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roller derby

Your Guide to Roller Derby

What is Roller Derby?

Roller Derby is a contact sport in which two teams of five skate against each other in short matches called jams. A player, which is called the jammer is picked by each team to try and score points by lapping the opposing team.


Roller Derby was created in 1935 by Leo Seltzer and Damon Runyon. The sport originated from roller skating marathons, but Seltzer and Runyon took the concept and turned it into a competitive sport. The sport was a hit and by 1940 it was watched by millions of people throughout the United States. Eventually, the sport became more about the entertainment value and outlandish costumes and theatrics became the primary focus. This went to the extent that it essentially became like Pro Wrestling, with scripted Roller Derby matches. This was eventually eliminated but the costumes and outlandish antics remained.

Several attempts have been made to feature Roller Derby on Television. From the 1940’s to the 1960’s the sport was broadcast on national television, most notably the National Roller Derby League. 1989 saw the return of Roller Derby to television with a league called Roller Games, but it only lasted one season. The most recent attempt for the sport to be on television was in 1999 when Spike TV attempted to bring Roller Jam to their audience. It was Roller Derby, but you could also use roller blades.

Present Day

Currently, Roller Derby is played on an amateur level, and predominantly by women. There are men’s leagues and co-ed league’s as well, but they are not as common. Roller Derby is currently up for consideration in the 2020 Olympics. The governing body for Roller Derby in the Olympics is the Fédération Internationale de Roller Sports (FIRS).

The sport has found success on an international level. There are over 2,000 leagues worldwide in countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, France, China, Singapore and many more.

How It’s Played

A team can have up to 14 players, but only five are active at one time. Two-minute jams are played in which the teams skate counterclockwise, with the assigned jammer trying lap members of the opposing team during these two-minute jams. The other four members are blockers, with one of them being a pivot. This is a special blocker that can become a jammer during play. Two 30-minute periods take place, and it is within these two periods that the jams take place.

When gameplay starts the jammers line up behind the jammer line, while the blockers are in front of the jammer line but behind the pivot line which is 30 feet in front of the jammer line. Once both jammers break away from the pack they can start scoring points for their team by lapping players from the opposing team. These jams last for two minutes, and throughout a match, players can change positions with each jam that takes place.

Jammers are distinguished by a helmet with stars, while pivots wear a helmet with stripes. Blocker’s helmets are blank.

Blockers must block their opponents from the front and the blocks can only be body-to-body contact, no use of hands, feet, head or elbows. The blocks must be below the shoulders and above the thigh.

Penalties are handed out by the referee for infractions of the rules. Players must sit in a penalty box for 30 seconds. If a player receives seven penalties he is kicked out of the game and must go back to the locker room. There are three referees on the field of play to enforce the rules.

Depending on the association you are playing for, tracks are either banked or flat. The track is oval shaped and is 60 feet long. The width of the track fluctuates from 13 feet to 15 feet.


A pair of Roller Skates is required for play, they are also often referred to as quad skates. Currently, there is no sanctioning body that allows in-line skates (roller blades). All players must wear protective gear which includes helmets, wrist guards, elbow pads, knee pads and mouth guards.

roller derby skates


Roller Derby is known for its showmanship as much as it is its known for its physical nature. Players often go by nicknames which at times can be controversial. They normally play on pop culture but can include violent or sexual parodies. Some of the more notable names of players include O Hell No Kitty, Michell O’Bam-Ya, and Punky Bruiser.
Some leagues allow outlandish costumes and over the top makeup. Like modern day Pro Wrestling, sex helps sell the sport.

How You Can Play

Despite being considered an amateur sport, there are thousands of leagues throughout the world. Most leagues allow you to register a team or join a current team. Leagues are typically city leagues, and you play teams from the area you live in. Although traveling leagues have started to become more common.

Many sanctioning bodies allow new leagues to be created under them, but there are several criteria that must be met to be eligible.

Safety Concerns

Roller Derby is a very aggressive sport and injuries are common. The sport is often advertised for its full contact nature and at times can result in serious injuries, including broken bones and concussions.

Throughout the years there have been some reports of players passing away from accidents that have taken place during Roller Derby matches. Although it is not a common occurrence, it is one reason why safety equipment is required.

The Future of Roller Derby

The future for the sport of Roller Derby could be big if it gets accepted into the 2020 Olympics. Will it reach levels of other major sports, probably not, but it can easily become one of the major attractions of the Olympics. Something that spectators can look forward to every four years like they do with Gymnastics, Swimming and Running. The only thing that will be left to see, is if any changes are required by the Olympics. Often sports need to adjust rules, the perfect example of this is Boxing. Matches or not scored the same way professional Boxing is.

Whether it makes it to the Olympics or not, the show will go on for Roller Derby as is evident with so many leagues around the world.

Andrea H

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