Roller Derby 101

The rules of roller derby are complex, but the game focus is quite simple: it is a race to score the most points, and each team earns points when their point scorer passes members of the other team. The team that scores the most points at the end of regulation wins the game. Queen City Roller Derby plays according to the rules set down by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.


Photo by CK Photographic Systems

Each team has up to five skaters on the track at once. One member of each team is designated as the point scorer, or Jammer. She is easy spot because she wears a star on her helmet, and starts behind the Jammer line, separate from other players on the track. The pack, through which the Jammers must pass, consists of four Blockers from each team, one of which may be designated as a Pivot-Blocker. The Pivot wears a stripe on her helmet, and can take over from the Jammer should the Jammer decide to “pass the star” by removing the star helmet cover and giving it to the Pivot. Once the Pivot has put the star cover on, she is the Jammer, and is eligible to score points for the remainder of the jam. The star cannot be passed back during a jam.

Game Play

A single whistle indicates the start of the Jam for both Jammers and Blockers. Lead Jammer is earned by the first Jammer who passes each blocker legally, upright, and in bounds during their initial pass through the pack (no one scores points on their first pass through the pack). As Lead Jammer, she is able to ‘call off’ a jam before the 2 minutes is up by repeatedly placing her hands on her hips. Lead Jammer status is lost if the Jammer is sent to the penalty box. If neither Jammer earns Lead Jammer status, or if that status is lost, the Jam will last the full 2 minutes. In between each jam there is a 30 second gap to allow for teams to position themselves for following Jam. Skaters not on the track and in position at the end of this time (the start of the next Jam) are ineligible to skate that Jam.

After the first lap, during which lead Jammer is determined, Jammers score one point for each opposing team member she passes legally, in-bounds, and without committing a penalty. Our sport is unusual in that all players often play offense and defense at the same time, blockers work to get their Jammer through the pack while working to stop the opposing team’s Jammer from scoring.

Photo by Rene van Ee

Shoulders, upper arms, and hips may be used for blocking. Hands, forearms, and elbows may not be used to hit another skater. Additionally, elbows may not be used in any upward, downward, sideways, or jabbing motion. Blocks above the shoulders, below the mid thigh, or on the back are illegal. Tripping or falling intentionally in front of another skater, holding arms or hands by teammates to form walls or otherwise block opponents are illegal, while teammates may push or join hands to ‘whip’ their own skaters to help them through the pack.

Each bout, or game, consists of 2, 30 minute periods. If the period clock expires during a Jam, the game continues until the Jam ends naturally. If the score is tied at the end of regulation time, there will be a single, 2 minute overtime jam. An overtime jam will not award Lead Jammer status, so neither team can call the Jam before its natural conclusion (2 full minutes). Additionally, each Jammer will begin scoring points on their initial pass during an overtime jam. Each team has 3, 60 second timeouts to use during each bout and one ‘Official Review’ per half. If a review is successful, the team is permitted one additional review during the same half.


Photo by Jim Bush

Any illegal action that results in a negative impact on an opponent or on the game will result in that player being called for a penalty. Penalties result in the offending skater serving 30 seconds in the penalty box. If the Jam ends before a player has completed serving this time, they will remain in the box into the next jam. Except in cases of injury, skaters cannot be replaced or substituted on the track until they have served their full 30 seconds.

Jammers serving time in the box may be released early if the opposing team’s Jammer also receives a penalty. The sitting Jammer will be released when the other Jammer sits. That incoming opposing Jammer will then only serve as much time as the first Jammer in the box served (e.g. Jammer A has served 15 seconds when Jammer B sits – Jammer A is released and Jammer B need only serve those 15 – this prevents situations where both Jammers are off of the track for an extended period of time).

If a skater receives 7 penalties during a game, the skater has fouled out and must be replaced in the lineup.


The object of the game is for the Jammers to pass the members of the opposing team. A Jammer earns a point for each opposing blocker she passes (awarded once the Jammer’s hips pass an opponent’s hips), and an additional point for passing the opposing Jammer. A Jammer does not earn a point if she commits a penalty, or passes an opposing player once forced out of bounds.

Photo by Rene van Ee

Many game play strategies are centered around getting and using Lead Jammer status. The Lead Jammer, in addition to being first out of the pack and thus (typically) the first to start her scoring pass, has the ability to strategically end the jam. For example, a skater with Lead Jammer status can end the Jam just after she gets through the pack, but just before her opponent enters it. This prevents her opponent from scoring points. Another key to success is to capitalize on ‘Power Jams.’ A Power Jam being when the opposing Jammer is serving time in the Penalty box. Power Jams allow a team to focus entirely on playing offenses and helping their Jammer without worrying about playing defense and preventing the opposing Jammer from scoring.

It is important to remember that, unlike the old-fashioned pro-wrestling-style roller derby on TV, contemporary women’s flat-track derby is an authentic, competitive sport. Everyone on the track is playing to win.