When choosing a moniker for roller derby, there’s a tendency to tend to focus on the nickname rather than the number. Names are obviously more fun to play with and brainstorm, but ultimately are irrelevant to gameplay.

The number you wear is a crucial aspect of the game, and yet is frequently overlooked.

Why numbers matter

During the game, you are your number. Officials, NSOs and referees will refer to you and about you exclusively using your team colour and jersey number.

For this reason, you must be tuned in to respond to your number. Else you risk being called for insubordination after ignoring a penalty assessment.

Rules around the number

The WFTDA has a number of rules governing how numbers may be used.

  • Must be printed on the rear of the jersey and displayed on the upper arms so that officials can read them clearly.
  • Must be large (6″ minimum) and legible, with high contrast to the jersey colour.
  • Each skater must have a unique number within their own team (but may share a number with an opposition player).
  • A number may be up to and including 4 digits long.
  • Skater numbers may not officially contain letters (as of December 2015).
  • Small additional printed letters are permissible but must not be more than 2″ tall
  • Small letters are not considered a part of the number, and will not be pronounced by officials.

Issues around skater numbers

Even with the rules, all numbers are not created equal and common sense should be applied when choosing. Some of the main problems for numbers are as follows:

Pronunciation – when spoken, numbers are called out digit by digit. #100 would be spoken “one-zero-zero”, rather than “hundred”. Know what to listen out for on a ref call!

Uniqueness – You may not have the exact same number as a team-mate, but similarity in look or sound can still create issues. In the heat of the game it can be easy to mishear #251 as #51, and mistakenly think you’re being called out.

Popularity – Assuming you want to keep the same number from game to game, a less common number is safer. This reduces the chances of skating with or against a player of the same number and someone having to change. More popular choices include #666, #101, and #13.

Numbers being misread – although legible fonts are a requirement, some numbers are at greater risk of being misread or ambiguous. Longer numbers increase the likelihood that an official will be unable to see (and therefore call) a digit at the start or end.

Syllabic length – obviously longer numbers take longer to call. As an official, this can be frustrating. For a few years there has been a rumour that 4-digit numbers may be on the out, and difficulty with calling is the primary reason. Compare “black, seven-zero-zero-seven” with “black one-two”. Which would you rather call out when rushing to assess a penalty in the heat of the game?

Use your judgement

Just like with derby names, there’s fun to be had with skater numbers. Maybe you’re desperately attached to using a particular date, or you really must have letters on your shirt. But otherwise, it’s worth considering the practicalities of your number as well as future-proofing should the rules get tightened up.