6 ways my relationship to derby will change, post-pandemic

A roller derby skater smiles at the camera while a crowd behind watches on

Some leagues in my area are scrimmaging, some are slowly trying to return, others are still on hiatus … maybe forever?, and my league is spending time investing in the 50 or so women in my town who bought roller skates during the pandemic and waited to try out for our team. Unless your league jumped right back into scrimmages and bouts, you’re probably in some state of frustration as a competitive derby skater. I am, a little. It’s a good time to reflect on how things shifted.

Derby changed; it had to. Many skaters’ [and officials’] approach to the sport changed too. 

I’m making changes to my relationship to roller derby. I cringe at the decisions the January-2020 version of me made. That month, I went to a tournament with a severe head cold. We played the second half of a game with a two-jammer rotation and I felt like absolute death. The team bench was littered with boxes of my used tissues. That version of me never thought to not go to the tournament. Today-me would never do that again. 

Here’s what else is changing (and I’d love to hear what’s changed for you, in the comments). Heads up: This starts light but gets real real:

The opportunity cost of roller derby — aka racking up PTO

By May 2020 derby’s hiatus appeared on my pay stub. My accrued time off ticked up to numbers I’ve never seen. So this is what happens if you don’t constantly travel for bouts and tournaments. That pay stub gave me clarity. The opportunity cost of a season of derby tournaments was a three-week trip to … well, anywhere. 

This was the first of my Pandemic Derby Revelations: I’m not going to travel as much for derby in the future. 

I live in Maine. If you want to play an opponent, you’re traveling. When Maine hasn’t fielded a team for state tournaments, I’ve been on state teams Team Mass and Team Vermont. Vermont is a six-hour commute. I’m also a staple of my home league’s WFTDA-charter jammer roster … stepping away from travel may be significant to my team. Maine Roller Derby doesn’t have a travel team right now, but when that day comes, I plan to have an honest chat with everyone about what I can offer. I accept that may mean I’m not wanted on the WFTDA charter anymore. Should that be the case, I plan to help prepare the team for their bouts and coach newer jammers to succeed.  … You know, when I’m not taking surfing vacations with all my time off. 

I want to be a competitive player, and I also want to be able to take a break, and spend some time on other fulfilling activities.

And hey, maybe you don’t have paid time off. Another way to frame this is: rest. My league never took an off season longer than four weeks. We need rest sometimes – even *gasp* a whole summer.

I attend practices that serve me

Oof that sounds selfish! But it’s true. I used to attend every fresh meat practice, in addition to all-league and scrimmage nights (home team and travel team’s). Having 100% attendance made my little virgo brain tingle with dopamine … even if that meant several three-hour practices a month of going over boring-to-me basics.

My league is small, so there are times it’s important to be at practice – mostly scrimmage nights. I’m also a practice leader, so I will continue my twice/month obligation to my league. But on the other nights, like basic skills nights, I’ll be home (or doing other activities).

“The retirement plan” activity

Speaking of “other activities” — ironically, pre-pandemic I was working on a blog post about how to plot out a retirement. I have been quietly, furiously working on my retirement-from-derby plan for four years now. To be clear: I don’t intend to retire from this sport. But I’ve seen a lot of people leave who didn’t intend to retire. The lucky ones get to choose their exit day. I know I might not be so lucky, so I’ve been developing other hobbies to ready myself for a day where maybe I can’t roller skate. This came in handy for the two+ years my league shut down.

A good retirement plan fulfills the three essential aspects of roller derby: Community, exercise, fun. Regular exercise groups like Zumba – or even an activity like mountain biking – meet one or two of those IMO (exercise, maybe fun), book clubs meet two (community, fun). Finding all three – and an activity that matches your skills and interests isn’t always easy (I’ve twice been to rugby’s freshie days and it just didn’t stick). It’s the trifecta that keeps people in derby for 10+ years. Many people I’ve seen leave the sport say they’ll exercise, and after a few months they don’t … because they need the community commitment to encourage them to return to an activity. 

For me, I’m competitive, so I like Crossfit. While I do a lot of other activities including skiing, mountain biking and sea kayaking, Crossfit is another place where I get community, fun and exercise. It wouldn’t be “fun” for everyone, but I like the aspect of constantly learning new skills, like how to walk on your hands. 

Becoming more compassionate

January 2020 Dash would hate this post. She’d tell me that my skills will stagnate if I don’t go to every practice, and I’ll let my team and myself down if I don’t go to every travel-team game. The break the pandemic offered gave me a lot more compassion for people’s situations. I used to get upset that my travel-team teammates wouldn’t work on their fitness or endurance or strength outside of practices. Now I don’t care. If that’s not what fits in their life, or serves them, or they’re just not interested, whatever. I’m not going to hold it against them anymore. I’ll still let the new teammates know it will prevent injury, among other benefits. But we all have to make choices these days and derby just may not fit the way it used to for some folks.

“The retirement plan” friends 

In the 12 years I’ve been playing derby, I’ve seen a lot of people join a league with the expectations that they have a new family, a new group of people who will always be there for them, instant friends1. Wow, that’s a lot to put on an activity! When those people leave, I’ve heard them say how sad they are that they lost their whole friend group. They thought after they left the sport they’d still see their former teammates outside of practices and games … but they didn’t. 

This, IMO, is two things. The first: Those teammates are busy practicing three nights a week plus bouts on the weekend … they may not have much time to see you. The second is much harder to hear: You didn’t actually invest in friendships

A teammate is not, inherently, a friend. If you’d like to make a friend, you need to invest in that person. Ask them out for post-practice sodas, hang outside of derby, etc. For most of us, there will be a time when we don’t skate anymore. If you want to build your community, it’s important to bring your friends with you when you go by forging relationships that are stronger than situational friendships. 

Invest in people

There was a year for me when terrible things accompanied two bout days. On one of them, I played derby after a funeral. Again: today’s version of me would never continue life while something terrible was happening; I wouldn’t go to that game now. But then, I did, [and frankly, it was great for my mental health after a week+ of supporting people through mourning]. It taught me something. I’ll never forget coming back from a funeral, sitting on the bench looking at my teammates, and thinking, “none of this matters. Y’all are all that matters.” 

I’ve never remembered a game score. Not sure I could even tell you my highest point count per jam. I couldn’t tell you with any accuracy which games we lost, or won (except the couple that taught me bigger lessons). Because, really: It doesn’t matter. And this is coming from the most competitive person you’ll ever meet. It’s like Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Your legacy won’t be in your wins. It’ll be in the people you helped, cared for, made memories with. So figure out how to get yourself more of that. 

1 That’s a cult

Feature photo by Jim Vernier.

I want to hear from you. I want to know how the pandemic has changed your relationship to roller derby. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. -Dash 

Elemental Jamming: Define your style, build your skills

Are you a slippery water jammer? Or do you bulldoze like an earth jammer?

Those are the questions my teammates started asking each other after a jamming clinic with Miss Tea Maven earlier this year where she summarized a theory, Elemental Jamming. Earth jammers are strong and push through, Air doesn’t want to be touched and will quickly whirl around the outside, fire has the intensity to hit hit hit, and water uses opponents to glide through cracks in walls.

I followed up with Maven who let me know Elemental Jamming is the brainchild of Optimus Grime, a skater for Manchester Roller Derby and Team Scotland. He was nice enough to break it all down for us:


  • Earth is immovable, physically and emotionally. They decide a path and are immovable from it.
  • Keeps shoulders and hips square, drives with legs and puts pressure on all points of contact. Requires core strength.
  • Stubborn as hell. Resilient and enduring.
  • Strength:The middle and constant contact
  • Weakness: Speed
  • Example you may know: Freight Train, Short Stop


  • Fast, airborne and jumping. Uses expressive body posturing, like a dancer.

  • Fearless, playful, fun and free

  • The original/classic style of jamming: skate hard, go fast, be quicker than other people

  • Strength: Speed and efficiency

  • Weakness: Risky and cardio-intensive

  • Example you may know: Rollomite, Mutch Mayhem circa 2015 (she’s becoming more earthly)


  • Water jammers use rotation movements to flow past opponents using their body and momentum. They uses deception and absorption of force.

  • They are balanced, patient, ever-changing, unpredictable

  • They use opponents and teammates to roll through. They absorb force and use it to their advantage.

  • Mindset: Balanced, placid

  • Strength: Unpredictable and adaptable

  • Weakness: Relies on space

  • An example you may know: Lady Trample, Miss Tea Maven


  • Fire jammers are explosively driven and refuse to allow anything to stand in the way

  • They use oblique twists, a stance that’s loaded to one side, aggressive pressure and explosive movement

  • Desire and unbreakable will

  • Strength: Strong mental game and physical tenacity

  • Weakness: Can burn out of control or become too aggressive.

  • Examples you may know: Missile America (retired, Rat City), Scald Eagle

“People quickly identify which they are and what they’re good at naturally, and they can identify what they’re not good at. Most people are a mix of two, the most common is air/water combined (bubble),” said Grime, who identifies as a fire jammer.

A jammer is breaking through a pack of roller derby skaters
This is Grime, who identifies as a fire jammer. Photo by NSP189 whose Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/nsp189/ and used with photographer permission.

Once someone knows what they are and what they aren’t, they can focus on building up their weaker styles. It gives a common language to chunks of skills, but without a hierarchy. It’s not better to naturally be an earth than a fire. For some people, that helps them open up to their strengths and weaknesses without judgement.

“I like this as a coaching tool,” he said. “Because blockers outnumber jammers usually 80 percent of training is geared toward blockers. Jammers are generally told, ‘just do your thing’ with limited coaching. This concept gives people a simple structure of who they are, what they do naturally and identifies what they could work on. It carries on so even if you achieve avatar status, you can still think about developing your different styles. It gives an appealing structure quickly.”

Grime came up with this framework after he and his teammates Tea Virus, Phoenix and Hugs n Kisses started comparing jamming to the tribes and characters in the cartoon show Avatar: The Last Airbender. He built it up from there. The ideal is to become an “avatar” who can harness the strengths of all the jamming elements.

“In my head the overall goal is become an avatar,” Grime said. “If someone is only jukey, they’re easy to predict. If they’re only pushy they’re easy to predict. If they can juke and hit and spin they’re difficult to deal with.”

“It’s about jumping between style as you jump between moves. It’s about coming in placid and switching to what you need during gameplay. It opens up a spectrum of ideas and body shapes and even computer-style combos. Like try earth move then air move then fire move — it’s endless like a martial arts sequence is endless, so long as you have the ability. Unless you’re athletically inclined it’s difficult to be able to do all four because some aren’t achievable without some athletic ability,” he said.

Many people are a combination of two styles.

Bubble jammer: air, water
Fire earth: lava
Dust/sand: earth and air
Steam: water, air, fire   … etc.

“It’s fun just thinking about these ideas,” Grime said.

It is.

Some people’s cross-training informs their style.

“You’ll see patterns,” Grime said. “Powerlifters seem to be earth jammers: they’re not afraid of slow grinding muscle movements like a slow grinding deadlift and being stubborn, it’s a powerlifter mentally. I’ve seen boxers and rugby players with that fire mindset – that mindset is important to fire jamming. Air is used to keeping a set pace like runners, having that agile ability. Stef ainey was a water jammer and they used to do some sort of aggressive tai chi.”

Once you identify your natural element, you’ll want to work on a not-as-natural one. Grime suggests working only on that element, to the detriment, for at least one month before moving on.

“You won’t be successful at first and it takes control of your brain to say ‘I’m only doing this style of movements even if I don’t get lead and don’t get anywhere,’” he said.

He suggests “sparring,” going through the motions without trying to hit people down, just drilling the actual motions repeatedly and plotting out next moves.

So you want to work on it? Here are some of his tips:

Tips for earth jamming:

Tips for air jamming:

  • Have faith or hope for being successful

  • Approach pack at high speed

  • Surrender your body to a task, even if it is risky

  • Mindset: I’m am free. I am brave!

  • Watch one of Grime’s air move drills.

Tips for water jamming:

  • Lead with your hips; try a seated shape

  • Practice using the force of an opponent’s hit to shape your next move

  • Work on 180 and 360 transitions

  • Mindset: go with the flow

  • Be patient for opportunities

  • Watch Grime’s demo of a water drill

Tips for fire jamming:

  • Fire jammers often use shoulders or whole body, rather than leading with hips

  • Crosstrain oblique twists and explosive movements (plyometrics)

  • Mindset: Get out of my f****** way

  • Watch one of Grime’s fire drills.

Having a hard time picturing it? Grime has this video demo of some moves different styles do. This short one is good for visual learners too.

Drop how you identify in the comments.

Optimus Grime is a jammer for Team Scotland and Manchester Roller Derby. He is a coach and will be leading a small US west-coast tour after RollerCon (where he’s teaching Elemental Jamming). Grime also used to be a circus performer, acting as an acrobatic base and a unicycler. Find more of his clinics and more information on his Facebook page facebook.com/optimusgrime10


Death to the jammer lap point: Interview with a murderer

A jammer gets 5 points

Today everyone got word, “jammer lap points will be eliminated.” We are all getting ready to wave goodbye to those 5-point passes. Super jams.

Before we do, I want to introduce you to the man who helped get us here. Code Adam is a long-time, high-level referee who now bench coaches Arch Rival All Stars. He is also the [proud] murderer of the jammer lap point (JLP).

In 2016 Adam conducted a thorough, unscientific study about the JLP and how no one gets them right. You can read his full analysis here, or his abridged version here. To try to summarize for you:  To track JLPs, a person needs to be able to track the location of two jammers at the same time — a relatively impossible task given everything else a jammer referee is responsible for. This, plus some funky situations leads to no one getting JLPs right. Adam’s study broke down the 2016 playoffs and champs, a place with many certified, high-level officials and found no pair of jam refs got these points consistently correct, with 130 uncorrected errors in the games — 18 of which were won by only 1 to 4 points. More on this below.

What’s it feel like, being a murderer? (I kid, I kid). But seriously, how does it feel to have the WFTDA (a vote by leagues all over the world) back you in your conclusions and take action on killing the JLP?

I’m very, very happy this happened. It is something I have been thinking and talking about for close to 3 years, much to the annoyance of those around me. I’m so glad I was able to effectively communicate my point of view.

Were you surprised that the derby community was relatively quick to make this change, once you proved that so many 5-point-passes are mis-awarded?

I was extremely surprised that skaters voted to get rid of them. I felt the only people who were on my side were officials, and they — rightfully — only get one collective vote among hundreds cast for rules changes. If any change was going to take place, I had to convince most skaters that this thing that had been with the sport since its inception was actually way more complex than any sport’s method of scoring should be. I acknowledged from the start that my study wasn’t scientifically rigorous, and I meant it more as just a jumping off point for others to start their own conversations about it. It seems like that was successful.

Why did you do this study in the first place?

Back in 2016, my officiating peers and I were putting a lot of effort into getting jammer points right: we developed methods of communication and thought processes that would allow us to track who was lapping whom and when. I found that this wasn’t enough, though. The chaos of the game crept into our best-laid plans and caused mistakes. As much thought as I put into it, there was no way to guarantee a point wouldn’t be missed or erroneously added. The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a complex thing jammer referees were being tasked with doing.

I didn’t have any real goal in mind when I started logging the mistakes I saw (and produced myself) at WFTDA Playoffs in 2016, but once I got rolling with it, I wanted to capture everything and share with the community a problem that I feel no one outside of my peers knew existed.

You beautifully outlined how it’s nearly impossible to get JLPs correct in a 29-page study. For people who didn’t read it — or had difficulty understanding it — could you summarize?

I wanted to shed light on the fact that jammers being scored on by other jammers was an extremely difficult thing to track.

  1. I laid out all the reasons from a rules/game perspective why tracking these kinds of points was hard not just for referees, but for spectators, too.
  2. I showed the results of a survey/quiz I distributed to all kinds of members of the derby community — from highly accomplished officials to skaters on the world’s best teams — in which they watched a single jam as many times as they wanted to identify how many Jammer Lap Points each jammer scored. Answers were all over the place, and only a small percentage of people got it right.
  3. I watched all 116 games from WFTDA 2016 Playoffs and Champs to log every single mistake with jammer points and the situations that led to them. There were a lot of mistakes, simply because there are so many different situations that can lead to them.

It all comes down to the fact that jammers can move independently of the pack, so referees and spectators need to keep track of where each jammer is relative to one another at all times. This can prove difficult, especially for a Jammer Referee who needs to keep their eyes on a single jammer the whole time.

I am a jammer. I am also a jammer-ref. As a jammer, I want to tell you that this elimination makes me incredibly sad. As a jammer referee, your study changed my entire way of thinking. The day before your study came out, I would have told people I 100% understand how to award jammer lap points and do so correctly most of the time. The day your study came out, I knew I was entirely wrong (and so was everyone else). What feedback did you get from the derby community upon posting this? 

I first posted this on the WFTDA forums in January 2017 (immediately after a new set of rules came out, so I wasn’t expecting anything to immediately happen with it), and I got generally positive responses then. Most people had not thought about the craziness that is jammer lap points (JLP) before, and it helped people evaluate the actual value they brought to the sport relative to the amount of mental energy it takes to track them.

So while the people on the forums were very positive, it’s important to note the forums are made up of people who volunteer to be their league’s representative on there: that gave me a very small, specific niche of the derby community that probably is not a great bellwether of what the community as a whole might feel about a large challenge to an existing institution. Given the timing with the recent rules release, I simply hoped the educational aspect would help reduce mistakes until the next time we got the opportunity to change the rules.

This last summer, wanting to generate more support for my cause before the imminent vote, I posted a slightly abridged version of my original write-up on Medium. I felt this got me a slightly wider range of responses, though the negative ones were never really more than expressing the opinion “it’s always been that way.”

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 10.32.42 PM

The biggest shock to me was your playoffs/champs stats. You wrote, “In the 118 games at 2016 Playoffs/Champs, 191 mistakes with Jammer Points were recorded, though 61 were corrected after the jam. [80 missed, 50 added – uncorrected]” Which is just incredible. Did that shock you? 

Because of the number of mistakes I myself was making despite dedicating way too much mental energy to tracking them, it wasn’t surprising to me that others who weren’t thinking about it as much were messing it up, too. In my study, I laid out 13 different ways something can go wrong when figuring out if a point should be awarded for scoring on the other jammer. On a long enough timeline, you’re going to see a lot of mistakes being made.

What was ultimately the most surprising to me was the results of the survey I distributed. Even when tasked with ignoring all other parts of roller derby, people who should be experts in our sport were not able to identify how many JLPs jammers were scoring. This illustrated the main issue to me: JLPs made the scoring rules of our sport inaccessible to anyone less than an expert, and no sport should have points being scored unbeknownst to everyone watching. It is apparent to me that the only way I can consistently track them as a spectator is if I ignore almost everything else; otherwise, I am just trusting the jammer referee to get it right.

JLPs made the scoring rules of our sport inaccessible to anyone less than an expert

I know others have discussed ideas like, “4 points only when the jammer is out of the engagement zone” or “1 point per pass” to simplify scoring. Was this the solution you wanted?

It was.

When toying with the idea of axing JLPs, I had considered the idea of earning a 5th point when the jammer completes a scoring trip and exits the Engagement Zone. This would give the other team incentive to force a call-off with the lead jammer still in the pack even if she has scored on everyone already. I never felt that strongly about it, though, and I wanted the focus to be on the thing that I felt was detrimental to the sport. The community was bound to only accept one large change to scoring at a time, so maybe this can come in the future.

There was a small push from some to keep JLPs but remove the idea that lapping position was “reset” when a penalized jammer returned from the box. (The current/old rules dictated the first time a jammer passed the other previously penalized jammer, a point would not be scored.) While this concept did cause confusion among a lot of people, this solution wasn’t sufficient for me. Most officiating errors with JLPs had nothing to do with this weird rule or penalized jammers, and the survey/quiz I distributed that returned wildly inconsistent answers among the community had them watch a jam with no jammer penalties. Had this change happened, we still would have seen lots of confusion regarding JLPs.

Not everyone would do what you did. Do you do data analysis for work? Or is this just a side passion?

You are being a bit kind by just saying “not everyone” would be weird enough to spend hours going through footage of 116 roller derby games to provide evidence for some kind of point. Working with data is the basis for my day job, and it informs a lot of how I operate elsewhere in my life. I knew challenging the status quo of scoring in this sport would require a lot of evidence to back up my claim; I couldn’t just offer my own personal experiences. I ultimately decided a complete list of everything from the most popular games of the year would be the most powerful message.

You laid out the reasons JLP needs to die, but are there any good arguments for it to stay? As a greedy jammer, I want 5 points for passing 5 people. Do you think it’s enough of a benefit that the other jammer is stuck?

I get that people want credit for every single person they pass, but it’s mostly arbitrary that they get an additional point for the jammer.

What effect do you think eliminating the JLP will have on the sport?

Most importantly, the sport will be easier to officiate and easier to spectate. It will be a lot more obvious when a jammer is scoring a point, and there is no need to allocate mental space to remember which jammer passed the other one more recently. Beyond that, I don’t think there will be much of a change in gameplay or outcomes.

From a gameplay standpoint, right now we just see a very small number of times each game the lead jammer will continue the jam a few seconds longer to catch the other jammer out of the Engagement Zone to score one final point. Eliminating the ability for that extra point will mean a few jams get called off a few seconds earlier. With the opposing jammer still in the pack, not scoring a JLP doesn’t change anything about what a jammer is trying to do: get out of the pack so they can make it around again for an additional chance to score points.

As far as the outcome of games, a referee from Gotham named Ref in Peace released a follow-up study to mine that answered the question, “What would happen to recent games if we changed all the 5-point passes to 4-point passes?” From his data set of 394 games, he found 2.5% of games had their outcome change, and all those games had an original margin of victory of 5 or fewer points. This essentially means if you had won your game by 6 or more points with JLPs, you would win the game without them. And if you’re winning the game by 5 or fewer points, one small thing could have gone differently in that game that would have made you lose. So they are not really helping the better team win, nor are they helping the opponent stay in the game. They’re just this arbitrary thing that does not add enough actual value to keep around.

Are you worried about these complications happening all over again when we get into star passes (jammer turns blocker = point)?

Not particularly. The Rules Committee should be able to handle the limited number of scenarios that can happen with star passes. The rules now have the casebook in which they can spell out specific scenarios in a way that still has them universally applicable. I am confident everything will be easier.

What else needs to change in roller derby?

I don’t feel as strongly about anything else as I did about JLPs, as there is nothing that is as widely misunderstood as JLPs were.

One thing related to knowledge of scoring that came on my radar recently was score reporting as the clock ticks down near the end of the game. In A Coruña, there was a final jam that ended with 5 seconds left in a very close game with both teams sitting on clock stoppages. The jammer referees put up the score immediately, but the final score tally from the jam was not on the scoreboard until long after the period time had hit 0:00. There is always going to be a delay in getting points visible on the scoreboard (what if a jammer referee had to talk to a referee on the outside to get feedback on whether points were earned, delaying the reporting even more?), but I think teams should not be forced to guess as to whether they should be using a timeout before they know if they are winning or not. An idea I came up with after seeing this game—and something that could be easily built into any scoreboard application — is if a jam ends with less than 30 seconds on the period clock, the period clock will stop until the scoreboard operator hits a button that indicates the score from the previous jam is fully entered, at which time the period clock and normal 30-second lineup clock will start up. This would give teams the opportunity to see what the score actually is so they can decide whether or not to use a timeout.

As a sort of aside, but I’m very curious: How did your officiating background translate to coaching? 

The fact that I have never played the game gives me these large blind spots into so many parts of derby, including how skaters think and what reasonable expectations are for on-track awareness. I offer a very niche point of view coming at it from a long-time official’s perspective, and I acknowledge it’s a very limited scope. It makes me feel like a football team’s low-level assistant coach who is just in charge of training the long-snapper on how to hike the ball to the punter: it’s an important role that can give a team a small competitive advantage, but even if that long-snapper only does his job half as well as I taught him, it’s not going to have much of an effect on whether the team wins.

Are the jammer refs at Arch’s games terrified? I would be.

Those jammer referees are around me all the time, so they have suffered through my complaints about JLPs off the track enough to know how to get it right on the track.

Has coaching taught you anything new about the sport? 

It would have been incredibly arrogant of me to come into coaching thinking I had nothing to learn about the sport when I have only officiated it. I have learned a lot about things as simple as what happens on a bench during a game to the complex nature of how specific jam-start strategies work. And whereas early in my career I was just the stupid referee congratulating himself for calling some small technical penalty that no one else in the venue saw and which didn’t offer the team any real advantage, I now fully understand how terrible penalties are and how detrimental they can be to a team.

Are you retired from officiating?

Unless something large changes, I won’t be traveling to officiate derby anymore. I largely achieved what I wanted to, and I don’t want to take a tournament spot away from a person who deserves and probably wants it more at this point. I still help out with local play for Arch Rival, though I imagine this will be my last season.

Wanting to get back into soccer but realizing I am now terrible at playing it after so many years away, I recently started officiating that. While the pay is better, I know it will never give me the community that roller derby did.

Code Adam has officiated roller derby since 2009, working as a skating official at three World Cups, 18 WFTDA Playoff tournaments, and 5 WFTDA Championship tournaments. Since 2017, he has served as a bench coach for the Arch Rival All Stars.

7 easy tips to improve your jamming

A jammer skates around a roller derby track

So you want to be a better jammer. Here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way that are so easy you can implement them at your next scrimmage:


Use your lap time to take a breath … unless there’s no time

A lot of newer skaters think that as a jammer you must fight through the pack, then sprint to do it all over again. And I really like that assumption. For the most part, that’s exactly what jammer should do.

But there’s something to be said about taking a breath. If you’ve fought and fought and fought through a pack and you’re finally out of the engagement zone (without fear that someone will come pull you back), if you need to take the extra [literal] 2 seconds it will take for you to catch your breath, reset and be a strong, penalty-free jammer when you have to fight through that pack again: Do it.

Don’t be lazy. This isn’t an excuse to lallygag, it’s a strategy. If those couple of deep breaths are going to keep you clean and better prepare you for the 2-minute fight, take it.

Sometimes the game clock says you have 8 seconds and it’s a tied game. This tip is not for that moment. It’s for almost every other moment you’re jamming.

Aim for the weakest … or strongest

Maybe it’s obvious to aim for the weakest blocker on the opposing team. She’ll fall out of her wall, you’ll slip through and there will be points and glory and confetti. So do that.

… unless …

Unless you’re a bulldozer of a skater. One of those super strong women who frequently gets back-block calls off the line even though you feel you’ve hit cleanly (but with force). If you’re that skater, try aiming for the gap by their strongest blocker(s) because they’re less likely to fall when you hit them legally, but with force.

Look at their feet

At the jam start, whose feet are in a plow stop, whose feet are in a hockey stop and whose feet are pointing straight ahead? Aim for the people whose feet are pointed straight ahead, whose wheels are ready to roll right out of play.

Be patient with yourself / figure them out

Ever go into your first jam of a bout, get denied lead and think, “this might not be my day.”? If so, this is for you. You got to let that shit go. Give yourself two jams to figure out the other team — and *use* them. Really think, “ok, when I hit X that didn’t work, maybe I need to try my line work.” Address whatever issues came up and try a few approaches early so you can quickly figure out their weaknesses and exploit them all game long. I will accept “losing” the first two jams if it means winning the next 38. Be patient with yourself.

The mental game of struggle v failure

Struggle is a big part of jamming at all levels. We’ve seen Champs games that have 2-minute-no-lead jams. It’s not because those jammers suck. Struggle is part of the job of jamming. In the moments you feel struggle, know it’s *not* failure. When you’re pushing a wall of strong blockers and they’re not moving much, that’s not you failing — it’s you trying and learning and working. This is the work of a jammer. It’s normal. If you can embrace it, you’ll be happier and go farther.

If you’re going to pass, do it kindly and clearly

Desperate times call for desperate star passes … wait, no …

It’s often the exhausted jammer who will get the Star Pass Violation penalty … or just be flat-out not-so-nice to their pivot by offering a poorly positioned pass. Don’t be that person.

If you’d like to execute a pass:

  • Alert your pivot
  • Make sure your pivot has a chance to get to the front of the pack
  • Be upright and in bounds
  • Only pass if your pivot is upright and in bounds
  • If complete, be helpful, either as offense of as a blocker. Your team still needs you.

And on a not-so-PC note: Think about your pivot. If you’re unable to make it through this pack, is s/he the type of skater who could make it through? Hopefully yes. But if it’s a “no” it might be less damage to your team’s score for you to suffer through the two minutes. It also means you should talk to your bench coach when you get back and ask for a pivot whose skill set is different than your own, so that if your skills aren’t working on a wall, maybe hers will.

Practice stupid shit

Play at practice. Play at warmups. Even on your own. Play with your one-footed turns, your 360s, play with your backward duck walks, dance on your toe stops, skate without toe stops — anything that’s challenging, weird and fun. Do it. Even if it seems useless, it’s not. When we practice weird shit, we inherently get better at the normal shit, our balance gets better and we as competitive humans love to play … and love is important. 

A jammer skates around the roller derby track in green shorts
Breath on your laps. Photo by Joshua M Hoover, used with permission.

Other game changers:

  • Cross train like a mother.
  • Watch high-level footage. Having a visual of what “success” looks like is a proven way to reach proficiency. The more footage you watch, the better you will get.
  • Work on your mental game (books, meditation, however you do you).
  • Jam ref. You’ll learn so much more about how to be a great jammer and secret tips only refs know. Seriously.


Got tips? I could sure use em 😉 Drop em in the comments:

You should ref (or NSO) more, skater

A roller derby jammer and the same person is the roller derby referee

Want to learn more rules, skating skills, gain a deeper understanding of why you’re going to the box and see your skating role in a whole new way? Easy peasy: Put on some stripes (or a black/pink/blue shirt — I ❤ you, NSOs).

You’ll become a better derby player … and who knows, maybe it will help shift your league culture (I’ve seen it happen, folks) and develop more long-term league sustainability.

Here are some excuses/valid fears we can debunk right here and now:

“But I don’t know how”

You also didn’t know how to play roller derby a few years ago. By knowing the game and having skating ability, you’re already way ahead of new-to-derby officials.

“But I don’t know the rules”

Perhaps part of the reason you don’t know the rules is because you read the rules … and maybe you’re not a learner who absorbs words from pages into your brain.  Maybe a hands-on, skates-on, whistle-on approach is exactly what you need to gain a better understanding and context of the rules.

“But the skaters will yell at me”

Your teammates will not yell at you in your first few times of trying officiating. If they do, you should take a hard look at your league’s culture. After you get some experience, if they yell at you, you’ll have the confidence to issue that insubordination penalty with a smile.

“But I once kind of yelled at an official and I’m nervous”

That official will likely be happy that you’re now in a position of curiosity (unless you were abusive). Curiosity often leads to empathy. You’re about to learn how much went into someone’s call that you argued. Also don’t yell or kinda-yell at officials.

“OK but I’m not scared of skaters yelling at me or my own capability. I just don’t want to.”

I get it. But you have no idea what you don’t know about your own sport. Doesn’t that make you curious?

“I don’t have time. I must skate in the scrimmages, not officiate them.”

There are few of us in the whole Roller Derby Universe who have skated every scrimmage. There are going to be times your body says, “can we please not tonight?” and when you’re smart enough to listen, remember learning to officiate is an option. It’ll strengthen you as an athlete in new ways.


If you’re a member of leadership or training on your league, I’d highly encourage you to integrate officiating into your new-skater training. It’s an easy ask at that stage because everything is new, so why wouldn’t they try being a ref just like they try jumping over cones? It breaks down the fear that a lot of “older” skaters develop; thus it also breaks down the walls between your officiating crew and your skating teams. Please don’t use officiating as a punishment if you can help it. Officiating is a fun sport too.

Ready? Great. Here’s how you can start learning to referee.


A roller derby jammer and the same person is the roller derby referee
Skater, ref … some of the same skills. That’s me as both. And, no, refs don’t usually wear arm bands, but hey. Style points. Photos by Joshua M Hoover and Hispanic Attack — both used with permission.

Chill. You’re not wasting your life playing roller derby

A roller derby jammer skated around the track. It's Hard Dash, who writes this blog

Sometimes my friends say/post things like, “I’ve been playing roller derby for XYZ years. If I’d put that time and money into something else — I could be a [insert high-paying job or similar goal here] by now.”

Sometimes I think it too. It’s just math, right? Three-hour practices three times a week for let’s say 5 years might be 2,200+ hours depending on breaks and tournaments. Maybe it’s $2,000* if your league dues are about $30 — not including gear, skates, travel costs, uniforms …

As my derby age ticks up, I have these unwanted thoughts more often.

“What could I have done with my time and money?”

There’s an underlying message there … and it’s pretty cruel: What you’re doing isn’t important. Roller derby is trivial. You dummy, why didn’t you spend all your time and money on something *useful.*

To that, my heart responds to my intrusive brain in Amelia Earhart’s words:

Adventure is worthwhile in itself.

Adventure is worthwhile. Taking time for yourself is worthwhile. Helping other people find joy, sport and adventure is worthwhile. You’re worthwhile.

Heck, I’d pay that $2,000 — in my case at 7.5 years, closer to $3,000 — and 3,300+ hours any day for the friends I’ve gained alone. Never mind the 3,300 other lessons derby have given me.


Need another self-care derby post? Check out this oldie-but-goodie: 7 ways to forgive yourself (for the stupid shit you do) in roller derby


*A lot cheaper than whatever doctorate you wanted. 

Feature photo by Jim Vernier, used with permission. 

Roller derby finances: Comparing the top nonprofit leagues in WFTDA

How do the top teams in WFTDA stack up financially? After a couple weeks digging through the data, namely 2013 public tax documents that all nonprofits file, I have the answers for you. Make your bets now. Continue reading “Roller derby finances: Comparing the top nonprofit leagues in WFTDA”

Love is the most important part of roller derby — and it can make your team more competitive

It’s taken me a long time to learn this lesson: Love is the most important part of roller derby.

That’s not mushy flib-flab.

You know what makes people the best at what they do? They fucking love it. [More to this story below]

Photo by Judy Beedle Photography (more at https://www.facebook.com/JudyBeedlePhotography?fref=photo )
Photo by Judy Beedle Photography (more at https://www.facebook.com/JudyBeedlePhotography?fref=photo )

From Steve Levitt, economist from MIT and Harvard who now teaches at Chicago:

“Loving what you do is such a completely unfair advantage to anyone you are competing with who does it for a job. People who love it they go to bed at night thinking about the solutions. They wake up in the middle of the night, and they jot down ideas, they work weekends. It turns out that effort is a huge component of success in almost everything. We know that from practice and whatnot. And people who love things work and work and work at it. Because it’s not work — it’s fun.”

I know a league that went into last season with this in mind, starting with a brand new roster of less-experienced skaters, but they moved up 10 ranking spots that season anyway.

People who have fun at practice come to all the practices. Teammates who love each other support each other in their walls and help their struggling jammer friend even faster. Skaters who are friends off-the-track almost are always stronger than other pairs on the track because they know how each other thinks and communicates. Coaches who love their team and the sport think about new strategies, ways to improve and individual feedback while daydreaming at work. Newer skaters will see your team radiating love and want to be part of it and will work hard to get there.

Want to be more competitive? Want to boost league attendance? Cultivate a culture of love.

Hair braiding for a zebra packmate (teammate?) is love.
Hair braiding for a zebra packmate (teammate?) is love.

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