Derby Writing 101 – Your first bout (note-taking)

If you write the recap for a roller derby league, you must be able to keep track of the important aspects of the sport. You must keep track of jammers, of penalties, the flow of the game, and above all, you must give your audience the score.

The biggest challenge for the new writer is to be consistent in their concentration throughout the bout. For the fan and the skater, the speed of our sport is fantastic; the clock is rarely stopped and players fly around the track as if their hair is on fire. As a writer, it’s something of a problem – the clock is rarely stopped and players fly around the track as if their hair is on fire. A writer needs a system to keep track of each jam, or it is very, very simple to lose one’s place in the bout. Let’s give you such a system.

I’ve seen writers from Madison to Arizona set up their notes in a fashion similar to what I’m about to describe. Everyone just has their own set of ‘important’ facts that they can’t live without. How you organize your notes shows what’s important to you…so if you’re a different sort of writer than I am, please borrow and steal from me as much as you need.

What’s important to me:

  • time
  • jammers in play
  • state of jammer
  • score
  • how the defense stops the jammer

I don’t think there needs to be a lot of discussion on these points. If I have this information, I can fashion a Perfectly Reasonable Recap that a reader can go to and follow.

This is how I do it:

To the right of the binding of your high-tech spiral notebook, draw seven columns. Go ahead and use a straight-edge; it keeps everything uniform*. The columns represent:

  1. Time-outs (at start of jam – left margin of page)
  2. Time (at start of jam in minutes)
  3. Team #1 (Jammer name)
  4. Team #2 (Jammer name)
  6. Team #1 Score (at start of jam – right margin of page)
  7. Team #2 Score (at start of jam – right margin of page)


  • You are here: Each column represents information that you will write down at the start of a jam. Simple reason for that. It’s a snapshot. This is the state of the jam as it begins. You only have to think about what’s happening at that very moment; look at the jammer line and pick up who’s jamming. Check the score as the scorekeepers put it up. Grab the minutes left off the score clock. That’s all the time you’ll likely have.
  • The humble second hand: Only write the time in seconds if it matters. Time is important in roller derby, but so many jams happen in a half that the second hand is not normally useful. The only time I will write about seconds in a recap is the very last jam, when an alert bench coach calls a timeout in the last couple minutes of play. If the clock shows less than two minutes in the game, add seconds. Otherwise, skip them. It takes less time to write, and the time between jams is precious.
  • Zebra shoulders are sexy when they point to them: Make sure to write down when a timeout is called. Learn the ref signals as well; a timeout usually defines a significant moment in the game, and it can be useful to learn where the timeout came from. By the bye, only mention a timeout if it actually makes sense in the story of the bout. Sports are littered with ineffective timeouts; you don’t have to call out every one.
  • No one remembers who #86 is at 11pm: Write the name of the jammer in columns #3 and #4, not the number. That seems to contradict the advice about the second hand, but the comparison of the datum is apples-to-oranges. You write about the players, not the time. When you write the recap or go back over notes, your brain is far more comfortable with names than numbers.** When you eventually write the recap, you’ll use their names…and using their names will allow you to bypass having to cross-reference numbers. Fact is, you usually write these recaps late at night when your attention might be a little screwed up, so looking at plain English is helpful. When I’m unfamiliar with the team, I write down both until I have the name/number down for each jammer in question.
  • Comments: While there’s a lot that can be written about each jam, keep it simple. Usually, a single jam has one interesting thing about it. Maybe two. Use a few words and move on. Another jam will begin sooner than you think. Here are some common things that I quickly jot down.
  1. Tenacious D. Nine times out of ten, notes that you write should be about defense. At the very least, note a defender whose play was dominant. If you can point out how a particular player or wall that stopped the opposing jammer, that’s great. If not, at least write the name of an amazing defender during the jam. Put it in caps. You’ll be able to scan for names that come up frequently when you write, and chances are writing the name down will help you remember why you loved their play.
  2. ‘LO IMPULSE CONTROL OUT’. There are few moments more momentous in a tight, well-fought match than a player being expelled from the track. This should ALWAYS be marked down. Whether it’s a fight or seven trips to the box, there’s something interesting that has gone down. Make sure to talk with a ref (and preferably the skater if they’re in the mood) to find out what happened.
  3. Fast pack, slow start. I don’t know where I picked this up, but I write ‘CRACK’ or ‘MORPHINE’ if the start of a jam is respectively ‘broken’ (knees on the floor; instant jammer whistle) or slower than a rules change. Likewise, a significant pickup to the pace or a good goating in the midst of a power jam can be useful to note. You won’t always use the note when you write the recap, but they’re worth the moment it takes to note it.

Those seven columns will get you started, but you’ll quickly find that you’ll fill the comments space with a lot of repetitive information. Instead of writing,’Kickass McDerbypants LEAD JAMMER’ or  “Unfortunate SingleEntendre POWER JAM***’, let’s add a couple of bits of shorthand.

The quick and dirty shorthand list:

  • Lead jammer: If a jammer gets a lead, put a checkmark next to their name.
  • Jammer penalty/power jam: If a jammer gets sent to the box, put a circle to the right of their name. If you know the type of penalty that they got sent out on****, write it in the circle (ask your local refs for the list – the most common ones are ‘4’ for four accumulated minors, ‘X’ for a track cut, ‘B’ for back-blocks, and ‘F’/’E’ for forearms/elbows). Otherwise, just write the circle. Never guess; if you don’t see it or a nearby spotter you trust didn’t see the call, you don’t know what happened. You can always write around a foul that you know happened but didn’t see.

The rest can go into comments for now. In the next article, I’ll point out some more shorthand that I use. This is already quite a bit to keep track of for your first bout. The whistles will blow, the players will skate, and you’ll be in the thick of it. With the above setup, you should be able to write a basic recap. We’ll bring you more very soon.


* I know that seems a bit OCD, but I find having boxes of standard size to put words into makes it easier to follow my process. Your mileage will undoubtedly vary.
** Have I mention I work extensively with DNS in my day job? (smile if you get that joke)
*** Complete with ‘I [heart] Dumptruck’ stencilled in the margins…
****  Learning ref penalty signals will help you a great deal in your work. Learn the hand signals as quickly as you can, and steal that list of abbreviations. Hugely helpful.


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