The Biggest Mistakes I Saw at North Americans

bonehead

It’s pretty easy to focus on all the great things about great players–but frankly it gets repetitive and boring to talk about. Instead, I want to share with you some of the biggest mistakes our greatest players in North America made so that you, dear polokin, can learn from the boneheaded actions of our best and brightest. There is one thing that you may notice in this set of mistakes: that all of us make the exact  same mistakes throughout the sport, regardless of skill.

It’s just more stunning when the greats do it, I guess.

1. Going behind your own goal on defense: unless you’re one pedal away from the ball and your whole team is in your defensive half and an attacker isn’t also going for it, it’s a dangerous thing to dip behind your goal. You’re eliminating yourself (more or less) from defending the goal, you’re slowing your momentum, and you’re giving the attacking team an, at best, a 3v2 situation. Just avoid doing this. Stay in front of your goal line. Even if you think you can get the ball but there is an opposing player who might also be able to, let them get it and strip it from them in the open. You’ll have more momentum and a better chance of turning the play into something.

2. Shooting instead of passing/passing instead of shooting: this is a hard one to always get right, but maintaining a situational awareness can go a long way. I saw a dozen situations when a player had an open shot on goal and decided to pass instead (while this can indeed still lead to a goal, you’re adding another variable and possibility for failure) or have a person who was in better position to score but took the shot themselves–di-rectly into a defensive player’s wheel.

I thought, and I guess still think to an extent, that only newer or panicked players fail to look around and make those split-second decisions when it comes to passing or shooting. Apparently it happens to all of us–so I’ll make this recommendation: instead of trying to always be doing something, give yourself a second (but just one) to figure out the best move. BUT LET ME BE CLEAR: this kind of thinking should be happening whether you have the ball or not. The best outcome is that you have been figuring out who you’d want to pass to/when you’d want to shoot before the ball is in your possession. That way, when it happens, you just act. However,

3. Don’t go faster than you can think: It’s an exciting game. I get it. But don’t get so excited as to make a silly mistake. I watched as some of my favorite players ran up the court full-tilt before they had a solid hand on the ball, leading to a flubbed pass or shot or even just a quick turnover. It’s one thing to hold on loosely (hold on loosely), but another to just hope that by the time you get to the opponents goal the ball will somehow listen to what.

Same token: your mallet is a tool, not a club. don’t just go flapping it around everywhere hoping that you’ll be able to disrupt the ball. For God’s sake, be a surgeon and not a sturgeon.

I don’t care if that works. It needed to happen.

4. Arguing with the ref: are you serious? Really? Has any ref ever changed their mind after you stopped the game, rolled past them 3 times and swore? Dum dums.

So those are my big four. They didn’t happen all the time, but they were spectacular when they did. It’s both comforting and interesting that the big-name players (mostly) still make these very typical mistakes.

Hacking Bike Polo

hackers

There are players who play the game, and there are players who play the system

At North Americans, it’s hard to bump into a player who doesn’t know what they are doing. If everything turns out the way it should (which it seemed to me was the case), the best players from each region show up at Minneapolis to challenge each other. There aren’t any brand-new players (well, okay, there might be–but they are very good), and there isn’t anyone who doesn’t deserve to be there.

But there are different types of strategy being employed: people who are just really good at playing the game, and people who are really good at hacking bike polo. Those are the people who are the most exciting to watch, in my opinion, simply because they are using their brains to win.

battlefield 1942I think the best way for me to relate what this looks like is to nerd out and tell you about my (past) enjoyment in playing Battlefield 1942 when I was in college. The computer game is your basic, first person shoot-em-up game where you fight Nazis, among others, and try not to get killed yourself. If you were in a particularly good game it played out in a way that was acceptable to nerdlings like myself who wanted the experience of being at war without actually getting out of their chair/losing weight/making a difference for their country. But because of this, games became very repetitive (if X happened that meant Y would happen, which meant Z and a bazooka blows off your face).

But I learned early that I could simply not think like a player and instead hack the mentality of the game. I’d go far around the map–all the way away from the action–and then circle back behind enemy lines. I’d sneak to a good position and plink off other players at random–letting some get very close to my position without attacking them to cover myself. It made the game fun for me and infuriating for other players. All of my dork-tentacles wiggled in self-esteem.

Now coming back to another nerd endeavor: in bike polo between two equalish teams, you can pretty much expect a fair amount of back and forth passing and shooting–someone being the fast aggressor, someone being the defensive back, and someone floating around the middle and diving back or forward depending on the situation. If it doesn’t make for a boring game, it does make for a predictable one. Essentially, the game becomes one where both teams are waiting for the other to make a mistake.

hackBut then there are players who simply hack that expectation. They are figuring out what the other players are expecting and working around that expectation. This is where the Nino Dios did very well, and where the Ringers did very well, too. These teams didn’t play traditional polo, necessarily. They were using the rules and the expectations of play to their own ends, allowing them to confound the people they played against and to present situations that people were not used to.

Consider the power you can gain, here: even if you’re not a great player, you can use that brain of yours to figure out what others are expecting you to do, and not do that. It’s the smoke and mirrors of bike polo, and teams that do it very well find that they are presented with easy opportunities to score simply because the other team is so out of position that the goal is open or the goalie underprepared. Some of this stems from fancy footwork with the ball (passing to yourself, sneaking it through someone’s bottom bracket, etc.), but other elements include thinking outside of the game itself–thinking of the game as a thing to be puzzled out rather than to be played.

Is it for everyone? No, probably not. But it is a fun way to come up with some new techniques to win–particularly if you find yourself matched up against an equal or stronger team.

Why You Don’t Get The Blue Shell.

blueshell

A little while ago I came across a really solid, my-generation analogy of how and why reverse racism (that is, the “majority” saying they are persecuted as much as the “minority”) doesn’t work out. Despite how much this statement drips with privilege and assumption, it is singularly one of the silliest things anyone can say when they know they’re pinned and can’t quite work out how to respond. More specifically, how the argument of “they get their own special things and I don’t” doesn’t make sense: and it all came down to Mario Kart:

blue shell

And despite the poster only having 24% battery life, I’m glad they shared.

Now, relating this to bike polo:

mario2There is a lot of talk about making the game as competitive as possible–and as enjoyable to watch as possible. But rarely is there a discussion about what competitive and enjoyable means. There’s so little effort in making the game welcoming to newcomers that we may just make a super competitive game that is enjoyable to watch up until the point where this generation stops playing and we realize that there is nobody to fill the void we’ve left (I’m using the editorial “we”, as I’ll be easier than hell to replace).

I’ve talked about it before on the blog: the importance of creating competition for more than just the best players (my suggestions included making a separate league for newer or less skillful players, creating B or C specific tourneys, and actually trying to recruit and train new folks rather than hope they stumble across your pickup day), but it seems that my blog doesn’t move and shake the very core of bike polo as much as one would think. In the past the NAH has created rules to favor the uppermost level of play because, simply, those were the people who were playing and making the sport more visible.

mariokart3But there is another, more sustainable way to get the sport into the eyes and wallets of sponsors and sports shows: sheer numbers. The work of 6 amazing teams can be drowned out by the effort and fun of a nationwide or worldwide sport. Recruiting as many players as possible changes the demographic of who plays, and that increases the likelihood that our sport will become more visible and more accepted. When creating rules we should think about what benefits the newest players–not the best players (they will do well no matter what, despite all their grumbling). The sport will survive only if we create an environment where it can do so, and right now we’re too focused on how to make the same people who always win happiest, rather than helping people who’s impact is less visible but much more powerful.

It’s time, I think, for the very best players to recognize that they are outliers in the sport. They are the ones who are impacted the least by new rules or by the success of the sport. In essence, the best players are the least important–and they aren’t the ones who need to be helped. Let’s give the blue shell to the folks who need it–and to the folks who will help keep polo going after we’re all too wrecked to care.

 

NAHBPC 2014: A Reporter’s Dairy, Final Day +1

2014-07-14 10.00.11

Several things happen on the morning of Sunday, July 13th. For one thing, the smell of our hotel room becomes so unbearable that I find myself unable to go in and out of it without feeling the deep-down need to vomtron 5000. It’s been so bad that the cleaning folks won’t even change the sheets anymore.

Secondly, I am tired of the waffles at the continental breakfast. They’re free, so I eat them (this is actually what the giant insect space aliens are going to say when they stumble across our country/planet in the future, too), but I do so without any enjoyment. Corvus has the first game on court A, so we leave a touch earlier than the other two days. I wear my bought-in-Roseville salmonish shirt and realize almost instantly that it does not breathe. I begin to sweat like mad at the courts.

The final thing I notice quickly is how beautiful all of the women look today, and I know that I miss having Caitlin around to pal around with.

I watch the Corvus v. Dauphins game and have high hopes in the beginning that Corvus will win. Sure, the Dauphins has that lovely fellow Jacques who treated (and continued to treat) hurt polo players throughout the tournament–but Corvus is full of Pennsylvanians, club mates, and longstanding friends. I have my priorities.

The game itself, despite my hopes plays out differently. After an early Dauphins goal, Horse responds with a slap shot from the side, answering with a point of his own. It strikes me as an even match up until the last 2 minutes, when Dauphins turns up  the heat and dismantles Corvus with a 5-3 win. Everyone seems happy with their performance (recognizing the after-loss mile long stare that happens to everyone). Horse tries to take the rust off his bike.

2014-07-13 13.43.35And that’s kind of the theme of the whole tournament. The people at the tourney are jovial. It’s the last day but it still feels like a very competitive pickup day. I manage to slip into conversations and groups without feeling like I’m interrupting, and feel even more comfortable talking to folks that I otherwise would be too intimidated to (here I think of Kremin, who was more than willing to chat me up about his injury and plans, Joey of the Beavers who stops under our tent to shake my hand and talk about playing with Simpson, and Andrea–the person who broke her ankle (I get nervous talking to beautiful women, I start stuttering a lot, you see), about how she’s feeling and what she plans to do about the injury). I don’t know if it’s because the weather was so miserable the two days before or not, but the whole atmosphere of the final day is one of enjoyment and relief. The weather itself is better than anyone could ask for. The air is filled with cottonwood seeds, white and downy they fall like patchy snow across the courts and players and ground. It’s wonderful to behold but they are so ephemeral that I can’t get a single picture of them. In hindsight this makes me happy, as I want them to be something just for us at the tournament (I’m sure someone did get a picture of them, however, but I don’t want to see it).  Read more

Why do we even have rules? My case for (and against) the NAH Rule Set

rules

One of the near-constant statements that I hear from my club, at tournaments, and as an off-hand murmur is how the rules are destroying the essence of bike polo. Whether it’s folks who go to tournaments (and have gone to tournaments since forever ago) or it’s folks who just play pickup, there is a distinct and lasting distrust whenever the NAH dictates a new rule based solely off of a tournament or Nick Kruse’s hope that bike polo will some day become hockey.

And while I’m not on that side of the conversation, I can certainly understand it. The same way someone can understand why certain people don’t like ice cream, I suppose. I mean, they are wrong, naturally, but that just leaves more for me.

The biggest complaint is how rules fundamentally change the spirit of the game (the spirit apparently being a balding punk rocker who refuses to recognize that he’s actually a middle aged clerk at the local bodega). Bike polo was started with just a handful of rules, and those rules saw the sport through for quite a while, really. But there is a mental exercise we should take part in before we say that the NAH is power hungry and trying to make bike polo into an over-controlled bore-fest.

1. How has bike polo changed since its inception?

2. Do the new rules follow a few simple requirements?

As far as the first question goes, I think you can see what I’m getting at: bike polo could have just a few rules when it first started because we weren’t hosting large, organized tourneys, we weren’t playing at the speed and caliber we are now, and folks weren’t thinking about how they could game the system more than they were thinking about how they could have fun. The game itself evolved past the point of having just a handful of rules–and now we’re exploring just what rules need to be in place to support the monster we’ve created.

(And I hear you: we shouldn’t have allowed bike polo to change so much that the original game requires more rules. But if we’re talking about having a qualifying series at all, we must agree that we need to have a bit more than don’t be a dick on the books.

The second question’s requirements, as far as I see them, ask us to run any rule through two criteria:

  • Does the rule make the game more fun to play for everyone?
  • Does the rule make the game more safe to play for everyone?

If the answer is yes to both, you should have that rule. The rule to not allow for headbutting someone on court satisfies both requirements (for most people), so it’s a clear winner. The rigidity of the high sticking rule certainly makes the game safer to play, but may not making more fun to play (I know I’ve rolled my eyes when this is called after a player far away from any other player gets called for it).

By running rules through these two filters–at least as an outsider to the creation of rules for the sport–I can figure out whether the rule is beneficial or arbitrary/detrimental. These filters also recognize that it’s possible for a rule to not be beneficial to an individual player, but be beneficial to a majority of players, by comparison. Some folks do really well with checking people from behind–but that does’t mean it’s safe or makes the game more fun for everyone.

NAHBPC: A Reporter’s Journal, Part 2

2014-07-13 15.24.08

Sleeping in a room with five other men is something that I don’t necessarily recommend for anyone, but somehow (exhaustion, I think) I sleep well Friday night, despite Sprinks straight up stealing my pillow when I turn to shut of the air conditioner and my pillow drops off the bed Horse and I are sharing. I spent, like, 2 minutes looking for the pillow until I realized Sprinks sucked it up underneath his head like an octopus hiding away a clam shell. I try to be angry, but he looks so happy to have it I can’t be.

After a quick breakfast flanked by Koyo and John Hayes (wherein we discuss the Assassins’ victory over the Beavers once more), I hit a Wal-Mart to:

1. Feel bad about humanity

2. Get drinks and ice for Corvus/NASA

3. Buy a perfectly lovely $3.00 shirt that I might actually wear after the tourney–if I’m able to pack it in my tiny bag (I was able to, dear reader).

2014-07-12 09.49.56When I get to the courts there is a light, frustrating sprinkle (not the pillow thief), and it’s clear that the humidity is much higher than the day before. As a man who sweats as soon as it gets above 60 degrees, I pray to the elder polo gods that there is some kind of breeze to push away the polo stank of 2-day ripe players. I plant myself in the pop tent that Rodney provided us to write a bit and get out of the rain/cool myself. I’m joined by Horse and Sprinks of Corvus, who seem relaxed–and well they should be. They performed well enough yesterday that they were guaranteed a spot on Sunday. Others here, however, are fighting for that honor. It’s and interesting mix of relaxation and stone-eyed focus. For my part, I’m getting more and more nervous about the rain.

2014-07-12 09.15.25I pop over to Mr. Do’s command tents to talk to sweet Jenn and the crew. I confirm with them that they were indeed getting shocked during filming the day before (okay, so they were shocking each other, more or less), and that they are very well prepared for the work they need to perform. Indeed, to me they seem the most prepared out of anyone at the tournament–having taken position under several tents on the side of A court & having a very exciting-looking scaffolding structure upon which they are filming games. The whole team is exceedingly pleasant to me but also clearly quite busy in getting set up and filming, which I am able to certainly excuse. We’re players in the same game, after all: Mr. Do’s team covering the visual, factual side of the sport and me covering the almost-impossible-to-verify, bullshit side. I tip my Pith helmet to them before moseying away to watch Nino Dios (they have a little ~ in their name, but I can’t find the key to put it in place. Forgive me) and Los Quatreros Unitos play, wherein Miguel of LQ proves he’s still at the top of his game. Read more

NAHBPC 2014: A Reporter’s Journal

2014-07-15 23.30.36

Thursday: First Contact

It only takes a few minutes for the layers of clothes make me sweat. It’s Thursday morning and I’m trying to decide of choosing to opt out of paying for a checked bag is the greatest or worst decision I’ve ever made. One of the difficulties of flying Spirit Airlines is that the only free bag I have must be the size of a Pomeranian, and that doesn’t leave much room after packing up my reporting equipment and chargers.

The two shirts are an apparent necessity, but for the rest of my panicked packing the hairs on my chest know the delight of open air.

I bring only enough clothing for today (Thursday) and tomorrow, staying true to my plan to live off the land of Minneapolis/Roseville like the settlers may have (who, as I understand it, traded machined goods and trinkets to local thrift shops for second-hand clothes).

At about a half-hour into my morning I decide I can’t wear two pairs of shorts at once–the bands are acting as tourniquets and my legs are going numb. I don’t possibly see how being even more ill prepared could go poorly. I take off the 2nd pair of shorts and cram them into my Pom Pom sized bag. I wonder how the carry on is already wet, but soon recognize that it’s crying.

At around 1o:05 AM my wife drops Horse and I off at BWI. We’re early, which is something she tells me without saying anything at all (this is what I refer to as the “waking-the-dragon” face). The TSA doesn’t seem to care about all the two ounce tins of wax in my carry on, which is a pleasant surprise. I’m already sweating through my two shirts. I’m already smelling a little. This is going to be an amazing flight.

2014-07-10 09.58.25Horse and I make the intelligent call to get Chipotle for breakfast, because there is nobody around to tell us not to. After that we wait by our gate and Horse explains what his concerns and hopes are. Naturally, as a first time North Americans competitor, he’s just hoping to not make a fool of himself. Good life advice, really, and I decide to do much the same. I think it’ll be harder for me than it will be for him.

On the plane (which has an unnerving paint job that make the fuselage appear like so many cars: pieced together from parts of similar makes and models, but with different paint jobs), I am seated next to Horse and an affable gentleman who is more than willing to talk–which is nice, considering that all of our shoulders invade each other’s seats by at least four inches. I have the window, so I try to push myself against it without applying so much force as to push out that part of the plane (I check to make sure the duct tape and double sided velcro is still holding the wing on, and it appears to be so). Read more

Does Bike Polo Care About Bike Community?

helping

Are we promoting isolation by stepping away from involvement?

I have a fringe benefit here at my new office—this being that one floor below me is the HUB: a location for all things bicycle in the city of Lancaster. I get to park my bike in a locked room (a closet, but still, super nice), I have immediate and free access to bicycle safety courses and materials, and I get the scoop on upcoming bicycle events before some others in my community. It’s pretty swell, overall, and I think it’s something that is really helping me bike to work every day.

That and I’ve got this totally sweet ’82 Kabuki oh man I am so in love with that bike.

Anyway—I often spend time talking to a fellow who is both famous and infamous in the cycling community here: Mike Ridgeway. He’s super passionate about cycling and is able to talk my ear off about how much more we should be doing together (“we” being the Dream Ride Project/Lancaster League of American Bicyclists and Lancaster United Bike Polo. During those talks it occurred to me that there was only really one thing stopping some sort of relationship forming: the bike polo club itself.

Bike polo is, by its very nature, a sport of general misfits. It’s part of the beauty, really. We have people who are avid cyclists, people who are avid competitors, people who are avidly straight edge and avidly drunkards. We’re the oddly placed folks who have found one thing to bring us all together—and we’re protective of that, I think. All we want is to play (the majority of us, at least), and anyone who has tried to get something off the ground in their club that wasn’t just about playing the sport will recognize how hard it is to even convince people to try. As much as we say that bike polo is life, the truth is we all have lives outside of bike polo. It makes dedicating more time to it difficult to agree to—I’m not saying that’s wrong at all.

But it also occurs to me that this isolation is something that is ultimately hamstringing us. Using Lancaster as the example: there is an entire network of bicycle friendly initiatives, efforts, and people—none of which we as a club are really trying to get help from or trying to help. It seems like a wasted opportunity to me. In particular because I think bike polo clubs have a lot more to gain then they have to lose. Read more

Spirit of Polo: The Cheap Trip Challenge!

spirit

The only reason I’m able to go the North American Bike Polo Championship is because the readers of this blog made it possible through donations. I’m constantly aware of this, and as such I want to make sure I’m being as prudent as possible with the money forked over to me.

This is precisely why (okay, that’s an outright lie, but it still works) I went with Spirit Airlines as my plane-of-choice to get to Minneapolis. Spirit—for those of you who don’t know—is the airline of bottom-line service. Basically, your ticket gets you a plane ride. Everything else costs lots of money (a regular sized carry-on costs thirty-something bucks, as does checking your bag one way, meaning $60 some dollars in total).

The thing is, Spirit is rated the worst airline by passengers for this very reason: along with the apparent cattle-like experience that passengers say the flight itself is like. But for a guy who is trying to travel on donated money, cheap is cheap, and I’m willing to give it a go.

Really, I feel worse for my travel partner, Horse, who is built like a regular sized human and will surely have cramps by the end of each flight.

But I thought if nothing else, travelling cheaply as possible would provide entertainment for you polokins, and what else am I but a fool for you. So I’m playing a little game called The Spirit of Polo: The Cheap Trip Challenge!

The rules are super simple:

  • I will find every single way to save money on this trip (within the rules of reason)
  • I will try to “live off the land” in Minneapolis (beg/borrow/steal)

So far, I’ve saved money by not buying any baggage space on the Spirit flight (saving myself $60 bucks right from the get-go). I’m planning to hit up a thrift shop/Walmart when I touch down for the cheapest clothes I can find, and perhaps a quilt for sleeping. I’m positive I can spend maybe $30 bucks on enough to get me through the 4 days I’m in Minneapolis, cutting my overall baggage costs in half. Spirit allows me a purse sized carry on for free, so I’ll be able to bring my voice recorder and notebook to do the reporting dance (maybe—and this is a big maybe—I’ll be able to fit my netbook. We’ll see).

I’m truly worried if I’ll be able to fit my Pith helmet in my pursebag. I’m going to try to wear it during check in and get by the restriction that way—but there is a good chance they’ll tell me I can’t wear a helmet on a plane, and then I’ll just have to play it by ear (if worse comes to worse, I can put it in Horse’s checked bag. But that wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining for my readers, so I’m hoping against hope.

In the spirit of bike polo, I’m also planning to eat as cheaply as possible—meaning I foresee a bunch of horrible eating decisions in my near future. 4 days of ramen, here I come!

Anyway, seeing as though it’s the week of North Americans now, I’m getting jazzed about this trip. I hope to meet a bunch of you there (I’ll be the short guy hopefully wearing a pith helmet and carrying a notebook).

 

321 Break Room! When to Introduce Polo at Work

water

I’m proud of that lead graphic

It took only 5 hours for me to introduce bike polo to my new workplace, and only 5 hours and 10 minutes to get someone interested enough to play (or at least say she would—so far she hasn’t asked any follow-up about pickup days or even mentioned it…there was beer involved..). It’s something I think most of us do: get excited about sharing the joy that is our sport and trying to get more and more people involved. But the following workday—when in the office—it struck me as weird to invite anyone from work to play in the very thing that I use to take away stress from work.

Overall, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to get friends from work involved in bike polo, but I think you should be very clear about what parts of your life you’re combining. Naturally this matters more for people who have white collar jobs or jobs that actually give a damn about appearance (I imagine if you work in a bike shop you’re pretty much obligated to tell them about bike polo).

I’m coming at this from the angle of a manager who works alongside directors and the president of the organization. Do I necessarily want those sorts of folks seeing me in my Crusher form, drinking down cheap beer and cursing weird, nonsensical things at other players?

There isn’t one right or wrong answer. It comes down to the environment and expectation of your company and your own personal outlook on how you wish to be perceived. I also try to make sure that the people I’m encouraging to go to polo seem like they’d be a good fit in that sort of atmosphere—that they’d enjoy it and not just forever think that I’m some loon (I have other ways to make them think that very thing).

In my case, people already ask me about bike polo every day, now. They like that I have something so unique to do, and it helps them understand why I bike to work (it’s a super short ride—under 10 minutes and mostly downhill on the way in). But I’m curious if any of you had experiences where you tried to introduce polo to people in your company only to have the introduction go south—or at least get awkward.