How do I watch Roller Derby?
Okay you come to a Peach State Roller Derby bout, you sit down, and you have absolutely NO idea what's going on down on the track. It's okay; baby steps. It might be a few bouts before you get the hang of it. Roller Derby can seem complicated and chaotic for the initiated. Once you understand the positions, the rules, strategy and gameplay, it’s easy; and it’s super fun to watch and play!
See below levels on how to watch roller derby.
***Hover over below map to get a summary reminder of positions from Derby 101.***
Pivots generally start at the first starting line and serve as the leader of their teammates playing in that jam. As most teams play the pivot position at the front of the pack, she is also often the last line of defense to stop the opposing jammer from escaping the pack.
The other three blockers do not wear helmet covers. All blockers may all play offense and defense at any given time and frequently switch between offensive and defensive tasks. The rules do not differentiate the remaining three blocking positions from one another. However most roller derby teams choose to assign names and focus areas to the blocking positions for strategic purposes.
The jammer lines up at the second starting line and begins play at the second start whistle. The jammer's goal is to pass opposing blockers and emerge from the pack as quickly as possible. If she is the first of the two jammers to escape the pack without committing any penalties, she gains the strategic advantage of being able to stop the jam at any time by placing her hands on her hips. Once a jammer laps the pack, she begins scoring one point for every opposing blocker she passes legally. She can continue to lap the pack for additional scoring passes for the duration of the jam.
I'm a beginner at watching roller derby.
Enjoy the hitting. Let's admit it, the first time you go to a roller derby bout, you're looking for big hip-checks and skaters sprawling to the floor. That's okay! 50% of this sport is half-physical, so enjoy the big hits and the big falls.
Watch the jammers. They score the points, and they're the ones who get hit most often! They're also easy to spot because they're wearing a big star on their helmets. The blockers will mostly focus on them, so you should too.
Watch the pack even when the jammers aren't there. This is the equivalent of watching the action "off the ball" in most sports: how a basketball half-court offense sets up, or a football defensive scheme. Watch who's moving to the front and who's dropping back. Watch how the pack speeds up and slows down depending on where the jammers are. Watch for the refs to signal where the pack is when it starts to split, and how it reforms when that happens.
My understanding of roller derby is at an intermediate level. I've come to some bouts, and understand basic gameplay.
Watch the referees. A good referee is part of the action. Pack refs follow the pack and signal penalties. Jam refs follow the jammers and count points with a raised hand after each scoring pass. You can learn all the other penalty calls by going to our understanding penalties page-thanks to WFTDA, which shows pictures of all the calls. Look for the difference between a skater being sent to the box for a major, versus being sent off for accumulating four minors.
Watch the penalty box. When a team has blockers in the box, opposing jammers have the opportunity to score points more easily. When a team's jammer is in the box, she can't score at all! Penalties last for 30 seconds; when a skater has 10 seconds remaining in the penalty box, she stands up to prepare to re-enter the track for jamming or her pack.
Watch the blockers who aren't in the pack. The "20 foot rule" or "out of play" is one of the little details that come into play a lot on the track. It's like the offside rule in soccer—hard to understand, but used strategically and an important part of understanding the game. When blockers get too far ahead of the pack because they're fighting off a jammer, look for the "out of play" warning (ref's right arm bends at the elbow with the hand straight up) and penalty (the hand comes down in a chopping motion).
I fully understand gameplay and have an expert understanding. I come to watch derby all the time.
Read the official rules. You won't get everything the first time. Don't even try. You might actually try reading them backwards—start at the end and working your way forward. But at some point you just have to read the official wording in order to understand why the penalties are called like they are.
Try to understand the strategy. Why did the lead jammer call off that jam? How much time is left in the period? What's the score? Which jammers get ahead on speed, and which get ahead by letting their blockers do the work? Which blockers seem to rely on hard hits and which rely on positional blocking to stop opponents or clear a path for their own jammer? How do blockers work together to stop a jammer? How does a jammer get help from the blockers on her team? How quickly does a team shift from offense to defense depending on their jammer’s position—do certain skaters seem to always play one or the other?
Count jammer points. See if you can tally how many opposing skaters a jammer has passed legally. Don’t forget, they get points for any players in the penalty box as soon as they pass the first opponent on the track. You might not always get the same number as the jam ref, because you might not always see penalties (which result in points not being granted). But the first time you call points scored before the jam ref signals it, the look of awe from your friends will make it worthwhile.
I want to implement and practice my knowledge!
I want to be involved on the track and be an essential part of bout day!
I would like to become an official or volunteer as an NSO.
At this point you’ve got the essentials down pat, the rest is just learning to recognize the finer points and respond to them quickly. Hey, you'll get into every bout for free!