The other day Sellty from Derbytastic asked me to do a post about how to learn the rules. This is a bit more straightforward and helpful than I usually like to be, but she’s a good egg, so I figured what the hell.
Before we get all meta up in here, don’t go into this thinking WFTDA’s rules are a perfect, magical document handed down by a higher power. The rules are sort of a mess, they’re not user-friendly and some of them either contradict each other or are impossible to enforce. (aka the premise of CKDC)
Also, don’t think you can avoid reading the full ruleset. All of it. More than once. Watching bouts can help you with strategies and plays, but it won’t tell you what the specifics of the rules are.
The one thing that has helped me most in understanding derby rules is trying to see each rule in my head as I read it. Don’t look at the words on the page like you’re reading a list of facts. Read them like they’re a novel and you’re imagining what’s going on in your brain-TV.
For example: When I read 5.5.6 “Extended touching (lasting three seconds or more) with the forearms or hands to an opponent’s legal and/or illegal target zone.” for the first time I thought about what it looked and felt like to touch another person for 3 seconds. I counted one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand while I was doing it. It reminded me of when my little sister used to put her fingers as close to my face as possible and say “I’m not touching you!” to annoy me in the back seat on long car trips. In my head it’s the “one, two, I’m not touching you!” rule. That’s such a strong visualization I’ll never forget that rule.
Do that for every rule in the book. Seriously. Try to remember a situation you’ve seen in a bout, or make one up where that specific rule applies.
Don’t expect to be able to power through the whole rule book in one night this way. It takes a lot longer than reading through them as fast as you can, but it’s time well spent because you’ll remember them better.
When you’ve read them all, have a cookie, then go back the next day and start reading them all again. Chances are, rules that didn’t make sense the first time will be easier to understand after you’ve read the full ruleset and go back a second time.
When new rules come out, first I read the side-by-side summary, then the change tracking document, and then the regular ruleset. And I re-read it every month or two after that. Not only for review purposes, but because I see new things every time I read it, no matter if it’s the 2nd or 10th time.
Ask for help.
When you get to a rule you don’t understand or can’t visualize, write the number down. Then ask someone who has a good handle on the rules to explain it to you. I’d recommend waiting to do this until after you’ve read all the rules through at least once, because they may end up referring you to another rule you haven’t gotten to yet.
This will also help you develop rules-buddy relationships with people in your league. Having people you can discuss rules with is invaluable.
To the cloud!
There are lots of online resources for understanding the rules. The best one I’ve found is Roller Derby Test O’Matic ( http://rollerderbytestomatic.com/ ). Sausage Roller is still in the process of updating it with the 2014 rules, so it isn’t currently at 100%, but it will be soon. Test O’Matic randomly asks multiple-choice questions and gives a link to the applicable rule after you pick an answer.
When I was first learning the rules I went to the site several times a week, answered 100 questions each time and re-read the rule for each one I got wrong.
The summary statistics and graphs the site generates when you create a log-in are really helpful in assessing your overall knowledge level. They show how well you know each section of the rules, so you know which areas to study, and how you compare to other people who’ve been answering questions. Being at or above the average in all categories is my personal benchmark for knowing the rules “well enough”.
There’s also kitten mode. Kitten mode! http://rollerderbytestomatic.com/cat
Roller Derby Rule of the Day ( https://www.facebook.com/RollerDerbyRuleoftheDay ) is another great resource. It has extremely in-depth explanations and discussions of individual rules and how they are applied.
I’ve gotten a lot out of lurking on Zebra Huddle ( http://www.zebrahuddle.com/ ) as well. It’s a discussion forum for WFTDA refs and in addition to advanced rules knowledge, you’ll get an understanding of refs as beardful humans who are trying to figure out how to apply the same confusing, contradictory rules you’re trying to learn.
Reading Zebra Huddle helped me realize that what the rules really mean is more about how the referees have collectively decided to enforce them than what is written on the page. Most of the time the two are similar to each other. Sometimes they aren’t.
Application and understanding.
The final step is to sync the abstract concepts you’ve been reading with what happens on the track.
When you get a penalty, or when a penalty DOESN’T get called you thought should have been, figure out why. Don’t be the skater who’s automatic reaction is that the ref was wrong. Sure, they make mistakes sometimes, but most of the time they’re pretty accurate.
I was blown away the first time I read about a top-10 ranked team reviewing every penalty in every bout, in detail, as a group. They figure out exactly why each penalty was called and how it could have been avoided.
If you really want to understand the rules, do this for yourself. Every penalty you get at every scrimmage and every bout. Every single one.
This does not mean yelling “What the hell was that for?" while you’re on the way to the box. Or "That was a back block! Are you blind?"
What it means is waiting until after you’ve finished playing and saying “I’m trying to understand why I got that penalty, can you explain it to me please?" or "Can you help me understand the difference between what they did and what I did?" to a more experienced player, or your coach, or better yet to the ref who made the call.
Yes, I said ask the ref. You can do that.
Refs are big on not coaching or giving unsolicited advice, because they’re supposed to be impartial. But almost every ref will answer specific questions if you ask nicely for them to share their beardy wisdom. They secretly love that sort of thing. And candy. They really love candy.
So, to sum up: Read stuff, then ask questions, then read more stuff and ask more questions. Then play some derby and ask even more questions. Keep doing that and eventually you’ll have a good understanding of the rules right before they change them and you have to start all over again.