Refs Explain: Penalties!


Hey Bruiser Blog Readers!
J.C. Chaotic here, Head Ref of the BCB. The last two times I typed at you we explored the basics of the game of roller derby, the finer details of becoming Lead Jammer and explained why the refs keep yelling “NO PACK!!” at the skaters. Now let’s talk penalties.
There are different kinds of penalties – blocking penalties, skating penalties, procedural penalties and skater conduct penalties.
Blocking penalties are fairly straight forward. Basically, skaters can only use certain parts of their bodies to block an opponent (legal blocking zones). Similarly, they can only hit certain parts of an opponent’s body (legal target zones) when they block.

If Scary Blocker hits Speedy Jammer in the back, it’s illegal.  The tricky part is determining if Scary Blocker should be penalized. If the illegal block doesn’t effect Speedy Jammer’s skating – there is no penalty. If the illegal block moves Speedy around a little bit the refs will give Scary Blocker a minor penalty. If the illegal block knocks Speedy down, out of bounds, or allows Scary to gain position, the refs will give Scary a major penalty. The same metric applies for illegal blocks with the elbows, hands, forearms, etc. (It’s similar to how cops penalize speeding — 1 mph over the limit is illegal, but you probably won’t get penalized).
Skating penalties are also pretty straight forward. In a nutshell, skaters need to skate in bounds and if they get knocked out of bounds, they can’t improve their track position when they come back in bounds.

Procedural penalties are where we get down and dirty with roller derby rules. These all fall under “Illegal Procedure” penalties. You can tell if a ref is issuing an Illegal Procedure penalty because they are moving their arms in a circular motion in front of the body… like fancy dancing.


Illegal procedure penalties are issued for false starts, having too many skaters on the track, improper uniform, not having the proper safety equipment, blocking before the jam starts, and not following the penalty box procedures. A Jammer will also receive an Illegal Procedure penalty for trying to call off the Jam when they are not the Lead Jammer. But let’s back up to penalty box procedures —> the most common penalty box procedure fouls have to do with a skater coming back on the track after leaving the penalty box. When a skater leaves the penalty box she has to re-enter play at the back of the pack (largest group of blockers, both teams, skating together… check here <hyperlink with > if you need a refresher. If a skater re-enters play in front of one pack skater, she’ll get a minor penalty. If she enters in front of more than one she’ll get a major penalty.

The last kind of penalty I’m gonna talk about are skater conduct penalties. Roller girls are crazy tough bad asses… but there are certain uber-dangerous things that can get them sent to the box for a major, or even expelled from the bout. These include fighting, biting, kicking, punching, tackling or choking another skater. The conduct rules also say that skaters will be penalized for using “obscene, profane or abusive language or gestures” directed at refs, non-skating officials, mascots, opposing skaters, coaches, and even audience members.

Want to learn more about the rules? Check them out at Want to work as a skating ref or non-skating official (the pink shirts) with the Brewcity Bruisers? Shoot me an email!

J.C. Chaotic
Head Referee – Brewcity Bruisers
* Images from the WFTDA Standardized Flat Track Roller Derby Rules (Figure 2 and Appendix C)

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