2012: Advent Roller Derby: Communication

by on December 20, 2012

Duncan Disorderly

Communication is a big thing in roller derby. Skaters in each team tend to shout quite a lot at each other, or make signals to tell their team-mates what tactic to do so the other team don’t understand it. Referees have special hand signals for giving penalties, as well as voice cues to use simultaneously. Knowing these and recognising them makes watching bouts even more interesting.

There’s an appendix to the rules (Appendix C, if you’re taking notes) that shows referees exactly how to make the hand signals, though it’s no substitute for seeing them in the flesh, especially with the little flourishes that some zebras do. There’s an American ref that I met at Anarchy in the UK called Albino Wookie who has the most amazing “not lead” signals I’ve ever seen. It honestly looks as if he’s soaring gracefully like an eagle.

It’s really bloody difficult getting photos with referees calling penalties, but you see a lot of lead jammer status (like Duncan is doing in today’s picture). This is for the jammer who gets out of the pack first, the opposite being the not lead jammer signal of wide, swooping, crossways arm movements. Another thing you’ll possibly see jam refs doing a lot of is making a big cross with their arms, this is a cutting track penalty, and also the out of play chop, which might be directed at blockers who have strayed too far from the pack.

On the in-field, you’ll see a variety of penalty signals from forearms and elbows, to back-block, but most commonly the pack referees will be defining the pack, so there will be two raised arms for ‘no pack’ and signalling of where the pack is when the skaters have reformed the pack. They will probably also be doing the most of the illegal procedure hand signal, which is handily described by my work colleague as “disco rolling”, and direction of game play signals, or “the pie turner” as described by my work colleague. I guess you might have to see those to understand them.

The outside pack refs who whizz around the outer edge of the track will do a lot of signals relating to blocking, including the arm across the chest for a low block, and pushing the air away with both hands for a back block. Less frequently will you see the fist making a downward motion over the face for a high block, or a tap to the back of the ref’s head for blocking with the head. These may be accompanied by a zebra huddle and, if the incident is deemed to have been egregious, the head ref will use what is known as “the thumb” to eject the skater from the bout for dangerous play.

The NSOs occasionally use the signals to relay penalties across the track, but the only NSO who would be using signals as part of their job is the jam timer, who makes a T-shape for a team timeout, and puts their hands on their shoulders for an official timeout.

Hopefully this is where watching roller derby goes from, “Wait, why has she been sent off?!” to, “Ooh, that was a Low Block / High Block / Illegal Procedure!” I found that knowing the hand signals made my enjoyment of the game increase because I understood more what is happening.

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