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An Introduction to Roller Derby Activities

This Contact Roller Sport Might Be Just Right for You

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Young roller derby woman skating during a roller derby bout.
David Sacks/Taxi/Getty Images

Roller derby history goes back to long races on roller skates using a short track back in the 1920s. Today, roller derby is an original American contact sport that is played on quad roller skates that requires participants to wear safety gear including a helmet, a mouthguard, a set of wrist guards, elbow pads and knee pads. Inline skates are not used in this sport today, but the RollerJam series featured derby skaters on inlines from 1999 to 2001.

Derby has taken the sports world by storm, and it continues to be the fastest growing and possibly the most entertaining roller sport in the eyes of the general public. Roller derby is popular among the masses because it is fun, highly competitive and welcomes individuals of all ages, shapes and sizes. It is viewed as a great way to get a workout, make friends, build confidence and do something that is unique and edgy. This sport as we usually see it today is played on a flat track, but some leagues are returning to the banked track format that was used in the 1960s and 1970s.

There are more than 1200 women's roller derby leagues in more than 35 countries including the North American, European, Australian, South American continents. Derby is very big in the United States, where there are women's, men's, co-ed, and even junior roller derby leagues working together to train and recruit members to grow the sport. Most derby leagues operate as a do-it-yourself group project that is run for and by the skaters who participate in them. The do-it-yourself spirit that drives the sport also allows roller derby leagues to bond by creating their own unique identities and adapt their structures to reflect their local communities.

Roller derby enthusiasts build their teams from scratch by watching and mimicking other leagues' successes and avoiding the weaknesses in other groups. Each league is as unique as the skaters and supporters that build it. Many professional athletes make money, but most roller derby skaters and their supporting staff do not get paid for their performances or for their efforts. These athletes buy skates and gear, pay monthly fees to get practice time and pitch in to support their leagues. The teams sometimes practice more than once a week and most skaters and their respective leagues participate in fundraising and community service projects on a regular basis.

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.

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.

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