It may look like chaos, but watching the Derby is really watching a game of strategy, skill, and strength. Yes, there are often fishnets, funny names, and an occasional fight. But there are also bloody noses, bruises, and amazingly tough athletes who can skate like a boss.
Here is how you play Roller Derby: A game, or bout, consists of a series of plays called Jams that can last up to two minutes. Two teams put five players each on the track for a Jam: three Blockers, one Jammer, and a Pivot. The Jammer will be wearing a star on her helmet, and the Pivot will have a stripe. The Pivot is the only player that can become the Jammer during a handoff in the middle of a Jam.
Follow me so far?
The Jammer is the player that scores the points, while the other teammates have the job of running both offense and defense at the same time. Get your Jammer through while making sure the opponent's Jammer is blocked. Know of any other sport where you play offense and defense simultaneously?
At the start of a Jam, the Blockers line up at the starting, or Pivot, line. These eight skaters comprise the pack. The Jammers set themselves at the their starting line 30 feet back. The whistle blows and all the skaters take off.
Still with me?
The Pivot sets the pace for the pack. The blockers are required to skate within 10 feet of each other, generally maintaining the pack. The Jammers try to break through the wall of Blockers. Blockers do everything in their power to stop the opposing team's Jammer while trying to get their own through. First one through is the Lead Jammer for the remainder of the jam. Your reward for being Lead Jammer? You get to call off the jam whenever it suits you. This will come into play in a moment. Hang in there.
After the Jammers break through the pack, they sprint around the track to lap it. Every time she passes a skater from the opposite team, her team gets a point. This process continues until the Jammer ends the jam, or the 2 minutes run out.
See, easy as pie. To put it into football terms (which really has nothing to do with Derby and we shouldn't be comparing the two), the Jammer is your wide receiver. She scores the points. The Pivot is the quarterback. She calls the plays and leads the team.
There are all sorts of blocking rules and penalties we can go over in another post. But this will get you started. All you have to do now is go watch a bout. And be warned, if you sit in the first two rows, you might end up with a derby girl in your lap and a quad skate in your ear. This is a full contact sport. You snooze, you bruise.
The super funny Chris Andersen was kind enough to let me repost his awesome Derby cartoon at the top of this post. You should check him out at: doctorsquid.com