What is Roller Derby?

Roller Derby is a full contact sport played on quad roller skates on an elliptical track. The game, known as a ‘bout’, consists of two thirty-minute halves; each half consists of a series of two-minute countdown periods, known as ‘Jams’.

Each team consists of 14 players, managed by a Line-Up and Bench Manager, who are responsible for deciding which skaters are sent on in each Jam. Bouts are overseen by a team of Referees on-skates and a number of NSOs (Non-Skating Officials) who are responsible for penalty-tracking and updating the scoreboard, for example.

In each Jam, 5 skaters from each team are on-track: 3 Blockers, 1 Pivot (identified by the striped helmet cover, known as a ‘panty’), and 1 Jammer (identified by the star panty).

The Jammer is the sprinter – usually the fastest and most agile players take on this role. Their aim is to make it legally through the pack, lap the pack, and re-enter to begin scoring points. One point is scored for each opposing player that she passes. (See below diagram.) The first Jammer to make it legally through the pack on their first pass is deemed ‘Lead Jammer’. Although both Jammers are still eligible to score points, only the Lead Jammer can cut the Jam short of the standard 2-minute period (by repeatedly placing her hands on her hips) if they are at a tactical advantage.

Pivots are the on-track boss during each Jam. It is their job to discuss strategy with their 4 teammates, to revise that strategy when required, and clearly communicate changes with the team. The Pivot usually skates at the front of the pack to form the last line of defence.

The role of the Blocker is both offensive and defensive. They prevent an opposing team’s jammer from passing through the pack using legal hitting and blocking techniques, and will also help their own jammer through the pack.

Roller Derby is played to a strict set of rules, set out by the World Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA, with a UKFTDA sister). Illegal procedures can result in minor and major penalties. Accruing four minor penalties or one major penalty will earn the skater a trip to the Sin Bin for either 1-minute or 2-minutes, depending on the severity of the penalty. Any skater who is unlucky enough to clock up seven major penalties will be expelled from the remainder of the bout.

The team with the most points at the end of the bout is the winner. Despite the results, awards are presented to each team from their opposition to credit their Most Valuable Player; Best Blocker; Best Jammer. It’s not unusual for some more light-hearted awards to also be presented, such as Most Trips to the Sin Bin, or Crash Queen.

Roller derby track

Roller derby track

Early in 2011, Glasgow Roller Girls filmed the below video for South Lanarkshire TV. It gives great insight into how much dedication and determination is required not just to play roller derby, but to be part of a roller derby league.


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