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In the lead up to the WFTDA playoffs we are all eagerly, organising our viewing parties and debating who will be victorious in taking out this years Hydra – the much coveted trophy awarded to the championship winner in November.

We thought it might be a good opportunity to talk about how you can watch roller derby, not only for enjoyment, but also to build success for both yourself and your team.

It is so easy to get caught up in the speed and dynamism of derby on the screen, but here are some tips of what to look for, how to break it down, and how to translate the awesomeness on the international stage into your own goals (remember those? if not, check out our previous post here).


One of the best things about watching elite level players is finding those who you can try to emulate as you push towards the next level. While we might all want to be Scald Eagle, we aren’t all over 6ft tall with an athletic build and the seeming ability to fly.

Whether you are a jammer or blocker, it can be very useful to identify early in a game someone who might skate a little bit like you, or who you feel some similarities with, and single them out over the game. Watch where they have the most success, or where they get caught out.

For myself, I don’t have a very classic skating style, and I have found players such as Luna Negra, Hauss the Boss, and Miracle Whips very useful to watch in terms of their creative agility and footwork. When I block, as a smaller person, I have found Polly Gone’s body positioning very helpful.

Whoever it is, note how they use their entire body and how you can incorporate some of those skills into your training plan.



When I watch derby it is usually with my best friend who also happens to be a top-level referee. While I am watching the amazing apex jump at the front of the pack, he is watching the multiplayer call on the blockers at the back of the pack. Refs also watch playoffs and champs to clarify the way things are being called at the top level, especially when the particular rule is open to interpretation.

Photo © Richard Tompsett

As new rules are introduced or modified, so is the way they are called. You might want to look at how the jammer cuts are being officiated, what kind of spectrum is being used for backblocks, etc. This may not always translate to how things are called for you locally, but it might help you with your official reviews and give you context for being able to understand the way the rules are evolving.

Also, take note of when and how the teams are using their official reviews and time outs. When are they most successful? Is it worth reviewing a call if the penalty has already been served? When are they being used to give skaters a break? Or to allow for an extra jam? All this can help your team to moderate games to get the most out of both the officials and your stamina.


If you are watching with your team, playoffs and champs are the games to watch that will dictate the way strategy will evolve over the next year. The ‘Texas Wall,’ the VRDL ‘Box,’ and the ‘Bay Area Wall’ are all things that my league have adopted over the years from watching games on this stage.

As teams line up on the start line, pinpoint what people are doing that looks different to what you have been doing with your team. WFTDA roller derby is always changing, so being able to identify and respond to plays is what puts teams on the cutting edge.

Offence is clearly becoming an integral part of the game; who is doing it? How many of them? When? Take notes while you watch and organise a team discussion soon after, so that you can decide what elements you might be able to incorporate into your own game plans.


The best games to watch are those games that are close, with lead changes and plenty of suspense. Often the best teams are separated by their ability to handle high-pressure situations. How do they do it?

Watch how key blockers dictate the action on the track to take advantage of key moments. When there are fewer opposition skaters on the track, how do they pick off players and ensure the most points for their jammers? When they have fewer players themselves, how do they protect their points? How do they avoid penalty streaks when things get a little crazy?

Also, what is happening on the bench? What jammers are being fielded and why? It is worth noting that players at this level understand that being benched is a team decision and may be reflective of high penalties or particular levels of effectiveness in the given situation, rather than a reflection of themselves as a player. Often those who loose their cool on the bench, lose their cool on the track too.

Usually, the team that is most able to adapt and stay calm is the one that will come out in front. Take notes of how and why this happens, so you can remember these skills when you find yourself in a similar situation.


If you see a particularly amazing jam take note of the time on the jam clock so you can rewatch it later. Watch it a few times so you can focus on the jammers making their way through the pack, before replaying and focusing on the blockers, then again replaying and looking at the refs.

Watch the play from both angles; focus on the successful team, but also look at what the other team could have done to shut down that success. What counter plays were missed?

These noteable jams can form part of a highlight reel that your team visit again and again in order to formulate game plans and practice drills.

So, as you gear up to the first round of playoffs, D2 in Pittsburgh from August 18th-20th, keep these tips in mind so you can not only fan-girl/boy over the amazing skaters, but also improve your own game.

We will be watching keenly to identify coaches who will bring new and exciting things to DerbyFest in 2018. Tell us below who you are most excited to see skate, and who you think will take out the 2017 Hydra!

Author: Slam Panther