USARS: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger?

Headshot1Written By Kevin “Kevlar” Dennison

Owner-Operator of Derby Frontier



Do you hate “slow derby”? Can’t stand the sausage or backwards skating to kill Power Jams and rack up some potentially ridiculous points? Well, if there is one thing that’s universally true about roller derby its that roller derby is far from universal. Many organizations and associations exist around the world, each with their own rule sets that offer differing gameplay mechanics. So, if you’re itching for something different, USARS may be the answer to your derby desires! It’s not a perfect rule set. Not by ANY means. But, if the strategies devised for WFTDA gameplay has become tiresome then sit back and join me in taking a look at the very different game you COULD be playing. NOTE: I’m NOT sitting here trying to convince you to disown WFTDA, I’m simply giving you another option to consider.

USARS Roller Derby plays like WFTDA in some ways. Same helmet covers. Same player positions (in name ONLY though… just read on haha). Similar blocking rules of no multi-player blocks, no blocks to the back of the body (including back of the torso, booty or thigh), no blocking above the shoulders, no blocking below the mid thigh (low block), no blocking WITH the head, blocking while both feet are off the ground, etc. Pretty familiar territory for the most part. But things get really interesting when it comes to point scoring and the general flow of the game. Like REALLY interesting. Take pack composition for example:


There is no “no-pack”:

RD40.05 – The Pack is the largest group of Blockers comprising players from both teams in proximity to each other, excluding Active Scorers (don’t worry, we’ll get to that term shortly), except as set forth herein.

  • A single player cannot be a Pack
  • “Proximity” is maintaining Relative Player Position not more than ten (10) feet apart
  • A Blocker need not be in the Upright Skating Position or in bounds in order to be part of the pack
  • When two or more groups of Blockers comprise an equal number of players and are more than ten (10) feet from one another, the Pack is the largest group of Blockers most forward on the track
  • When two or more groups of Blockers exclusively comprise of players from the same team, the Pack is the group comprising all Blockers on a team and positioned most forward on the track

Good luck trying to slow that pack and force a no-pack to get your Jammer through! Not gonna happen!

usars pack_0001

These diagrams serve as a great cheat sheet for understanding USARS pack definition.


Two Words… Continuous Motion:

Try playing a game in which stopping on the track can result in a major penalty, regardless of whether contact was involved!

RD40.02 –Beginning at the sounding of the Jam star whistle, and throughout the duration of the jam, all Active Players will continuously skate in a counter-clockwise direction on the track. Stopping or standing on the track during a jam is not permitted unless the player is only momentarily stopped while:

  • Changing skating direction
  • Recovering from a block or fall
  • Avoiding collision or unwanted contact with another player

That’s it! No ifs, ands or buts! Jam whistle goes and you skate continuously until it is done! This mechanic combined with another makes for a very interesting mix… observe!


You Can’t “Bring Her Back”:

RD40.02 – Clockwise movement on the track is not permitted at any time. A player may skate any direction so long as he or she observes counter-clockwise direction of play.

So, thinking of taking that Jammer or skater “back” after you knock them out of bounds? Think again! Doing so could result in a major Direction of Gameplay penalty. Knock ‘em out and get back in the game, there’s no time to

Those who have seen this in action can attest to the fact that it often makes for much faster, and sometimes relentless jams. It places a demand on skaters to constantly keep up with the other players and to get back in the action as fast as possible! As if that wasn’t intense as is… you also need to impede TWO possible point scorers on the opposing team, either of which can suddenly become an active point scorer if you are not paying enough attention. Say whhhhaaaaatttt!?

The 2013 USARS National Tournament will take place this upcoming October 25-27 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The 2013 USARS National Tournament will take place this upcoming October 25-27 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Bye, Bye, Star Passes:

RD40.09 – A pivot may break free from the Pack during his/her Jammer’s initial attempt to pass through the Pack and may become an “Active Scorer” once the opposing team’s Jammer has emerged from the pack to become an Active Scorer.

That’s right, folks! Once the opposing Jammer has completed his or her initial pass through the pack (effectively making them Lead Active Scorer), your PIVOT is permitted to take off after her, without a panty pass occurring, to score points for your team. So, if your Jammer just can’t make it through that pack… Pivot, away!!! Should your pivot take off as an “Active Scorer” (fancy term for point scorer), the Lead Pack Referee (fancy term for a front Inside Pack Ref) will reach both hands far above his/her head, put them together like he is praying (it looks like an “A”), and will yell “BLACK PIVOT ACTIVE!”. This will then cause the Active Scorer Referee (fancy term for Jam Ref) for Team Black to abandon the Jammer (who is now considered nothing more than a blocker for the remainder of the jam) and will begin following the black team’s pivot, who is now considered the point scorer.

That puts a whole new spin on “watching the Jammer” doesn’t it? Cause if your eyes aren’t ALSO on the opposing Pivot, once your Jammer becomes Active, their Pivot can simply take off and start racking up points. Watch and contain them both!

Is your mind blown? Excellent… and there’s more…


Stealing Lead:

RD40.11 – Following the initial determination of Lead Scorer, the opposing Active Scorer may assume Lead status by passing the Lead Scorer in bounds and without committing any penalty during the pass (known as a “Clean Pass”). Active Scorers alternate Lead status with each Clean Pass completed against the then-current Lead Scorer provided that both Active Scorers are on the same pass.

Oh no she didn’t! Sifting through the mumbo jumbo, what this essentially says is that if the opposing Jammer (or Pivot) has Lead Active Scorer status, your Active Scorer can STEAL Lead from him/her by passing her as long as they are both on the same pass. Another way of spelling it out: opposing Jammer gets through pack first to become Lead Active Scorer, your Pivot takes off after her and becomes Active Scorer. Halfway around the track, your Pivot PASSES the opposing Jammer, resulting in her STEALING Lead status away from your opponents for your team. Coolio, eh!?

This can end up bouncing back and forth throughout the Jam until somebody calls it off. However, you can’t always steal Lead. Should the Lead Active Scorer be a lap ahead of your Active Scorer, your team cannot take Lead until you “catch up” (make up that lap you are behind then lap them AGAIN). This of course puts a hefty demand of endurance, discipline, and skill on your Jammer and Pivots as they need to skate faster and maneuver the pack better than the opposing team’s point scorer. So, if you’re all about fast, intense, physically demanding roller derby… this may be something worth looking into!

There are actually a LOT of different scenarios that can play out in terms of Power Jams, new Jams, Active Scorers, etc. way too much to go into here. But let’s just say it is incredibly interesting and there is NO SUCH THING as a Jammer-less Jam. Not even when both Active Scorers are going to the box (if both Active Scorers get a penalty the Jam is called off and a new one is started). Want to know exactly how that works? Check out the Official Rules for USARS yourself over at the Official Site.

What do you think of USARS?



  1. Hey Kev, I had a chance to watch a USARS bout at Rollercon and it was so boring I left part way through the first period. It was like watching a group of speed skaters going around in circles. I pray WFTDA never adopts USARS rules because it would be the death of roller derby as we know it. I never thought I would hear myself say this but I would watch sausage derby over USARS any day.

    1. Hey Clint, I’ve been hearing that as well too now. When all is said and done though, I’ve heard people swear by and condemn every version of the game out there so when it really comes down to it, it’s all about deciding what works for you. WFTDA, USARS, MADE, Renegade, etc etc. the sport has taken shape in a variety of ways and in my opinion it’s well worth at least looking into them all and deciding how you REALLY want to play the game!

      Still, one day I hope to see, or even officiate, an USARS bout myself! Even if its not sanctioned but just an exhibition game. As a fan and advocate of the sport in general, of course I’d have to love the sport I’m officiating or I’d go crazy, I’d personally love to officiate other types of derby too. Just to experience the other ways athletes are playing/showcasing the sport 🙂

    2. About that USARS RollerCon game…

      1) A good portion of the players had never played a USARS game before RollerCon. Part of the reason why the game was pretty boring was because a lot of people had no idea what they were doing out on the track.

      2) More still didn’t really know the finer points of USARS strategy. If both teams have a jammer on the track and everyone is racing around in circles, that’s because the players don’t know that they have to block people to slow the pack down (remember when they did that in WFTDA?) so their jammer can get out of the pack and/or catch up to the pack before the jam ends.

      3) The refs and official were pretty green too, again with some of then dropping in and needing to learn USARS on-the-fly because there was space for them to. Needless to say, it was a mess.

      So while it’s easy to look at the RollerCon game and go, “this was boring, I’ll never watch it again,” I don’t know if you understand the correct reasons on WHY it was boring. Simply, it was boring because the teams and most of the players were bad. Not the rules.

      I recommend everyone look at some of the USARS games between teams and players that are good to make a fair first judgment. An example of a down-to-the-wire finish between two competent, evenly matched teams can be found here, with the game starting at 5:16:00 in the video:

      Oh, and in-case-you-didn’t-know, both the Oly Rollers (2009 WFTDA Champs) and Your Mom Men’s Derby (2012 MRDA Champs) will be playing at 2013 USARS Nationals. Last time I checked, those teams are good in any ruleset. If it’s good enough for them…

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