Rules with Skew (5) – seven ways you might get a penalty for destroying the pack

BLUE 736, DESTRUCTION. There was a no pack and you are the skater deemed solely or most responsible for its illegal destruction. Oops. Time to leave the track, sit a penalty and reassess.

Not all “no pack” situations result in a penalty, of course – there are ways “no pack” can arise legally or with insufficient impact on the game to warrant a whistle being blown.

If the “no pack” is simply because someone fell down or went out of bounds as a result of a block or missed block – no penalty (C.4.1.2.A and C.4.2.1.B). Similarly if a crucial gap between skaters gradually widened to over 10ft over time due to a small difference between skaters’ speeds, *most* of the time there shouldn’t be a penalty involved. If there’s a safety concern involved – no penalty (C.4.2.1.E). No pack situations created immediately after the jam starts also don’t warrant a penalty – the pack can’t exist before the whistle, so the teams have yet to establish a pack speed when the no pack occurs (C4.2.1.I).

Alternatively, one of the seven scenarios featured in this post might be why a penalty was called.

  • What “type” of destruction do you see most frequently?
  • What type do you think you are responsible for?
  • What ways of getting a destruction penalty have I missed?

Let’s get a discussion going on the Facebook page. Alternatively I’m on Twitter @skewblogs. Come and chat.

All the images featured in this post use the Ultimate Roller Derby Ubiquitous Magnet Board (aka URDUMB) hosted by Vienna Roller Derby. Thank you WonderZebra and VRD for this fantastic resource. You should go here and test out some scenarios yourself.

As usual, a reminder that unless you’re reading something from the WFTDA rules, casebook and officiating resources, this is not the official word of the WFTDA and is based on my best understanding. That said, I’m always open to discussion and amending content.

1) Accelerating forward in a bid to eventually block the jammer, except you were holding the pack together

A deviation from an established pack speed can illegally destroy the pack, as it doesn’t present the opposing team the opportunity to maintain that pack’s existence, rendering them unable to block. One way this happens is when a blocker who is key to the existence of a pack sprints forward in a bid to join their teammates or to otherwise catch the jammer and eventually block them. I frequently see this when a player is the last blocker from their team on track, and forgets they’re the only one who can maintain a pack, instead becoming focused on chasing down the jammer.


In the image above, the pack is moving very slowly in a counterclockwise direction as both walls play heavy defense. Orange 1 makes a decision to join their teammates and sprints forward, bringing them more than 10ft away from any blue blocker. Orange 1 would receive a destruction penalty, and both teams would then need to act appropriately to reform the pack.

2) Skating clockwise to reform the rear wall

This scenario is almost the mirror-image of the first, except we’re looking at clockwise skating. Roller derby is played in the counter-clockwise direction and the rules tell us “when the Pack is moving in the derby direction or stopped during a Jam, clockwise skating which destroys the Pack is illegal.” The simple action of a player who is keeping the pack together returning to their wall can be enough for a penalty.


In the image above, the pack speed is once again very slow in the counterclockwise direction. Blue blocker 3 skates clockwise to reform their wall. Blue blocker 3 receives a destruction penalty. If blue blocker had not done so, and the slow counterclockwise movement of the orange blockers as a result of the jammer’s pushing had resulted in a “no pack” call, this would likely not warrant a destruction penalty. The general consensus is that orange blockers should never be obliged to skate clockwise in order to maintain or reform a pack, although they may choose to do so.

3) Recycling the jammer whilst not keeping an eye on the pack

This has the same mechanism for destroying the pack as (2) but arises from the blocker concerned having a slightly different focus: recycling a jammer.


Blue pivot blocks orange jammer out of bounds. Blue have the rear wall. At the moment the jammer goes out of bounds, the distance between blue pivot and orange blocker 1 is what holds the pack together. Blue pivot immediately stops and accelerates clockwise in a bid to make the jammer do the same, in order for them to legally re-enter the track as quickly as possible. As they do, the distance from any blue blocker to any orange blocker extends to over 10ft, destroying the pack. If any other blue blocker had skated forward to maintain the pack prior to blue pivot skating clockwise, a pack would remain, and there would be no destruction call. Upon blue pivot committing the penalty, however, orange jammer is free to legally re-enter the track and likely get away with all their points trouble-free.

4) Deliberately taking a knee/skating out of bounds

Sometimes skaters are going to take a knee or leave the track for a safety or equipment reason – ie. they’re injured, there’s a downed skater they need to evade, their kneepad cap has popped off, or their laces or straps have come loose. This is awkward, but shouldn’t be penalised – you need to sort that issue out to continue safely with the game. Sometimes you lose your balance and legitimately fall without intending to.

If it’s apparent a skater deliberately took a knee or skated out of bounds (C.4.2.1.C) with the intent of destroying the pack, for sure it’s a penalty.


In the image above, blue blocker 2 has gone down. If they were upright, there would still be a pack, but they can’t contribute to the pack while down. In this case, the no pack should allow blue jammer to get past the orange blockers, as they are rendered unable to block and blue blocker 2 should be penalised if their change in status was intentional and not for safety reasons.

5) Self-reporting to the penalty box at the wrong time

Guidelines have now made it clear that skaters in the queue for the penalty box (because when they initially visited there wasn’t room to sit) can self-report where they notice a space is free, even if an official hasn’t directed them to do so.

This is great, and allows some autonomy on the part of skaters if they can do so more quickly than the officials can tell them, but they also have to do so without destroying the pack. This means a teammate must be back on track and part of the pack before they leave. Else by choosing that moment to leave the track they’re destroying the pack, and are probably going to have to sit down for a little longer than originally planned.


In the image above orange 1 has just destroyed the pack, by leaving the track and reporting themselves to the penalty box. While orange 3 has returned to the track, orange 3 is too far behind the pack such that their re-entry will immediately reform it. If orange blocker 1 left the track as orange 3 joined the pack, there would be no need to call any “no pack” or issue any penalty.

Note that if orange 1 committed another penalty whilst being the last blocker on track, officials would issue the penalty, but clearly communicate they should stay on the track, so as to avoid any “no pack” situation.

6) Creating a split pack through playing offence

With recent trends in derby strategy, this one is incredibly common. To clarify, a split pack is a special type of no pack where there are two equally sized groups of upright in-bounds blockers from both teams, and those groups are more than 10ft away from each other. There’s an example here – see “the split pack”.

Imagine you’re the blue pivot in the example below. The pack is currently at the rear, surrounding orange jammer, because all blue blockers are present, along with orange blocker 1 trying to provide offence. Meanwhile, blue jammer is struggling to break through the remaining orange wall.


Blue pivot skates forward to provide that offence, resulting in…a split pack. That pivot is issued a destruction penalty.


If instead two blue blockers had skated forward, they would carry the pack with them to the front group (below). Alternatively, blue blocker 2 could have skated forward a lesser distance to act as a bridge, enabling all blockers on track to be in the pack.


7) Putting on the brakes when you’re the rear group

If you never practice fast derby, you tend to only find out about this one if you’re forced to play it. Imagine both teams are skating at speed. It’s the end of a tight game, and both teams have increased the speed so the pack is going fast. One team is grouped together at the front, the other at the rear. The rear team plows and slows together while the front team maintain the established pack speed, just as a jammer enters the engagement zone.

NO PACK! The gap between the teams is larger than 10ft. As the rear group’s marked deviation from pack speed gave the front group no reasonable opportunity to maintain the pack, a blocker in the rear team is issued a destruction penalty.

But sometimes I get a “destruction” penalty when there’s a pack?

If this happens, and there’s definitely a pack at that moment (because an official is saying so) chances are you destroyed the pack during the last no pack, and the official has delayed delivering the call.  Officials may choose to prioritise ensuring skaters know there is a pack once again over issuing a penalty.  Why?  They want skaters (and other officials) to know they can once again legally block.  For more on this, see the referee training notes.

So how do you avoid destruction penalties?

Be aware of the scenarios above, but know they’re far from exhaustive, and learn where and when you may be the glue that holds the pack together. Knowing who you need to measure your distance from, and how that distance is measured is key – 10ft in derby is measured in what some officials call “lasagne slices not pizza slices” (ie. imagining rectangles laid across the track) and is best illustrated by casebook scenario C.2.3.C. You can see there how you can be physically further than 10ft away from a skater, but less than 10ft away as the officials measure distance to define the pack.

As an aside, remember that whoever is getting the destruction penalty is not going to be able to reform the pack, so you and your teammates teammates need to be aware and ON IT to quickly reform.

Referee training notes:

It’s equally important to remember when you should not issue a destruction penalty. As with anything in derby, if ever you are unsure about a penalty in the moment, the answer is “probably not”. This includes the scenarios described at the start of the blog, but may include momentary “no pack” situations with no impact on the game. I recommend thinking about any “no pack” calls during drills where you can define a pack and know you would be able to verbalise why they were or were not resulting in a penalty.

Remember to call “no pack, split” to provide extra information to the skaters and other officials if the no pack is a split pack. This quickly explains why you’re calling a “no pack” when it may not be immediately obvious from another angle.

After years of the official verbal cue being “destroying the pack” it is now the much shorter “destruction”. (Find the cues here!)

Depending on your confidence, experience and that of other officials on your crew, you may wish to issue the destruction penalty immediately (knowing another official is free and well-positioned to define the pack once it reforms) or wait until the pack has reformed, so that you have already promptly indicated it’s legal for the teams to block again, then issue the penalty. This avoids leaving a no pack “hanging” when once again there is indeed a pack. If you’re IPR but not HR, find out how your HR would prefer these situations handled – and always remember if your HR is issuing a penalty of any sort during a “no pack” the onus is probably on you to define the pack ASAP once it exists again.

Further reading:

Ref-Ed’s presentation on out of play penaltiesdestruction is one of the first topics covered in the presentation giving much more food for thought for skating officials regarding when and when not to make the call (NB. at the time of writing the video is from 2017 and uses the old verbal cue)

Skewblogs on Pack Shapes – parts one and two these may give you some ideas of being able to quickly spot a “no pack” and therefore have greater confidence in knowing when a pack is destroyed and who destroyed it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s