Roller Derby 101 - How is the game played?

Roller derby is a contact sport played with 2 teams consisting of 4 Blockers and 1 Jammer per team.  The group of blockers from both teams is known as “the pack”.  “Bouts” (term for games played in roller derby) are played with two 30-minute halves, which are broken down into 2 minute “jams”.  The Jammer can be recognized by the helmet cover she wears, which has a star on the side.  One of the 4 Blockers is designated as a Pivot; she can be seen wearing a helmet cover with a stripe down the middle.  The Pivot gives instructions to her teammates during the jam; she can also take the Jammer star in the event of a "star pass." Blockers must play both offense and defense, assisting their Jammer and preventing the opposing Jammer from making it through.
Roller derby is a contact sport.  Skaters hit each other to the ground and push their teammates into opposing skaters ("cannonballing"), and Blockers send the Jammer flying off the track all the time. The question is, how does a skater hit her opponent legally?
 Skaters may hit using anything below the neck, above the mid-thigh, and above the elbow. Elbows, forearms and hands, knees, feet, and head are all illegal. A skater who makes contact using one of those will incur a penalty from the referees. Most blockers try to hit with their shoulders, hips, or by sticking their booty out. Skaters can't hit an opponent in her head, on her back, or on or below her knees. A legal hit makes contact with a skater’s arms, or the side or front of her torso. Referees have to watch every hit to make sure that it was executed legally.  
 The situation also determines the legality of the hit. Jammers can hit each other any time they want, as long as they're within the track boundaries. For blockers, it’s a little more complicated. Blockers can only hit an opponent if they're both within the "engagement zone," which is a fancy way of saying "in bounds, in play, and close to the pack." So skaters can't initiate a hit if either she or her target are out of bounds. She can't hit a skater who has already been knocked down (she is considered out of play; plus it's dangerous). She can't race way out in front of the pack to knock down a jammer—her hit must take place within close proximity to the pack.
Illegal hits will result in a penalty, which sends the offending skater to the penalty box for 30 seconds. If a skater accumulates 7 penalties during a bout, she will be ejected from the game. Skaters can also be ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The Jammers
At the start of a jam, the blockers "pack up" anywhere between the pivot line (front line) and jammer line (back line), with most blockers tending to line up in "walls" right against the jammer line. The jammers line up anywhere behind the jammer line. The ref whistles one blast to start the jam; at that point, the jammers approach the back of the pack and try to be the first to pass through the crowd of blockers. This is called the "initial pass." The first jammer to get through the pack without incurring any penalties becomes "lead jammer." The jammer ref will blow his or her whistle twice and points to the lead jammer while making an "L" with the other hand.
Neither Jammer has scored any points yet: the initial pass is solely a chance for jammers to get lead jammer status. After a jammer gets through the pack once, she has to sprint all the way around the track to catch up with the back of the pack again. Now she's on a "scoring pass," and she scores one point for her team each time she passes an opposing blocker. Since there are four blockers, a jammer usually scores 4 points if she completes the pass. But if a jammer can "lap" her opponent who is stuck in the pack or serving time in the penalty box, she can score a 5th point. A 5-point scoring pass is called a "grand slam;" this is key to racking up lots of points very quickly.
There are lots of little rules that affect the scoring. A jammer who commits a penalty while passing a blocker doesn't collect the point for that blocker. If any skater is in the penalty box, the opposing jammer scores a "free" point for her as soon as she passes the first blocker in the pack; these are sometimes called "ghost points."
Once a jammer completes a scoring pass and breaks free from the pack, the referee responsible for that jammer will signal the number of points that she scored during that pass. Jammers continue to make scoring passes until the jam ends. Jams run for a maximum of two minutes. But remember that "lead Jammer" thing we mentioned before? The reason that's important is because the lead Jammer is allowed to call off the jam whenever she wants, by repeatedly touching her hands to her hips. If the other Jammer is about to score points, the lead Jammer can stop the jam and prevent her opponent from scoring. So being lead Jammer is a serious tactical advantage. The more often a team can gain lead Jammer status, the more difficult it will be for the opposing team to score many points.
There are lots of rules that govern the lead jammer status. A jammer who goes out of bounds before she catches up to the pack on her initial pass won’t be eligible for lead jammer status. A jammer who picks up a penalty on her initial pass can not be the lead jammer. If a skater has lead jammer status and gets sent to the penalty box for any reason, she loses that status and the ability to call off the jam. It's possible for a jam to have no lead jammer, in which case it will run the full two minutes.
Other Notes
If the Jammer is having trouble getting through the pack, she can give the star helmet cover to her Pivot, who upon receiving the star helmet cover immediately becomes the Jammer. This is a "star pass."
If a skater is hit out of bounds, she must return in bounds behind the hips of the opponent who hit her out and any opponent who was in front of that opponent at the time of the hit. This is why you will see a skater hit out of bounds and her opponents skate clockwise. If a skater comes back in bounds in front of those skaters, it is considered a "track cut" penalty.
There is always a Jammer on the track--if one Jammer is in the penalty box, and the opposing Jammer gets called off on a penalty, the already seated Jammer will be released as soon as the opposing jammer is sitting in her seat.
If you’re at a bout and still not sure what is going on, ask one of our skaters! We LOVE talking about roller derby!


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