What is Roller Derby?

Photo by Phil Lackey

Roller derby is a contact sport played by two teams of five members roller skating in the same direction around a track.  Game play consists of a series of short matchups (“jams”) in which both teams designate a scoring player (the “jammer”) who scores points by lapping members of the opposing team.  The teams attempt to assist their own jammer whilst hindering the opposing jammer-in effect, playing both offense and defense simultaneously.  There are also penalties, resulting in the penalized player spending 30 seconds in the penalty box.

Historically, roller derby started out as a banked track roller skating marathon race in the 1930’s.  Over the years it morphed into a full contact match up, employing loose storylines and appealing to a wider audience as showbiz.  By the 1950’s, roller derby was being played on T.V where it lived, more or less, until roughly the 1980’s.

Contemporary roller derby was reborn circa 2003 as an all-female amateur flat track sport and quickly spread DIY (do it yourself) style around the United States.  Leagues were able to form with very little start up cost due to the evolution of playing the sport on a flat surface as opposed to the more expensive banked track.  Today’s modernization of roller derby is largely rooted in the movement being considered a serious sport.  Many leagues have members spending up to 5 days a week training and working to better the sport from a competitive and structural standpoint.  There are also national and international committees and organizations devoted to better standardization of rules, referees, and even roller derby announcers.

 What is WFTDA?

WFTDA or Women’s Flat Track Derby Association is the governing body of roller derby whose mission is to promote and foster “the sport of women’s flat track roller derby by facilitating the development of athletic ability, sportswomanship, and goodwill among member leagues.”  Since it’s creation in 2006, WFTDA has grown to over +350 leagues worldwide.  The rules of the sport have changed throughout the years and WFTDA is constantly studying ways the WFTDA rules of Roller Derby to evolve further.  New to derby?  And not quite sure what the rules are?  Check out their short video of how roller derby is played here:


Today, roller derby is played by more than 1,400 amateur women’s, men’s, coed and junior leagues worldwide.  It is the #1 fastest growing female sport in the world.