone mentioning last week, “its not easy to learn/understand derby, its not as though we played derby in high school PE or anything.” But having resources like you ladies/zombie coaches/ refs really helps to flush out our derby education. I am looking forward to Saturday’s more and more ๐Ÿ™‚

    <3<3<3

    .punchy.

    • Melinda February 22, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

      Aw, shucks, Punchy! Thank you! And I like Meat-inatix. I like a lot.

  2. Jenn A. February 23, 2011 at 12:50 am #

    Thanks Mel! This helps a lot and is a great reference for boning up on my rules knowledge ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Hammer February 25, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    That’s awesome ladies! We are on such a wicked path with learning. I am going to print out the WFTDA rules to bring to Raw Meat, just for reference ๐Ÿ™‚ You girls probably have done that anyways, but it’s been awhile for me, and I need it lol. I read over the rules about Passive positional blocking that includes no contact ie(hitting, or douchbagging) which will be helpful with regards to our goals of keeping it no contact, but still challenging. I seriously live for Saturdays now, and get ready way before I need to be at practice..lol