A roller derby bout is played between two teams of skaters. In the UK the teams are usually from different leagues; leagues with a lot of skaters, like the London Rollergirls or most US leagues, have several teams who also play each other. Players skate anti-clockwise around a flat, oval track.
A bout is played in two minute jams, with two periods of 30 minutes, or three periods of 20 minutes, making up the game. For each jam, there will be two teams of 5 skaters on the track. One skater from each team is the jammer – she has a star on her helmet – the other eight are blockers who make up the pack.
The basics of the game are neatly explained in this promo video from New York City’s GOTHAM GIRLS, one of the first leagues in the US:
Roller derby is a full contact sport. A skater may use any part of her body between the shoulder and mid thigh, but excluding her forearms, to block; she can only hit her opponent on the front of her body, anywhere between the shoulder and mid-thigh.
It’s a fast and furious game. Each team is composed of up to 14 skaters, who rotate their line up for each jam. Each game will have a minimum of five referees: one on each jammer, two on the pack, and a head referee. There are major and minor penalties, with either four minors or one major resulting in a skater being sent to the penalty box for one minute. There will also be people on the inside of the track counting points and penalties. If you want to read the rules in their entirety (and there’s a lot of them) you can download them from the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association website at www.wftda.com.
When you start to skate with a roller derby league, you’ll learn basic skating skills first. Most skills are specific to roller derby – skating stance, stops, and falls. Once you’ve mastered these, you’ll learn blocking and strategy. Training usually incorporates skills, drills, and scrimmages. A scrimmage is a basic jam or a number of jams, usually played with refs attending. Most leagues run training sessions focussing on beginners and basic skills only, as well as mixed and/or advanced training. Skaters often travel to mixed scrimmages, where a number of leagues will meet to train and scrimmage.
You can find lots of videos on youtube that will show you more, but we’ve picked out some of our favourites below:
LONDON ROLLERGIRLS – Summer Shovin’ bout video
RAT CITY ROLLERGIRLS vs MINNESOTA- video of a jam from their 2006 Bumbershoot bout.
Promo video from the WINDY CITY ROLLERGIRLS in Chicago
RAT CITY ROLLERGIRLS video