Roller derby is a contact team sport played on roller skates. (How rad is that??)
Two teams of five skaters each, consisting of one Jammer and four Blockers (actually, one Pivot and three Blockers – the Pivot is a special type of Blocker) line up on an oval track. The blockers form the pack and line up behind the pivot line (the “start line”). The jammers from each team line up behind the pack. At the whistle, the action starts and the jammers try to get through the pack, while the blockers try to prevent the opposing jammer from getting through, while trying to assist their own jammer in doing so. A jammer who breaks free of the pack gains Scorer status, and then gains a point for their team for each member of the oppose team that they pass.
The best way to learn the rules of the game is to watch! There are tons of derby bouts up on YouTube that are free to watch – in general the WFTDA championship games have the highest production quality and are therefore the easiest to start with, to watch and understand what’s going on. This tournament is broadcast by ESPN3 and has commentary and multiple camera angles so you can get a feel for what’s happening. Attending a local derby bout is also a good way to learn – but in person it is often easy to get overwhelemed or distracted since there is a lot happening!
A note on rulesets, penalties, and more:
One of the most confusing parts of derby is the fact that as a grassroots sport, there are several rule sets and not one governing body (like the NFL) who determines what rules govern a game or bout. WFTDA, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, is the biggest and most common rule set, but the rule book is extremely thick (over 200 pages) and difficult to learn. Old School, Banked Track, and Renegade are other versions of the same game. Recently an international governing body affiliated with the Olympics has come into existence and USA Roller Sports, or USARS, has created a rule set that allows for fast-paced, safe game play that has been adopted and adapted by the international roller sports body or FIRS. In fact, Roller Derby is on the short list for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and has its first ever World Championships in 2017.
At Seattle Roller Derby our goal is to learn the basic skills and concepts of roller derby, teach these skills and concepts in a safe and fun environment, and minimize confusion over penalties and odd rules. We play using the USARS framework (no stopping or counterclockwise movement, no helmet cover transfers for pivot breaks) to simplify the learning process. However, we may later learn other rule sets (such as WFTDA) if our members want to explore the idea of playing other leagues.