The six questions you should ask yourself about your new uniform

Since I started following roller derby, there has been greater investment in uniforms at all levels of the sport. The focus has been more and more on high performance and exciting design, mostly moving on from the days when screen-printed cotton tees were pretty much the norm. Now, even at local league level, teams want their own distinctive kit.

For all the investment in impressive-looking uniforms, there are a few design considerations to be made of how they’re going to function in gameplay. There are features that with a tiny design change make it easier for officials to do their jobs, meaning fewer time outs, fewer penalties called for the wrong number, fewer cases of incorrect pack definition, colour names and more…which generally makes things better for everyone.

If you’ve already got your uniform and there are issues, contact head officials and event organisers in advance and we can usually work out a way to get by, but even if you’re not needing to abide by WFTDA tournament policy it’s always good to have a plain white kit on hand in case of emergencies. If you’re in the design phase of a new kit – a consultation with officials should be part of the process. Big thanks to Cluster Schmuck, whose Twitter thread on this posted at the weekend gave me the kick to finish off this long-drafted blog post!

Edit:  I wrote this blog just before so-called “uniformgate” at 2018 WFTDA playoffs in Atlanta.  See what went down here.  I also officiated a game of red-with-white against white-with-red and it was as brain-melting as you’d expect.

Here we go – six questions you should ask yourself when considering a new uniform:

1) What colour is it going to be called as?

Some colours are simple – a fetching red, or even the classic black or white. Few officials are going to concede to calling maroon, charcoal or teal when red, or a pre-agreed grey/black or blue/green will do. If we can use a single syllable, we will. (I love these colours – just make sure everyone knows what they’re going to be called on track.)

Things get trickier identifying a colour where there’s a gradiated fade from top to bottom, a multicoloured pattern or large, busy graphic, or it otherwise being difficult to identify a “majority” colour on the shirt.

If the shirt doesn’t make an official think twice about what colour to say, you’re onto a winner. Your shirt needs to be clearly, definably this colour if you asked people on the street to tell you what single colour your shirt was.

2) Does it pass the 360 degree test?

If a skater was to stand up, in their uniform, would every person from every angle standing round them in a circle see and call the same colour? From the back, completely side on, from the front? Or what if you can only see the skater above the shoulders as opponents surround them?

In my six years in derby I’ve seen my fair share of team tops that look one colour from the left and another from the right. I’ve seen a top with a brilliant patterned design that looked fabulous were it not for the fact the coloured element of the texture faded completely to black on one side of each skater’s body.

There’s a growing trend for a different colour featured across the shoulder/upper chest, which can be done right – just think carefully about the 360 rule.

Thick side panels are already popular but present challenges for officials – if you can have side panels in another shade of your primary shirt colour, or size them so they’re the same narrow width on all skaters, they’re less likely to present an issue.

3) Can everyone read the font?

There are three main areas to consider with font:

  • size – are the numbers big/wide enough? I recommend adhering to WFTDA sanctioning uniform requirements here, then you can’t go wrong. If you have numbers on sleeves, can they be seen completely (especially four-digit numbers)
  • contrast – does the colour of the numbers clearly contrast with the background? will a player getting sweaty and the shirt getting darker make this difficult (e.g. black vinyl on anything but the lightest of cotton tees!) or is there a lot going on on the design behind where the number is?
  • clarity – do your “sevens” look similar to your “ones”? Might a one, viewed in isolation, look like a seven, or vice versa? Does your stylised “bubble” font make certain figures tricky to read? Could an official correctly read any four digit number, in a split second, from 15ft away? (Or maybe more, for outfield NSOs operating under the constraints of the venue/fans/announcers.)

4) Is your alternate kit something other than a strict inverse?

A lot of “away kits” for roller derby teams can be an inverse version of their home kit. If the home kit is red with yellow side panels and detail, the away kit is yellow with red side panels and detail. If this team come up against an opponent whose two kits are red and yellow – beware the extra mental load placed on officials, which might mean calls, pack definition, or otherwise, won’t be as sharp as you like.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having an alternate kit that’s the strict inverse of the home kit – just be aware you may be asked to use that additional white kit more often instead of your “real” kit.

Some tournaments structures may stipulate a “light” and a “dark” kit, so bear this in mind. Some stipulate you must have a white kit – remember to check your contract terms!

5) Can you include additional shirt-front numbers?

It’s by no means compulsory, but really useful if you have your skater number on the front of your shirt somewhere, as well as on your arms and the back. Why might you do this? Other than making officials’ lives easier? From the moment you commit a penalty, you’re considered as a potential box point. So ideally you’ll want to minimise the amount of time between committing that penalty and being able to return to play. One way to do this is to make the number easy to see from whichever angle and for there to be no delay in that call being made.

6) What sits in the “scrumple zone”?

Certain styles of roller derby uniforms have a little zone where they crumple in the back – instantly it becomes difficult to tell a 0 from a 9 from an 8. One easy way around this is to have numbers higher up on the back, rather than below names or a sponsor logo. If this is possible, do it.

Final thoughts

If your team change their game day uniform due to difficulties relating to any of the points above, please don’t simply relegate them to scrimmage wear. If it’s a problem on game day, it’s likely a problem for your officials trying to train hard ready for the next one.

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