Maybe It’s Not About More Big Tourneys

Quittich

For the past year or so, there has existed a significant push towards having bigger, better, higher budgeted tourneys in bike polo. It makes some sense, this drive to move away from poor courts, iffy organizing, and what not. To be honest, I think this kind of shift is a natural progression of the sport (as it develops, so too do the tourneys we put on. It’s not brain rockets), but I wonder about something else: maybe the answer to growing the sport isn’t bigger, better tourneys. Maybe it’s smaller tourneys that happen more often.

First, let’s establish what we’re aiming for. In my case, growing the sport means having more people playing. That’s it. I’m not talking about getting people to watch the thing, nor am I talking about getting sponsors lined up. I’m talking about sheer number of bike polo players on the courts.

Using that as my measurement for success, I can begin to make the argument that having 5 little, regional (read: within 2 hours of where you live) tourneys might be a better bet than having 1 big regional (read: in your NAH Region) tourney, or even just 2 larger tourneys that have nothing to do with qualifying or the NAH. Read more

Should Each Club Have A Medic?

medic

The first time it happened, I think, I was at the Thaw–Peter took a hard crash in front of goal and was groaning a bit and not getting up, so I ran out to make sure he was alright. I had him breath in and out, pushed where he said he had pain, all that jazz. He was fine, but that’s when it started.

From that point on, I’ve been increasingly called on to address (either through my own will or by people shouting for me) cuts, falls, and broken bones.

Now let me be clear on this: I’m not a legitimately trained professional in any way. I was a boy scout who learned a little bit more than the basics of first aid, and my mom is a nurse, so I have some background knowledge on top of that. But when someone is bleeding like a punctured bag of Capri Sun, I’m not the worst guy to have around to address that.

What concerns me is not that I’m asked to help in first aid situations (I’m more than happy to help), but that I specifically am needed to be called at all. There were only two instances where someone else was more qualified than me: Worlds of 2013 (Medic Mike was there, as was an ex-marine with trauma training), and North Americans, where Jacques (an EMT, if memory serves) was more than capable, though he did let me hand him things, which was fun. Every other tourney, however, I had the distinct feeling that nobody was really ready or willing to jump in if needed.

This is also where I note that, while at Worlds 2013, I did the ol’ “follow my finger with your eyes” move that Mr. Do captured and  Horse is so fond of making fun of me for. If I don’t say it here he’ll mention it in the comments, so here it is. HERE IT IS, HORSE.

And that gets me to thinking–should clubs at least try to get one person to be first aid certified? Would it be beneficial if we, as North American Bike Polo, could be sure that at any given tourney we have at least some first aid certified folks bopping around? If you go through the Red Cross it’s about 90 bucks for adult first aid/CPR certification, and that could go a long way in addressing ouchie boo boos in a good way during a tourney (or knowing when a person needs to go to a hospital).

I’m not saying that we all need to be trained EMTs or nurses, but it’s concerning when a group of people surround someone on the ground and nobody knows quite what to do. We’ve been terrifically lucky as far as injuries go in the sport, and I say that in full knowledge of some of the big injuries players have had. I’m curious about how other clubs deal with this, if at all, and if getting some club members to enroll in a simple first aid class would be helpful to the sport as a whole.

IT’S A TRAP!

trap

Recognizing and Avoiding Positional Traps in Bike Polo

Editor’s note: I’m only writing this post to use that featured image.

There are lots of easy ways for an experienced player to get newer players out of the way. The first might be the smell of their equipment, but the second is maneuvering in such a way that the newer player is out of the play. You’ve experienced, witnessed, and completed these sorts of maneuvers quite often yourself, I’m sure. The problem (and the way to avoid getting put into this situation) is fairly simple: recognize when the trap is occurring, and do the opposite of what triggers the trap.

One example of this is when the opposing player (who has the ball and is approaching your goal) tricks you into coming out of position. Let me draw you a picture:

out of position

As you can see in this highly skilled, somehow patriotic diagram, the player who is helping cut the line steps out of place (to attack the upper opposing player who has the ball), leaving the goalie to have a harder time either a. dealing with a pass to the other player or b. be facing the wrong way when the ball carrier moves further down the court. The advice I have for you here is to stay closer to the goalie (not like, in the crease or anything, but close enough to help disrupt a pass or block off another player) and to not face the opposite way as the ball carrier (or at least not put your momentum into going the opposite way that they are going). As I and many other smarter people have said before, it takes very little to get past someone when they are pedaling towards you. Read more

Modifide: Why You Shouldn’t Have Favorites

arc4

I have used a Modifide Arc 4 mallet head since October of 2013. I am crazy about it. I reviewed the original arc and its little brother on the site, and the Arc 4 has been as reliable as it has been fun to use.

And now, as I’m sure we’re all mostly aware, Modifide has called it quits because, let’s face it, life often dictates that sort of thing. Now I’m faced with a few choices to make as a player:

  • Do I try to buy up all the ARC 4s I can?
  • Do I hope that someone else buys the company and continues to make the head?
  • Do I learn how to use a standard shaped mallet head (there are plenty of great options out there, no doubt).

This is a dumb situation to be in, but one that I think folks in our sport come across more often than not: a company makes something you integrate into the way you play, then that company disappears and you’re left needing to fundamentally change a few key aspects of your play in order to keep up.

Now I’m probably overstating this (hell, this is yellow page journalism at its best!), but it is an inconvenience I’m going to find myself in sooner or later. There simply isn’t enough of a market for multiple companies to really find value in competing with each other for sales, and that leads to a lot of good folks stepping away from fine products only a year or two into the business. And that’s fine–the fault isn’t at all with them. The fault is in a flooded market & a lack of demand.

Instead of leaning so heavily on a single product that has the chance to simply disappear (which is such a funny thing, really, when you think about how the shape of a game’s equipment is traditionally specific), you should try to be strong on all sorts of mallet heads. That is to say, you should be at least comfortable using various types of equipment. I’m not saying at all that your entire game will be different for years after company XYZ stops making the Wizzbang mallet head, but it might push into a different product which, for at least a little while, will take more of your attention to use (in my case, having mallet heads that are longer and catch on the ground in a different way than what I’m used to).

So how do you familiarize yourself with different mallet heads without spending $200.00 a year? Hell, I don’t know. I realize this is the part where I’m supposed to give you some sort of over-the-top solution about the problem, but I don’t have one. I guess maybe you should be aware of the situation and be open to re-learning your equipment. Does that work? Okay maybe that doesn’t work.

Anyway I’m just frustrated that my currently most-used mallet head’s company is stepping away from production. Sure, there are so many options out there for me to have fun with, but MAN that gets my goat.

2014 Eastside Frost: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

drying gloves Keegan Bursaw

(featured image: Keegan Bursaw)

The 2015 Frost was, above all else, a tourney of experiments. First, how a 5 man bench tourney would go down in the ol’ Eastside region (I think this was the first). Second, whether you could introduce a crease rule and have it stick (which certainly has been experimented with in other tourneys), and third, whether you can create a tent village to keep people dry enough to play.

Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

In all truth, and I’ll say this now to spare you all the suspense, the Frost was an enormous amount of fun for a variety of reasons, which brings us to the first part of my over used title:

The Good

2014-12-06 09.58.35The Frost’s format, five player bench, is just so much fun. As Horse said perfectly on our way back to Lancaster, it’s a bench where instead of feeling like you should play everyone, it’s one where you need to play everyone. The 2 people who are sitting on your bench when a game is happening are actively involved in coaching, are ready to jump in, and don’t feel (at least in my case) like an appendix in an otherwise useful body.

The games were also 30 minutes long, which seemed just a touch too short–which is perfect. I left games feeling relatively good, and not at all over-worked. One could certainly chalk that up to my general laziness on the court, but let’s say that it’s more of a signifier of how solid the length of the games were instead. Yeah. Let’s do that.

Even with all the metarequirements of a tourney (lodging, eating, palling around), having 5 people instead of 9 really worked out well.

I guess when it comes down to it, I’d probably travel further for a 5 person bench tourney than I would for a three person tourney.

The Frost organizers also did a bang-up job on creature comforts. Yes, Saturday was probably the worst conditions I’ve ever played a tourney in, but we had a shanty town and outdoor heaters, and that went a long way to make me comfortable. Okay. I wasn’t comfortable at all, really. BUT I really appreciated the effort and WTF ever, rain. I don’t even care ’bout you. Read more

Why Boston, NYC are the WORST CLUBS

I generally don’t have a problem with any club, but these two take the cake: Read more

In Memory of Caleb Walker

Caleb

Today, at 5:45 in the morning, Caleb Walker died as a result of a cancer he’s had in his body for a long, long time. At that time, 5:45, I was asleep or just waking up, and I’ve just now found out.

While Caleb–and indeed all of us–knew that this was coming down the line, it still is a surprise for me, and I’m having some difficulty processing it. It’s hard to think about and to know and accept.

Caleb is one of the newer members of our club. He started playing and loved the sport. He wasn’t the greatest (because he was so damn new, and because he had something in him that limited his balance and everything else), but he was so great to have around. He was one of the keenest shit-talkers and always willing to be helpful and caring about the rest of us.

About halfway through his time with us in the club, he went off of treatment and grew back some of his hair and a pretty good beard (the Walker clan grows good beards. It’s a fact). He was always happy. I remember we were lined up for a joust and I asked him how an event went (this guy started a foundation called A Week Away, which helps people with cancer and their families take time away from treatment/work with all expenses paid–giving them some sense of normalcy and joy) and he told me he’s so incredibly lucky to have the community, family, and friends that he has. And I agreed with him. I agreed with this guy who was dying of brain cancer that he had a good life. Because he did.

Caleb Walker was a joy to know and a good friend. He would have become a really strong polo player because, like all things, he put his whole self into the sport. He became part of our club as quick as you can imagine, and with his passing I think we’re losing someone who would have rapidly become a staple. Hell, he was already becoming that in the short time we as a club got to spend with him.

There really isn’t much I can add to this, but I will point you to his foundation and ask that you consider participating, as it was one of his deepest passions. He was a great man, and leaves the world a better place than when he found it. He will be deeply, deeply missed.

 

 

Bully Polo: We Don’t Have Time, Move Over

bully

I’m a sensitive guy. I’ll admit it. I get choked up at some commercials, will blubber at films, and have spent the better part of an afternoon sobbing on my bed after reading the last line of Love in the Time of Cholera. It’s part of my character (the blubbering sensitive part, I guess).

Being as sensitive as all that, I’ll also say that I’m very well aware of when other people are, you know, trying to get under my skin or, probably more likely, just being jerks.

There are many groups within bike polo, so making the ol’ “there are two kinds of people” won’t work here, but I will say this: there is a subculture in our sport that fosters the devil-may-care, I-don’t-give-a-shit-about-you sort. Folks who try to hurt you when playing just to hurt you, who try to make you feel small afterwards, and who, generally, don’t give a damn about your feelings.

But I’m going to lay it on the line, here: you can only be so badass when you’re playing a sport like ours. Let’s get real about this. None of us are that far outside of being a bunch of bike nerds playing a fringe sport. That’s just how it is. To lord yourself over another player because you think they aren’t part of your core group is just silly. It’s middle school antics, and we don’t have time for it.

Out of all the tourneys I’ve been to, it’s probably only happened three times or so: where a small group of people are viciously (not for funsies) yelling at refs or yelling at the other team or being mean spirited. It’s lame, and everyone who isn’t in that small bullying group doesn’t find it all that helpful. It’s also kinda weird for our sport, as we are generally such trusting, lovey-dovey sorts.

Bike polo is evolving, as much as it ever does, and for my part I believe the folks who try to stand in the way of other folks–the folks who try to pull others down–aren’t going to have a place at the table soon enough. Our sport is really big on inclusion and good feelings (we’re all nerds, after all), and those who are against that are going to come up against a pretty significant brick wall in the coming years. Sportsmanship is a huge thing in our sport, lest we forget the first rule of bike polo.

I’m not free in this jaw-waggling attack, either. I have been, at times, the aggressor in situations where someone was new to a group or an easy target, and I attacked. It’s easy to be a jerk, it really is. It’s by far much harder to be friendly.

So if you find you often judge your performance at tourneys by how much you can tear someone else down, go ahead and start a new sport or just make a “We’re cooler than you” version of bike polo to play with the other 20 people who think that way in North America. We’ll wish you well on your way out.

Urban Velo Goes Out of Print: Thanks for Everything

urban_velo_issue_14

Brad of Urban Velo always intimidated me a bit as a writer. Whereas I was plunking around with this little blog, he was really building (or, by the time I met him at a Philly ESPI, had already built) an empire around writing about bikes. Troy Young challenged me to go over and talk to him–to tell him about my blog and see if he needed a writer for it–and as I was more scared of his disapproval than I was about seeming like a nerd, I did approach Brad to introduce myself.

Actually…now that I think about it, I can’t remember if it was Jeff or Brad. I want to say it was Brad. I don’t know.

Anyway, I spoke and BradJeff gave me his card and that was that. Fast forward a few years and you have where the game really started playing out.

Brad reached out to me with a proposition: I give him articles for Urban Velo (at this point, for the online pub), and he’d give me sweet, sweet money. I mean good money for writing, especially good for writing about bike polo. I tried in earnest to create unique content for UV while I still made content for my blog, too. Brad was altogether fantastic: never pressuring me into writing, never telling me what I wrote wasn’t right or needed work. I just came up with a formula and he supported me, adding a good credential to what I was doing at Lancasterpolo.

Then Worlds 2013 came up, and Brad came to me with another proposition: he’d pay for me to go to Florida if I’d provide him with a  longer story about the event. I couldn’t believe it.

I mean, I just want you to consider what this was: someone from a great bike mag was paying for me to travel to the World Championship of Bike Polo to cover it. I felt amazing. I felt valuable.

So I go and do my thing, and I send it to Brad who says “this isn’t what I was looking for,” but in such a sweet way that I’m anxious to rewrite it exactly how he wants, which I manage to do on my next try. I get to see my story in print and online, I get to help contribute to a great publication, and that’s that.

When I write that it pains me to see Urban Velo close down their print magazine, I want you to understand that it’s not just overstating a small emotion: it does bother me. It bothers me that this publication–which has given me so much and promoted me and this blog–is going to close down the mag.

Anyway, a lot of rambling to say: thanks, Urban Velo. Thanks Brad and Jeff. You did good by me, and I won’t ever forget that.

Thoughts on Turducken and 2v2: Great, but No Thanks

trdcknvii

Turducken was a blast. Truly. I couldn’t have asked for better teammates than Carter and Ransom, and we went further along (I think tied for 7th/8th? I don’t know) than I imagined possible. All in all, I’m deeming it as a success. The hosts were very hosty, I ate more tacos in 2 days than I normally eat in 2 weeks–yes, I eat tacos every week–and the hotel only had one toilet that didn’t work (thanks, Alias, for letting me use yours).

The tourney was also my first ever 2v2 tourney. The rule for this was very simple: you play 2v2, and you have to switch out one of your players with your third each game. While I had played 2v2 at pickup when we can’t get numbers, I never did it at a tourney and, to be honest, I was disappointed when I learned that this tourney wouldn’t be 3v3.

The first day was difficult: I kept expecting to have a third person on my team, and I quickly learned that a tourney of 2v2 counts on a few things:

1. The other team messing up

2. Passing

3. Getting the other team out of position

If you manage two of those 3, you’ll win your games (or at least not look horrible in losing).

I’m going to be honestfrank with you and say that my playing on the first day was horrible. For one thing, my heart was going nuts and that made me not necessarily care how I was playing (as dying is something I’d like to avoid), but I also just wasn’t carrying my weight on the team. Carter and Eric were clearly the strong 2 of we 3, though they were both very kind to me in my uselessness.

The other teams seemed to have the same difficulties we had (save for a few slayers, of course, who could probably play with 1 and 1/4th of a player and still do well). The games weren’t slow, as I was expecting, though the pacing was certainly different. There wasn’t necessarily constant movement, but rather a ebb and flow of movement that dictated how a play either was (or was not) going to work. I found that I had more open breakaways, obviously, but I also felt like every action I took had a much more profound impact on the game than I would if it were 3v3.

I think that’s what the most valuable lesson was that weekend, outside of learning about the Turducken Taco from Cultured Swine, was that new sort of court awareness. I was keenly aware of helping the ball carrier rather than just trying to become the ball carrier. I either worked towards getting the 2nd player out of the play, or in getting my own guy to a good position.

That being said, I found that my leftyness came into play in an enormous way, as did my slow-game-ball-control nonsense that I do so enjoy. Furthermore, tricks became somehow more important (tricks, in my book, include dribbling the ball around other players in the air, weird shots, etc.).

The second day was a much better showing in my case, and I believe I managed to help Carter win every game we played together. I had a stronger understanding of what my role should be and managed to remind myself of that understanding whenever I got in the heat of a match.

Even so: as I left the tourney without saying goodbye to most, and drove my little truck the 7 hours it took to get home (thanks, traffic), I knew that I wouldn’t want to play a 2v2 tourney again. It was great fun, but it didn’t really scratch that itch I look to get scratched at a tourney. Or, maybe I should refine that: I don’t see myself playing in another 2v2 tourney unless it’s happening within 1 hour of driving distance. With Turducken Tacos, maybe 2 hours.