Rules & Gameplay

Ithaca League of Women Rollers plays flat track roller derby according to the latest rules and clarifications from the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

A PRIMER

Check out this video from our friends, the Hammer City Roller Girls of Hamilton, Ontario:


THE OBJECT OF THE GAME
Each team fields a single player (the “Jammer”) who scores points by passing opposing skaters.  The more opponents she can pass, the more points she scores for her team.

The remaining skaters (the “Blockers”) attempt to block the opposing Jammer and clear a path for their own Jammer— playing both offense and defense at the same time.

Well-played roller derby requires agility, strength, speed, control, peripheral vision, communication, and teamwork.

SETUP & SCORING
A bout is divided into individual JAMS. Each jam can last up to two minutes.

At the beginning of each jam, each team fields five players at a time.

Out of those five players, four are BLOCKERS and one is the JAMMER.

The four blockers from each team line up together and form a PACK, and the two jammers line up behind them.

The skater wearing the star on her helmet cover is the jammer. The skater wearing the stripe on her helmet cover is called the PIVOT. The Pivot can become the jammer for her team if the Jammer passes her the Star.

On the whistle, the skaters take off.

On the first lap, the jammers earn no points, but the first jammer to legally pass each blocker and clear the pack is declared LEAD JAMMER. You can tell if a skater is the Lead Jammer by looking at her jammer ref. He will point to the jammer and hold his fingers up in an “L”. The Lead Jammer is the only skater on the track who can strategically end the jam early, before the two minutes are completed. She does this by repeatedly tapping her hands on her hips. There can only ever be one lead jammer in a jam, and committing a penalty will  cause her to forfeit that status, guaranteeing that the jam will run the full two minutes.

After a jammer completes her initial lap, she scores 1 point for each opposing skater she passes. She automatically scores points against opposing skaters serving in the penalty box once each lap. Jammer referees hold up fingers at the conclusion of each lap indicating points just earned.

TIMING
Each two minute play is called a JAM.

Between one jam and the next, the teams have 30 seconds to line up.

There are two halves in a BOUT. Each half is 30 minutes long and has an unlimited number of jams.

Teams may freely substitute players between jams, except for players stuck in the penalty box.

COMMON PENALTIES

  • Blocking with forearms, hands, elbows, or head
  • Blocking an opponent in her back or head
  • Tripping, kicking, or blocking with feet or legs
  • Blocking while out of bounds, or blocking a skater who is out of bounds
  • Passing other skaters while out of bounds (“Cutting the Track”)
  • Blocking while “Out of Play”, 20 feet ahead of or behind the pack
  • A blocker intentionally destroying the pack, rendering the remaining players ineligible to block
  • A blocker failing to return to or reform the pack when warned

THE PENALTY BOX

  • A penalty costs thirty seconds of jam time in the box, served immediately.
  • Refs assess penalties with a hand signal for the kind of penalty, followed by a swoop with one finger, directing the skater off the track
  • A jammer in the box is released immediately if the other jammer also lands in the box.

COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT THE GAME

Why are there so many referees out there?
Much like in football, the ref squad divides areas of responsibility — the front of the pack, the rear of the pack, scoring for one team, scoring for the other team, etc. The refs act as a team, communicating with each other to determine the legality of action on the track.

Do skaters have to wear old-school ‘quad’ skates?
Yes. Ever since its invention in the 1930s, roller derby has traditionally been a ‘quad’ skate game. Quad roller skates promote control and stability, and their smaller wheel base reduces the chances for skaters to get tripped up on each others’ skates.

Are there fights on the track?
Very rarely. The WFTDA rules call for the expulsion of skaters participating in fights, which helps to keep the skaters and referees safe. Fights did occasionally break out on the track in the early years of the modern roller derby revival, but since then the flat track roller derby game has matured. The skaters now channel their aggression by getting up, dusting themselves off, and legally hitting their foes even harder in the next jam.

Didn’t roller derby used to be played on a banked track, with rails? At least that’s what I remember from television…
Yes — for fifty years roller derby was played primarily on concave (“banked”) tracks. These tracks were big and expensive and required reassembly as the derby skaters of the time barnstormed from town to town.
In 2001 and 2002, skaters in Austin, Texas, lacking (at the time) the budget for a banked track, created the first drafts of a modified ruleset to allow the same basic game to be played on a flat surface. The popularity of this style of play has been exploding around the world, as the ‘play-anywhere’ nature of the flat game has allowed skaters to learn the game without investing in a banked track infrastructure.

A handful of leages in America play primarily on banked tracks (most notably in Los Angeles, Austin, and San Diego), while hundreds of leagues play the “flat track” game. Many skaters and a small number of leagues train for both styles of play.

 

The latest full ruleset is downloadable at the WFTDA web site.

 

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