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.

Complain Better, And Other Useful Polo Skills

angry coach

Complaining is (and if that darned reality TV has its way) always will be a part of the human condition. It helps us externalize and internal discomfort, it helps us commiserate with others, and it makes grievances known. It’s also a pretty great way to get under someone else’s skin, if you do t all wrong.

Bike polo is a factory of complaint. Take a look at the online forums, at discussions around the rules, or even just chit-chat courtside to get a taste of what bike polo runs on: a general mal-content and bitter dislike for anything less than what you want. 

Okay, I’m hyper generalizing here. But there is a whole website (up until recently it had gone dark, but now has a fresh new post) dedicated to complaining about bike polo. C’mon now!

However, there is a stark difference between a good complaint and a bad complaint, and just to help out in only the basic, altogether useless way that I normally do, I’d like to talk about the difference between the two.

So far I’ve come across much more “bad” complaining than “good” complaining in our sport. Bad complaining (as I see it) is made up of:

  • Bringing up problems without solutions
  • Attacking individuals rather than ideas
  • Complaining only for the sake of creating malcontent
  • Complaining only for the benefit of oneself

These four generally bring about more negatives than positives (sure, you’ve just made yourself feel better about shouting to the organizers, but those boards that are falling down are not going to magically prop themselves back up because you cursed and said something clever, for instance). Furthermore, consider whether what you’re saying is actually for the benefit of all (complaining about how there is a big ol’ hole in the middle of your court) or just for yourself (complaining that you don’t like how player X always takes the ball from you, and how they shouldn’t be allowed to because it’s not fair).

So what’s the bad outcome of complaining in a jerk-ish manner? Well, besides stirring up aggression in an already aggressive game, you’re pinning yourself as a–you guessed it–complainer. While there is fundamentally nothing wrong with bringing up problems (squeaky wheel getting the grease, and all that), there is a problem with complaining so much–and so often about things that only concern you–that others will simply begin to ignore you. You may find yourself soon bringing up valid concerns, but having those concerns land only on deaf ears.

Bike polo breeds a certain amount of dissent–it’s part of what makes the game so fun, really–but don’t try to go so far as to complain about everything without considering how you can first solve the problem yourself. If all we become are complainers, we’ll drive away the next generation of players through our drone of whining.

The Lesser of Two Evils: Why You Should Ref at the NAHBPC

scale

North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship is running into the same problem as every other NAH event since forever: finding dedicated (or even semi-dedicated) refs to officiate the tournament. While this isn’t particularly surprising, it is disheartening. If there should ever be a time when finding refs isn’t impossible, it should be the damned tournament of tournaments in the land.

refBut I get it…I really do. Being a ref is stressful, generally not fun, and altogether demanding. You need to think on your feet–you need to ignore the amazing amount of name calling and under-the-breath insults from players and fans alike. You must shore yourself up to making that bad call and sticking by your guns (because there is nothing worse than a ref who waffles between calls). When I reffed I found that I was more concerned about making the wrong call than making any call at all, so I froze up. It was unfair to the players and very stressful for me (my heart raced more when reffing than when playing, if that’s an indicator for you).

And you have to do all of this when you could just be heckling with your friends or taking a nap, or whatever else.

The scale is heavily in favor of not being a ref. It’s true.

But just because something is easy to do doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

Between the “evil” of inconveniencing yourself, and the “evil” of doing nothing, someone who cares about the enjoyment of the sport for all should choose inconvenience. Furthermore, I suggest (and God, this will be hard for some of us) that players and spectators alike recognize that being a ref is damned hard work, and try not to back-talk the ref or scream out what the call should be. They’re dealing with enough as it is, and they don’t need someone else–someone who isn’t willing to be a ref–telling them how to ref.

I’m pleading with you–you who have taken the ref test and indeed are certified now–to consider reffing this weekend. If enough certified refs sign up, the tourney could have a pretty healthy rotation of refs coming in and out, meaning that any one ref won’t have to do more than a few games at a time.

MeatloafAt the Eastside Regional Qualifier we had to stop running games on one court for a few minutes because nobody would step up (myself included–though I was manning the control tent so whatever, whatever). I know that it’s not the greatest job in the world, but it’s a necessary one and I’m really confused as to how we have this growing body of players who want to do everything they can for each other, but who are unwilling to do this. It’s like a damn Meatloaf song.

Sign up: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1zKgrBhxP8X4P2jqc2ZGSc0I9JkdoKQaosAC4p-8tP6I/viewform 

 

Skills Practice: Let’s Talk About BRUCE! Ball

BRUCE

Lead photo by Steve Bourque

Last night Horse, Kokus and I were waiting for the rest of our club’s players to come out for humidity +6 bike polo, and we found it hard to just sit in the sun like that and wait. Horse suggested we play BRUCE! ball so we did that for a while, and something struck me.

I’d played BRUCE! ball before, but I hadn’t played it after taking time off nor when I planned to really pay attention to what I was doing. I found it was both fun and a great way to sharpen up multiple skills all at once.

For those who are uninitiated, BRUCE! ball came to Lancaster via DC bike polo (and, point in fact, isn’t at all what DC calls Bruce Ball. It’s actually just called “Five Hole” or something down there. Whatever. We like calling this game BRUCE! ball anyway). I don’t know where they got it from (and feel free to tell your creation story below, DC), but the way we play it here in Lanc-Land is as follows:

  • There is at least one ball used during play. You can do more than one, and that adds a bit more excitement.
  • Players attempt to shoot the ball through the 5 hole (the space between the back wheel and the front wheel) of other players
  • Each time a ball passes through your own 5 hole, you earn 1 point
  • Once you reach 5 points, you are eliminated from play
  • The goal is to not get any points, or to at least get the least amount of points out of all players

I really like this game for a few reasons. To start with, it’s something to do when you don’t have numbers. It’s also a good way of just goofing around with other polo players. In a more practical sense, however, you’re learning how to defend your 5 hole against shots (which will make you a stronger goalie), you’re learning positional awareness, as you’re always trying to stay perpendicular to other players who want to shoot at your 5 hole, and you’re gaining accuracy/ball control.

On top of all of this, you’re also learning how to shift from offensive to defensive positioning and mindset quickly, which is a skill that pays HUGE dividends in the long run of your time in the sport.

BRUCE! ball also didn’t feel like something stupid to do while we were waiting to play a match. It felt like a completely different game entirely rather than a replacement, which was enjoyable. I felt like I was warmed up for playing polo, sure–hell, I even felt like my mind was more prepared for hand-eye coordination and skill–but I wasn’t upset that I was playing it instead of being in a match.

Anyway, I thought I’d pass this along for folks who hadn’t considered it before. I thought it was a pretty swell way to pass the time while building up some core skills all players need to have.

A Daydream Suggestion for the World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship

daydreams

Let’s just get this out of the way: I haven’t watched more than 45 seconds of the World Cup. Actually less than that, as I just watched a single clip of some amazing goal where a guy head butted the ball into the goal. Just that. I watched it twice, so maybe it was 30 seconds worth of watching.

Anyway, thinking about how the World cup is run (again–as I understand the World Cup is run based of my near-nothing knowledge of it), I wonder how we in bike polo might better serve the excitement, camaraderie, and format of our world championship.

Right now teams from all across the globe compete once a year and we name our “best bike polo team in the world.” And that’s great–it’s fun, even! It’s easy to get into those games and get excited at how your team is moving up in the rankings. But let me just posit two ideas for you to mull over:

1. Maybe we shouldn’t do this every year

2. Maybe we should make it more of a global competition

Let me speak to both of those, starting with the one that I think isn’t as exciting.

Doing this worldwide competition each year puts a huge strain on teams financially. It also makes it less of an event and more like other tournaments that anyone is likely to go to. It puts a huge amount of strain on teams to do really well in just one season–and as we know, it’s possible to totally blow your qualifier and then you’re dead in the water.

Now, I think most of these arguments are pretty weak–but let’s consider a few of the benefits of moving to a two-year or even maybe 3 year worldwide championship model. For one thing, the hosting club could really pull out all the stops in regards to building the courts, getting sponsors, and general planning. Instead of only having a year  they could get a lot of time to make a spectacular event happen. Likewise, teams could save up (more likely individuals could save up) and travelling wouldn’t nearly be so much of a please-help-us-get-to-worlds situation.

Or, you know, we could keep it at once a year. I was just spit-ballin.

The next suggestion is more exciting to me, and I think it doesn’t take much to make happen.

This picture straight up lifted from Sports Illustrated

This picture straight up lifted from Sports Illustrated

When I say global competition, I mean more of a nation-against-nation sort of championship (much like the World Cup). The premise of this is simple: each team is indeed playing for themselves (to see who will be the best team in the world), but on top of that is a competition (by point differential or by wins or whatever smarter people than me decide) between ALL TEAMS from the same countries.

So you’d have, let’s say, the Beaver Boys win Worlds, but perhaps France would have the most points as a country, and thereby France would be the top country and get their own sort of recognition/acclaim.

My thought behind this is as such: it makes me, as an American, much more interested in how all Americans are doing at WHBPC, and it creates a bit more camaraderie and national pride than we currently have (where countries are sending multiple teams but really are just competing against those teams as well).

I think it’d be fun to add another level of competition to the tourney, is all. Granted, we’d need to figure out what happens when a country’s team plays against another team from the same place, but I’m sure someone clever knows how to regulate that sort of situation.

Anywhoo–what do you cats think? Worth daydreaming about or am I just getting too stoked off these free Coke Zeros in the office?