25 before 26 – Leading the way jamming

25 before 26 - Get lead jammer at an open gameThis post completes one of the 25 goals I have set myself to achieve before my 26th birthday.

Glory hunters. That's what some members of the roller derby community call jammers. Audiences love to watch a jammer whizz by, photographers love to snap their speedy action shots and bench coaches love the points they can rack up for their team.

Jammers are easy to spot as they wear a star on their helmet cover, or 'panty' as it's known to those that play. Each team fields one jammer per jam (a two-minute period of play). Jammers start each jam behind the jam-line and all of the blockers from both teams. When the whistle is blown to indicate the start of the jam, they fight their way through the pack. Whoever emerges out of the front of the pack first becomes the lead jammer for that jam. Once out of the pack, jammers then begin to score points - one for every opposing player they pass each lap of the track.

Lead jammer at Eastbourne Extreme

Lead jammers have power. They have the ability to 'call off' or end the jam early. Tactically speaking, your jammer status can make or break a game. Lead jammers can call off a jam when they've scored their team some points but the other jammer hasn't made it out of the pack yet. Lead jammers can call off a jam when the other jammer has been sent the penalty box, giving their team an advantage when starting the next jam (as the only jammer on track they are more likely to secure lead jammer again). Lead jammers can can call off a jam just before the other team's jammer is about to score some points. Basically, lead jammers can call off the jam at any point that gives them a strategic advantage over the other team. This is why lead jammer status is important.

Lead jammer at SRG vs Crown Duels

When I was first introduced to roller derby, I had no intention of jamming. My strengths lie as a blocker - with my strength being, well, my main strength. I love taking out an opposing player with a clean hit, forcing jammers off the track and getting in their way to prevent them scoring points. I am neither agile nor speedy when it comes to skating and so I thought I would never be a good jammer - until I discovered that there are in fact two types of jammer: agile and power. Agile jammers juke around blockers, are very light-footed and crafty in finding holes to wriggle their way through the pack. Power jammers use their strength to force these holes open, push people out of their way and deflect incoming hits.

Clearly, I am a power jammer. I realised that it's ok that my agility isn't my greatest skill as I have my strength to back me up. It's ok that I'm not as speedy as other jammers as I have my blockers to back me up. It's ok if I get hit because I can hold my ground. It's ok if I fall over because I can get back up. It's ok if there aren't any obvious ways through the wall of blockers because I can make my own way through. It's ok if I jam.

I started jamming more and more at practices and scrimmages, mostly to improve my blocking. After all, if you can get into the mind-set of your enemy than you can predict what they might try next. Gradually I began to build up my tolerance to jamming and actually started to enjoy it. My jamming goals shifted from wanting to jam more in scrimmages, to during a game, to wanting to get lead jammer in an open game. As I realised each goal, I set myself a harder goal. And so my original 25 before 26 goal became not to just get lead jammer in an open game, but to also score some points!

The Surrey Roller Girls

My team, the Surrey Roller Girls, played the Windsor Crown Duels on Saturday. I was fielded primarily as a blocker but also jammed twice. Those two jams were the highlight of my jamming career so far for me. I secured lead for both jams and scored points. For once, I was actually agile - I avoided getting hit by ducking under a blocker instead of bracing for the hit like I usually do! Progress has been made.

I'm not a glory hunter. I'm a roller derby player - a jammer, a blocker and most importantly, a team member. I'm someone looking to improve their roller derby skills, not look for attention on track. Points may be scored by jammers, but games are won by teams.

Photographs by Rebecca Cornford and John Hesse, taken at Eastbourne Extreme and the SRG vs Crown Duels game

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