Derby 101

How do you play roller derby? What's up with that referee's whistle? Why is the jammer doing the funky chicken dance? Derby 101 is here to help the would-be fan or skater, who is new to roller derby and a little bit confused.

Derby 101:
Frequently Asked Questions

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 The Rules:

Bay State Brawlers Roller Derby plays flat track roller derby according to the latest rules and clarifications from the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA.) You can get your derby nerd on and read the most recent rules complete rules set from the WFTDA rules website.

The Players:

Each team fields five players at a time:

  • a single point scoring skater called a “Jammer.” They are easily spotted as they are sporting a star on each side of their helmet.
  • three “Blockers” wearing plain helmets
  • a single “Pivot” who wears a helmet with a stripe down the center

The Key Terms:

  • Bout: A game is called a “Bout,” and is made up of two 30-minute periods which are separated by a 15 minute half-time.
  • Jam: Each scoring session within a bout is called a “Jam” and can last up to two minutes each.
  • Pack: The blockers and the pivot from each team group together to form a “Pack.”
  • Lead Jammer: The first Jammer to skate past all of the members of the opposing team’s “Pack” now becomes the “Lead Jammer.” The “Lead Jammer” has the power to end the Jam at any point before the two minutes are up.
  • Passing the Star: For strategic reasons, a Jammer may opt to “Pass the Star.” This means physically removing their Star helmet cover, and passing it to the Pivot. The pivot is the only player on the team eligible to receive the star and assume the role of Jammer.
  • Calling off the Jam: For strategic reasons, the Lead Jammer may decide not to let the scoring period (the “Jam”) go for the full two minutes, rather they will “Call off the Jam” by signaling to the ref to stop it. The Lead Jammer indicates this by touching their own hips repeatedly, and the referee will make three short whistle blasts to signal the end of the Jam.

The Whistles:

  • One short whistle: This whistle signals the start of the Jam
  • Two rapid whistles: Two quick whistle blasts lets you know there is a Lead Jammer
  • One long whistle: One long whistle says a player has committed a major penalty and will be exiting the track to head to the penalty box
  • Four rapid whistles: You will hear three rounds of four rapid whistles to indicate the Jam has either been called off or has hit the two minute mark

The Objective:

As confusing as it may seem, the objectives of roller derby are actually pretty simple. The Jammer’s job is to lap as many opposing skaters as they can. The remaining four players (three Blockers and a Pivot) assist the Jammer, and are playing both offense and defense simultaneously. Their objective is twofold:  to hold back the opposing team’s Jammer, and to clear a path for their own. If the team’s Jammer is being rendered ineffective, and is unable to “break through the pack” then they may “Pass the Star” to the Pivot. This means they are passing on the role of Jammer. Only the Pivot may assume the role of Jammer. Once the star has been passed, the original Jammer now functions as a fourth blocker for their team.


If a player commits a penalty, the ref will whistle, call out the player’s number, and make a hand-signal indicating the type of penalty. The player will exit the track and skate the shortest direction to the penalty box. Once in the box, the player will serve a 30 second penalty before being allowed to return to the track. If the Jam ends before the 30 second penalty is completed, the timer is paused and the penalty time will resume with the start of the next Jam.

  • Blocking to the back (hitting a player in the back)
  • High blocking – (hitting above the shoulders)
  • Low blocking – (tripping)
  • Use of elbows
  • Use of forearms/hands
  • Blocking with the head
  • Out of play
  • Clockwise block

  • Stop block
  • Multiple Player block
  • Cutting the track
  • Out of bounds engagement
  • Skating out of bounds
  • Illegal procedures
  • Misconduct and gross misconduct
  • Insubordination