Roller Derby 101:Learning the basics of the game


STORY HIGHLIGHTS: Roller Derby history, how to play, equipment, plays, officials, statistics: derby fans, cost for equipment, average age of player, derby joining, men to women player ratio.


Grace Malone

Dr. Rauf Arif

April 29, 2015

Sports have been around for centuries, although the types of competition have changed throughout the years, but we have always found amusement in watching, training and competing in sports. One might be surprised to find out that roller derby has been a sport that has been around for decades. Roller derby is a full contact sport that takes place on either a flat or curved track in which two teams of five members score point by jamming. Each team has a round in which they are blocking and trying to keep the other team from getting past them and scoring, and jamming, in which one player from the team is pushing through the opposing team to get through and score. Just like any other sport, there are penalties.

According to, the competition of roller skating started in the mid 1880’s, but the term “derby” used to refer to these races did not come until 1922.

The sport didn’t begin to take off until the 1930’s when promoter Leo Seltzer created the Transcontinental Roller Derby, which was a month-long road race between two-person teams of professional roller skaters. In the late 1930’s, sportswriter Damon Runyon was able to convince Seltzer to increase the amount of players on each team to five.

A large number of the roller derby leagues we have nowadays are amateur, grass-roots and all-female teams. In many leagues, a punk, third wave feminist aesthetic is prominent.

In these leagues, roller derby skaters are also given derby names or nicknames that are a creative word play with satirical, mock-violent or allusions to pop culture. For example, the East Texas Bombers roller derby league of Jacksonille has derby names like “Nine Millimeter Nancy”, “Indiana Bones”, and “Kel So Krazy.”

For equipment, each player is required to wear a helmet, roller skates with a front brake, elbow pads, knee pads and mouth guards. It is not a requirement, but a lot of teams have costumes or team outfits they wear. For the Bombers, their standard is a pair of camp leggings with a Bomber-forest-green spandex tank top with their derby name printed on the back in shiny silver.

For each competitive game, the roller derby is conducted by a series of officials: two scorekeepers, penalty trackers, penalty timers, jam timer, inside whiteboard, lineup and scoreboard operator. All referees must be wearing skates and normally wear the standard black and white stripes. These referees also have derby names, since they are just as much a part of the sport as the players.

There is a high level of skill required to be able to participate in a roller derby league safely and effectively. A strategy is just as fundamental in derby as it is in football, soccer or basketball.

Dozens of strategies can be employed, but some of the most common are: “Ending the Jam”, Walling Up”, “The Diamond”, and “Bridging”.

According to the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) website, a study in 2012 was done to be able to assess roller derby demographics and statistics.

In the study, it reported that roller derby fans are mostly female based on a 61 percent majority over the 39 percent of male derby fans. Ten percent of fans are 24 years old or younger. The average age among all fans is 37.0.

As far as the women to men ratio of roller derby players, women make up an astounding 94 percent of active adult roller derby skaters. Interestingly, men make up 56 percent of the league volunteers and referees.

How did the players find out about roller derby? Over half, 57 percent specifically, of female skaters first heard about roller derby through a friend. The percentage of players who heard about derby from printed advertisements, internet links and meeting skaters at an event were a lot lower.

Before considering joining a derby league, one should be aware that the price for the gear can get pricey. Current female skaters averaged a spending of $622 on skating gear in 2011, along with another $600 or so in travel for roller derby games and other support costs.

For most skaters though, the price to pay is worth the friendships made and the health benefits earned from having an active lifestyle.

To watch a documentary on the East Texas Bombers:

To watch a photo slideshow describing how to play the game:

Check it out on Storify:

SEO:roller derby, blockers, jammers, East Texas Bombers, WFTDA, roller skate

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