Eight-Wheeled Freedom Tackles…RollerCon and the Evolution of Flat Track Strategy

RC 2016 Logo

I’ve done a lot in and around this sport, but this year—for the first time ever—I’ll be heading to RollerCon! There, I will be delivering two seminars on the evolution of flat track strategy.

Perhaps nothing has drawn more ire toward the sport of flat track roller derby than the strategic evolution that the playing surface has inspired. The sport is unique in that its antecedent is an incredibly similar sport played on a vastly different surface. The first six or seven years of the roller derby revival saw a flat track game that was played very much like the banked track versions that preceded it: skate fast, turn left and hit the opposition. It’s the way roller derby has been played essentially since the 40s, and looking back at the game even as early as 1960, modern skaters will easily recognize the sport that they play now.

On a banked track, this strategic simplicity made sense (and still does), but on a flat track, the blazing fast style seemed nearly antithetical; it seemed only a matter of time before a unique game arose organically from the new surface it was played on.

Photo by Derek Lang (www.bagelhot.com)

A big focus of the Roller Con seminar will be on the profound influence that the 2009 WFTDA Championship had on the evolution of flat track roller derby (Photo by Derek Lang)

This thesis is at the centre of a few of the chapters in Eight-Wheeled Freedom: The Derby Nerd’s Short History of Flat Track Roller Derby, and at RollerCon 2016, I’ll be delivering an interactive seminar tracing the history of this evolution. The discussion-based seminar will actually be drawn from two chapters in the book, one entitled “The Great Leap Backwards: 2009 and the Defining of Flat Track Strategy” and the other “Jumping Through Loopholes: The Evolution of the Flat Track Rules.” The basic argument made is that from 2003-2009 flat track roller derby was flat track roller derby in name only, while the sport didn’t truly find itself until 2009 when strategies unique to the surface began to emerge. It was a change—as change often does—that inspired fear and often anger and that (admittedly) led to an awkward adolescence on the track that didn’t really get ironed out until 2013.

The controversy around strategy and the massive evolutionary shifts that game has experienced over the past six or seven years actually make roller derby more like traditional sports than the community often thinks: flat track roller derby is such a personal, athlete-driven game that any small changes in strategy and the rules is often accompanied by cries of fear that the game has been ruined. But even just a cursory look at the early days of other team sports shows that the shifts, changes and, yes, awkwardness that accompanied early strategic evolution are quite normal. One example I often come back to is the idea of passing the puck forward in hockey (as opposed to laterally or backwards, as had originally been done): many are surprised to discover that the NHL only allowed for forward passing in all zones in 1929, and only after it had been experimented on and the transition fumbled through in other leagues.

From the book:

It was the beginning of the evolution of the flat track game, when strategies would arise organically from the surface and the elements that went with it – such as boundaries both inside and out, and the ease with which one could change pace and move laterally. It also began a massive evolution in the rules of flat track roller derby, further pushing this new version of the game away from its banked track antecedents.

At the upcoming RollerCon, attendees will have two chances to catch the seminar “The Great Leap Backwards: Denver, DNN, the 2009 Playoffs and the Evolution of Flat Track Strategy”:

Nerd Glasses

*Eight-Wheeled Freedom launched in Toronto on June 20 and is slowing rolling to stores near you (and is available online).



  1. DD! We’re planning some derby-related events in the Puget Sound area and we’d love to have you on board. When do you think you might be coming through Seattle/Tacoma area?

    Me and KC do a podcast about life, music, comedy and sport we call Everything is Awesome with Jeff & KC, and we’d love to get some folks out to hear you speak about the book, or just kick it old school.

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