If You Can’t Ref, Don’t.

Ref

There’s plenty to be proud of about Worlds this year. Great courts, lots of people got to play, and the majority of us got to watch it from the comfort of our own bike polo aviary homes.

But there was one instance I saw where there wasn’t anything to enjoy, and that was when Ratking had a match go south on them because a ref wasn’t able to make accurate calls.

At a World Championship.

In 2014.

It’s something that’s bothered me from then until now, so let’s talk it out.

The thing about reffing is, frankly, I’m no good at it. I can see infractions and I kinda sometimes know what the call is, but none of that happens instantaneously. It happens about five or so seconds late, and that makes me, you guessed it, a crummy ref.

The thing that makes me so comfortable with being a bad ref is that I know I’m a bad ref, and so I avoid the position as much as possible. When Joe asked me to ref at North Americans (half-jokingly, I’m sure), I gave him a clear, definitive no. Not because I don’t believe in giving back to the sport and not because I’m lazy (I did goal judge a whole lot, point in fact), but because I knew I wasn’t up to the challenge, and that I wouldn’t be doing the best for the players.

And having that knowledge, friends is [a G.I. Joe joke].

But it’s strange to me that I, lowly as I am in the sport, would recognize that whereas at Worlds, that thought didn’t apparently cross the minds of the organizers. Having someone holding the whistle doesn’t make a ref. Hell, passing the NAH ref test doesn’t make a ref.  It’s something else–it’s knowledge and application. I understand the drive to help, and even the pressure to do so, but the fact is that unless you’re very confident and very able to apply the rules and regulations in a match, you shouldn’t be using a real, qualifying/NAH tourney to learn how to.

And I realize that this goes against some of the other things I’ve said on this blog (one of which I’ll include below just to show you how hypocritical I am).

Now I’m not exactly blaming the organizers of Worlds, and I’m certainly not blaming the poor guy who Ratking made walk off in search of a more qualified ref. I’m blaming the oddity of polo where we demand good refs but refuse to make them or try to create strong avenues to practice. Something I liked about the Eastside Thaw last year (that worked with some success, though players still yelled at refs like it ever makes a difference), was introduce the idea that it was a place for players to learn to ref and for players to learn to play. I think there should be a push for that–a live clinic of reffing. Doing it on the web is a great first step, but like many things, sometimes doing it for realsies is the best way of learning.

I’m going to say: if you don’t know how to ref, don’t ref. Don’t put yourself in a position to make yourself feel bad nor to destroy a team’s chances to advance because of your mistake. Furthermore, you should determine early on if you’re any good at reffing to begin with (which is something different than knowing the rules), and if you’re not good, don’t force yourself into it.

I have no doubt at all that the next round of great refs is out there–but we shouldn’t be so desperate to put a whistle in someone’s hand as to take anyone at all. It reduces the trust in refs overall and makes a mockery of enforcing rules.

 

It’s Important to Play With Yourself

Lancaster United Pick-up tourney (71)

Now wait a minute.

It’s easy to just play bike polo on pickup days and think you’re really getting everything you need. Honestly, you’re probably getting at least 75% of what you need to play good polo. But, and this is something I’ve just formulated recently, you’ll never have a really great idea of what kind of player you are/what you’re good at unless you take some time to dribble around with the ball on your own.

Reason being, I think, because when you’re playing your trying to play in a group. You’re considering your team mates and your opponents and how cool you look to all those cool people being cool on the sidelines. You’re not intrinsically in your own head–at least not in a good way.

You won’t work on a skill over and over and over like you need to, and even if you did manage to do that in front of your club, who’s to say their reaction or suggestions wouldn’t set you back a bit in your own learning? There is something wonderful that happens when nobody is watching you practice: you don’t get nearly so concerned about messing up. And I mean that even if your reaction to messing up in front of people is to say something funny and try again–you’re still changing the way you’d normally respond by yourself. You’re creating another layer to consider rather than focusing on the one thing you’re working on.

Playing by yourself gives you time to take time. It gives you an opportunity to not push yourself too hard (or to have someone keep telling you what you’re doing wrong over and over). It’s more…well…I guess understanding. I mean, unless you’re a complete jerk to yourself, in which case you’ve got bigger problems than hitting the ball in the same spot all the time.

So as much as it might pain you to think about hitting around the ball on a day where you aren’t going to play polo, hear me out: you’ll be filling in some gaps that don’t come with just playing pickup or at tourneys. You’ll be making yourself a more able and self-aware player.

Is This Even Possible?

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The Problem

I was recently speaking to a bike polo company’s head honcho and they mentioned how hard it is to sponsor teams. The reason it’s hard, so says the head honcho, is because teams don’t stick together for very long in the sport (with the exception of a few, generally top, teams).

That got these old brain bits spinning on how we can address that: One way would be to encourage you silly players to stick with your teams for longer than a season or two. But, if I’m honest with the chances of me saying something and anyone listening, that’s not likely to have much of an impact.

Maybe we could go to bench format and thereby have actual teams who can switch out players as much as they like between seasons, much as most every other team sport?

Oh, oh you think 3v3 is sustainable. Oh okay nevermind, nevermind.

BUT THEN this humdinger crossed through the old goal line in my noggin, just bear with me and try to read it to the end.

This idea stems directly, I imagine, from my maligned idea of having different countries also competing at worlds (so every American team would earn points towards an “America” score, French teams a “French” score, etc,; until at the end of the tourney we can also crown the country that won the World tournament).

The Idea

So what if we created…how do I explain this…What if we created “teams” from teams. By way of example: Read more

The NAH Killed Bike Polo

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And The NAH (Along With Our Help) Will Bring It Back, If We Let It.

There was one sentiment shared often during and after Worlds this year (outside of the typical, and well deserved, congratulatory huggery): bike polo is dead. Or is dumb–or is going the wrong way. Whatever language you want to use, there was a collective groan from the bike polo community (granted, perhaps a small contingent, but an important one) that something had gone wrong in the process of getting to the biggest of the big-tournaments of the year.

And that’s exactly where I think we should be with the sport, though it might not feel very much like it (or feel like anything but un-enjoyable to be a part of).

The way I see it–and the way you should all, by now, understand I see it–bike polo isn’t at all set in stone as to how it’s played. We have folks who think it should have no rules but the first rule of bike polo; we have folks who want to have a 200 page rulebook that leaves no question unanswered. Mostly, we have folks in between: they know we need some rules, but they don’t know what those rules should be, or which ones are the most beneficial.

[NOTE: a whole other subject--and one I'm brewing up on right now, is the reffing that happened for some of Worlds. Don't think I'm ignoring that--it's just a big subject on its own that I want to tackle in a different post]

deadpolo

The voice of a whole wing of bike polo, I’m quite sure.

And that’s where I think most of us are, the NAH and the bike polo community (of which the handful of bike polo players on the NAH are a part of) don’t quite know what right looks like just yet, only that bike polo needs to remain a fun and dynamic game to play. Read more

IMHO: The Hitbox

Chris1

This is the second installment of a series of thoughts Chris Hill of Ginyu Force has about particular skills in bike polo. The series, (IMHO), will run whenever he sends me another article.

You know how sometimes when you’re watching baseball they put that little square up over the batter to show you where the pitcher is aiming? It’s called the Sportvision K-zone™ and  apparently, it won an Emmy. I like to pretend to use this award winning technology in bike polo. Except I take that little square and I place it on the ground next to me.

photo from: sportsvision.com

photo from: sportsvision.com

Before you can shoot the ball, you have to get it, and yourself, into a position that allows for a shot to happen. Facing the right way, clear of defenders, and having the ball next to you. This post is concerning the latter. I call this Emmy winning strategy, the Hitbox. I always imagine a targeting reticule a la Starfox. This square is where you want the ball to be when you shoot it.

Barrel-Roll

Now everyone is different, so don’t let me tell you how to define your hitbox. It’s whatever shape and size and color you want. But let me tell you a little about mine: it’s about the length of my five-hole, about a foot-and-a-half (.5 meters) deep, and about a foot (.33 meters) out from my bike, and green, Pantone 354 (goes great with a pink Fixcraft head!). It’s pretty much the area where I can handle the ball beside myself, without reaching or leaning out too far. A more flexible or longer-limbed player than I would probably have a larger box. A shorter person would have a smaller box. It’s pretty relative to size.

In my minds eye, I’m scooting around with this box next to me all the time, trying to keep it visualized while ball handling and especially when shooting. I’m constantly moving the ball with the intention to move it into this square right before shooting it. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, move ball into square, look up, look down, shoot. It’s like shooting a one-timer from a pass to myself every time. That change in perception helped me. All I did was think about it differently and something changed. Mostly for the better. Read more

Wanna Win $1,000? (Yes, Really)

CommClass

I was recently approached by Boston Bike Polo with a very interesting email subject, which in fact made me think that it was a scam email–but following the worst impulse possible, I opened the email and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not, indeed, someone who was trying to get my bank account number. Point in fact, it was a notification of the 2014 Commonwealth Classic!

Being interested in the Classic, I interviewed a representative from the club (read: the person who was offered up to me by Boston as the sacrifice) and learned a bit more about what kind of magic possessed them to have a $1,000 prize:

Tell me a little about your tournament–is there anything in particular that separates it from other tourneys (any weird rules, is it a standard 3v3?)

The Commonwealth Classic is the most classic classic out of any other polo classic that ever has been. 20 teams have the chance to compete at Boston’s notorious home court. Only three will ride with away with the Commonwealth Cup. We will be playing with the generally accepted NAH rules with a few caveats to encourage play styles currently trending in Boston. Think relaxed Boston pick-up, but way better.

Commonwealth ClassicWhat were past Commonwealth Classics like? What is the makeup of players? Very competitive or very laid back?

Historically, the Commonwealth Classic has attracted a crowd who absolutely appreciates autumn polo. Nothing really says “321-polo” quite like the colorful leaves, crisp New England air and fully torqued polo players bulging net. We’ve only got one court, so it tend to be quite a fun and cozy tournament,

What are some of the sweet, sweet prizes people can win–if any?

Get this: the team who plays the best polo gets ten hunnit dollars. Simple as that. We’re planning on giving away a bunch of other rad prizes too , but we’re really trying to lure in everyone with those greenbacks.

 What about creature comforts (hotels? travel to courts? Drinking rules? foods to eat?)

Boston club members intend to put up any and all who wish to travel from near or far to join us. We’ll make sure you’re happy warm and ready each morning with hot coffee, breakfast and Bloody’s.  PBR will be joining us to make sure everyone is properly hydrated.

Anything you’d like to add?

We’re really excited for this. Right now the poloverse is preoccupied with Worlds and what not, but we know by the time October rolls around everyone is going to be itching for a fun/awesome/competitive tournament. Hope to see you there!’
Wanna know more? Here’s the LoBP (ALL HAIL!) page: https://leagueofbikepolo.com/the-commonwealth-classic-2014

World’s Week: WHOOPIDIEE DOOO!

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Today begins the week of Worlds: where players from all over the polo kingdoms meet up to see who is the biggest of the big, the bravest of the brave, and who can know the sweet kiss of French Wine without losing all sensation in their limbs and deciding that they are too bohemian for such a mainstream sport as bike polo.

Me? Oh, I’ll be on a 5 year anniversary adventure from Sunday to Monday, so chances are I won’t even really get the chance to watch the action live. You’ll need to fill me in, Polopals.

If I have one hope, however, it’s that the Beavers get clobbered.  No, not because I dislike the Beavers (point in fact, they are some very sweet fellas), but only because they are one of the tippiest toppiest teams in the world, and I’m the kind of guy who likes rooting for underdogs. Honestly, I’m rooting for Rat Kings because they’re one of our Eastside teams in attendance, and because they have the most magnificent facial hair.

I am also excited, believe it or not, to see how the rules are handled in France. I know we’ve been having some fun and excitement over here, but I’m curious about how the Europeans have been handling the new rule set (and how the refs are going to differ between the U.S. and the E.U.

But, if I need to be honest with you cats–which I generally try to be–Worlds has always been a kind of…I don’t know…a sign that my favorite part of bike polo is coming up: fall/winter polo. With Worlds comes an end to the super-hot days of bike polo (at least the continuous super hot days) and the start of the fall days; my favorite days.

Fall means turducken (which I’ve only gone to once but love), it means pumpkin beer and games that are cool on the lungs and the courts. So while we’re all getting excited about Worlds and about watching  the glorious live-streaming of it, I’m getting excited about what comes after it.

No, no, not the bench tourney (thought that should be pretty fun, too), but the joy of not having to switch out the ball your playing with every game/being able to not sweat through your gloves as much.

BREAKING: Baristas, Bike Mechanics, Messengers DISAPPEARING

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(Lancaster, PA)
All over the United States, there are disappearances occurring. Coffee shop patrons are going without having their names spelled incorrectly on biodegradable cups, bicycle commuters are finding their favorite bike shops closed, and executives attempting to send dirty pictures to other executives have lost a means of delivering those delightful hand drawn images of butts.

In a press meeting with concerned parents everywhere (finding that their 30 something aged children were not asking any longer for monetary assistance), FBI agent Nicholas Slavorski indicated that there would be no investigation held.

“Listen,” he said from the window of his 2 story home, “your kids disappear all the time. They’re probably going to some man burning festival in the desert or taking part in a co-op somewhere. Get off of my damn lawn I just got it landscaped.”

For some this explanation is enough, but not for handcrafted-jewelry-collector Jennifer Bannis, who wants answers as to why her order for a set of bracelets made from toothbrushes hasn’t been fulfilled.
“I paid good American money for that jewelry, and now the seller has disappeared! How am I going to show that I’m hip?”

From New York to L.A., young, bike savvy people are flying the coop and not leaving anything more than empty beer cans and strange, cryptic messages made up of song lyrics and upside down question marks.

::This story is developing::

The Goalie as a Megaphone

Lancaster United Pick-up tourney (41)

Thanks to Paul Donald, who gave me this idea for a post

When I get into goal, I get chatty.

For one thing, it’s boring to just sit back there when the ball is scooting to the left and right–even more boring if you’re down by 3 and are trying to make sure that nobody is gonna sneak one in by taking a big, dumb, long shot.

But getting chatty isn’t just my way of entertaining myself: the goalie (that is, the person who is hanging back in the defensive half), has a pretty good view of the action in the offensive half. One trick I’ve learned in bike polo is that a team that communicates well plays well, and the person back is a key player in that communication.

Instead of getting all #quietcore about what’s going on up front, consider (basically) narrating the action. You’ll feel goofy at first–or even after doing it for a year or so, but it’s invaluable to team-mates who can then use that information to make faster plays or better decisions.

It’s hard, in the heat of play, to be completely aware of where the ball, team-mates, and opposing players are. Having one person who is able to feed you that information via yelling down court is a boon to anyone who wants to know more than they can take in with their own observations.

So what should you tell your team? Well, I always try to let them know what the other team is doing (“GOAL OPEN” “ONE DABBING” “HE LOST THE BAAAAAALLLL”), and sometimes where their own player is (“YOU CAN PASS BEHIND” “IN FRONT OF GOAL” “HE HAS YOUR PICK”). I’ll also put on the coach hat on occasion, too, letting the player know if their breakaway was successful and they can take their time on the shot or if they have a player right behind them who is gaining speed.

It’s not quite the move that will people to ooh and ahhh at you, but it’s one that your team-mates will appreciate and might just make enough of a difference that you’ll win a game that you’d otherwise struggle in.

BUT–there are also times when you shouldn’t say a damned thing: this is when it’s apparent that your two players have a connection established and don’t need your help or calling. I, as an opposing player, often use the calls from the opposite team to put myself in position to interrupt the play they’re trying for. Point in fact one of my favorite things is to shout the same thing the other team is shouting at each other while interrupting their action. It’s a delicate sort of balance to know when you should or shouldn’t be a megaphone. My suggestion is this: if it seems like your team is trying something sneaky, keep your squawkbox closed.

Mallet Orientation, IMHO

Chris2

This is the first installment of a series of thoughts Chris Hill of Ginyu Force has about particular skills in bike polo. The series, (IMHO), will run whenever he sends me another article–but if this first article is any indication, we’re in for some awesome talk about building your skill set.  

There’s an abandoned tennis court down the street from my apartment. I like to roll over there after work and shoot around until sundown. Squint at a fence post, look down at the ball, squint back at the fence post, swing, and hope for that sweet “plink”. On the sidelines at a tournament, I once overheard someone say “50 shots a day” when talking about their practice routines, and I really took that to heart.

Since NA’s I’ve been thinking especially about shooting. It’s so hard. It seems like so many players can put the ball perfectly, exactly where they want every time from anywhere. But how? I love/hate that there isn’t a clear answer. There’s no right way to take a shot. Our sport is still DIY in the technique department. Leaning on the boards, watching NA’s these past few years, I’ve noticed common subtle tricks the top level players use: how they carry their mallet, positioning the ball just so, swinging a certain way. Trying to emulate these techniques has shown a surprising improvement in my shots. So Crusher and I came up with the idea to start a series about practicing and perfecting the fundamentals. I’m not trying to say that I’m of any caliber to be handing out lessons, but I’d like to share some of the things I think about when I’m poking around the ole’ tennis court.

First, mallet orientation.

I remember the Beavers playing at North Americans in 2013. It was my first NAs and I remember watching every one of their games. I was studying, trying to figure out what makes them the best in the World.  Besides being struck by their sheer size and stickball wizardry, I noticed they carried their mallets in a different way. Read more