How to go from Blocker to Jammer

(without giving up completely)

When I started skating with Dorset Roller Girls in 2016 I had absolutely zero interest in jamming. It looked way too hard, way too exhausting, and I didn’t really understand the scoring system. My extremely basic roller derby knowledge led me to believe that jammers were often small and nippy so, as a slightly taller and slightly heavier than average person, I decided to become a blocker.

After about a year, I slowly started dipping my toe stop into the jamming waters, offering to do a jam at scrimmage every now and then. At that time, the main thing that was holding me back was that after two minutes of jamming I felt like I was dying. I’d never played a team sport before (school sports don’t count when you put zero effort in and never get picked), I didn’t cross train and I ate what I wanted whenever I wanted. Basically, I was majorly unfit. But the following year I did what many people that get obsessed with getting good at roller derby do: I started going to the gym regularly, I ate properly and I went hunting for gainz. When I was finally fitter than I had ever been in my life, my attitude towards jamming started to change. When your lungs aren’t burning and you’re not wishing for the sweet relief of death, jamming is actually pretty fun. I started flirting with jamming more and more, trying to improve by getting a few more jams’ experience under my belt every week at league scrimmage, pivoting more, and volunteering to take the star at mixers. But I didn’t want to commit to it. Now that my mindset has changed, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that the only reason why I didn’t want to log my interest in becoming a full-time jammer was that our A team’s jammer spots were already filled, so I could either stay comfortably in one of the eleven blocker spots available, or commit to getting better at jamming and not get rostered for British Champs. I chose the former, because I hate failing.

Photo by Lotus Photography UK.

My A team jamming debut against Killa Hurtz. Photo by Lotus Photography UK.

Although I blocked all four games of 2017 Champs, I wasn’t actually that amazing at blocking. I was pretty mediocre. Basically, I blocked like a jammer: I never stuck with my wall. So, when a jammer spot unexpectedly opened up midway through the season and I was asked if I wanted to switch positions full-time, I leaped at the opportunity. Although I felt completely chuffed and honestly quite validated to be put on the jammer rotation, I was also aware that my new position was a lucky break with minimum effort on my part. In the first game of the 2018 South West Season, I made my jamming debut with DRG’s B-Side against Bath Roman Rollers, and it just so happened that our final jam —that I’d jammed in — was the jam that won us the game. Back then, my specialty was apex jumping (even when jamming was just my bit-on-the-side) and it had finally paid off in a real-life game scenario. Obviously, I was ecstatic. But, like with all good stories of triumph, this win also comes with a fall.

I finally joined the A team on the track as a jammer in our third game of Champs, our home game, and the only game we won that year, against Killa Hurtz. I did some stuff I was very pleased with, some other stuff I wasn’t so pleased with, was cautioned by our LUM that he overheard the officials say I was skating a little recklessly so needed to tone it down a bit, and went home with the MVP certificate and my team on a high with a 17-point win. (We were especially thrilled as the first game of the tournament saw us lose by 260 points and the second by 129.)

I continued my full-time jammer journey through South West Season, and rounded off the A team’s Champs season on the jammer rotation again against Hertfordshire A. It was a tough game during the height of summer- so it was bloody hot- and a lot of our regular A team players were on their holidays, so we went into it with just 11 skaters. However, spirits were still high and we were doing ourselves proud. But after a pretty respectable first period, I did a dodgy apex jump and got expelled for leaping contact. I’m not even being dramatic when I say it was one of the worst days of my life. With another jammer out for injury, we finished the game on a two-jammer and nine-blocker rotation, and down 27 points.

The rest of the team remember it fondly as the game in which we conquered — melting in the heat and staying on track until we physically couldn’t go on — even though we technically lost. In my mind it’s the game in which my bench coach told me to play it safe but I went and leapt into someone instead, and spent the second half crying in a corner, convincing myself that it was my fault we lost and I should just quit jamming and go back to blocking instead. I’d never so much as fouled out before, and now my second A team jammer outing was a complete and utter write-off. I know I’m making this all sound very melodramatic and hundreds of people have been expelled before, but I really was gutted. Ask anyone. But despite the setback, I eventually did what everyone does and got over it. I now firmly believe that getting expelled has made me a stronger jammer. I’m no longer reckless and hardly ever jump, and when our bench coach shouts to play it safe I stay firmly in the middle of the track. Jamming is fun, but it’s also hard.

My team after our game against Hertfordshire. I’m off somewhere in a corner, crying.
Photo by APhotoEpic.

B-Side following our 1-point win for the South West Season trophy.

I rounded off the competitive season in October with B-Side in the final of South West Season against SWAT B. Throughout the tournament, they were our (and everyone else’s) biggest competitors, and the game against them would be the one in which we’d really have to pull out all the stops. It ended up being an extremely close game but, after training hard all year, B-Side went into the final jam a few points down. My pack helped me get lead jammer and we ended up winning by one point, taking home the tournament’s first place trophy. As an ex-risk taker, that was the safest jam I’ve ever played.

My 2019 blocker-to-jammer journey — I would call it a ‘saga’ but it was definitely way more dramatic in my head — was a tough one, but I got my classic TV character arc: I was given a chance and got too comfortable before well and truly blowing it. I had my soul crushed but I’ve learnt from it, I’ve practiced hard, and I’ve been renewed for Season 2.

And now I’m wondering why the hell I was pretending to block for two years.

By Palmergeddon