What is roller derby?

Photo credit: Siobhan Redmond

Flat track roller derby is a fast-paced contact team sport that requires speed, strategy, and athleticism. The flat track version of the sport evolved in 2001 and has quickly grown to encompass more than 2000 leagues, across 53 countries. The DIY spirit that drives the sport allows roller derby leagues to create their own unique identities and adapt their structures to reflect their local communities.

You don’t have to know much about the rules of roller derby to enjoy a game – just keep your eye on the jammers and cheer on your team! Part of the fun of watching derby is that it’s an accessible sport, with enough speed and action to keep even first-timers on the edge of their seats until the final jam. If you just want enough of an overview to be able to follow the play, check out our handy guide for newcomers below.

Everyone lines up on track, 4 blockers from each time in front of the jam line, and 1 jammer from each team behind the jam line. The whistle blows.

The jammers race to pass through the pack, at which time no points are scored – but the lead jammer position is established. They continue to race around the track a second time and attempt to fight their way through the pack again. The jammers score one point for each opponent they lap as long as they pass that player in bounds and without penalties.

The jammers may continue to race and score points for two minutes or until the lead jammer ‘calls off the jam’, by tapping their hands on their hips. Generally, a jammer scores four points each time they make it through the pack within bounds and five points if they lap the other jammer. The winners are the team with the most points at the end of the game.

This video gives you an idea of how roller derby is played.

Penalties & Rules

– No tripping
– No pushing from behind (on an opponent)
– No deliberate falling in front of another skater
– No use of elbows to the chest or face
– No blocking 20 feet ahead of or behind the pack
– No grabbing or pulling a skater from the ground
– It is illegal to GRAB, HOLD or PULL an opposing player

For a deeper understanding of the tactics and strategy in play, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association website has the most current WFTDA ruleset available for download, along with extensive extra content, including Q&A’s and recent rulings on official rule interpretations.