Posts Tagged ‘Rules’

Points Per Jam: Roller Derby’s Default Difficulty

It should be difficult for a roller derby team to score points. So why does it often seem so easy for them to be scored instead?

Derby scoring has seemingly been getting easier and easier over the last several years, with point totals climbing higher and higher. This year’s rules updates appear to have addressed this trend, sure. But even taking games played in 2014, it is still not abnormal for many of them to end with a combined total score of 300, 400, 500, 600 (!), or even more than 700 (!!!) points.

Press me for 5 points. And again. And again…

Press me for 200 points.

Whether point totals of such magnitude were reached in a close game or a blowout, if it is possible for two teams to together score that often in a 60-minute game, any individual pass for a point, let alone the non-scoring initial passes, must be relatively easy to accomplish.

If it were really that difficult to get points, there wouldn’t be so many of them scored in the first place!

Very high-scoring games still happen quite a lot in the WFTDA and MRDA, especially during mismatches. Scoreboard-spinners can also show up in other derby variants, like in USARS, MADE, or the RDCL.

However, games where the scoreboard hits perilously high totals are less frequent in non-WFTDA forms of roller derby, and of a lesser magnitude when they do happen. This is in part because scoring points is appreciably harder to do, on the average, in these versions of the game.

As a result, these games can often be much more competitive.

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WFTDA 2014 Rules Analysis

wftda-logoIn March, the WFTDA finally released an updated version of its roller derby rule book. WFTDA 2014 rules have officially been in effect for some weeks now, with all sanctioned WFTDA and MRDA games having been required to abide by them as of the beginning of April.

As each year goes by, the WFTDA makes improvements to its rules process, its rules documentation, and the ways and means interested skaters can access the rules. All of this is good. But when it comes to gauging progress on the rules in terms of the competition and gameplay that results from them on the track, it is plainly clear that there is still a long way yet to go.

For example, the elimination of minor penalties in 2013 massively simplified things for teams, officials, and fans. It also helped contribute to a 12.4% reduction in blocker penalties during the Division 1 playoffs. However, the resulting gameplay saw an unfathomable 40% increase in both jammer box trips and 100-point blowouts among the top 40 teams during that same period.

It is no stretch to argue that the competitively unbalanced effect that power jams had on the WFTDA game cancelled out any overall progress on penalties in that particular area last year.

The WFTDA and its voting member leagues are trying to stay ahead of things, though. This year, they are buttoning up incomplete fixes from last year while looking to curb big issues before they become bigger ones. Many rules inconsistencies and weird gameplay events have been addressed. Better explanations of common and new rules will (hopefully) prevent rule misinterpretations.

Most importantly, there are new rules that appear to directly address the glut of jammer penalties and the resulting sausage-fests of passive offense, the issues that have the most effect on the WFTDA game—and draw the most criticism toward it.

There is a lot to cover in the 2014 rules update, and the WFTDA has provided plenty of resources with which to do so.

Official WFTDA 2014 Rules Resources

2014 WFTDA Rules of Flat Track Roller DerbyOnline Version | PDF Version
WFTDA Rules Mobile Apps – Apple iOS | Android
2014 MRDA-Branded Rules of Flat Track Roller Derby (PDF)
WFTDA Rules Central Page
WFTDA Rules Q&A Page
Change Summary for 2014 Rules
Line-by-Line Rule Changes Detail Document (PDF)
WFTDA Timeout – Rules Issues Submission Page
June 15, 2013 WFTDA Rules (PDF) (for reference)

Third-party WFTDA Rules Resources

Roller Derby Rule of the Day on Facebook
RDJunkies Rules/Strategy GIFs
Roller Derby Test O’Matic
Zebra Huddle WFTDA Rules Forum

There is no shortage of materials available for players to learn WFTDA rules, from both the source and through other means. In fact, in the last few months the WFTDA has granted license/collaboration status with RDJunkies and Roller Derby Test O’Matic, making them de facto official resources. Great!

The comprehensive analysis you are about to read is yet another resource towards helping to understand some of the more significant rules changes for this year.

However, this particular look at the 2014 WFTDA rules will do more than just explain what key rules changed or how these changes will affect gameplay. It will dig into understanding why the changes were made, along with the full process behind those changes and a deep analysis examining whether or not the new rules are the best or most efficient way of fixing what was actually broken. It will also feature a look at how the the final 2014 rules document was affected (and not affected) by the 2013 beta rules proposals, with an exclusive look at how those proposals came about.

That will come later. Before we dive into the areas where the WFTDA still has a lot more work to accomplish, let’s start with the rules changes that everyone can agree are 100% positive.

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USARS Derby 2014 Rules Analysis

USA Roller Sports has released the 2014 version of its roller derby rule book. This is the third major derby rules update for USARS, but the first that leaves the core components mostly intact. Though there are significant changes this year, they are more refined and focused than the wholesale makeover USARS rules saw in 2013.


Click to download the 2014 USARS roller derby rule book. (PDF)

Last year, USARS started to find its way with rules that did not conflict with the style of gameplay it is aiming to develop. But as USARS teams became familiar with the strategy behind the game, some of those rules showed signs of being incomplete. On top of that, the USARS game revealed that a lot of the players had incomplete skills to cope with the more challenging and tactical style of play.

This year, USARS has taken steps to fill in the gaps in both of those areas, albeit more in the former than the latter. Many weird (and boring) situations have been eliminated with a few simple changes. A much-needed dose of common sense has been introduced to reduce certain types of penalties. And a new way of calling off jams will help teams quickly learn the strategies they didn’t know they needed, as well as make games much more exciting…for the most part.

Despite the relatively small amount of rearranging done to USARS rules this year—of its ten significant pages, only about a half of a page was added or changed overall—the impact it will have on gameplay will not be small.

All of the rules changes in 2014—except one—appear to be immediate improvements in both writing and in practice. Even the one that seems a bit off in terms of gameplay on the track may be good for USARS teams and players in the bigger picture, although there is a small danger that the trade-off will not always be worth the potential headaches that could come out of it.

Before getting into the newest changes, here is a quick refresher of the major plot points of USARS roller derby rules for those that came in late:

  • Game roster cap at 15 players (Team roster is unlimited)
  • 90 second jams
  • Stopping and clockwise skating illegal (AKA required forward skating motion)
  • Pivots separated ahead of blockers in a separate box for jam starts
  • Pivots can optionally become scoring players by chasing the (opposing) lead jammer; no helmet cover pass necessary
  • Team at the front of the pack (if they can get there) is always the pack
  • 10 foot pack proximity—no extra engagement zone
  • The jammer/active pivot physically in the lead must always be lead jammer; status can (and often does) switch during a jam
  • Lead jammer/pivot must be inbounds and on skates to call off jam
  • Jam instantly over when both jammers are in the box (no musical chairs/jammerless jams)
  • 5-minute overtime, with sudden-death 2OT/3OT jams if necessary
  • Team auto-forfeits if injuries/foul-outs reduce roster to 8 players or fewer (for player safety)

The 2014 rule updates leave most of the above list unaffected, although USARS teams did trial a few things that would have but did not make the final cut. (A “jambreaker” to stop an unending runaway pack situation was found to be too complicated and mostly unnecessary thanks to changes elsewhere in the rules, for example.) But as for what got in?

Read on.

USARS 2014 Rules Resources

USARS Roller Derby 2014 Rule Book (PDF) – Includes Minimum Skills and Addenda
USARS Rules “Cheat Sheet” Quick Summary (PDF Download)
Official USARS Roller Derby Rules Public Facebook Group
USARS Roller Derby Home Page on

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2013 RDCL Rules Analysis


RDCL banked track games are going to look a lot better in 2013.

Anyone attending a Roller Derby Coalition of Leagues banked track game last year—particularly in Southern California, the nerve center of organization—would have seen many of the same gameplay problems that have been recently plaguing the WFTDA flat track game. Slow, boring, and sometimes unfair gameplay; blocker disengagement and no-packs during power jam point-go-rounds; and lengthy official timeouts to clarify calls or communicate penalties between jams.

Though the problems were very similar between derby disciplines, the urgency to fix them is much, much more paramount in the RCDL. Operating expenses for banked track leagues are exponentially higher than those of their flat track sister leagues, and as the only realistic place the income to cover those expenses can come from is fans and the sponsors they attract, something quickly needed to be done to get things back on track and make it fun for fans to watch once again.

For me personally, watching an RDCL game was often an exercise in tolerance. In the latter half of 2012, some games in L.A. got to the point where I couldn’t tolerate them anymore and had to walk out during the third quarter to save my sanity. It was not a good situation to be in.

In response to these issues, the RDCL released an updated ruleset late last year for use by its banked track roller derby leagues. The document wasn’t final at the time, with the first half of the new year pegged to be a working beta period to iron out the kinks.

A few weeks ago, the updated and finalized 2013 rulebook landed. Now at version 2.3, it may have very well hit the sweet spot how it juggles the unique issues the organization and its member banked track leagues are currently facing.

The biggest issue of all, one exclusive to the RDCL, is that the number of banked track leagues using their ruleset is extremely small—about 15, give or take—and is not liable to grow in number any time soon. The small talent pool available means that teams of vastly different skill levels will have no choice but to play each other, for lack of options, requiring a ruleset that makes potentially lopsided games competitive, yet action-packed and fun to watch during all phases of play.

Having seen quite a few banked track games played under the ruleset this year, let me be the first to say it: Mission accomplished. Games are fun to watch again!

Here is a look at some of the major points in the 2013 RDCL banked track roller derby ruleset, including how they have simplified and improved flow for uninterrupted gameplay, how they have made things more fair for teams in various phases of play, and yes, the solution they have cooked up for putting the jam back into power jams.

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2013 WFTDA Rules Analysis

Finally, after a too-long revision cycle and a six-month delay, the WFTDA has officially released its new rule set for flat track roller derby.

Although this is something that probably should have happened in 2011, that it’s finally out now is good news no matter how you look at it. Just about everyone had something negative to say about the outgoing 2010 rules, or specifically, the kind of game those rules created on track once teams and players began to understand what kind of loopholes existed between the lines.

With the new ruleset, which will become officially active on January 1, 2013, some of those loopholes have been tied off. However, because of the popularity of some of the newly discovered tactics, some of them have remained in the rules.

Still, regardless of what the general public may think about the rules and the resultant gameplay that is created from them, they were a consensus of the 159 WFTDA member leagues who voted on virtually every bullet point in the rulebook. So whether the new rules ultimately turn out great or wind up being just as spotty as the outgoing ruleset, it’s the rules the skaters wanted to play by.

But let’s not get ahead of things. The 2013 WFTDA Rules of Flat Track Roller Derby, as well as a multitude of official and unofficial resources for getting up to speed on the newly updated rules, can be found below:

Official Resources:

2013 WFTDA Rules of Flat Track Roller Derby – Online Version | PDF Version
MRDA-Branded Rules of Flat Track Roller Derby (PDF)
WFTDA Rules Central Page
Change Summary for 2013 WFTDA Rules
Minor Penalty Reclassification Guide (PDF)
WFTDA Rules Reporting Database
May 26, 2010 WFTDA Rules (PDF) (for reference)

Official Resources – Coming Soon:

Official German Rules Translation – January 2013
Official Spanish Rules Translation – Mid-2013
Official French Rules Translation – Mid 2013

Unofficial Resources:

Derby News Network Rule Changes Overview
Roller Derby Rule of the Day on Facebook
Comprehensive Line-by-Line Rule Changes from RDRotD (PDF)
Zebra Huddle WFTDA Rules Forum

I have personally gone through the rules to take a look at the changes and see if I could get an idea of how the game might be played next year, compared to how it has been played in the last couple of years. Below is a comprehensive analysis of what the updates might translate to in terms of actual gameplay, based on past history, current strategy trends, and the overriding competitive nature of doing whatever it takes to win.

So without further ado, let’s jump right into it, starting with…

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The Evolution is Complete

Spring Roll was this past weekend, which has become a showcase regular-season event for the Men’s Roller Derby Association. This year, 13 teams played 20 MRDA-sanctioned games over two days to effectively determine league rankings for the 2012 MRDA Championships, to be held this October in St. Louis.

Many men’s teams were seeing their first meaningful action of the year, including newer leagues like the Sioux City Kornstalkers, Portland Men’s Roller Derby, the Rock City Riot of North Dakota, and the up-and-coming Your MOM Men’s Roller Derby of Iowa.

There was a lot of great derby during the weekend. Though there were blowouts, there were also upsets, including a big one: Your MOM dominated the 2011 MRDA Champion New York Shock Exchange, soundly beating them in Saturday’s main event, 199-148, on their way to an undefeated weekend. The hosting Ft. Wayne Derby Girls also capped off Saturday’s action with a great (though lacking of defense) WFTDA sanctioned bout, taking a 215-185 victory over Killamazoo.

The Mother’s Day games on Sunday also contained some gems. The Central Mass Maelstrom held off a remarkable comeback by Rock City, barely hanging on to a 1-point victory after some intense final minutes of gameplay.

The Magic City Misfits, who also went undefeated, put up 617 points on a short-benched but hard-working Kornstalkers team, demonstrating to the derby world that the teamwork they were lacking last year has arrived in full force this year.

Finally, the marquee matchup of Spring Roll was the highly-anticipated rematch of last year’s St. Louis Gatekeepers vs. the New York Shock Exchange. The first 30 minutes of the bout went beyond everyone’s expectations—and quite frankly, even my own—and at just a two point game coming into the second half, it had the makings of an absolute all-time classic.

With all the great stuff that was happening during Spring Roll weekend, what happened in the first half was seriously a great way to put a cap on it:

…except that the ugly, ugly side of roller derby reared its ugly-ass head during the second half of the game, culminating in a last jam that highlighted how far the “evolution” of roller derby strategy has come.

Because when a team essentially cheats to win a game they had no right to win, and there is clear video evidence to confirm this, the game can go no further.

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Victory Through No Pack of Effort (v2.0)

This article was originally posted on November 6, 2011. It has been reworked for ease of reading and clarity, and updated with new examples and a more direct conclusion. It’s like a Blu-ray special edition!

During the the Windy City/Naptown game at the 2011 WFTDA North Central playoffs, there was a sequence of events that, as a sports fan and a roller derby fan, that I truly appreciated.

Behind on the scoreboard during the second half, Windy City sent Jackie Daniels out to jam. Jackie got a fiver on her first scoring pass, but as Windy City bench coach and DNN editor Justice Feelgood Marshall recounted, when she went for her second run at the pack…

…she tries to go around a nearly stopped Sarge[ntina of Windy City] to the right, just as Sarge moves to the right. Sarge is what the military would classify as a hard target. Physics happen and Jackie goes from like 60 to 0 in an instant, hitting the floor on her back super hard. Everybody in the room goes “OOOOH” at the same time. As any derby player knows, the collisions you don’t expect — the ones you’re not braced for — are the ones that fuck you up.

So Jackie’s on the ground. Doesn’t move for a couple seconds but it feels like ten. Her jam ref is standing over her and looks like he’s about to call the jam on injury. Sarge is also obviously concerned. I’m sure Jackie’s got to be relatively seriously hurt, because otherwise she’d call it off, right?

But no. Jackie slowly rolls over, slowly gets up, and keeps fucking going. Amazingly. She is really interested in that scoring pass. She’s slower than she was before and obviously in some pain, but she’s also Jackie. She gets the 4 points and calls it off at 9-0.

When Jackie gets back to the bench, our lineup manager Angel Dustt and I immediately check to see if she’s ok. She’s gasping and holding her chest and can hardly talk; she sits down heavily in the back row of seats and unbuckles her chin strap.

Angel says something to her right then, something along the lines of “Nice jam” or “Are you trying to kill yourself?” I do remember exactly what Jackie says back to her in between ragged breaths: “I wanna win. I wanna win.”

The final score of that game?

Windy City 128, Naptown 117.

Due to the extraordinary effort of Jackie Daniels, that 9-0 jam was damn near the difference between Windy City winning and losing the game. The team ultimately achieved victory through no lack of effort on their part.

A case like this is a reminder that team sports rely on individuals to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. From start to finish, an individual’s best effort is needed to help the team succeed. However, just like a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, an individual not putting in their best effort, or effectively quitting on the play, can be disaster for the well-being of an entire team.

Had Jackie not dug deep to keep going, she could have left those points on the table. She could have also been given three jams off for a medical stoppage, preventing Windy City from using her in their normal jammer rotation and opening up the possibility of losing out on even more points in future jams through unfavorable jammer match-ups.

It just goes to show that effort in sports is rewarded. If you work harder than your opponent (assuming your opponent is of similar skill and ability), or at the very least give it your all 100% of the time, good things will happen to you and your team. Even when it looks impossible, you never know what can happen if you never give up.

As the saying goes, winners never quit, and quitters never win.

However, the current state of modern roller derby, both flat track (WFTDA) and banked track (RDCL), quitters can win.

The rules make it that way.

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USARS Finalizes Derby Rules, Launches Olympic Aspirations

After months of planning, tweaks, beta tests, and input of feedback, USA Roller Sports has approved its first official set of roller derby rules for submission to the the USARS executive committee for final review. They are also to be used in USARS roller derby member leagues, effective immediately.

This marks yet another important step in roller derby’s international growth. Recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee nationally, and the International Roller Sports Federation (FIRS) internationally, USARS is—by law—the only organization in the United States that can launch a legitimate push for top-level international competition or Olympic inclusion of roller derby, or any rollerskating sport in general.

That’s good to know, especially with the re-emerging news that the International Olympic Committee has short-listed roller sports (which includes roller derby) as a possible addition to the 2020 Olympic Games.

Eight sports made the list for consideration. The competition roller sports faces include baseball, softball, karate, wushu, wakeboarding, sport climbing, and squash. There’s only room for one of these to make the cut, however, since the Olypmics have already committed to adding golf and rugby to the Games starting in 2016. Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup, and all that.

Derby’s Olympic chances at this early stage in the game are likely slim. A final decision on which of the eight sports will make it in is to be made sometime in 2013. That’s too soon for the world (and men) to catch up to the sport’s explosive growth here in the United States. You can’t have an Olympic event without high-caliber athletes from all over the world taking part, after all.

Then again, all disciplines of a sport will be taken under consideration by the International Olympic Committee. Derby may have an outside chance at coming along for the ride if roller hockey, roller speed skating, and roller figure skating are deemed viable for the Summer Olympics, just as their ice skating counterparts have been part of the Winter Olympics program for decades.

Even if it’s too soon for derby to make it all the way, there are still thousands of amateur athletes within the USARS membership that have an opportunity to apply their skills to the sport of roller derby.

So that we know what those men and women might be getting themselves into, let’s familiarize ourselves with the style of roller derby USARS is bringing to the table.

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Chess, Roller Derby, and Global Thermonuclear War




I’m fine. How are you?


Love to. How about Global Thermonuclear War?


Hmmm… sure, why not? Let’s play chess instead.

We’ll play Global Thermonuclear War later.




I…what? Derby chess? What’s that?


Sounds like fun. Let’s play derby chess.


Okay, I…uh, what? What do you mean sacrifice a piece? We haven’t started the game yet.


That’s not fair.


That’s not fair! Why should you get to start the game with more pieces on the board than I do? I didn’t do anything to deserve that!


Fine, I’ll remove a pawn. I just want to play chess, geez.


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The Pack Solution

There’s been a problem brewing in modern roller derby. If the last few months are any indication, it’s a problem that’s been getting worse and worse.

I’m talking about jams during flat track games that take a while to get started…if they get started at all. Slow-pack starts, pack no-starts, non-jams. Whatever you call them, a lot of people are starting to not like them. Unless something is done about them, there’s no indication of them going away. In fact, the trends are pointing to the problem getting worse before it gets better.

At first, jams were going several seconds before teams crossed the pivot line to start the jam. But then, teams realized they could kill penalties during the time they slowly moved forward, eventually leading to slow jam starts of 30 seconds or more while a team stood around to burn off penalty time. As teams countered this by skating forward to start a split-pack start, good teams realized that they could take advantage of this and hold the rear of the pack, which was proving to be more and more advantageous. As jam delays were starting to hit the 45~60 second range, teams realized that once a jam was started, the only way to not give the team in the back an easy advantage was to never move forward themselves, ultimately leading to at least two instances of entire two-minute jams expiring without the jammers being released.

Although these extreme slow starts are somewhat rare in the grand scheme of derby (so far), the fact that they can happen at all, and have been starting to happen more frequently as of late in high profile games, should be a sign that there’s some changing and tweaking needing to be done with the rules to make sure that they can’t happen to begin with. Any good rulebook should be written to account for the ordinary and the extreme, and the ever-evolving WFTDA roller derby rules aren’t quite there yet on the extreme side of things.

Even so, there are those some out there that think that little oddities like the occasional dose of inaction isn’t too big of a deal. I suppose that’s true, in a way. After all, there are things that some people may like and other people may not like. You can’t please all the people all the time.

However, a group of people you absolutely must please are the spectators who come to watch and support roller derby leagues. If their booing is any indication, they don’t like it when nothing is happening on the track. If anything, making sure the paying patron is pleased at what they see (without compromising the legitimacy of the sport, of course) should be of the utmost importance.

So whether or not you think this is a small problem or a big problem, it’s still a problem that bears further investigation. But before we can do that, we first need to identify the real problem. As I’ll demonstrate, trying to fix the “problem” that a team or teams are not moving off the start line may lead to more problems down the road. This isn’t because the solutions will or will not work. It’s because the solutions being thought up for it are being applied to the wrong problem.

In this white paper for consideration of the derby community, I’ll break down what’s really causing these slow-starts and non-jams to occur, explain what’s happening with other loophole-inducing derby tactics, and offer my own custom solution for the derbyverse to take into consideration to eliminate all of these issues in one fell swoop.

Casual readers of this blog may want to turn away now, because this isn’t your run-of-the-mill blog post: This is a serious and detailed investigation of WFTDA rules and the tactics of the players who play the game within them. If you want to bail now and click somewhere else, I won’t blame you for doing so. But if you’re serious about improving roller derby on the whole, and are in a position to do something about it, please consider this article a contribution to the cause and your efforts.

As always, I thank you.


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