Talk Derby to Me

This post is special to me. In the few months I’ve been writing this blog it’s sort of become my pet and it means a lot to me. A few weeks ago I received my first ever comment on a post and in it a request for a specific post. Well, here it is. This post goes out to that reader. Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting. Now, as per your request, let me explain roller derby to you.

In the few months I have done derby I have been asked dozens of time how the sport works and, almost always, when I try to explain people’s eyes glaze over. It’s a confusing sport to understand, especially without visuals. So I am going to try to break it down to it’s simplest form and incorporate visuals. Here goes.

For those that don’t know, roller derby is played on a oval track and each game is called a bout. Each team has five people one the track at a time, four blockers and one jammer. The jammer is easy to recognize. She is the skater with the star on her helmet. The jammer is the only skater who can score points. Below is an example of how skaters line up. A pivot is, in the simplest terms, a fourth blocker.

derby lineup
Image from Limerick Derby

When the whistle blows a “jam” begins and the jammers fight to get through the blockers. The first jammer through becomes lead jammer. Once they come back around the track, jammers again fight to pass the blockers. However, this time every blocker (or opposing jammer if they have not made it through yet) passed is a point. Jammers keep fighting for points until the jam ends. The jam ends in one of two ways, the lead jammer calls it off or two minutes go by. A lead jammer calls off the jam by tapping her hips. Skaters then line up for a new jam. Play continues for two thirty minute periods. At the end of the bout, the team with the most points wins. Below is an illustration of someone gaining lead jamming status.

Lead jammer
Image from Montreal Roller Derby

Now, that is the bare minimum. Any player on the track can get called for any number of penalties and when they do that skater must serve time in the penalty box, similar to hockey. That skater’s team must then skate shorthanded. Jammers can also be called for penalties. This gives the other team’s jammer an advantage.

The two teams of blockers must stay within 10 feet of each other to remain in play. If they are spread too far apart without having one player “bridge the gap” they may no longer engage with jammers. This can help with game play strategies. Below is an illustration showing how blockers, in this case blue blockers, can become out of play.

Image from

If a jammer cannot get through a wall of skaters she can choose to pass her “star” or helmet cover signifying her jammer status to the pivot. However, if she does this the new jammer cannot earn lead jammer status, even if she makes it out of the pack first.

Lastly, players can choose to play offense which basically boils down to assisting your jammer break through a wall of blockers instead of trying to hold the opposing jammer. Offense can also be played passively.

Now that’s a lot of words all at once. Words are much harder to understand than visuals. So if my rambling did not help you get the gist, here is a video from the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association:

I hope you now have at least some understanding of the derby world. If you have lingering questions, please feel free to ask. Watching derby is one of the best ways to learn derby so, if you’re in the area, come out and see the Circus City Derby Dames skate in their two home bouts of 2017 on July 22 and September 16.

Thanks for the request and thanks for reading!



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