What Is Flat-Track Roller Derby?

Flat-Track Roller Derby is the most vicious contact sport that you’ve probably never watched or heard of before. While most people’s only contact with roller derby is through that Ellen Page movie Whip It or the 1975 science fiction classic Rollerball, women’s roller derby is actually a widely-played sport in the United States with 463 full member leagues.

The 463 leagues are governed by the Women’s Flat-Track Derby Association (WFTDA), which has existed since 2004. What does the WFTDA do exactly?

“The mission of the WFTDA is to govern and promote the sport of flat-track roller derby and revolutionize the role of women in sports through the collective voice of its member leagues around the world. The WFTDA sets the international standards for rankings, rules, and competition each year and provides guidance and resources to the sport of flat track derby.”

You’re probably wondering- how do I even play roller derby? The WFTDA has a great one minute video explaining basic gameplay.

I will do my best to describe it as I am a beginner to roller derby.

Two 15-skater teams play two 30-minute periods, however, each team only has five skaters on the floor at once. Of those five skaters, you have four blockers and one jammer. It is the job of the jammer to try and lap the opposite team. When the jammer laps the opposing team, they get a point.

The glorious chaotic insanity of roller derby is having the blockers simultaneously play offense and defense at the same time. Their jobs are to block the opposing team and help their jammer get through the defense while at the same time also blocking the opposing team’s jammer from scoring.

Roller derby is a contact sport where skaters are allowed to block opponents with their hips, rear, and shoulders. You CANNOT block to the back, trip, or elbow the opposing team.

For more infomration, the WFTDA created this great graphic on the basics of roller derby.

derby basics

Unfortunetly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WFTDA and all roller derby competition has been put on hold. There hasn’t been any roller derby since March.

However, the WFTDA’s COVID-19 plan has achieved mainstream recognition for being the best of its kind. Seriously. Samantha Bee did a feature at the beginning of October about the WFTDA’s roller derby plan.

Roller derby player Rachel Rotten (real name Rachel Johnston) spoke about the WFTDA’s Covid-19 plan.

“We assembled a kickass team of epidemiologists to create a return to play plan that other sports have failed to create for amateur and semi-pro communities that don’t have access to the pro resources that enable bubbles and daily testing.”

The WFTDA came up with a seven-tiered system that allows the leagues to adapt and change their COVID-19 plan depending on changing pandemic conditions and the severity of the outbreak. The WFTDA also has a COVID-19 Readiness Map so you can check which parts of the world are able to play roller derby.

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The success of the WFTDA’s COVID plan is demonstrated by how many other organizations have adopted their plan. The WFTDA has received over 1,000 inquires from around the world by amateur youth leagues and school athletic programs to use their plan.

Rachel Rotten told Spectrum News, “Professional sports were really worried about monetization and figuring out how to return to play for fans and sponsor dollars and television.”

The WFTDA, on the other hand, did not have to worry about TV, sponsors, and monetization and therefore were able to focus on the health and safety of their roller derby community.

The next scheduled roller derby matchup and competition is up in the air. Hopefully we get to see some live derby action in the foreseeable future.

Check back in with Sports Are From Venus all year long as we will be covering flat-track roller derby!

For more thoughts and opinions from Zachary Diamond, check out his author page or Twitter.

(photo credit: Keith Bielat)

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