Misunderstanding: For something to be a multiplayer block penalty, the opposing skater has to physically challenge the grasp where the two skaters are illegally grasping each other.
Demystified: They really don’t. They just have to try and pass between the two skaters who are illegally “connected” (which doesn’t necessarily involve grasping) and be prevented from doing so due to that illegal connection.
I don’t envy the great bunch of people who work on WFTDA rules. It’s hard work to explain clearly and concisely, in formal writing, how roller derby is supposed to work. The wording of multiplayer in the rules has changed over the years in a bid for clarity and consistency, but the intended interpretation remains pretty much the same. Nothing is “new” for 2018, or 2017, really.
Some of the skaters from Oxford Wheels of Gory helped me with the photos on this post – find them at their webpage or their Facebook page. A huge thank you to Red, Pina Collide Her and Fun Size Fury for being ace demonstrators.
(And – as a reminder – as with all my blogs I’m not affiliated with the WFTDA so my explanations are based on my own personal understanding of referee consensus, with links to WFTDA pages where available, so you can make the call. You can also visit my Facebook page to discuss the content of the posts with other readers!)
From the rules:
4.1.4: Skaters may not form a wall by linking with or grasping a teammate, or otherwise forming an impenetrable connection. This action warrants a penalty if an opponent attempts to get between them and fails to do so due to the illegal formation.
Before you panic about braced walls and even being able to touch your teammates near an opponent, let’s break it down. All multiplayer block penalties satisfy the following criteria (colours for illustrative purposes):
1) A purple skater is trying to pass between two particular green skaters.
2) Those two green skaters have “connected” directly to each other in an illegal way as defined by the rules. (The connection only becomes illegal because the purple skater is trying to pass between the other two.)
3) The purple skater is impeded while trying to pass between those two green skaters, and they’re held back because those two skaters are illegally “connected”. They don’t necessarily have to make direct contact with the illegal connection itself.
That’s it. If I’m sure that a block satisfies those three requirements, I’ll be penalising the most appropriate of those green skaters. This means the one most responsible for that illegal connection, or the one closest to me, if they’re equally responsible – ie. both are active participants in the illegal connection.
Grasp plus jammer trying to pass between two skaters and being prevented from doing so as a result of the illegal grasping? Multiplayer block penalty.
The “tango” block
Blocks where the connection itself is out reach of the blocked skater are possibly the biggest source of confusion. Let’s imagine our two green skaters are tight against one another, purple jammer pushing at the seam between them and failing to get through, while the outside arms of the green skaters are in front of them, well out of the way of the purple jammer, hands grasping each other so it looks a little like the tango. A little bit like the photo below:
Yes, purple is trying to pass between them (1), yes those two skaters are illegally connected by a grasp (2) and we’re pretty darn sure they’re impeding purple jammer. Is the illegal connection helping them to strengthen that wall (3)? Some may debate as to whether it does, but note that the majority of skating officials will make the penalty call, including me. Unsure of how it’s expected to go in a particular game? Raise it with the head referee.
The penalty goes to the skater grasping, or if both are, the closest one to the referee making the call. A variation can occur with the first green skater reaching round and grabbing the shirt of the other green skater, rather than grasping their hand/arm. It’s still a multiplayer penalty.
So how come you can still brace?
Easy – bracing involves a third green skater, who for now is not contacted by the jammer. The first two green skaters can grasp skater 3 and not each other, and while the purple skater isn’t currently trying to get between 1 and 3, or 2 and 3 – no multiplayer penalty.
The same applies to a blocking technique often called the “truck/tractor and trailer” or any kind of braced block (seen above) – effectively a single skater being braced by or bracing on another single skater – if contact from an opponent is only to one skater and otherwise cannot be thought of trying to pass between them – no multiplayer penalty.
But not all multiplayer block penalties involve grasping…
You can get a multiplayer block penalty without grasping your teammate. If your arm is hooked around theirs to make a “do-si-do” type link, like in the photo below, that illegally links you.
Finally there’s the concept of the “impenetrable wall” – impenetrable is defined in the WFTDA glossary. No arm linking here. No grasping. Most commonly, it looks like your arm across the back of your teammate, or both your arms crossing over each others backs. And yes, even flat palms, a technique often used to try and prevent perceived grasping, won’t save you here!
Such walls are specific to the angle of approach – with a jammer contacting the backs/arm of the skaters – this is absolutely impenetrable. Bones have to be broken to get between the skaters from this angle. Had a skater approached from the front, however, the arms are effectively like a door – although the blockers can apply resistance, they can in theory be pushed apart from this direction without anything breaking.
It’s not a multiplayer penalty but…
In roller derby you can get so caught up in whether there’s an illegal link or not that you completely miss that a skater is actually still using their forearm or elbow to directly contact and significantly hold back a skater. It may not be a multiplayer, but this would be a forearm penalty. The picture below doesn’t have sufficient evidence for a penalty to be called, but it’s where we need to be mindful it could happen!
On its own, straight arms crossed over the front of the two blockers the opposition skater attempts to pass between aren’t a multiplayer block. With the skaters challenged between their backs, this isn’t an illegal connection. However, a well-intentioned legal reinforcement like this may turn into a multiplayer penalty if the arms turn into a link through crooked elbows, or if a skater changes to grasping. (Or indeed, it would be an impenetrable wall if the jammer was instead challenging this formation in the other direction – ie. between the fronts of the two blockers.)
Jammers aren’t immune to multiplayer penalties
They’re less common, but sure as anything jammers can get multiplayer penalties. One example arises from a “failed whip”. Here the jammer attempts to take a clothing whip from a teammate but remains stuck, still holding the jersey to keep themselves where they want to be. There’s nothing illegal about this, until an opposing blocker initiates some offence, directly between the jammer and blocker attempting to push through and break the connection, and the jammer maintains their hold on their teammates jersey, preventing the opposing blocker from being successful. In this case, penalty to the jammer.
Skew’s Ref Training Notes
1) It’s really tempting to think all multiplayer blocking is going to be seen referees skating backwards, looking from a distance at the front of a wall of skaters. Truth is, you’ll pick up some penalties from this angle, but don’t forget those impenetrable walls (often best seen from behind) and being near-level with the jammer also enables you to see exactly where and on whom they are making contact, including seeing multiplayer blocks.
2) Remember to be sure the opposition skater is trying to get between those two blocking skaters. If they’re not, any connection between the two is legal – just the same as the truck and trailer or brace scenario.
3) Judging whether an illegal connection has resulted in a skater failing to get between them can be challenging, particularly if a grasp is released just as the jammer makes contact. Make a call, ref, based on the impact on the jammer. Remember we don’t need to see sustained impedence here, either. If a jammer skated directly into two grasping arms and bounced straight off – for sure I’d penalise.
Other resources you should read:
WFTDA casebook – example on hooked arms
Bitches Bruze diagrams – the rules references themselves are out of date, but the interpretation holds true