Month: June 2015

Roller Derby Glossary: A is for…

Getting to grips with roller derby vocabulary, one letter at a time.

Apex Jump

A successfully pulled-off apex jump is a Beautiful Thing to watch.  The WFTDA rules glossary defines an apex jump as –

An attempt to legally shorten the distance travelled around the curve of the track by leaping over the track boundary and landing back in bounds.

– which just doesn’t seem to do this skilled move justice. Here are a couple of short videos which better illustrate this crowd-pleasing jump…


The WFTDA rules define an assist as:

Physically affecting a teammate. Examples include, but are not limited to, a push or a whip.

Like a lot of people, the first time I ever heard of roller derby was through the film Whip It. Although I now know that actual derby play is pretty damn far away from what’s portrayed in the movie, and that game-play itself has largely evolved past the use of whips, they are still a minimum skills requirement. Whips and pushes come up section 4 of the minimum skills, ‘Pack Skills and Interactions’. A skater  ‘must demonstrate the ability to perform the following skills legally, safely, and without losing balance, stumbling, or falling, while skating at a moderate pace’:

  • Give and receive an arm whip (inside whip and outside whip);
  • Take and provide hip, belt and clothing whips (my coaches couldn’t remember the last time they’d seen someone wearing a belt in roller derby, but there you go);
  • Give and receive a push. has created some nice little videos demonstrating how to do arm whips, hip whips and pushes:

Edit 11/10/15

Saw a lovely clothing assist in this Gotham Girls vs Angel City bout, so thought I’d make a little GIF and add it to this post:

roller derby clothing assist

And here’s an arm whip in London vs Victoria:

Arm whip London vs Victoria WFTDA

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Learning the Rules: Whistles

Trying to learn the sport of roller derby, one rule at a time. 

I’ll admit – as a clueless rookie, my first priority in getting to grips with roller derby has been on the practical side: learning to skate; improving my (previously non-existent) fitness levels; trying to listen to my coaches and follow their instructions as best as possible. Something I’ve kind of neglected so far is the theory side, AKA getting familiar with the WFTDA Official Rules – all 74 pages of them. 74 pages! I’ll be honest – the idea of somehow memorising all this new information is a pretty daunting task. So I figured I’d approach it how I’ve come to approach all Big Terrifying Projects: by breaking it down into smaller, far less terrifying, bite-size chunks.

Whistles seemed like as good a place as any to start! When you start watching roller derby, especially if (like me) you’ve never really spectated any sports (that’s what people say, right?), it can be hella confusing trying to figure out what all the whistle signals mean. First and foremost, whistle signals tell everyone when a jam has started, and when it’s stopped. From the WFTDA rules:

1.5.2 A jam may last up to two minutes. Jams begin at the jam-starting whistle and end on the fourth whistle of the jam-ending signal.

1.5.6 The jam is over when an Official calls it off with four short whistle blasts. The jam ends on the fourth whistle, whether or not the whistles were inadvertent or incorrect.

In addition, there are a number of different whistle signals for the various things in a bout that whistles can be signalling. Again, from the WFTDA rules:


Description Whistle Signal
Jam-Starting Whistle One short
Lead Jammer Two rapid
Penalty One long
Timeout (Team or Official) Called Four rapid
Timeout Ended Long rolling
Jam Called Off/Ended Four rapid
Period/Game Ended Long rolling

So four rapid whistles can indicate a jam ending OR being called off by the lead jammer. It’s a referee’s whistle signal, rather than the actions of the jammer, that officially ends the jam:

2.4.7 …The Lead Jammer calls off the jam by repeatedly placing both hands on their hips until a Referee whistles the end of the jam. The jam is not over until the Referee officially calls off the jam…

I won’t list all the instances of whistle signals cropping up in the rules (because they are plentiful!) but the general idea I get is that paying attention to whistles, knowing what the different signals mean and keeping track of what they’re being used to indicate, is a key part of understanding game play whether you’re playing or even just watching roller derby. Now, off to print-out a whistle signal table and stick it to my fridge…

Image credit: Holly Occhipinti, Flickr CC

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Training Diary 8-14 June 2015

Keeping track of the training I get up to, on and off skates. 

Tuesday and Wednesday: In a bid to save money I decided to forgo my usually spin classes this week and go jogging in the sun instead. I’m lucky to live near a nice little park so I used the MapMyRun app to figure out a route just over 3 miles (just shy of 5k), taking in a few loops of the park. I’m sure everyone and their dog has heard of or used MapMyRun by now, but if you haven’t I’d recommend giving it a go. I mapped a route on my laptop then open it in the app and ‘recorded’ the route with GPS as I was jogging it (the wonders of modern technology!). I like that the app tells you your distance at each mile, but is otherwise unobtrusive, leaving you to listen to your desired running playlist. I’m definitely one of those people who needs the distraction of music to get through a run!

The weather was lovely and felt good to get outside (as opposed to the dark room I’m used to in spinning), but frustratingly I found that I had shin pain (AKA shin splints) after Wednesday. This is probably from a combination of things, primarily the fact that I don’t usually do high-impact exercise (spinning and skating just don’t ‘jar’ you the same way) and that my running shoes are a pile of crap.  I think I need to invest around £100 in a decent pair of running shoes, first going for a gait analysis to make sure I buy the right ones for how I run. In the meantime, jogging is on hold for a few weeks until my shin pain heals. Bummer.

Friday: Derby practice. Last Friday was HOT HOT HOT and crazy humid in London which made for a particularly… interesting session. Aside from hot yoga I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much! This was our 12th session (where does the time go?!), and the last before a two-week summer break . We went over stops –  plough stops (still evading me), t-stops (not so bad), transition stops (still getting ‘the fear’) – gliding on one foot, sticky skating, pace lines and pack work. We actually did some one-on-one sticky skate racing which was fun, as well as backwards racing which made me crazy dizzy (note to self: remember to look up advice on avoiding backwards-skating dizziness). Not nailing the stops bummed me out, but I feel like my pace line and pack work is improving at least!

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Roller Skating Flash Mob on London’s Southbank

This week I’m getting inspiration from these roller skating human statues on the Southbank. Would have loved to stumble across these in person! Ah to one day be this easy-going on skates… that’s the dream.

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Training Diary 1-7 June 2015

Keeping track of the training I get up to, on and off skates. 


Monday: My regular spin class, but with a kind-of-insane substitute teacher. I get the feeling that super-fit instructors that can casually chat through a high intensity interval workout sometimes forget that us regular human folk aren’t quite at the same level as them. Another absolutely killer workout!

Tuesday: Tried out this 15 minute workout video which involves 200 squats (10 sets of 20 reps) interspersed with various other standing and floor exercises – push ups, sit ups, plank pulls, bicycles – again, sets of 20 reps. It felt like a good use of 15 minutes  (plus a quick warm up before and stretches after), but I didn’t copy the squat technique in the video because I suspect it’s pretty terrible! Definitely not how we’re taught to squat in derby practice. Here’s a video showing proper squat form. 

Thursday: Went along to the open skate in Dalston for a bit of extra on-skates practice. Unfortunately it wasn’t in its usual space (a proper, if slightly slippy, wooden-floor sports hall) as it’s being used for GCSE exams, so we were on a smooth lino surface… with a few pillars thrown in for good measure! The floor actually wasn’t bad to skate on, but doing fast stuff wasn’t really an option in the limited space. Instead, I focused on practising transitions, transition stops and plough stops – some things I most need to work on.

Friday: Derby practice time! I was super excited all day, feeling like I’d really come along with transitions and transition stops at the open skate the evening before. So it was really frustrating when I struggled with these skills AGAIN in practice. Grrrrrrrr! There’s just something about being in front of the coaches and the other rookies that is making me freeze up on tricky moves. I’m sure my fitness and skills are getting better, but I really need to work on getting out of my head!

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Falling down, but not staying down

Falling down quote

Recently I came across this 1936 quote from actress Mary Pickford and I felt like it really resonated with roller derby. The full quote is “You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.” There’s just something about this quote that I really like, for roller derby or even life in general. When you find yourself on your (literal or metaphorical) ass, don’t succumb to negativity. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep moving forward.

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