Roller Derby: The Evolution of Roller Skating To Contact Sports

Following is a guest article submitted by Daniel Stratton of the U.K., where skating is hugely popular in all its forms.

What it is and Where it Originated

Roller derby is now a popular contact sport with over 1,250 amateur leagues in various countries in the world. Basically, it’s played by two opposing teams that are composed of five members each. Both teams are placed in the same track and they must roller skate in the same direction. The object of the game is to score points by lapping any member of the opposing team and this is usually done by a jammer. The jammer or the scoring player is designated by the team and it’s commonly the strongest player in the group. Every team member must protect and assist their jammer while preventing the opposing jammer from scoring. This sport requires good planning in terms of offense and defense strategies.

Roller Derby collision shot

Action shot from the blog

The sport of roller derby can trace its origin in the 1930’s when roller-skating marathons are really popular among the masses. The evolution of roller derby can be credited to Damon Runyon and Leo Seltzer who made this game into a more competitive sport. Due to their efforts, the first professional roller derby was launched in the 1940’s and made its debut in 50 US cities. It was also watched by 5 million spectators – making it the most popular contact sport during that time. However, in the next few decades it became more of a sports entertainment that favours theatrical showmanship over athleticism. During those times, matches were scripted and winners were predetermined. Television shows like “Roller Games” and “Roller Jam” presented a theatrical variant of this sport.

The modern revival of roller derby started in 2000 and it paved the way for an all-female amateur league which began in Austin, Texas. In just a span of 6 years there were over 135 leagues all over the US, and in 2006 various leagues was formed in countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, New Zealand, Finland, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Dubai, Singapore and Egypt. Soon after these leagues were formed an International competition followed in 2007 and participated by several member countries.

Amateur leagues are self-organized and formed by roller derby enthusiasts. In fact, roller derby teams are made up of members from various walks of life like lawyers, nurses, housewives, students and government employees. The diversity of players accepted in these leagues has catapulted the popularity of this contact sport. Modern roller derby matches are commonly held in flat tracks, but several professional leagues prefer banked tracks because it’s more challenging and requires better team strategy.

Equipment and Aesthetics

Generally, roller derby players skate on quad or four-wheeled roller skates, and everyone participating in a roller derby match are required to wear high quality protective equipment which can now be bought via specialised online stores like These gears will include knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, mouth guards and most importantly a helmet. Optional gears may also be needed like hard case sports bra for female participants while protective cups are for male players. Most of these gears follow a set of colour patterns and design that is unique to the team.

When it comes to style and aesthetics, roller derby players are exceptionally creative. As a matter of fact, league players skate under a “derby name” or pseudonyms which are often related to the player’s characteristics. These names can be comparable to aliases which are normally given to boxers. So, derby names like “The Slayer” or “Steam Rollers” are common among league participants.

Future of Roller Derby

Although the revival of roller derby was initiated by an all-female league, some newer leagues have introduced co-ed games or all-male teams. Roller derby is a sport for anyone who knows how to skate and has the physical capacity to play the game. Furthermore, even if some social groups view roller derby as an adult-oriented entertainment, it still has the qualities that can draw the youth into the game. After all, it’s a very competitive sport that requires strategy, skills and cooperation among team members.

There is also a strong possibility that roller derby will be included in the 2020 Olympics under the roller sport category. As of today, the sport is expanding along with its loyal followers. The media has also devoted their efforts in covering several known matches. Also, watching roller derby bouts are no longer a problem these days due to live online streaming and footage that can easily be accessed through the Internet.

Overall, roller derby is here to stay and there will come a time that it can even rival other popular sports like MMA (Mixed Martial Arts).


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