What to Look for When Watching Roller Derby

I.M. Pain giving a great example of positional blocking.
Photo by Down’n’Out Photography
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“Whoa! That was awesome … what just happened?”

If you’ve said these words while watching a roller derby game, you are not alone! There’s a lot happening out there on the track, and it can be hard to keep up. Free Radical, a member of the Junkyard Dolls and the CCRG All Stars, offers up this list of moves to look for during your next bout! To get the best view, get trackside seats for our upcoming game so you never miss a jam!


What to Look for While Watching Roller Derby
by Free Radical

Positional blocking
Derby isn’t just about big hits anymore! Sometimes it’s enough just to be in the right place at the right time. Positional blocking isn’t about moving an opponent out of the way, but more about keeping them from doing what they want to do. Sometimes called “booty blocking,” this move often involves one player keeping her opponent behind her booty, to keep her from moving wherever she wants to go.

Signals from bench staff
Skaters on the track may communicate with their bench coaches in the middle of a jam. Most often, you’ll see this when a bench manager tells a jammer (the skater wearing a star on her helmet) to call the jam off at a certain moment. Look for the bench coach (standing by the team bench, not wearing skates) to make the signal for a jam call-off (tapping hands on hips), then the jammer calling it off.

A backwards bracer
Jammers use the strength of their legs to push a blocker forward (out of the pack where it’s no longer legal to block) or to make space to get through. Watch for jammers to do this by standing up on their toe stops (rubber stoppers at the front of their skates) rather than on their wheels. When a jammer is pushing hard against a blocker, a second blocker may assist in stopping the jammer. She can do this by turning around to skate backwards and offering her hands or chest to her teammate, to get the stopping power of two skaters, not just one!

Rather than pushing straight forward, jammers may move laterally to shift the pack enough that they find or make a hole for themselves. They may also try to fool blockers into following them one direction, then shifting to another. For example, jammers may approach the pack toward the outside edge of the track, especially on turns. When opposing blockers follow a jammer there, they may leave the inside edge of the track open, and a jammer will make a quick direction change to cut in to the inside edge and scoot by. These jammers may be assisted by their own blockers performing “a clear.”

A clear
One team’s blocker can clear a lane for her jammer by moving one or more opposing blockers out of the way at just the right moment. Watch for a blocker to make a move, then her jammer to follow quickly behind. Bonus points if you can spot communication between that blocker and jammer – eye contact, a hand signal, or a few words.

A star pass
The jammer for one team takes the star helmet cover off and hands it to her team’s pivot (the skater wearing a stripe on her helmet). The pivot then puts the star cover on her helmet, and becomes her team’s jammer for that jam. This may be done to catch the opposing team off guard, to keep the jam going with a set of fresh legs, or to help release a jammer from the pack. Bonus points if you spot a star that is passed over the entire opposing pack!

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