A Short Introduction to Roller Derby

What is roller derby?

So you’re new to roller derby. Great! Let me take the time to officially welcome you to the world’s fastest growing sport and quite possibly the most fun thing you could do with your life. Whether or not you’ve discovered derby through a friend, going to a local bout, or even watching Whip It, we’re just glad you finally found us. Roller derby may have gotten its start in the mid-thirties, but it has changed quite a lot since then, and it can be frustrating to try to understand the plethora of rules involved.
So how do you describe roller derby? Well besides being flawless, roller derby is sport played on a flat track with 60 minutes to play the bout or game. Just like football, the bout is broken up into 2 half-hour periods with a halftime in-between. Each period is broken up into 2 minute long “jams”. Only the head referee or lead jammer can call off the jam, which is when the jam ends before the full 2 minutes is up. The game is played 5 on 5 with 4 blockers and 1 jammer per team. Blockers from both teams create a maelstrom of people known as a pack.
A blocker’s job is to hold back the other team’s jammer while allowing their own jammer to get through. The jammer’s sole purpose is to make as many laps around the track as possible in a given jam. The jammer has to make an initial lap around the pack of blockers. After that initial pass, the jammer will earn points for passing every opposing blocker on the track. Whoever has the most points and the end of the game wins! I would say it’s that simple, but there enough rules and penalties to confuse Confucius. I’m actually pretty positive that Calvinball has less rules than roller derby. If you are brand new to the world of roller derby, then don’t even worry about the rules until you have seen a few games.

Calvin & Hobbes playing Calvinball

If you want to really get in on the roller derby action, then FIND YOUR LOCAL TEAM! Support local roller derby! The people that ref, NSO (non-skating official), volunteer, and compete are not only amazing but more diverse than a box of crayons. They may be lawyers, teachers, scientists, artists, students, doctors, or even bagging your groceries. The beautiful thing about roller derby is that anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are. Anyone can play. Anyone. Look at any other major sport and you will quickly see a bias towards players that are taller, or bulkier, or smaller and faster. Not in derby. And that fact alone sets it apart from every other sport.

I’m interested in going to a bout.  Now what?

When you show up to a roller derby bout, make sure you experience all of it. Sit in the suicide seating, the safety barrier right on the floor. Is it comfortable? Not quite. But you do it anyway so you can see better and have the off chance of having a roller girl slam into you when they get knocked out of bounds. It makes things way more interesting than sitting in a (relatively) comfy chair and it’s totally worth it. Also, get a program and look at all the derby skaters and sponsors. You might be amazed at who supports local roller derby! Your local coffee joint, favorite comic shop, or maybe even a chiropractor or two. You will realize that there are fans of derby everywhere.
If roller girls are your local superheroes then a great way to meet them is to go to the after party (look at the bout program). Plus, it’s a great way to meet other roller derby fans. The best way to meet your local superheroes however would be to simply ask someone about volunteering. Roller derby is a community of awesome and committed people who love to play and watch this amazing sport. Ask about volunteering if you want to get closer to roller derby.
If by some sad luck there is no local team near you, but you would like to see or learn more about roller derby then you can go to WFTDA (the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association) for more information. They have a channel on YouTube where they upload full games that you can watch whenever you want.
Long story short, if you are new to roller derby we’re happy to have you as a fan, spectator, photographer, volunteer, or potentially a skater. You will be warned that if you like roller derby, you very well might want to actually become a part of it. What can I say? Roller derby is contagious. It’s a hard hitting, full-contact sport that ironically leaves you feeling superhuman and it restores your faith in humanity. So go to WFTDA.com to find out where your local team is! Get in on the amazing ride that is roller derby!


The author of this post would rather remain anonymous, so we will respect her wishes.  But we will say that she HITZ pretty hard!