Modern roller derby is an international, all-female, full contact, amateur sport. It is played by two teams of fourteen. Five members of each team are on the track at any given point. Game play consists of a series of short matchups ("jams") in which both teams skate in the same direction around an oval designate with a player (the "jammer") scoring points by lapping members of the opposing team. The teams attempt to assist their own jammer while hindering the opposing jammer.
* skip video to 4:40 for overview of the rules
Roller Derby is played on a (usually flat) oval track. A match is called a ‘bout’. Each bout lasts for two periods of thirty minutes each. Within these periods there are multiple point scoring opportunities, known as ‘jams’. Each of these can last up to 2 minutes.
At the start of the jam, four players from each team line up on the pivot line (this is the first starting line on the track) all together in a pack. These are the blockers. One of these blockers from each team will be wearing a stripe on her helmet. They are the pivots. It is their job to direct their blockers and try and control the speed of the pack.
One player from each team will be line up on the jam line (this is the second starting line on the track and is behind the pivot line and the pack), these are the jammers. They will be wearing stars on their helmets. They are the point scorers.
When the first whistle blows, the pack will start to skate (maybe fast, maybe very slowly, depending on tactics). When the last blocker in the pack has crossed the pivot line, the second whistle will blow. This is when the jammers take off and try to make their way through the pack as quickly as possible. The first jammer to make it through the pack without committing and minor or major penalties (no elbows to the face etc) becomes lead jammer for that jam. All that means is that she has the right to call off the jam, whenever she wants. If neither jammer makes it through the pack legally there is no lead jammer and the jam must go on for the full two minutes.
On their second pass through the pack, the jammers can score points. They score one point for passing the hips of each opposing blocker. Therefore, in one pass, the maximum points they can score is four, unless they also lap the opposing jammer, which is a grand slam, and score five points.
Therefore, the blockers job is to help their own jammer get through the pack, while hindering the other team’s jammer from getting through, effectively playing offense and defense at the same time.
Roller derby began its modern revival in the early 2000s in Austin, Texas and by September 2011, there were more than 1,000 amateur leagues on every inhabited continent, in countries such as Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, Finland, Sweden and Singapore.
It is arguably the fastest growing sport in the world with new leagues starting every day. The first ever Roller Derby World Cup, hosted by Toronto Roller Derby, was held in December 2011 and saw teams from thirteen nations and 4 continents competing with Team England coming in third.
Roller Derby is well known for its very DIY ethic, with all teams being skater owned and operated. Generally teams are run democratically with all members having a say in how the team runs. All shapes and sizes of women are appreciated in derby although strength and stamina are definitely necessary to play well (but this comes with practice!).