The Strategy Behind Roller Derby

There is a Plan Behind Every Derby Jam

Christopher Neugebaurer/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The first impression is that there is mass confusion on the derby track, but believe it or not, there is usually a strategic plan behind each roller derby jam. And this strategic planning is not easy, since roller derby is a game where offense and defense are played at the same time. There are many strategic maneuvers that can be used in derby bouts, and each one has variations and related tactics that are used for different game and player situations.

Many leagues do not share their key strategies, but here are some basic strategic-based skills that can help you understand the thinking that goes into a bout.

Walling Up

The wall is built from two blockers who take up as much space on the track as possible so that it is hard for the opposing team to maneuver. Walling up happens when the wall formation is built at an important point in the bout, and the other team does not have time to work around it. The wall strategy can slow down or trap the opposing jammer for brief times or an entire jam.

Trapping

The pivot is considered the leader of the blockers and shouts out instructions to teammates as needed during the jam. The pivot adjusts the pace of the pack based on the situation. The pivot may decide to speed up the pack, if the jammer for the opposing team is lead jammer. Since all blockers must remain in a pack to avoid a penalty, the blockers assisting the lead jammer will attempt to slow down the pack by using rotating wall formations and trapping the opposing blocker or jammer in the back of the pack.

Trapping the opposition allows a team to gain control of the pack, regardless of whether the jammer or the blocker is trapped.

Passing the Star

If the jammer is not able to break through the pack, a maneuver called passing the star can be used. During this move, the jammer hands off her helmet cover to the pivot making the pivot the jammer and vice versa.

The helmet covers must be handed off, not thrown, and once it is taken off, the jammer forfeits her lead jammer status and her ability to earn points. Fatigue, injury, penalty trouble, or deciding that the pivot is in a better position to score are also good reasons to pass the star. This maneuver is not seen very often, so it will keep the other team on their toes.

Goat Hearding

One team surrounds the slowest blocker of the other team, and then slows down the pace a lot, so that the group becomes the pack in this goat herding strategy. This maneuver puts the opposing team further ahead and out of play, so they are not able to legally block the goat herders' jammer.

Diamond Formation

Four blockers form a diamond formation around the other team's jammer and keep her from skating through the pack.

Slow Starting

If a team's jammer is in the penalty box at the start of a jam and can't enter the jam until the last blocker passes the pivot line, the opposing team may use a very slow start to prevent the entry of the other team's jammer.

Western Style

A newly developed western style strategy has been developed in which a blocker who bumps the opposing jammer off the track skates backwards, forcing the jammer to re-enter further behind the pack, delaying her next chance to pass the pack and score points.

Western style goes by many other names like "slow derby," "stopper derby," "stroller derby" and "cerebral derby." These slow packs challenge an opposing jammer who may be used to fast skating to cut through a stopped or slow pack without illegally hitting other skaters from the back. This strategy continues to evolve, its dominant trait is the slow pack and it forces skaters to use their brains and their bodies.

Poodling

Poodling or pulling a poodle happens when a skater takes an intentional fourth minor to get sent to the penalty box. This is is usually done by jammers who want to get that fourth minor penalty and visit the penalty box to clear out their minor penalties before they go to the jammer line. But, many other aspects of a particular game situation are considered before this strategy is used.

Whip

The whip happens when a blocker or pivot grabs her own jammer's hand and swings her forward to slingshot her through the pack to score. This was a favorite with the old banked track derby teams and is still used today.

End a Jam

The lead jammer controls the opposing team's ability to score points, because she can end the jam at any time. Normally, the lead jammer will work hard to score as many points as possible, and then stop the jam before the other team earns points.

Other Strategic Maneuvers

All leagues have rules that forbid blocking into the back of another skater and penalize those who do this type of blocking, so there are potential safe zones. If skater or team uses these rules to their advantage, there are many ways to work together to create safe zones for their jammer. For blockers to do this well, they must have the skills needed to get in the front in the first place. Strong teams will make every effort to control the pack from the front. But, knowing about these strategies and performing them properly and at the right time takes a lot of training and experience.

Use the information below to learn more about the history of roller derby, the types of derby tracks used, the equipment needs for participants, the rules and strategy behind the sport and why derby skaters love it so much.

  • An Introduction to Roller Derby Skating Activities
  • The History of Roller Derby
  • What is a flat track in roller derby?
  • What is a banked track in roller derby?
  • Training for Roller Derby
  • Derby Drills and Training Resources
  • How to Play Roller Derby
  • The Strategy Behind Roller Derby

If you want to try a quick and easy digital overview of today's derby sports, try Germaine Koh's Intro to Flat-Track Roller Derby iTunes app to get an introduction to the fast-moving sport of flat-track roller derby, including a video demonstration, explanations of the most common referee hand signals and a FAQ archive right on your iPhone.