Roller derby basics: gameplay

Flat track roller derby is a fast-paced contact team sport that requires speed, strategy, and athleticism. Games, or ‘bouts’ feature un-staged physical contact played according to a strict set of rules. At the 123rd International Olympic Committee session, it was announced that roller derby was among eight sports under consideration for addition to the 2020 Olympic Games.

The DIY spirit that drives the sport allows roller derby leagues to create their own unique identities and adapt their structures to reflect their local communities.


CVRD skates under the WFTDA 2017 ruleset.
Learn more about the WFTDA rules.

Basic summary

A roller derby bout consists of two teams who field five roller skaters on the track. A team wins by scoring the most points in the duration of the bout. The rules of roller derby are set by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA).
See a short video that sums it up!

Infographic for further info: derby-101-wftda



Photo Courtesy of Big Dawg Images

Photo Courtesy of Big Dawg Images

  • One jammer per team per jam
  • Identified by a helmet cover with a star
  • Scores points



Photo Courtesy of Hispanic Attack

Photo Courtesy of Hispanic Attack

  • One pivot per team per jam
  • Identified by a helmet cover with a stripe
  • Leads the pack



Photo Courtesy of Big Dawg Images

Photo Courtesy of Big Dawg Images

  •  Four blockers per team per jam, including the pivot
  • Block the other team’s jammer and assists their own jammer
  • Blockers from both teams comprise the pack



One bout consists of two periods of 30 minutes each. A period is comprised of short, successive intervals called jams. Each jam can last up to two minutes. At the beginning of the jam, one whistle blows to release the pack. Next, a double-whistle blows to release the two jammers.


Both teams can score points during the same jam. A point is scored each time a jammer passes a blocker from the opposing team. In each jam, one jammer can earn Lead Jammer status by being the first jammer to break through the pack on her initial pass. When Lead Jammer is awarded, the jam referee will tweet the whistle and point to the Lead Jammer. The Lead Jammer has the special ability to call off the jam at any time by putting her hands on her hips.


So roller derby is all about throwing elbows and tripping and clotheslining, right? Wrong! Modern roller derby is not what you remember from the 70’s television show. Some hits are legal. Some are not! Skaters can earn thirty seconds in the penalty box for hitting with their forearms or heads, tripping other skaters, hitting other skaters’ backs, or cutting the track to pass other skaters.


Roller derby has one of the highest official-to-player ratios in modern sports. Roller derby requires both referees on skates and non-skating officials to track scores, penalties, game timing and to keep the game running smoothly. We'll do a post on penalties, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Common Referee Signals Infographic

Author: This is a legacy post from a past Twin City Riot skater.