What is roller derby?

You can’t read a game review or an article on a league without seeing the question ‘what is roller derby?’ and ‘how did it begin?’

Although I welcome these questions, there are occasions when it can become tedious or, on rare occasions, insulting.

For more information or insight into those emotions, you should read the satirical Anti-Clockwise Blog and their blog post on how to write an article on roller derby.

So here’s a one-stop page on what roller derby is and where the sport currently is.

As much as I’m a fan of history, I’m going to spare you the finer nuisances of roller derby’s nearly 100-year history – mostly because it was staged and I wasn’t alive.

When did modern roller derby begin?

Modern roller derby began in 2000 in Texas. Originally it was going to be an entertainment package, but fortunately for me, and probably you, it escalated and became the world dominating movement it is today.

After the original entertainment package, the sport moved into two types of roller derby. Banked track (played on a raised oval track) and flat track (the type most common in the UK, and quite obviously played on a flat oval track).

Roller derby in the UK began in 2006 when the London Rollergirls formed.

Leading the way since then the London Rollergirls helped roller derby in the UK get set up. London Rollergirls, alongside the early UK leagues, helped the sport become something consistent and athletic.

By 2011 most major cities, and many smaller cities, in the UK had roller derby leagues.

The sport today

Well, it would be hard to update this every day to make sure it is always correct. But a brief overview of roller derby in 2015 shows the sport is incredibly popular, despite the media’s constant focus on the ‘carnage’ it is, and how much we fall over…

In the WFTDA’s recent demographic survey it was revealed that over 27000 people are involved in roller derby in some capacity.*

There have been two female world cup’s for roller derby up to date, and one for the men, with another planned in July 2016.

In the US, the most recent Championships were broadcast on ESPN 3, and the week before writing this article, roller derby received some comprehensive coverage on the BBC.

England Men's Roller Derby

Photo courtesy of John Hesse

Florence the Machine

Photo courtesy of Emi BK

What is roller derby

Photo courtesy of Zero G

What is roller derby and how do I play?

Roller derby is played by two teams on a flat oval track. The rules are overseen by the WFTDA, including the track dimensions. However, leagues that are part of the WFTDA community vote on any rule amendments or changes.

Each team will put forward 14 skaters for a game. At one time they’ll be a maximum of five skaters from each team. Those five skaters will be separated into four blockers and one jammer. They’ll play a two-minute jam.

After the two minutes, the jam ends, and there’s a 30-second gap before the next jam begins. For the next jam, a team can field another jammer and another four blockers.

Roller derby is officiated by seven referees and a crew of non-skating officials.

What are blockers?

Blockers are responsible for preventing the other team’s jammer from getting past them while helping their jammer get past the opposing team’s blockers.

They don’t score points, but they are points. Each blocker can be scored on by an opposing jammer if the jammer passes the blocker legally.

Blockers have legal ways they can hit with their body, and also legal areas they can be hit with (the jammers are also bound by these rules).

They’re also bound by ‘pack definition’ rules, which means that each team’s blockers cannot be more than 10ft apart.

What are jammers?

Jammers are point scorers. They are identified by a helmet cover with stars on it. They lap the pack of blockers to score points.

Every blocker they pass legally is a point for them, but only after they have completed their first pass.

On a jammer’s first pass they get lead jammer status instead of points.

Lead jammer is a status applied to the jammer who completed their first pass legally and the quickest. Typically, this means the first jammer who gets out for the pack of blockers the quickest; but occasionally it can be given to the second jammer if the first jammer committed a penalty while fighting through the pack.

Lead jammer status means that jammer can end the ‘jam’ before the 2 minutes are up. It’s a strategic advantage.

How to get into roller derby

Nearly every city and town as a local roller derby league so the best way to get into roller derby is to google your local city or town name and roller derby. They’ll almost certainly have a website and if not they’ll be a Facebook page.

I recommend getting in contact with them, as they’ll likely be recruiting or be able to advise you when they are recruiting new skaters.

Nearly all leagues in the UK are able to coach people who have never skated before.

They’ll also be able to advise you on where to get safety kit, or where you can borrow it until you’re ready to buy your own.

Alternatively, drop me an email at tonisadventures@gmail.com and I’ll see if I can help you!

A video on how to play roller derby

If you’d prefer to watch a video on how to play roller derby, here ya go. This fine production (albeit a little pink for my liking) was produced by The Women’s Flat Track Association. It gives a brief overview of what the game entails, the point scoring and the protection a derby skater wears.

Just sayin’ barely anybody wears fishnets of skirts anymore.

*Data from the 20 countries with 100 or more respondents

How I got into roller derby

I started playing roller derby in 2010, at the age of 18.

I got into roller derby because my mum started playing, mostly because our local team was sponsored by Motorhead at the time.

I literally had no interest in taking part in this sport, but after a couple of sessions and realising how awesome quad skaters I was hooked.

Nearly 6 years later and I’m still skating.

I began playing with the Lincolnshire Bombers Roller Girls, but I’m now a member of London Rollergirls. It was a super proud moment for me transferring into London Rollergirls, after watching them for so many years dominate UK roller derby and progress the worldwide ranks.


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