What is roller derby?

This is the real deal. None of the action you’ll see is scripted or planned; you’ll see athletes who have trained all season, coaches who strategize and improvise, and officials who keep everyone in check.

The best way to learn about roller derby is to see it all happen. Come to a bout or two, and you’ll get it. There are fans galore who are willing to explain the rules, talk strategy, and otherwise bask in the glow that is this sport. Ask the person screaming the loudest – they’re likely another skater!

The Game

A roller derby game is played between two teams, each with a lineup of five skaters on the track at once. Each lineup is made up of one pivot, three blockers, and a jammer. The pivot is recognized by a striped helmet cover, the jammer wears a helmet cover emblazoned with a star on each side, and the blockers have no helmet covers at all (but their helmets often have a plethora of stickers). Gameplay happens in jams – each up to two minutes long, making up two 30-minute periods.

The Pack

The pack is where most of the action happens. It’s made up of blockers from both teams, and is the largest cluster of players on the track. Blockers can’t stray too far away from the pack, otherwise they will no longer be in play. Before the start of the jam, the pack forms in the straightaway of the track and the jammers line up behind them. Once an official signals the start of the jam with a single whistle, play begins.

The Jam

Each jam is a fight to score the most points. Jammers earn a point for passing the hips of an opposing skater. That may sound easy, but the opposing team is doing all they can to get their own jammer through the pack while stopping the other team’s jammer cold. Derby is a full contact sport and skaters have all kinds of tools to get the job done, like clearing opposing skaters out of the way with big hits, leaping and spinning around skaters, and assisting their teammates with a slingshot-like maneuver called a whip.


Before jammers can start scoring points, they must pass each of their opponents legally (upright and in bounds, without committing a penalty) The first jammer to make that initial (scoreless) pass becomes the lead jammer and gains the power to end the jam early – a power their team will use to their advantage to control points scored and determine whether or not someone in the penalty box gets to return to the track that jam. 

If neither jammer earns lead jammer status by making that first pass through the pack, the jam continues on for the entire two-minute period. If a jammer is determined lead by the on-skate referee, their referee will point to them with their arms in an ‘L’ shape. If the lead jammer decides to call of the jam before its natural 2-minute conclusion, they will end the jam by repeatedly tapping their hips with their hands to signal to the referee.


Through it all, the blockers are doing their thing – both stopping one jammer and helping their own at the same time. Blockers do this by hitting opposing skaters with their hips and torso, or by surrounding opponents and trapping them in place. It’s illegal to use forearms, hands, head, and elbows, and skaters who block illegally must serve time in the penalty box. Skaters can also earn penalties for fighting, tripping, skating off the track to get around other skaters, or otherwise breaking the rules.

And More

Remember the pivot? They can become the jammer in the middle of the jam! There are a whole slew of other rules that govern game play and regulate what is allowable. RCRD plays by the official Women’s Flat Track Derby Association rules. Check out WFTDA’s guide to referee hand signals to find out what the refs are calling.