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

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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

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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

Getting Better Doesn’t Just Happen, Bub.

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There are times in my past where I felt as if a switch would be flipped. Like a lever would be pulled down in my brain and suddenly I’d be up-to-snuff with other bike polo players that I’d come to respect and admire. But the fact is that doesn’t happen.

Believe me, I’ve pulled on everything I could all over my body, and the only thing that changes is you’re not allowed to go into certain businesses anymore.

I think part of the problem was that I was hoping, incorrectly, that the problems I had with certain fundamental skills (shooting, passing, speed, court awareness) could be ignored until I played long enough that they would, inherently, be corrected.

But I’m here to lay some truth down on you, friend: the problems you have now as a player will be the problems you always have unless you work to correct them.

If you find that you aren’t very good at connecting with the ball–like your mallet scrunches up as if it were some delightfully hilarious flamingo when you’re whapping at the ball–then that’s something you need to address right now. Not down the line, not when it magically solves itself because somehow at seven months of play it disappears, right. now.

If you’re not too good at disrupting a play and then getting control of the ball, work on that with a friend immediately. If you can’t collect a pass or make a quick shot on goal; try to exercise those muscles at your next pickup day.

There isn’t a magical clock in your abilities that suddenly starts going off as soon as you play X amount of games or reach an undisclosed amount of years playing. Truth is, if you just keep playing the same way you’ve always played, you’ll…uh…always play that way.

You must take ownership of your own development if you indeed want to grow as a player (if you don’t want to grow as a player, then ignore this whole post. If you’re just in it for the funsies and nothing else, you’re all set, really. Just keep having fun. I’m not talking to you lucky devils). There isn’t anyone who is necessarily going to take you under their wing and teach you how to become the next great polo phenomenon unless you’re asking around and listening to their advice (even then, in all honesty, chances are you already know what they’re going to tell you, but aren’t willing to practice enough to make that knowledge anything more than knowledge).

There are limitations, of course–both physical and situational–that can limit you in your growth. Believe me, if there is one person who should be aware of limitations in growth, it’s me. BUT! That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about even the most basic skills going un-developed because players aren’t willing to work on those skills. I’m talking about always having trouble getting the ball off of the wall, wanting to get better, but ignoring the fact that getting better means putting in the work to do so.

So this is my tip for today. My plea, really: take ownership of your development, and accept the challenge of working at getting better at bike polo. Don’t rely on time or pickup games to somehow bless you with the skillset you need to get great. Become a student of the game and get your hands-on-education started up!

An Interview with Bobbi and Jackie, A Talk About Inclusion

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Note: I don’t know who took that featured image of Jackie, but it’s great and I want to know. 

I’ve always believed that bike polo is, and has the chance to be, a model for other sports when it comes to how we address players who do not live by what our culture as a whole deems “traditional”. I use that word in full knowledge of how backwards it is, but it’s exactly how a good portion of America and indeed the world approach people who have identified in a way that isn’t the same way as the majority.

Bike polo, however, having formed up not so long ago, didn’t need to have the baggage of sports that were either separated by gender (or, hell, skin color), and also didn’t need to carry the testosterone-take-all mentality of other sports–not that we are clear of that, though.

When I came up with the desire to do this article, I was horrified. Not because of the topic, but because of the people I knew I needed to interview. Jackie and Bobbi are institutions in our sport–at least to me. Both represent players who are deeply involved in bike polo and who I deeply respect.

Th being said, I was also horrified of offending these two by saying something horribly wrong or insensitive. Being a PA boy in Lancaster doesn’t necessarily afford me much exposure to all the lifestyles that people have someone who hasn’t gone out of their way to better understand transgender people, I knew that there was a high likelihood that I’d put my foot in my mouth unintentionally and offend either of these ladies.

Still, I reached out to them both, and they both were quite willing to be interviewed. Below you’ll find the answers to my questions that both Jackie (J) and Bobbi (B) provided:

Jackie1

Jackie

Bike polo is, despite attempts otherwise, a very heterosexual white male dominated sport. Why do you choose to be part of it?

(J) I do my best to stay competitive, but what I ultimately get from it is a momentary break from the rest of the world, in which I face many hurdles, get harassed, etc.. I choose to be part of bike polo because it’s a place where — despite the lack of diversity — I feel comfortable and safe.

(B)  I like bike polo for the bikes and the polo. I started playing as a commuter looking for more bike orientated activities to do and polo fit the bill.

Were you both self-identified as transgender before you started playing?

(J) My first foray into polo was in 2009 in NYC. I played there for a few months before moving to Philadelphia. It was at some point while I was in Philly that I started to question what has been going on with my gender and why I felt the way I did, which I couldn’t explain at the time. I wasn’t out then, but as I moved back to NYC I began figuring things out, meeting other trans people, and started the process of coming out.

Most of the veterans of NYC bike polo didn’t really remember me since I had only come out a handful of times before moving, but that worked to my benefit since I could introduce myself to them and everyone else the way I now identify, with my preferred pronouns (she/her/hers) and name.

 (B) I started playing when still presenting as male, even to myself.

photo by Cris Klee

Bobbi (photo by Cris Klee)

Bobbi, you just recently came out (this year, in fact)–how has the response been to that declaration in your bike polo community?

 Bike polo has been nothing if not supportive about my coming out as trans. Seriously, I got far more polo friends wishing me support and letting me know they are around if I need it than any other group in my life. I didn’t notice any polo people that unfriended me from FB. I’ve found the girls I know in polo have been super supportive and I may have fielded a request for LA once or twice already.

On the other side of that, Jackie, you’ve been playing for quite a while longer while identified as transgender. How do people approach you on that? Does it come up often or do people just not talk about it?

Although I’ve always had a lot of anxiety as to how people might react, I’ve found that pretty much everyone has been super respectful and supportive. I was got really worried before registering for LA6, but after talking to the (amazing) organizers about it felt more confident. They said something like “You identify as a woman, and it’s a women’s only tournament – I don’t see what the problem is.” And that was that, it wasn’t brought up again, it just was what it was. I really appreciate that I’m accepted for who I am and don’t constantly need to have discussions about it. At the end of the day, I just want to be out there playing polo like everyone else, not thinking about my gender all the time. Read more

Report from my Foreign Correspondent: ESBI 2014

Bench 6
Saturday, July 26, 2014 5 AM. I roll to Chinatown after driving all night to find a cozy little parking space across from the park to catch a few hours of sleep.  Left with a bike and a bag, my ride disappears as I begin to wander. Luckily I stumble into a Chinese bakery and grab what I think to be a donut and mosey on down to the pit to watch people practice sword fighting and feeding pigeons. Before I am fully awake the first player rolls in. Now I almost don’t recognize him with a derailleur, two independent breaks, and backpack of brooms. I introduce myself and we talk for a while as there is very little cleanup or preparation to do. Soon after they are arriving in packs and the first game is underway very quickly.
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A small history

There have been 6 previous ESBI (East Side Bench Invitational) with none occurring last year. The teams attending are Boston, DC, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and 2 New York’s (Alpha and Bravo). The Previous champs, Richmond, were unable to attend. Clubs may bring any number of players, but may utilize a bench of 9 maximum each game. Scoops are allowed.
Interviews with the team captains go well and provide me a good insight to the plans of the captains and their clubs. I learn Pittsburgh and Boston have very thin rosters consisting of as little as 5 or 6. For Pittsburgh this is attributed to their club size while Boston was bad timing. Having visited Boston a few weekends ago I found this strange that of the dozen players I met there is only one I can recognize here. The low rosters are seen by their captain’s optimistically as an advantage as there are less changes, lineups, and management to do. There are also several ringers (who all turn out to be wicked awesome) from Canada and Lancaster. I am also invited to play but decline to avoid bias and embarrassing everyone with my world class skill (ok maybe to avoid embarrassing myself). Instead I take administrative roles of sometimes timekeeper, statistics keeper, and referee. Statistics keeping I am very pleased about as it is both new and superb in learning every single person’s name.
bench1Most games Saturday are decided by no more than five points which was quite surprising to me. Most cities are surprisingly well matched. The flow of the teams is smooth for the most part with unfavorable lineups are quickly worked out by the captains. I also notice the connections between certain players (example: Nate and Zac of NY Alpha) are insane. The true strength of the 3v3 game is in these connections. In bench it is having those connections with a manager that knows when and how to implement them. But laughs are had on and off the court and I get a good vibe from all the players. This seems like a more serious series of city vs city pickup games. 
A few small issues occur Saturday as well. Mostly players forgetting helmets, some tardiness, lack of whistles, and magical dicks kept reappearing on the scoreboard. Only one major issue is a disagreement between referee and player. This was caused by the rotation of referees and the differences in enforcement. Having dedicated referees is a must have for every competitive tournament. Also Chombos slide whistle (http://youtu.be/Qa7uLxu0XAc) while hilarious did not make the players stop.
The most interesting match of Saturday is New York Alpha vs Philadelphia. This game remained within one point the entire first half. Second half begins and there are no point for 10 solid minutes. The atmosphere of the game adopts a much more serious tone quickly. NY Alpha Philly pulls off the win but it’s clear if a rematch happens Sunday it will be the hot ticket and there is no clear favorite.

Read more

I Just Met You, And This is Crazy:

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But There’s this Tourney–So Team Up, Maybe?

One of bike polo’s greatest strengths is the ability for any 3 people to team up and play around. This is doubly true for tournaments where all of us can find friends from new places and play around at this goofy little thing we’ve got ourselves wrapped up in.

Do we normally win when we do that? Well, no–but it’s not always about winning, is it?

Oh…oh for some of you it is? Oh. Well then.

Uh…

Hmm.

So let’s say it is about winning, for you. Let’s say you know how to have a good time and you’re not trying to bloodsport around out on the court, but that you do want to make it further than your first 2 games on the second day. If I might make a suggestion in that regard: play with a team you’ve played with for at least a season before.

Yes, it means that some of your spontaneity will be gone–you won’t be able to just post “anyone need a third?” for every tournament you want to involve yourself with–but I suspect you’ll begin seeing a bit more reach on your 2nd day tourney adventures than what you have in the past. This is also why, I believe, you shouldn’t necessarily think that teaming up with the best players you can is equal to if not greater than teaming up with the most consistently-available-to-play-together players. The way I’ve witnessed it, the team that plays together more…

dogAh damn…let’s see here.

The team that plays together more…hmm. Stays together more? Like, stays together during Sunday because they aren’t boozing and crying by themselves. I don’t like that one but it’s all I’ve got. Damn.

The only other one I have is the team that knows each other grows each other, but that seems to be a bit more sexualized than what I’m going for. I really worked myself into a corner. Shoot.

Anyway, what I’m trying to get at (a team that lasts is one with a past? Hell.) is how much more important it is to have experience playing with the other people on your team over how much your team has experience or skill on their own. Naturally if you bring in an all star your team is going to pummel most other teams–but it won’t pummel other teams full of all stars. To have a better chance at that, look to the inherent expectation and ability to read your team mates that comes from having a history with them.

A team that gets it can’t quits it?

Forget it, I give up.

 

The Horse Speaks: Eastside Bench Invitational 2014

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This report filed by Horse (you can tell because none of the pictures are of bike polo and are only of his motorcycle, primarily).

I hadn’t been to NYC in years. I spent a day there in 2012 for the Summer Solstice yoga conference in Times Square, but that doesn’t really count… because it’s yoga, and because it’s Times Square. Needless to say, I was amped to load the bike onto the motorcycle and head up to the big city to play ESBI 2014 with Philly in the famous Pit.

The ride up was fantastic if uneventful. You get a lot of looks with a bicycle strapped to your motorcycle, and I imagine there are quite a few Instagrams with the hashtag #wtfamilookingat. The route north through PA is really beautiful, and surprisingly short, making me wonder why I hadn’t done it before.

Then I got to the Holland Tunnel, New York’s $14 way of telling you to piss off and go back home. I get it, it’s neat, it was probably expensive, and it’s a tunnel…but $14 bucks to drive a mile? Immediately upon exiting the tunnel I discovered two things. One, iMaps is terrible in NYC, and two, cabbies have zero regard for human life. Fun.

2014-07-25 16.54.09Somehow I made it to the registration party and was ultra-happy to see so many familiar faces. The bar we were at reminded me of the Fridge in Lancaster, lots of bottle selections, good tap choices, and odd small plates like little cheeses and pretzels. I met up with my host for the weekend, Andrew Otto, and proceeded back to the bonified Brooklyn Loft that I assume he had swiped the keys to at a Laundromat. I quickly passed out on the couch.

Saturday was pretty damn epic. I had never played a bench tourney before, and the hour long matches really test your endurance (I have none) and your strategy (thank god Biddle has some).   Philly played really well, beating out NYC A in a super intense matchup, and finishing the day seeded second. There was a lot of other cool shit that happened but I was too tired to remember much of it.

Saturday there was a party at this bar in Brooklyn that was awesome, except for the part where it was cash only.   I still don’t understand cash-only. I probably never will even if you explain it to me. Its just dumb. I had a few drinks, hung out with the poloverse, chatted up my pals from Holy Ghost and called it a night.

2014-07-25 23.29.26Sunday was the big show. Single elimination. Philly and NYC-A got a buy to the second round so I grabbed breakfast with a small gang.   DC got eliminated right away along with NYC B, so the second round was NYC A on Boston, and Philly on Pittsburgh.   Both games were awesome, and close, and come finals time it was us and NYC-A.

Before finals talk though, its worth bringing something up that pissed me off, and really, the only thing that pissed me off all weekend.   Overall the reffing was pretty good, enough volunteers, relatively consistent if laid back calls, and good vibes. That was until the NYC A and Boston game. Alias  volunteered to ref, and then shit hit the fan.   More specifically, Dnola’s shit.   If you’re reading this, Dnola, you’re a douchebag.   If you think you’re being funny you’re the only one laughing. You look like an idiot parading around making a point, berating the refs, and outright insulting people.   I would hope that the sport would have the same reaction to bullying as it would to sexism, but I was let down. Your club seems to have come to terms with your attitude, which is a sad thing, because no one deserves that kind of response, or to be surrounded by your negative energy.   Disagreeing with a ref’s call is one thing, but your actions and words went far beyond humor or heckling, during and after the game. Grow the fuck up. Heckling is awesome and an important part of any sport, but being an asshole is not.

(rant over)

Finals were sick.   We got out to an early lead on NYC going in to the half, and were feeling really confident.   The tides shifted though, as Zac and Nate gathered momentum and one goal after another broke us down.   It was awesome to see them in action in bench format.   What a rally.   It’s one of those losses that you can feel good about, for sure.

Overall? Sick weekend.   Awesome format, great hosts, great courts, great people. It made it worth the 2 hour ride home in the worst storm of the summer.