Roller derby

Roller derby
Roller derby
Charm City Roller Girls (Baltimore, Maryland).
Contact Collision
Categorization Roller sport
Equipment roller skates
knee pads
wrist guards
elbow pads
mouth guards

Roller derby is a contact sport played by two teams of five members roller skating in the same direction around a track. Game play consists of a series of short matchups ("jams") in which both teams designate a scoring player (the "jammer") who scores points by lapping members of the opposing team. The teams attempt to assist their own jammer while hindering the opposing jammer —in effect playing both offense and defense simultaneously. Roller derby is played by more than 1,000 amateur leagues on every inhabited continent.[1]

While the sport has its origins in the banked-track roller skating marathons of the 1930s, Leo Seltzer and Damon Runyon are credited with the basic evolution of the sport to its initial competitive form. Professional roller derby quickly became popular; in 1940 more than 5 million spectators watched bouts in 50 US cities. In the ensuing decades, however, it predominantly became a form of sports entertainment where the theatrical elements overshadowed the athleticism. This gratuitous showmanship largely ended with the sport's contemporary grassroots revival in the first decade of the 21st century. Although some sports entertainment qualities such as player pseudonyms and colorful uniforms were retained, scripted bouts with predetermined winners were abandoned.[2]

Modern roller derby is an international sport dominated by all-female amateur teams, in addition to a growing number of male, co-ed, and junior roller derby teams. Most modern leagues share a strong "do it yourself" (DIY) ethic which uniquely combines athleticism and elements from punk, camp[3] and third-wave feminist aesthetics.


Game play

A Charm City All Stars (Baltimore, Maryland) blocker vs. a Rhode Island Riveter (Providence, Rhode Island) jammer.

Contemporary roller derby has a basic set of rules, with variations reflecting the interests of a governing body's member leagues. The summary below is based on a comprehensive rule set developed by the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA),[4] which is used by the vast majority of leagues. In March 2010, Derby News Network claimed that more than 98% of roller derby competitions were conducted under WFTDA rules.[5] For example, members of the United Kingdom Roller Derby Association are required to play by WFTDA rules,[6] while members of the Canadian Women's Roller Derby Association are encouraged to join the WFTDA.[7]

Basics of play

Roller derby is played by two teams of five members simultaneously skating counterclockwise on a circuit track. Each team designates a scoring player (the "jammer"); the other four members are "blockers." One blocker is designated as a "pivot"—a blocker allowed to become a jammer in the course of play.[8] The jammer wears a helmet cover bearing two stars; the pivot wears a striped cover; the remaining members' helmets are uncovered.[9]

The bout is played in two periods of 30 minutes.[10] Point scoring occurs during "jams": plays that last up to two minutes.[11] During a jam, points are scored when a jammer in scoring position laps members of an opposing team.[12] Each team's blockers use body contact, changing positions, and other tactics to assist its jammer to score while hindering the opposing team's jammer. Certain types of blocks and other play are violations; referees call penalties and require violators to spend time in a penalty box.[13]


Canberra Roller Derby League's Brindabelters participating in a point scoring jam.

Play begins by blockers lining up on the track's starting line (the "pivot line"). The jammers start from a second starting line 30 feet behind. With a starting whistle, the blockers begin to skate; when the last blocker crosses the pivot line, a second whistle signals the jammers to start.[14]

The skating blockers form a "pack": while blockers must maintain the pack by remaining within ten feet of the next-nearest blocker, they may move freely and skate anywhere on the track.[14] The first jammer to legally pass all opposing blockers wins the status of lead jammer for the remainder of the jam.[15] Subsequent to her first pass through the pack, the jammer scores a point every time she laps an opposing team member.[12]

Demanda Riot, a B.ay A.rea D.erby Girl (San Francisco, California) prepares to block.

The lead jammer can stop the jam at any time by signaling to the referees[16] by placing her hands on her hips. If the jam is not stopped early, it ends after 2 minutes. Teams then have 30 seconds to form up for the next jam.[17] Team members typically rotate between jams from the 14 players on the team's roster.[10] Designations may change between jams: a pivot in one jam might be the jammer in a later jam.[18]


Lonestar Rollergirls in Austin, Texas, play on a banked track. This shows a Jammer (wearing the starred helmet cover) trying to pass a Pivot (wearing a striped cover) with various blockers assisting
Position Helmet Cover Responsibility References
Jammer Stars Scores points by lapping opposing team members [18]
Blocker None Assist the team's jammer to progress through the pack. Hinder the opposing jammer by preventing her from passing. [18][19]
Pivot Stripes A blocker who may be designated as a jammer during the course of a jam. Establishes team strategy during play. [18][19]


The jammer scores by passing opposition team members. Each jammer must first complete a pass of all the opposing team's blockers. After this initial pass through the pack, the jammer scores a point each time she passes an opposing team member, including the other team's jammer.[18] For example the jammer for team A may pass 5 blockers during a jam, the jammer for team B passes 3. When the jam ends—either because the 2-minute limit is reached, or because the lead jammer has "called the jam" beforehand—the score would be 5 points for team A, 3 for team B.[20]


Roller derby skaters attempt to knock opponents out of bounds or impede their movements by blocking.[21] Legal blocks follow certain rules. Contact by hands, elbows, head and feet are prohibited, as is contact above the shoulders or below mid-thigh. Contact may not be from the rear, only from a player's front or sides.[22][23]


Referees determine rule violations. Each type of violation carries major or minor penalties, or no penalty at all.[24] A player receiving a major penalty, or four minor penalties, is removed from play to sit in a penalty box for one minute. If a jam ends beforehand, the player remains in the penalty box during the subsequent jam until the minute penalty is completed. A player with seven major penalties is ejected from the game.[22]


Equipment check for the Surley Griffens of the Canberra Roller Derby League at AIS Arena, Canberra. Bouts normally start with the umpires conducting a formal equipment check in this manner.

Players skate on four-wheeled ("quad") roller skates,[25] and are required to wear protective equipment, including a helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads, knee pads, and mouth guards.[25][26]


Roller derby is exceptional in that it is a game where offense and defense are played simultaneously.[27] This adds complexity to game play strategy: for example, blockers may create a large hole for their jammer to pass through and score, but this same maneuver might also allow the opposing team's jammer to score.[28][29]

  • Ending the Jam The lead jammer can end the jam at any time, thus she controls the opposing team's ability to score points. Ideally the lead jammer will attempt to score as many points as possible, and end the jam before the opposing team scores any.[30]
  • Passing the Star The jammer for a team may "pass the star" to the pivot — that is, she hands the star helmet cover to the pivot, at which point the pivot becomes the scoring jammer for the team.[31] A jammer might pass the star because of fatigue, injury, penalty trouble, or because the pivot is in a better position to score.[32]
  • "The Whip" A blocker or pivot grasps her jammer's hand and swings her forward transferring speed and momentum to the jammer.[33]
Two Sydney skaters (in purple) form a wall, limiting their opponents' movement, while their jammer (leftmost skater in purple) takes a hip whip to accelerate past the pack.
  • "Walling Up" A basic "wall" consists of two blockers working together to take up as much space on the track as possible to make it difficult for the opposing team to maneuver. "Walling up" refers to creating a wall formation at a strategic time, so the opposing team (especially the jammer) has no time to respond. A wall can inhibit, slow down, and ultimately trap the opposing jammer, and may last an entire jam if they can effectively hold the opposing team. Variations on the strategy include setting up blockers to rotate through the wall positions.[34]
  • "Getting the Goat" The pack is defined as the largest group of in bounds Blockers, skating in proximity, containing members from both teams.[25] In the "goatherding" strategy, one team surrounds the slowest blocker of the opposing team, and then slows more so that that group becomes the pack. The opposing team, skating ahead, are thus put out of play and thus cannot legally block the goatherders' jammer. [35]
  • "The Diamond" In a similar strategy, four blockers form a diamond around the opposing jammer to prevent her from getting through the pack.[28]
  • Slow Start When a team's jammer is in the penalty box at the start of a jam, they may attempt a slow start: the other team's jammer can't enter the jam until the last blocker passes the pivot line. A slow start prevents the entry of the other team's jammer.[36]
  • Intentional Minor Penalties A skater with 4 minor penalties will be sent to the penalty box for a minute. It is easy for a jammer with three minor penalties to incur a fourth penalty, thus taking her out of play and leaving her team unable to score. Some teams will therefore send a potential jammer with 3 minor penalties into the game as a blocker, with the intent that player intentionally incurs a fourth minor penalty in a less critical blocking role — for example by intentionally entering the starting line-up behind the jammer line instead of the pivot line. [37]
  • Other Strategies A newly developed "Western Style" strategy has been developed in which a blocker who bumps the opposing jammer off the track skates backwards, forcing the jammer to re-enter further behind the pack.[38]


Professional endurance races

Two women's league roller derby skaters leap over two who have fallen in a 1950 bout in New York City.

The growing popularity of roller skating in the United States led to the formation of organized multi-day endurance races for cash prizes, as early as the mid-1880s.[39][40][41] Speed and endurance races continued to be held on both flat and banked tracks in the century's first three decades[42] and spectators enjoyed the spills and falls of the skaters.[43][44] The term derby was used to refer to such races by 1922.[45][note 1]

Evolution to contact sport

The endurance races began to transform into the contemporary form of the sport in the mid-1930s, when promoter Leo Seltzer[note 2][note 3] created the Transcontinental Roller Derby, a month-long simulation of a road race betewen two-person teams of professional skaters.[48] The spectacle became a popular touring exhibition.[49][50] In the late 1930s, sportswriter Damon Runyon persuaded Seltzer to change the Roller Derby rules to increase skater contact.[48] By 1939, after experimenting with different team and scoring arrangements, Seltzer's created a touring company of four pairs of teams (always billed as the local "home" team versus either New York or Chicago),[51] with two five-person teams on the track at once, scoring points when its members lapped opponents.[52]


In 1948, Roller Derby debuted on New York television—broadcasting well before television viewership was widespread.[53] The broadcasts increased spectator turnout for live matches.[54] For the 1949–1950 season, Seltzer formed the National Roller Derby League (NRDL).[55][56] The NRDL consisted of six teams.[55] NRDL season playoffs sold out Madison Square Garden for a week.[56] During the late 1950s and 1960s, the sport was broadcast on several networks, but attendance declined. Jerry Seltzer (Leo's son), the RollerJam "commissioner", hoped to use television to expand the live spectator base. He adapted the sport for television by developing scripted story lines, and rules designed to improve television appeal; derby's popularity declined in spite of this.[57]

Amateur revival

Teams competing in Hobart, Australia in November 2010.

Roller derby began its modern revival in the early 2000s as an all-female, woman-organized amateur sport. The revival initially began in Austin, Texas,[58] and by August 2006 there were over 135 similar leagues.[59] Leagues outside the U.S. also began forming in 2006, and international competition soon followed. By September 2011, there were more than 1,000 amateur leagues on every inhabited continent,[1] in countries such as Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, Finland, Sweden [60] and Singapore[61]

Contemporary roller derby

Roller derby's amateur female revival

A Windy City Rollers (Chicago, Illinois) jammer.

A large number of contemporary roller derby leagues are amateur, self-organized and all-female [62] and were formed in a DIY spirit by relatively new roller derby enthusiasts.[63] In many leagues a punk[64][65] aesthetic and/or third-wave feminist[66] ethic is prominent.[67] Members of fledgling leagues often practice and strategize together, regardless of team affiliation, between bouts.[68] Most compete on flat tracks, though several leagues skate on banked tracks, with more in the planning stages.[69][70]

Each league typically features local teams in public bouts; these are popular with a diverse fan base;[71] larger venues hosting audiences ranging from 4,000 to 7,000 are no longer unusual.[72] Many leagues took advantage of the release of the roller derby movie Whip It to increase awareness of the sport.[73]

As the sport has matured, successful local leagues have formed "travel teams" composed of the league's best players to compete with travel teams from other cities and regions. Corporate advertising has used roller derby themes in video commercials for insurance,[74] a breakfast cereal,[75] and an over-the-counter analgesic.[76] Contemporary roller derby is also the most violent sport played by and administered by women.[77]


Blue Ridge Rollergirl Drag'n SlayHer enters the arena in full regalia including dragon head and flaming skates.

Most players in these leagues skate under pseudonyms, also called "derby names" or "skater names," many of which are creative examples of word play with satirical, mock-violent or sexual puns, alliteration, and allusions to pop culture, some of which are the subject of some controversy.[78]

Examples of Derby Names[79]
Name Allusion
Clitty Clitty Bang Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Vulva Display of Power Vulgar display of power
Michelle O'BamYa Michelle Obama
Mazel Tov Cocktail Mazel tov, Molotov cocktail
Sandra Day O'Clobber Sandra Day O'Connor
Slaybia Majora Labia majora
Princess Lay-Ya Flat Princess Leia
Anna Mosity Animosity

New players are often encouraged to check their name against an international roster to ensure novelty and uniqueness of the alias before officially using it.[80] Some players claim their names represent alter egos which they adopt while skating.[81] Referees may also choose to use derby names as well.[82][83] The phenomenon of roller derby aliases has attracted legal and sociological analysis within the ambit of intellectual property and trademark law as an indigenous activity.[84]

The names of the bouts, tournaments, or double-headers themselves are typically just as sardonic and convoluted — for example, Nightmare on Hull Street (Nightmare on Elm St.), Night of the Rolling Dead (Night of the Living Dead), Are You There Blocker? It's Me, Jammer (Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret), Knocktoberfest (Octoberfest), Spanksgiving (Thanksgiving), Seasons Beatings (Seasons Greetings), Grandma Got Run Over By a Rollergirl (Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer), Skate & Destroy Her (Search and destroy), Mama Said Knock You Down (Mama Said Knock You Out), Cinco de May-hem (Cinco de Mayo), and War of the Wheels (War of the Worlds).[85]

Although some teams opt for a uniform livery, the camp can extend to players' garb as well. Costumes (sometimes called "boutfits"[86]) are often inspired by or comparable with rockabilly or burlesque fashions,[87] and tattoos and tutus are commonly in evidence, as are fishnet stockings.[88][89] In addition to the on-track competition, some leagues emphasize entertainment with showy on-track behavior, half-time shows, and "penalty games" — unofficial competitive stunts between players such as arm wrestling, wheelchair races and the like.[90] The extent to which such non-athletic stylizations are embraced varies from league to league, and continues to be a source of some contention.[91][92]

Safety concerns

A roller derby athlete with a broken collar bone is wheeled out of an international tournament by EMTs.

As roller derby is a contact sport, the risk of injury is non-trivial.[93] Injuries range from common bruises and sprains to broken bones and concussions[94][95] and beyond.[96][97] As is the case with many sporting events and other large public gatherings, many modern roller derby games are required to be played with EMTs on hand[98] Some leagues prominently display their injuries,[99][100] and safety and injuries are a perennial topic on skating blogs and other forums.[101][102][103]


Although the early 2000s revival of roller derby was initially all-female, some leagues later introduced all-male teams and co-ed games. Furthermore, as of February 2010 there were over 40 junior roller derby programs across four countries in various stages of development. Despite being viewed by some as risqué[104] adult-oriented entertainment,[91] the positive empowering aspects of the sport are a draw for some youth.[81]

Governance and organization

The largest governing body for the sport is the Women's Flat Track Derby Association, with 124 member leagues.[105] Other associations support either coed or men only Derby.[106][107][108] Outside of the United States many roller derby leagues enjoy support from their national skate federations such as the Skate Australia,[109] the British Roller Sports Federation[110] and Roller Sports Canada.[111] Affiliation with a national organization was rejected by American leagues who prefer governance on a grass roots level,[112] but the WFTDA and USARS have a reciprocity agreement for insurance purposes.[113] Canada's national roller derby league works with the American federation.[114]


Since 2006, the WFTDA has sponsored a Big 5 Tournament: four regional championships, and a final championship bout.[115] The association also officially recognizes eligible tournaments hosted by member leagues.[116] The Roller Derby World Cup, an international competition, began in 2011.[117]

See also

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  1. ^ “Roland Cloni of Akron, world’s champion roller skater, who yesterday tried out the track in the Broadway armory, where the national roller skating derby will be held this week, asserted new world’s records can be established for flat tracks. The derby will open tomorrow and run until Saturday.”[45]
  2. ^ Sources disagree on whether it was Leo alone or with his brother, the skate maker Oscar Seltzer.[46][47]
  3. ^ "Roller derby has entertained the masses in one form or another since the 1930s, when brothers Leo and Oscar Seltzer conceptualized the idea of a skating contest on a Chicago restaurant tablecloth."[46]


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  89. ^ "Article: Roller derby queens: short skirts, fishnets, and full contact. Inside the... | AccessMyLibrary – Promoting library advocacy". AccessMyLibrary. 2008-07-01. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  90. ^ Mabe, Catherine. "Roller Derby: The History and All-Girl Revival of the Greatest Sport on Wheels pp 86-87". Simon and Schuster via Google Books. Retrieved 26 September 2011. 
  91. ^ a b Oler, Tammy (Fall 2005). "Holy Rollers: Is roller derby the new burlesque?". Bitch (30). Retrieved 2008-06-15  Like mud wrestling, roller derby has historically been seen as a way to entertain largely male audiences with hot, dirty catfights. And with its bad-gal costumes and prospect of girl-on-girl bruising, roller derby still skates a fine line between sport and spectacle. Though modern skaters have reimagined the sport as a form of self-expression and performance (not unlike the recent feminist revival of burlesque), as well as an athletic contest, the titillation factor threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the game. And not surprisingly, recent media coverage of the sport has focused on the novelty of sexy girls in fishnets on four wheels. Spin called the sport “the best catfight on earth,” while the Tucson Citizen quoted a male fan who opined, ‘“For some spectators, the chance of getting a roller derby girl in their lap is a part of the attraction.”
  92. ^ "Exclusive: There's No Crying In Roller Derby!". Flavorwire. 2009-05-04. Retrieved 2010-08-31. 
  93. ^ Wilson, Tracy. How Roller Derby Works. HowStuffWorks, Inc.. Retrieved 2008-06-22 
  94. ^ Anatomy of a concussion |
  95. ^ Dain Bramage - Roller Derby - - Albany NY
  96. ^ Launder, William (2006-02-28). Women's roller derby leagues are bashing their way back into style. Columbia News Service. Archived from the original on April 18, 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-22  "injuries range from sprained ankles and dislocated shoulders to torn eyelashes and “fishnet burn” from sliding across the floor of the rink."
  97. ^ "". Retrieved 2008-06-22  (Web site calling for donations to help a roller derby player who suffered a spinal cord injury).
  98. ^ , as the WFTDA rules both set out a comprehensive set of safety requirements but also require a home team to provide "at least two licensed or certified medical professionals with expertise in emergency and urgent medical care" to be present during the warm-up and game (according to WFTDA Standardized Flat Track Roller Derby Rules, Version 3.0, sec. 9.2; Version 2.x and 2006 rules sec. 9.3). OSDA rules require "a medical trainer, EMT, or doctor [to be] present or immediately available at all times," at least for banked track games (according to OSDA 2007 Banked Track Rules; the 2008 flat track rules don't have such a provision).
  99. ^ Injury Gallery. Rat City Rollergirls. Archived from the original on October 26, 2007. Retrieved 2008-06-22 
  100. ^ Pabst Bruise Gallery. Minnesota RollerGirls. Archived from the original on August 14, 2007. Retrieved 2008-06-22 
  101. ^ Ryder, Kari. "PCL Injuries in Roller Derby". Retrieved 2008-06-22 
  102. ^ Derby injuries? – SkateLog Forum
  103. ^ "Roller Derby Crutch Crew (MySpace group)". Retrieved 2008-06-22 
  104. ^ A nuanced appreciation of the "camp" aspect of roller derby
  106. ^ "The State of Derby – Part II: OSDA and JRDA". 
  107. ^ "The State of Derby – Part III: Modern Athletic Derby Endeavor". 
  108. ^ "The State of Derby – Part IV: Men's Roller Derby Association". 
  109. ^ "About Roller Debry". 
  110. ^ "Roller Derby is now recognised as a sport in the UK, and UKRDA the National Association". Roller Derby Central. Retrieved 2 October 2011. 
  111. ^ "Roller Derby". Roller Sports Canada. 
  112. ^ USA Roller Sports. "To Whom It May Concern". 
  113. ^ "USARS / WFTDA Reciprocity". USA Roller Sports. 24 June 2009. Retrieved 12 October 2011. 
  114. ^ "Welcome to the CWRDA". Roller Derby Association of Canada. Retrieved 12 October 2011. 
  115. ^ "THE BIG 5 WFTDA SPONSORED TOURNAMENTS". WFTDA. Retrieved 15 November 2011. 
  116. ^ "WFTDA Recognized Events". WFTDA. Retrieved 15 November 2011. 
  117. ^ "Blood & Thunder Roller Derby World Cup 2011". Blood & Thunder Magazine. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Roller derby — Principale instance Women s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) Autre(s) instance(s) World Organization of Roller Derby (WORD) Old School Derby Association (OSDA) …   Wikipédia en Français

  • roller derby — n. [< Roller Derby, a trademark] a team game, characterized by rough play, in which roller skaters race around a banked, oval track trying to score points by lapping opponents …   English World dictionary

  • Roller Derby — Fan Speech (u.a.: Auch in anderen Ländern wurde die Begeisterung für diesen einzigartigen Sport wieder geweckt.)... nb(NB) > ?! > +/ 11:19, 20. Mär. 2011 (CET) Wettkampf der Charlotte Rollergirls gegen die Cape Fear… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Roller derby — In diesem Artikel oder Abschnitt fehlen folgende wichtige Informationen: Regeln, allg. ausbauen, bequellen Du kannst Wikipedia helfen, indem du sie recherchierst und einfügst …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • roller derby — noun : a contest between two roller skating teams on a circular track in which each attempts to maneuver a skater into position to score points by circling the track and orientating one or more opponents within a given time limit * * * service… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Roller Derby — service mark used for an entertainment involving a contest between two roller skating teams on an oval track …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Roller Derby — Trademark. a contest between two teams on roller skates, held on a circular, usually banked board track, in which the teams race around the track in each unit of play, working to free a teammate or teammates for the opportunity to score by… …   Universalium

  • roller derby — noun A form of sports entertainment based on teams of roller skaters who race round a track, jamming and blocking each other …   Wiktionary

  • Roller Derby — Roll′er Der by Trademark. trm a contest between two teams on roller skates, held on a circular track, in which the players try to free a teammate for the opportunity to score by lapping one or more opponents …   From formal English to slang

  • roller derby — /ˈroʊlə dɜbi/ (say rohluh derbee) noun a race on rollerskates between two teams, each of which has one skater who attempts to break through to the finish line while the rest impede the opposing team, usually by means of legitimate body contact …   Australian-English dictionary

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