Olivia Coupe (London Rollergirls Flikr (Paul Delooze))Olivia Coupe (London Rollergirls Flikr (Paul Delooze)) © Copyright

Olivia Coupe: How to be a Roller Derby blocker

Olivia Coupe is a blocker for Team England and London Brawling, the top roller derby team in Europe. Roller derby is a contact sport played on skates that’s rapidly growing in popularity. Olivia tells us what makes a top blocker.

Getting in the way

A blocker’s job is to impede the jammer from scoring points. The jammer scores by going around the opposing team on the track. The blocker’s job is to stop their forward momentum.You have to be competent on your skates and have very strong quads because you’re constantly digging in to impede the jammer. It helps to be larger, but you still need to be agile.

I’m a slightly smaller skater than the rest of my team (about 61kg), and I’m having to deal with driving off blockers or holding back jammers that may weigh up to 20kg more than me. I’ve got to engage my core, stay grounded and keep my wheels on the floor so I can use that energy against them.

Stop the jammer

Personally, I think the best way to stop a jammer is to contain them behind you. You want to catch her, slow her down almost to a stop and demoralise her. If you knock her off the track, that has its benefits but you’re giving her a short breather because you’re not allowed to engage her while she’s out of bounds. In saying that, when you land a big hit on the jammer and she goes flying, that’s satisfying too.


Formations that have two skaters facing forward and two skating backwards, bracing the forward facing skaters with their arms, are popular now. I think the jammers were getting so good and so strong that even the best defence had to get creative about how to stop this force blowing through the pack.

The tactics are constantly evolving. When I look at games from playoffs which happened in America a couple of years ago, I cringe a bit at the methods we were using because it’s just getting better all the time.

Data processing

My strengths are strategy and awareness. I’m good at processing information quickly and I tend to play on the inside line. I like to joke that the inside line is the “thinkers lane” because you often end up being the person who bridges your team-mates and makes sure they’re in play. Because you’re trying to impede the jammer, you [the blockers] tend to end up spreading across the track horizontally, so she’s hitting a wall of blockers. If the skaters get too spread out, you have to reform and cluster. So in lane one, you’re looking at the game, playing defence and telling your team what’s going on.

Hitting the gym

I tend to do a lot of weights. Free weights, lifting, squats, deadlifts – things that focus on the quads and hamstrings – as well as strengthening my core. Because bracing has become more popular, I’ve started doing things like traps, biceps and shoulders. If I’m skating backwards and bracing my team-mate with my shoulders or arms, I’m basically benching up to 40 or 50kg. If you can’t do a press-up, you’re going to struggle to brace a team-mate.


We have three people, myself included, who research our next opponents. We’ll create a Google doc and note everything from their strong players to preferred formations. We might make GIFs of what they’re doing, so we’re ready. We do a lot of studying. Every game is so important because we have a relatively short season. A top UK team has about 10-12 games in a season.


We communicate constantly when we’re on the track. The main thing we talk about is where the jammer is. Roller Derby is a game that happens behind you. Most of the time you’re skating forwards with the opponent’s jammer on your back or behind you. You use your peripheral vision or talk to your team-mates to figure out where she is. If the communication stops, things start to fall apart.

Ready to fail

The hardest thing about being a blocker is accepting constant failure. Every time a jammer gets past you, you’ve failed at doing your job, but without your failure, the game wouldn’t happen. The jammers have to get past because that’s how the game is played. As a blocker, you’re failing constantly, but there’s no time to dwell on that.

Work to travel

We fundraise money for the league with bootcamps because we’re a non-profit organisation. All of the money we raise goes towards paying for venues and flights to compete in the States.

The name's Bond

I’m a freelance film editor and worked on visual effects editing for Spectre last year. That was my first feature film. Being freelance helps massively with taking time off to travel and compete, and prioritise skating – you end up having to sacrifice everything to play the sport, though. Most people do that by choice, but it can be overwhelming sometimes.

Community spirit

Roller derby names are still a big part of the sport, especially for the newer skaters. Essentially, you’re giving yourself a cool nickname. We have names like Juke Boxx, Die Die, Trisha Smakanawa, Lexi Lightspeed, Rogue Runner, Shaolin Scarlet.

More people want to be known by their own names now – we want the sport to be taken seriously. Although the names and outfits do make the sport unique, we also want to show how it’s empowering thousands of women worldwide to get strong and get competitive, to think more about their bodies and what they’re capable of. It’s so inclusive of different genders and sexualities, it’s a really incredible community and I’ve never been in anything like it.

 Images: ©Paul Delooze TheLondonRollergirls/Flikr


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