The Basics of Flat Track Roller Derby

Video produced for the WFTDA by Paul D. Piche with photography by Derek Lange.

The Positions

JAMMER: Tears through the pack and scores points by passing members of the opposing team. She wears the helmet with a star.

BLOCKER: Tries to stop the jammer and makes life difficult for the opposing team’s blockers. There can be up to four blockers on the track for each jam.

PIVOT: The head blocker wears the helmet with a stripe. She will often command the pack and is the only blocker who can receive a “star pass” to take the place of the jammer in the middle of a jam.

The Gameplay

The jam begins with the jammers behind the line and the blockers in front of it. When the whistle blows, the jammers blast off and fight their way through the pack. The first jammer to pass all of the opposing team’s blockers becomes lead jammer.

After making their initial pass, each jammer receives one point for each member of the opposing team that they pass. Each jam lasts up to two minutes, or until the lead jammer calls it off by tapping their hips.

You’ll often see the lead jammer call off the jam as the opposing jammer is nearing the pack, right before the opposing jammer has a chance to score any points.

Penalties

Penalties can occur for a number of reasons, but some of the most common are:

  • Illegal blocking – using an illegal body part to hit (elbows, forearms) or hitting another player illegally (middle of the back, clotheslining, above the neck, or below the knees)
  • Cutting the track – Passing an opposing player while out of bounds
  • Multiplayer blocks – Creating an impenetrable wall

When a penalty is issued, the offending player must leave the track and skate clockwise to the penalty box. Once seated in the box, the 30-second penalty begins. After 20 seconds, the offending player will stand, wait the remaining 10 seconds, then re-enter gameplay.

For the comprehensive official WFTDA rules visit www.WFTDA.com and click on Official Rules.

Common Questions

Isn’t roller derby fixed, like wrestling?

No way! Modern roller derby is completely non-scripted and very real. Anyone who has attended one of our bouts will tell you that this is a real sport with real rules, real fouls, and real athletes. It’s been a challenge to convert the “scripted” sport of roller derby into a fair and safe activity, but with the collective efforts from WFTDA’s member leagues, roller derby has made the transition to honest competition.

What happened to banked tracks with rails that you flip over?

For fifty years, roller derby was played primarily on concave (banked) tracks. These tracks were big and expensive and required reassembly as the derby skaters of the time barnstormed from town to town. In 2001 and 2002, skaters in Austin, Texas, lacking (at the time) the budget for a banked track, created the first drafts of a modified rule set to allow the same basic game to be played on a flat surface. The popularity of this style of play has been exploding around the world, as the ‘play-anywhere’ nature of the flat game has allowed skaters to learn the game without investing in a banked track infrastructure. The flat track version brings the skaters closer to the fans, and makes them more accessible than normal pro-sports figures. It literally puts the skaters in the laps of the fans … and they love it!