A game (or bout) consists of two 30-minute periods with episodes of play known as JAMS. Five skaters for each team – one JAMMER and four BLOCKERS (including the PIVOT) – move counterclockwise around the track in a formation called a PACK. Jams last for up to two minutes each, but can be ended sooner by the LEAD JAMMER.
The pack is the largest group of Blockers from both teams within 10 feet of each other. Blockers in the pack act offensively to help their own Jammers score points and defensively to stop the opposing Jammer from scoring. The Pivot is the lead Blocker, identified by a stripe on their helmet cover. The pack determines where the action is. You must be within 20 feet of the pack to block an opponent or help another member of your team.
If players get too spread out, there is No Pack and they can’t block or assist other players until the pack re-forms.
If skaters do hit or assist when there is no pack, they are Out of Play and can be penalized.
Jammers wear helmet covers with stars and line up behind the pack. Their job is to score points for their team. The first Jammer to get through the pack legally earns Lead Jammer status, giving them the ability to call off the jam by placing their hands on their hips repeatedly. Starting with their second trip though the pack, the Jammer scores a point for each opponent they pass legally. The Jammer also earns points for any opponents in the penalty box after they pass their first opponent on the track.
While Blockers always serve 30 seconds for each penalty they incur, that’s not always the case with Jammers. To keep the action moving, a Jammer will serve a shorter penalty if the opposing Jammer goes to the penalty box before a minute is up. When this occurs, the first Jammer gets released and the second Jammer serves the same amount of time as the first.
Legal blocking and target zones
Blocker highlights the body parts you can use to block with: torso, booty, thighs, and upper arms/shoulders (but not the elbows).
Target shows the areas of the body a skater can deliver a block to. Note that Target’s back is not one of them.
Roller derby has more referees per player than any other sport. Pack Referees skate with the pack to ensure legal play and are found on both the inside and outside of the track. Each Jammer has their own Jammer Referee who skates on the inside of the track to count points and penalties. Knocking an opponent down legally is fun! Knocking someone down illegally results in a penalty.
Major Penalties are given for illegal blocks that knock an opponent down or out of bounds or get a player around more than one opponent.
This results in an immediate trip to the penalty box to serve a 30 second penalty.
An illegal action that has no significant impact on an opponent will not be penalized. If a Jammer commits such an action, however, they will not earn a point from that opponent. This is called a “No Pass, No Penalty.”
Hitting or pushing an opponent in the back is Back Blocking.
Sometimes an opposing player will counter-block with their booty. If they hit their opponent first, it’s a counter-block, not a back block.
Forearm penalties are given for use of hands or forearms to block or push opponents. Elbow penalties are given for making any contact with an opponent using an elbow.
Illegal Procedures are technical penalties that don’t impact any specific opponent. Too many skaters on the track, false starts, a Jammer who is not the Lead Jammer successfully calling off the jam, or leaving the penalty box early are a few examples. Also, when returning to play from the penalty box, you must enter behind the pack. Entering ahead of any skaters in the pack is an Illegal Procedure.
Low Blocks are contact on or below the knee that cause an opponent to stumble or fall. But looks can be deceiving; if you back block someone and then trip over them, it’s your fault (and your penalty), not a low block. Sometimes feet just get tangled up in the course of normal skating and no penalty is awarded for this accidental contact.
Cutting the Track penalties are called on a skater when they re-enter ahead of the player who knocked them out of bounds, or when they pass other skaters while one of their skates is out of bounds. If the skater who knocked you out of bounds goes out of bounds or falls down, you can re-enter ahead of them, but you still have to be careful not to pass other skaters. Passing only one opponent, or two or more teammates, is a penalty.
Blocking Out of Bounds penalties are called if a skater charges in from out of bounds and blocks someone, if a skater blocks someone who has both skates out of bounds, or if a skater continues to block someone when any part of their skates are on the ground outside of the track boundary – even just one wheel! (You’ll see this hand signal used if a skater assists one of their teammates from out of bounds, too.)
You can push and pull your team-mates, but can’t hold hands and block with them. Multi-Player Blocking is called when holding on to a teammate prevents an opponent from getting past.
Use your head, but not for blocking!
Penalties are called for Blocking WITH the Head
… or for Blocking TO the Head (aka High Blocking) as an initial target.