Advanced Play

Need to know more?  Here are some frequently asked questions regarding advanced derby strategies.

The game of roller derby is based on keeping the blockers in a “pack” (within 10 feet of the next pack member as measured from the centre of the hips) and the game proceeding in the counter-clockwise direction. There is a buffer zone around the pack called the “engagment zone” (20 feet ahead of and behind the foremost and rearmost pack skaters, respectively) in which it is legal for all blockers and jammers to engage. It is legal for jammers to engage each other anywhere on the track.

Why do skaters intentionally skate in the opposite direction sometimes?

When a player is blocked out of bounds she has to return to the track BEHIND the opponent who pushed her out and without improving her position in relation to any other on-track skaters.  In order to maximize the advantage of blocking someone out of bounds, the opposing team will often skate clockwise to force the returning skater to re-enter further back.  If the player re-enters ahead of the opponent who put her out of bounds, she is eligible for a “cutting the track” penalty as long as that opponent remained in-bounds, in the engagement zone and upright after the block.

What is a “power jam”?

A power jam is the advantage a team gains when the opposing jammer is in the penalty box.  During this time there is only one jammer on the track scoring points.  Since there is no opposing jammer to worry about during a power jam, the team with the advantage can concentrate solely on offence.  This can result in very high-scoring jams for the team that has the power jam.

What is “goating”?

Goating is a strategy that is used by blockers to control the speed of the pack. If a team can trap an opposing blocker (the “goat”) within their group of blockers, they can speed up or slow down as much as they want while still ensuring that they meet the definition of a pack.  The pack is defined as the largest group of in-play blockers consisting of blockers from both teams.  When a team is on a power jam, that team may want to slow the pack in order to allow their jammer to score more points by more easily lapping their opponents.  Conversely, a team who is facing a power jam may want to force the pack to go faster, preventing the opposing jammer from scoring as many points.

Why are skaters starting on their knees?

A player’s in-bounds/out-of-bounds status is determined by her last contact with the track. If a jammer is able to leave contact from in-bounds and land upright and in-bounds, she will get credit for all players passed while airborne. This usually occurs in the corners and is referred to as “jumping the apex”.

What is a “scrum start”?

Taken from the terminology of a rugby game, a scrum start occurs when the players start extremely close to each other and fight/push in a big group to get their jammer out of the pack first.  In a scrum start one team will take a knee in a line across the width of the jam line.  When the first whistle blows, the pack ref will call “no pack,” the kneeling players will stand up, and the fight to make a hole for the jammer will begin.

How was that jammer able to jump past the entire pack?

Sometimes a team will very slowly advance to the pivot line in order to delay the release of the jammers and intentionally waste time on the period clock.  A team might want to do this if they are winning to burn up the time that the other team could spend scoring points, but most often this tactic is used if a team has a player in the penalty box and want to stall the game so that their teammate can finish serving a penalty minute and join them on the track.

What are all these new plays?

As the sport of roller derby evolves, new tactics emerge with each rule set release.  The current WFTDA rules set was released for use as of Jan 1, 2013.  As leagues get used to using the new rules, new strategies are developing.  This is an exiting time in the sport of flat-track roller derby as we watch our sport evolve and grow.  Some strategies are fan favorites and others are not. If you see something you don’t understand… ask a player, coach or official after the game and they will explain.