Monday, February 17, 2014

Quick Guide to ALL the Roller Derby Officiating Positions

[Updated May 19, 2015 to reflect the January 2015 WFTDA ruleset and officiating standard practices, and the March 2015 track layout guide. Oh yeah, and to fix all some of my mistakes and add in a few new ones.]

A fully staffed WFTDA flat-track roller derby game requires at least 18 volunteer officials to run, and that’s not counting track crew and announcers.  Each one of these people plays a core part in ensuring that safe, fair gameplay occurs.  This document will summarize each of the officiating positions.  

Pro tip: Every league does things a little differently; treat this guide as just a rough start.  Unless something is actually violating the rules, plan to roll with whatever the host league / host ref crew prefers.  

Quick overview of game staff

Skating officials (referees / refs): Easily distinguishable by their black and white striped shirts, black shorts/pants/bottoms, and roller skates, these officials skate around either inside or outside the track, watching the skaters.  Their responsibility is to enforce the rules, ensuring safe, fair gameplay.   Referees are the primary officials who call penalties.

Non-skating officials (NSOs): Typically wearing either all black, or all black with a WFTDA-pink shirt, these officials do a wide variety of tasks: timing the game, tracking penalties, timing penalties, keeping score, operating the scoreboard, and tracking lineups.  If empowered to do so by the head referee, some NSOs may call penalties related to their positions.

Track crew: Responsible for laying down the track (typically chalking out lines, laying down rope, and then taping over the rope) at the start of the game, and then maintaining the track during the game.

Announcers: Responsible for educating the crowd about derby and giving the fans a play by play.  They interact with the referees and game production staff to ensure the game starts and proceeds as scheduled.  A tough job, it requires significant rules knowledge and care not to say things that give tactical advice to teams during the game.

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs): Having at least two EMTs, or similarly trained persons, on-premises is required for the game to occur.  Often these are volunteers, but some leagues may even pay ambulance companies to have an ambulance and its crew on site during the game.  This document will not discuss these people further.

Game production staff: These people take care of everything associated with putting on a full game, from getting out chairs, providing water and snacks for game staff [pro tip: officials love good snacks!], running a ticket booth, selling merchandise, and all the thousand other tasks that need to be done.  These are often skaters from the league who aren’t playing in the day’s game.  This document will not discuss these people further.

Diagram showing where all the skating and non-skating officials are positioned in WFTDA roller derby.
Figure 1: Diagram of a standard WFTDA flat-track game, with all skaters’ & officials’ locations included.  Locations of the penalty box, scoreboard equipment, and lineup trackers vary widely by league. Image by Marc "F-Stop" Perkins.

Referees (skating officials)

Head Referee (HR)

Duties: The head referee is the ultimate rules authority in the game; while they are prohibited from changing rules, their interpretation of the rules and rules decisions during the game are final.  The head referee is the primary officials contact for teams during the game.  The head referee is also the only official who can eject a skater or bench staff member from the game.  The head referee typically makes all staffing decisions for the game (in coordination with the host league's ref coordinator and head NSO).  This position is not to be confused with the league head referee, who is elected by the league to be the leader of their referee crew and representative of the ref crew to the league board of directors; the league head referee is primarily an administrative position.
Location: Infield.  Usually staffed as the back pack referee, but occasionally staffed as the front pack referee.

Jammer referees (JR; two per game)

Location: Infield. Each follows a team's jammer; they should always be skating in line with their jammer’s hips.  Typically are the referees skating closest to the track (in the "inside ref lane")
Duties: Each jammer referee is assigned to focus on a single team’s jammer.  The jammer referee watches this jammer for penalties she commits, penalties committed against her, and also tracks the points that she scores.  Jammer referees switch the teams they’re tracking at halftime for fairness.  Jammer referees must be able to quickly accelerate, decelerate, and switch direction to stay precisely aligned with their jammer.
Required equipment: Skates, safety gear, striped jersey, whistles (Fox 40 classic), and colored wristband / headband / etc. (to indicate which team’s jammer they’re watching)

Back pack referee (BPR)

Location: Infield. Typically skates one or two skater lengths behind the rearmost member of the pack (though often floats forward to better see and define the pack).  Skates further away from the track boundary, to give jammer referees the "inside lane" (and to get a better view of the pack).
Duties: The back pack referee focuses on all of the skaters on the track, watching for penalties committed by any of the blockers or the jammers (when they’re in the pack).  The back pack referee is traditionally the referee who calls pack definition (calling “no pack” when there is no pack, etc.), though the front pack referee frequently helps them with this job.  The back pack referee is also responsible for dealing with skaters going out of play in the back of the engagement zone.
Required equipment: Skates, safety gear, striped jersey, and whistles (Fox 40 classic)

Front pack referee (FPR)

Location: Infield. Skates one or two skater lengths ahead of the foremost blocker on the track.  Skates further away from the track boundary, to give jammer referees the "inside lane" (and to get a better view of the pack).
Duties: The front pack referee is the front version of the back pack referee: they watch for penalties committed by any of the blockers or jammers, but instead of being positioned behind the pack, the front pack referee is positioned in front of the pack.  If skaters are skating forward and out of the engagement zone, it’s the job of the the front pack referee to give them out of play warnings.  The front and back pack refs work as a team: the back pack ref defines where the pack is, while the front pack ref watches for blockers skating ahead of the engagement zone.  Front pack referees typically skate backwards for most of the game.
Required equipment: Skates, safety gear, striped jersey, and whistles (Fox 40 classic)

Outside pack referees (OPRs; three per game)

Location: Outfield.  They can choose between two different positioning styles ("rotations"). In the historical standard positioning scheme, they rotate between one who is skating slightly ahead of the foremost member of the pack, one who is skating slightly behind the rearmost member of the pack, and one who is repositioning.  The most recent standard practices included another option: all three OPRs stay with the pack at all times, meaning one OPR stays slightly ahead of the pack, one OPR stays in the middle of the pack, and the third OPR stays slightly behind the pack.
Duties: The outside pack referees skate along the outside of the track, watching for penalties committed by both blockers and jammers.  Since the skaters themselves block the inside referees’ view of what happens near the outside of the track, these referees are key to seeing and calling penalties that occur in outer portions of the track.  Outside pack referees rarely call pack definition or out of play warnings, but once pack definition or out of play warnings are called, OPRs are key in assisting the infield referees in issuing any resulting penalties.  Outside pack referees must be able to quickly accelerate, maintain high skating speeds (as they must skate a longer distance than the skaters on the track ... thanks, geometry), and stop quickly.
Required equipment: Skates, safety gear, striped jersey, and whistles (Fox 40 classic)

Games official / announcer ref (optional)

Location: Outfield, sitting next to the announcers; this person runs into the infield during all timeouts to gather information and assist the head referee.  Typically off skates.
Duties: The games official / announcer ref position is often not staffed, but is useful if an event has enough referees to allow it.  A games official supervises the gameplay and ensures that all procedures and rules are followed.  They may also take care of any paperwork the head referee should be filling out during the game (official review forms, expulsion forms, etc.), and may do other miscellaneous duties for the head referee as needed (e.g., escorting fouled out or expelled skaters off the track).  An announcer ref sits next to the announcers and assists their play-by-play, often by confirming (or clarifying) penalty calls and explaining what happened during official timeouts or official reviews.  Assuming you're not at a tournament (where the games official is a key, high-level position), these two jobs mesh nicely together, hence (if present) they're frequently staffed by a single person.  These positions never call penalties.  These officials may wear an NSO uniform, though if they're also serving as a skating alternate they may be in (jacket-covered) stripes and safety gear, but off skates (though with skates nearby; see "skating alternate").
Required equipment: Clipboard and pencils for paperwork / notes, skates, safety gear, referee or NSO uniform, and whistles (Fox 40 classic)

Alternate / skating alternate / ref alternate (optional)

Location: Outfield, seated somewhere away from the track (in fan seating or an area reserved for officials).
Duties: The skating alternate is present as an emergency replacement for a referee who is unable to continue officiating the game (due to injury, equipment failure, illness, etc.); they'll also replace any referee who doesn't show up to work the game as scheduled (and who'll be a lot less likely to be scheduled to work games ever again, unless they have a darn good reason).  This referee does not call penalties, and stays outfield for the entire game unless they are needed as a replacement.  They will frequently be wearing stripes and safety gear but not skates (with skates handy); they may be requested to wear a black jacket/hoodie/etc. over their stripes, so fans are not confused as to the person's role in the game.
Required equipment: Skates, safety gear, striped jersey, whistles (Fox 40 classic), and possibly a black jacket/hoodie/etc. to cover up their stripes.

Pro tip: Derby officials typically work many different positions over the course of a season - it’s rare to be able to staff a person in the same position all the time, and part of the fun is always learning something new.  So don't pick one and go "I always wanna do this!" ... instead, say "I wanna do ALL the positions!"

Non-skating officials (NSOs)


Duties: This person is in charge of all the NSOs.  They deal with NSO training before the game, print and distribute the official paperwork for the game (unless there's a separate stats / paperwork person), help the other NSOs during the game, gather the paperwork at the end of the game, and get any necessary signatures.  For sanctioned games the head NSO is required to submit the signed IGRF and game scores to within 24 hours, and within two weeks must submit the completed statistics package to   This person is frequently staffed as the inside whiteboard, though they're occasionally staffed as penalty tracker or jam timer.  As with the head referee, this position is not to be confused with the league head NSO (who is the administrative leader of the league's NSOs).
Location: Usually also staffed in a specific position listed below (except at tournaments or high level games, where this person may be simply staffed outside the track in a managerial role).
Equipment required: Paperwork, supplies to do any job in case another NSO forgets theirs.

Jam timer (JT)

Duties: Responsible for starting each jam, stopping jams if they run the full two minutes, maintaining the game (period) clock, making sure the scoreboard clock is in sync with their (theoretically more accurate) clocks, and signaling and timing timeouts.  They work with the head referee and penalty box manager between jams to ensure that all skaters in the penalty box queue are actually on the track (and will take a timeout instead of starting a jam if an in-queue skater is missing from the track).  This can be a good position for anyone who likes to blow whistles.
Location: Infield
Equipment required: Whistle (Fox 40 classic), three stopwatches (one for the period clock, one for the jam clock, and one backup)

Penalty tracker (PT; one or possibly two per game)

Duties: Responsible for recording all penalties reported for a single (or both) team(s), communicating penalties to the infield whiteboard, and informing the referees of all appropriate penalty status information (upcoming foul outs, etc.). Understanding the penalty flow of the game, and having memorized penalty verbal cues, codes, and hand signals, is extremely helpful for this position.  In a fully staffed game there is typically only one penalty tracker, who is supported by a whiteboard official and (possibly) a penalty wrangler.  If there is nobody staffed as whiteboard, the penalty tracker often takes over their duties (excluding actually maintaining a whiteboard, unless the penalty tracker is a glutton for punishment).  If there are two penalty trackers staffed, each will usually handle just one team's penalties.
Location: Infield, can “roam” and follow the referees, or stay in a single position
Equipment required: Clipboard, pencils, penalty tracker paperwork, comfortable shoes

Whiteboard (IWB; one per game)

Duties: Responsible for recording all penalties on a whiteboard visible to both teams’ benches.  This whiteboard is the primary way teams, players, and other officials can track the penalty counts of individual skaters.  Typically given the responsibility of ensuring that the proper skaters are reporting to the penalty box (marking when each skater has reported to the box by placing a dot next to the skater's penalty), tracking team timeouts and official reviews, and communicating from the infield to the penalty box (e.g., ensuring the penalty box officials have received notification that a skater should be sitting for two penalties).  As with the penalty tracker, having memorized penalty verbal cues, codes, and hand signals, is helpful for this position.  While a whiteboard is not required by either the rules or standard practices, it is frequently staffed.  This position is currently the most common position for head NSOs in my area.
Location: Infield
Equipment required: Large whiteboard on a stand/easel, dry erase markers, eraser, good knees / flexible hips (some individuals prefer to wear knee pads), and, if unfamiliar with the penalty codes, a printed copy of my penalty code & verbal cue cheatsheet may be helpful.

Penalty Wrangler (PW; optional, one per game)

Duties: Helps the penalty tracker “catch” penalties.  Typically roams the infield, following the pack referees, listening for penalties that they then jot down on a notepad before “dropping” them to the penalty tracker.  This is my preferred position for head NSOs, but as fewer and fewer games I work staff a penalty wrangler, head NSOs are typically staffed as the inside whiteboard.
Location: Infield
Equipment required: Comfortable shoes, a notepad to write penalties on, pens or pencils.  Some wranglers use a small whiteboard to record penalties (erasing the board after the penalty tracker has the penalties), but I prefer to use a notepad, as that creates a permanent record of all penalties the wrangler receives.

Penalty box manager/supervisor (PBM; sometimes abbreviated PBS or PBJ)

Duties: In charge of the penalty box and responsible for ensuring everything there runs smoothly.  Typically times the jammer penalties (there are multiple complex scenarios regarding jammer penalty timing) and backs up the penalty box timers when they get busy.  The PBM looks out for penalties committed in or relating to the box (e.g., a skater leaving the box early or contacting an official on their way to the box), and either is given the authority to call those penalties themselves or informs the referees of any required penalties.  The PBM also informs the infield officials (via a small whiteboard) of any skaters who are in the penalty box queue, so the referees and jam timer can ensure those skaters are on the track and report to the box when appropriate.  The PBM is the primary contact point for communication between referees and the penalty box.
Location: Outfield, typically standing behind the jammer chairs in the penalty box
Equipment required: Small whiteboard, dry erase markers, three stopwatches (one per jammer, plus a backup)

Penalty box timers (PBT; sometimes abbreviated PBB or PB; two per game)

Duties: Typically, each penalty box timer times the penalties of a single team’s blockers; blockers sit in the box for thirty seconds per penalty they commit.  Also deals with situations where too many skaters are reporting to the box at once (only two blockers from each team may be sitting at any one time in the box, and no more than three blockers from a single team should ever be in the box at any time).  In higher-level games, the PBTs typically use a single stopwatch and record penalty box data on paperwork; if not using paperwork, the PBTs typically use two stopwatches (one per blocker chair).
Location: Outfield, typically standing beside the penalty box manager and behind the blocker chairs in the penalty box
Equipment required: Three stopwatches (or two stopwatches, a clipboard, pencils, and penalty box paperwork).  Why three or two stopwatches?  So you have a backup!

Scorekeepers (SK; two per game)

Duties: Each scorekeeper is paired with a jammer referee, and is responsible for tracking the points of that jam ref’s team.  They write down the points reported by the jammer referee (mirroring the points back to the jammer referee to confirm), inform the scoreboard operator of the points earned, track statistical information, and (if possible) independently track their jammer’s points (to back up their jam ref in case of a fall / injury / mistake).
Location: Outfield, next to the scoreboard operator
Equipment required: Clipboard, pencils, scorekeeper paperwork, colored wristband to match their jam ref's wristband

Scoreboard operator (SO; sometimes abbreviated SB)

Duties: Starts and stops the publicly visible period and jam clocks, and adds points to each team’s score as reported by the scorekeepers (ideally after each scoring pass).  When using advanced scoreboard software, this official also displays which jammer is skating for each team, lead jammer status, and timeout information.  As the scoreboard's clocks and scores are the official clocks and scores, it's key that the scoreboard operator frequently confirm with the jam timer and scorekeepers that their clocks and scores are correct.
Location: Outfield, wherever the scoreboard is controlled from.
Equipment required: Scoreboard.  May either be built into the venue, or run on a laptop and projected via a LCD projector.

Lineup trackers (LT; sometimes abbreviated LU; two per game)

Duties: Each lineup tracker is assigned a single team to track for the duration of the game.  They write down which skaters are participating in each jam, and which position each skater is playing.  Lineup trackers also watch to see when players on the team they’re tracking enter and exit the penalty box.  This position is required to have complete statistics created after the game, and can provide useful information to many other officials during the game.
Location: Outfield (specific location varies widely; most often seems to be behind the jammer line in turn 4, but can also be by the scorekeepers or behind the penalty box)
Equipment required: Clipboard, pencils, lineup tracker paperwork

Alternate / NSO alternate (optional)

Duties: The NSO alternate is present as an emergency replacement for an NSO who is unable to continue officiating the game (due to injury, illness, etc.); they'll also fill in for any NSO who doesn't show up to work the game as scheduled (bad NSO!).  This official has no actual duties during the game, other than watching to see if they're needed.  They will typically be wearing their NSO uniform, though if that uniform clearly indicates that the person is an official, they may be requested to wear a black jacket/hoodie/etc. over the shirt, so fans are not confused as to the person's role in the game.
Location: Outfield, seated somewhere away from the track (in fan seating or an area reserved for officials)
Required equipment: Equipment to do any of the NSO positions, and possibly a black jacket/hoodie/etc. to cover up their NSO shirt.

Note: NSO staffing changes when real-time computerized statistics tracking (e.g., via Rinxter) is used; that's the topic for another post someday.

Track crew

Without these people, the game wouldn’t happen!  Often this gets put onto either the officials’ or skaters’ shoulders before a game, which leads to distraction and exhaustion just when they need to be at their best.  Core responsibilities are:

Before the game
  • Ensure enough tape is on hand to lay out the track (at least 475’); ensure the rope is in good condition and ready to be used (at least 386' of rope is needed).  
  • Measure the track and lay it down, using chalk to outline everything, following the WFTDA Track Layout Guide.
  • Lay down rope over the chalked-in boundary lines, and then tape over the rope using high-contrast tape (e.g., colored duct tape).   If you're lucky, your league will have a fancy-schmancy rope-and-tape-layer-downer-thingy.  
  • Tape out other key features of the track (10’ safety line around the track, penalty box area, 10’ lines on the track, etc.)
During the game
  • Each game should have at least one person on the outfield of the track ready to quickly repair pieces of the track that have come up.  Typically has a roll of duct tape and a knife.
After the game
  • Coordinates track teardown.  All tape needs to be pulled up; tape that was over rope needs to be carefully removed (one person or a foot holds the rope down while the tape is pulled off of the rope).  If left to themselves, children will yank up the tape and rope together, creating a giant mess [ask me how I know ... shudder].


Core to the game experience, they arrive early to confirm skaters' and officials' names, game schedule, vendor information, and sound equipment. During the game they’re always on, working to explain the game to the fans and enhance the experience for all involved.  Typically there are two on-mike announcers working with a DJ.  Learn more about announcing at the Association of Flat Track Derby Announcers (AFTDA).

[Updated Feb 18, 2014: Thanks Mike SumNoyz for pointing out the requirement to post penalties (i.e., the whiteboard was not optional in Feb 2014), and thanks Atomic Mojo for head NSO, jam timer, and PBM additions.]

[Updated May 19, 2015: Thanks to Replicant for encouraging me to finally update this for the latest ruleset and fix a number of minor problems.]

[Updated Nov 4, 2015: Minor updates to the penalty tracker and whiteboard duties.]


  1. May I steal this to use to teach our freshies about officiating? Teaching them all how to NSO next week :-D

    1. Absolutely; I'd be honored! Just give me credit and don't sell it ;)

      If you have any questions or need any other information I'd be happy to help.

    2. Hello- asking permission to reprint with source credit - might need to adjust to our rule set- RDCL etc- Bay Area Black Widows Modern day Banked Track Rollerderby The SF Bay Area -

    3. May we have permission to repost portions citing you as source ?

    4. Same as what I said for Ellen: as long as your use is non-commercial (e.g., you're not selling it) and you give me credit, feel free to use it.