What do Referees Do? Roller Derby Positions Explained

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Roller derby is a pay-to-play sport. Run by volunteers and the derby girls themselves, there is a lot involved to make this sport work. It certainly takes more people than just the skaters. Aside from the five skaters on the track from each team, and the girls waiting on the sidelines, there are announcers, score keepers, penalty trackers, jam timers and coaches. There will be people selling merchandise and tickets. The floor crew has the important task of getting the area ready to skate according to the official requirements. People need to promote the bouts and recruit new skaters. On top of all these people there are also loads of officials.

What Does a Roller Derby Referee Do?

When you watch a bout, it may seem like there is an overkill of officials on the track. Know that each one has a specific function and are very necessary to the sport. The main role of a Roller Derby Referee is to keep order on the track. They watch for penalties, keep an eye on the jammer and watch for skaters who go out of bounds or get too far ahead or behind.

In a bout situation there is a designated Head Referee who is the ultimate authority for the match. Under this referee there are two jammer referees. These refs each watch a specific jammer. The outside referees stay on the outside of the track to keep tabs on the pack. A handful of pack referees are in place to watch the pack from the inside of the track. All these officials are on skates, in a striped black and white uniform and have a whistle around their necks or in their mouth.

New officials usually start in a non-skating position like score keeper, penalty tracker or jam timer. This gives them time to acclimate themselves to the high energy of the bout. It also gives them time to focus intently on a certain aspect of the game. These official roles are important and require close attention to detail.

Many Roller Derby Referees adopt a clever new name like the skaters alter egos. Although the refs must be in uniform, some decide to use face paint or other adornments to create a new persona on the track.

A Roller Derby Referee needs to have a firm grasp of the rules. This is first and foremost. It is one thing to read the rules and be book smart, quite another to know how to apply them in a live action bout. This takes time and many trips to the track to watch the girls practice.

They must pass a test similar to the roller derby girl’s skills test. Proficient skaters with quick reaction times are necessary on the track. Not all referees wear quad skates, many wear the inclines that they are more comfortable with.

Who are the Roller Derby Referees?

While most anyone can become a roller derby referee. The time commitment can be intense: practices are required as well as memorizing all the rules. The position is important and needs to be taken seriously, even though it is fun to be a part of the world of roller derby.

Since the sport of roller derby is derby girl owned and operated, referees are recruited from a few different categories.

  • Boyfriends or husbands of the skaters. The sport is time consuming and very physical and many of these men simply want to keep an eye on their girl.
  • Former roller derby girls. These girls know the sport inside and out, but need a break. They love the comorodory and the sport itself, but need to retire from the actual jams.
  • Derby girls. Sometimes there are women who try out and do not make a team, but decide that they also still want to be a part of the action and become a roller derby referee.
  • Gawkers. There are people who decide to become a referee just to watch the girls up close. They typically do not last long. Being a ref is more than just watching the girls skate.


WFTDA rule book