Simple sports

Roller derby is a complicated game with a set of rules that gets bigger and more complex with every iteration. Every time I explain the game to a person who has never seen a bout, I’m reminded how complex it is. And I wonder about roller derby’s ability to attract a larger and mainstream audience. And I worry that our complex rules are a huge contributing factor to its niche status.

Derby, once you understand how to read it, is as dramatic as any other sport.

But how do you teach people to read it if they don’t understand the rules? How do you explain to a newbie, for example, cutting rules? If you cut in front of two skaters, it’s a major. If you cut one, it’s a minor. Unless that person is ahead of everyone else and on the other team, then it’s a major. Except if she’s so far ahead that she’s out of play, then it’s nothing. (Let’s not even get into the beast that is the point-scorer-changing star pass, which gives referees nightmares.)

Now, I’ve been warned about making analogies to and using examples from other sports, but stick with me.

Every summer, I go see the local AAA affiliate of the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim of Southern California of the United States. I drink beer, shout at players and umpires and have a good time. I follow the Phillies and am happy when they win and sad when they lose.

Still, I have no idea how the infield-fly rule works. And I don’t have a great grasp of dropped third strikes and foul-tip outs.

And then there’s hockey, which I watch live once or twice a year. I honestly have no idea what you can and cannot do.

But I understand the way to keep score. And that, for most fans, is enough to convey the drama that attracts us to sports.

2 thoughts on “Simple sports”

  1. I’m not sure I agree that one needs to understand the minutia of the rules in order to enjoy the game. I attended my first Derby bout a few months ago, with no understanding of any of the rules, including how a point is scored. I not only picked the scoring up quickly, but even the less important rules started to become obvious to me. By the second match, I was explaining rules to the crowd around me.

    Hockey, in a way, suffers the same problem. There are so many rules related to when a penalty is a 2 minute infraction, 4 minute infraction, 5 minute misconduct, or game misconduct, even the officials can’t agree on a ruling for most plays. But, that’s not where the excitement for the game comes from. It comes from the hitting, the speed, the scoring, and the energy of the fans.

    Derby is a relatively young sport, especially in its latest iteration. In a relatively small city like London, Ontario, there were nearly 3000 people in attendance for the game I attended. Not a small feat for a small team in a small league in a small city.

  2. I actually agree, and I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. Roller derby is the first sport I’ve ever officiated and been responsible for knowing the minutiae in detail. My point is that when I think about fans enjoying derby with a complex rule set, I come at it from a very different place than when I enjoy other sports whose minutiae I don’t understand.

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