Roller derby 101

How is Roller Derby played?

Canberra Roller Derby League follows the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association Rules set that can be found at

Contemporary roller derby is a fast, full-contact sport played on quad roller skates. It is an athletic and skilled sport played primarily by women, although this is changing. Each game is divided into two 30-minute halves, made up of intervals called "jams" that can last up to two minutes. During a jam, two teams field up to five players to skate counter-clockwise around an oval track.


A team’s full line up for a jam consists of one pivot, three blockers, and one jammer. The pivot and blockers play both offensive and defensive roles and make what is called the “pack”. The pack is the largest collection of opposing skaters within ten feet of one another, and skaters may only contact one another within the boundaries of the pack.


The pivot is distinguished by her striped helmet cover. Pivots serve a strategic role, as other than the jammer, they are the only players on the track who can also score points if the jammer "passes the star". 

The blockers do not wear helmet covers and may play offense or defense at any given time--frequently switching between the two.

The jammer can be identified by the star on her helmet. She starts behind the jammer line, and once she has made her initial, legal  pass through the pack, she scores points for her team by pasing the hips of opposing players.

To begin the game, the pivot and blockers for each team line up in between the jammer line and the pivot line. A whistle blows, signalling the start of the jam, and both teams start play. The jammers are released at the same time as the blockers.

Both jammers race to get through the pack first to obtain the strategic advantage of "lead jammer" status. The lead jammer may end the jam at any time by putting her hands repeatedly on their hips. You will often see the lead jammer doing this once they have scored in order to prevent the other jammer from earning any points; this strategy is known as "nickel and dime-ing".

Once a jammer has made their initial pass, they are eligible to score points. The jammer’s goal is to pass through the pack, and she earns a point for every legal hip-pass of an opposing player. Blockers try to prevent the opposing team’s jammer getting through, while helping their own jammer score points. 

The jam can last up to two minutes in duration and continues until either the lead jammer calls it off, or the two minutes expires. A whistle is blown 4 times to signal the end of the jam.


What is Lead Jammer?

The first Jammer to pass all opposition blockers in the pack legally on her initial pass obtains Lead Jammer status. This gives her the power to call off the jam at any time.


What happens if there is no Lead Jammer?

If both Jammers do not make a legal initial pass though the pack, no lead jammer is declared and the jam will continue for the full two minutes.


How does a Jammer get points?

A jammer scores a point for every opposition blocker they legally pass, for every lap after their initial pass.

A jammer receives a point for any opposing blockers in the penalty box once they legally pass the first opposing skater as they enter the back of the pack.

A jammer does not earn points if they receive a penalty while trying to pass the opposing blockers. A jammer can obtain a maximum for four points for every lap, and an additional point if they lap the opposing jammer. Five points in one lap is called a "grand slam".


What the engagement zone?

The term “pack” refers to the largest group of blockers, containing members from both teams, skating within 10 feet of each other. The engagement zone is 20 feet from the nearest pack member.

A blocker must be in the engagement zone in order to block or assist. Engagement with another skater outside this zone will result in out of play penalties.

Each blocker on the track has an obligation to maintain the pack definition. If there is no defined pack, blockers cannot engage until the pack is reformed.  Blockers can receive penalties for "destroying" the pack as well as "failing to reform" once the pack is destroyed.


Penalties and the box

Roller derby used to be played with minor and major penalties, which were judged based upon impact. Upon incurring four minor penalties, or one major penalty, a player would be sent to the penalty box for one minute.


Now that there are no minors, and time in the bin is (usually!) 30 seconds. All skaters must re-enter at the back of the pack when exiting the penalty box.



A penalty is given for illegal or dangerous conduct. For example, a block to the back of a skater which caused them to fall down would be penalised. Other penalties include skating out of bounds, cutting the track, falling large, tripping and multi-player blocking.


Jammers can, and do, incur penalties like blockers. This means their team will not be able to score any points for until the jammer has served their penalty and returned to the track. This is often referred to as a "power jam" for the team who still has a jammer on the track. This jammer tries to score as many points as possible while the opposition jammer serves her time.


Only two blockers and a jammer from each team can be in the box at one time. If there are already two blockers from the same team in the box and a third blocker arrives, she will be waved back onto the track and must wait until a space is vacant to serve her penalty.


If one jammer is in the box and the other Jammer gets sent to the box, the first jammer is released and the second jammer must serve the same amount of time that the first jammer served.


What is a legal block?

Any player may engage an opposing player’s shoulder to upper thigh, chest and upper torso. The player can initiate contact with her booty, hips, torso, and arm from her shoulder and up to their elbow, but not including the elbow.