Why Do We Even Have Qualifiers?

cart horse

Note: This isn’t a post hinting at Lancaster not hosting ESQ2014. We are. Promise. 

A Qualifying Series Lends Credibility, But Not When There is Nothing to Qualify.

The NAH Qualifier series is certainly something that I look forward to every year. Not because I necessarily play in it (I skipped the Eastside Qualifier last year), and not because I necessarily watch them…

Wait. Why do I look forward to them?

I guess I look forward to them because they mean polo is happening, but as far as my day-to-day polo life goes, the Qualifier series is kind of beyond my scope. It’s just another tourney to either be a part of or aware of, but not much else.

In recent years (read: the past 2), I’ve noticed a bit of a drop off in attendance to the Eastside Qualifier, and I think that trend is felt in a few other regions as well. I’m not saying that this is a sign of the decline of bike polo here in the states (just the opposite, I’m in firm belief that bike polo is growing), but it does point to something.

The Cart Before The Horse

The NAH was originally created to investigate and gain sponsors for the sport (NOTE: I was told this a year or so ago during a phone conversation with an NAH official. I  can’t verify it and, futhermore, have received an email saying it’s false. So feel free to ignore this line while I try to verify). The idea was, if I am remembering my history correctly from The NAH and other Magical Creaturesthe idea was that money would help the NAH take care of rules, running tourneys, and solidifying the sport throughout North America.

Well, as it turns out, that didn’t quite happen. The market of support simply wasn’t/isn’t around for bike polo, and the NAH as it stood needed to fall back to what it could do, namely create rules and orchestrate a qualifying series.

From the point of inception, the NAH has been dwindling, however. Through a mix of payless work and hours of stress, the core of the NAH is down to just 4 people, and those folks are often the only line of action when it comes to organizing the sport nationally.

What does this have to do with the NAH Qualifier series? To put is succinctly, I think bike polo isn’t big enough in the US to justify such a large series. Furthermore I think you, dear reader, probably know this in your heart as well.

It only takes a passing glance at a few of the regions to how this argument can be worked out. Hell, just look at the SC regional lineup as it stands at the writing of this piece:

SE qa

That’s 5 teams registered for a tournament that is coming up at the end of this month. 10 days away.

If the Qualifier was a big deal–if it was something that people just couldn’t wait to be part of, why can’t an entire region manage to get more than ten teams to register and pay up?

If we look at all qualifiers so far :

  • Cascadia: 23 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • Mexico: 13 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • Great Plains: 7 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • South West: 7 confirmed teams (out of a potential 32)
  • Eastside: 24 confirmed teams (out of a potential 36)
  • Heartland: 19 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • Great Lakes: 18 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • Northside: 12 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • Southeast: 34 confirmed teams (out of a potential 34–the only full qualifier, at this point in time)

Clearly there are a bunch of things to take into account with these numbers. Maybe the amount of potential teams is too high for some regions, maybe folks are just waiting to register because they know they have time, etc.

But one thing is clear: the qualifiers are a very big process that simply isn’t drawing in people as quickly as it should, and maybe the way around that is to simplify the system.

Two Tourneys, One North Americans

The thought I keep having is that we’ve over-complicated something that needn’t be complicated. Here’s my suggestion for the NAH (which I’m sure they’ll deeply consider because damn, I’m just that important to the world, right?):

  1. Keep the regions, but
  2. For qualifying for NAs, split the NAH regions in half.
  3. NAH West qualifier, NAH East qualifier
  4. Top teams go to North Americans.

splits

I think regional tournaments are still fun and a great way of sharpening skills/playing bike polo. Futhermore I think having a good idea of how individual regions perform is good. I’m not suggesting that we completely eliminate regions.

Well, okay, maybe I am. But it doesn’t matter either way in this suggestion.

Outside of the complains coming from the folks who are directly on one side of that line or the other, this would effectively make it fair for players to play in this bare-bones style qualifying series. While I was tempted to suggest that we just have North Americans, I realize that it would be entirely too large to manage for any one club (and maybe this would be, too); but by splitting North American Polo in half, we could create 2 qualifiers, West and East, to figure out who goes to North Americans.

The NAH West and NAH East qualifiers would also need to be more days, obviously, maybe something closer to Worlds in that it’d be 4 days long instead of a weekend. Furthermore, more teams would qualify this way (rather than figuring out how many qualifying spots are provided based on regional affiliation).

In my mind, a few clubs (and the regional reps) would help put on these tourneys, and they’d have a whole year to set it up. This allows for a great concentration of effort by a large amount of polo players to find a well placed location, get it polo ready, and plan.

The Benefits

Outside of the complications coming from 9 qualifying tournaments (if my hand counting is correct), we’re also concentrating the focus for players, removing some of the headaches that the NAH faces, and creating a larger event where more players are able to come together. Yes, we’ll need to request off of work for more time, but you’ll be able to do that almost a year in advance, and if your company won’t give you off for 4 days with a year notice, you shouldn’t be working there anyway.

Futhermore, regions aren’t so dependent on how many teams sign up–being one of those organizers this year, I can tell you that I’ve been sweating bullets waiting for the money to drop so we can keep working on what we need to work on. Instead they can focus on…well…helping all the regions around them put on this mega-tourney.

The Risks

I really have no idea if this would work or not. I feel like it would, if we step out of our “this is the way we’ve always done it” mindset and start thinking of how we can streamline the process of qualifications and make our events a bit bigger & a bit more sponsorable.

I think one of the biggest risks is making sure that teams all have a fair shot at going to North Americans. Surely we limit the dream-killing destructiveness of some teams by keeping them locked up in regions, but opening the series up to just 2 qualifiers (East and West) means lots of teams are going to get thrashed pretty early on, and that might very well be disheartening.

But, if I can be Machiavellian for a moment: conducting the tournaments like this is a hands off sort of way to make sure that the North American championship only has the best teams, as the weaker teams will be knocked out during the larger qualifiers. We’d save time and travel expenses for folks who really weren’t going to make it very far anyway.

(I’m one of those people. I can say it because I’m one of them. Isn’t that how it works? I have lots of not-going-to-make-it-through-North-Americans friends.)

 

So give this some thought and let me know what you think yourself. I’ve just been spitballin’.

 

 

 

Playing for Fun or Playing to Win? Or Both?

Question

Breaking people into two camps is fun, and remarkably easy to do on the internet. Today I’m looking at the people who play polo for fun and the people who play polo to win (that is to say, people who only find polo truly worthwhile if they are winning at it).

These camps are generally opposed to each other, and you can tell who’s who by finding the people who are getting frustrated by team-mates who aren’t straining every muscle to pursue a ball and, comparatively, the players who are getting frustrated because nobody is smiling.

2014-04-16 09.20.19I fall fairly soundly into the “play for fun” category, and as my detractors might quickly point out, this is in part because I’m not terribly good as a player. But more than that, I find polo to be a good, healthy way to not become the type of writer I think I would become if I didn’t have at least one thing to do outside of writing. This isn’t to say that I don’t have moments where I want to win–I think I have those moments most of the time–but that isn’t the only way I find joy in the game.

Not that I would mind the money, of course.

Not that I would mind the money, of course.

The play for fun people are frustrating for the play to win people because, honestly, they aren’t taking polo seriously enough. Yeah, I wrote that just now and I’m only half joking.

It’s hard to deal with team mates (even in pickup) who aren’t in the same mindset as you are. This can go either way (too serious or not serious enough).

The balance, I think, is learning to be serious when being serious matters–for yourself or for the situation you’re in–and making sure that you remember why you started playing in the first place (which is, more than likely, to have fun).

I’m really not suggesting that the little Venn diagram I made at the beginning of this is accurate. I think people are a blend of those two circles more than anything, but it’s very possible to become too hard-lined during pickup or too apathetic in a tournament (where you’re letting your team mates down, of course. If your whole team is there just to have fun, by all means do so!).

Bike polo is, above all else, a competitive effort. It involves scoring goals and the premise of winning and losing, despite the nagging feeling we all have that we’ve lost by simply being active in the sport at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s an all-or-nothing sport, either. Being aware of how you’re perceiving the game (both in the larger sense and individual games) can help you adjust your fun-to-win meter a bit more appropriately, allowing for you to support your team-mates while not coming off as too serious or too easy-going.

The No Good, Rotten, Low-Down, Horrible Pickup Day

Alexander

Yesterday Wasn’t So Good.

We played pickup yesterday in the new-found hours of the late afternoon, and despite every expectation to the contrary I did not have a good time. Not a single play went the way I wanted it to, I couldn’t do anything I intended, and with each game I felt more and more like I just shouldn’t have even bothered.

In short, I was turning more and more into a grumpy gussy. It was horrible.

I think it came down to a few things: I was in a rush to get there and held up by traffic/a lack of gasoline, I jumped right into playing (where I normally get prepared mentally to be away from work and at polo (no, really, I do that)). I also think that I was expecting too much from the day, and was too attached to that idea to shake off disappointment when it didn’t happen.

So I Left.

And not in a super-pouty, I’m-taking-my-ball-and-going sort of way. Just before the last game (or at least close to it, I think), I packed up my bike and went home. As I drove Em, she went home, too (which I did/do feel bad about, but she seemed alright with it at the time).

I’m all for the stiff upper lip and working through your own disappointments in a pickup day. In fact, you might be justified in saying that I basically ran away like an indignant child. But I don’t quite see it that way.

I was not enjoying myself, which is the primary reason I play bike polo (outside of perhaps a physical activity–writers generally don’t move if they don’t need to). Furthermore, I was concerned that my negative attitude would start affecting play for everyone else, which is a thousand times worse than just feeling grumpy. So I packed up a bit early, took a long shower, and went to bed. I felt much better, as I escaped something that was not bringing me happiness. It was swell. My dog fell asleep with her head on my belly and that made it even better. PUPPIES MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER!

Why Am I Telling You This?

Because I think there are plenty of bad situations/feelings that can be avoided if people are more cognizant of how they’re feeling and why. Polo is supposed to be fun–and if you’re not having fun, it’s time to take a second and figure out why. Is it something you can work through? Is it just a particular match or is it the whole day of pickup? Would you do less harm by staying or by leaving?

Most times, people get grumpy for reasons that are outside of their control, but how they react (and what kind of environment they make for others) is within their control.

I for one am happy I went home early. Sometimes the best polo is not playing (and thereby keeping it a positive in your life).

5 Ways to Destroy Your Bike Polo Club

destroy

Bike Polo clubs are a lot like a family. They are full of people who we really didn’t necessarily choose to be associated with (bike polo brings out all sorts of people), they involve yelling at each other at times, and sometimes you’d just like to step away from the whole lot for a week or so.

But, most times, you feel pretty lucky to be part of your club, and you might even go so far as to say you love the people who are part of it.

But like any good (most likely dysfunctional) family, it takes work to keep that trust and happiness up.

I’m not going to talk about those things, necessarily–well, I am, but in a backwards sort of way.

I want to talk about how to completely destroy your club. From the inside. Covert like. You’re a ninja of club destruction now.

not talkingThe first step in destroying your club is to stop communicating. It’s the single best way to make your club loose that mushy, lovey-dovey feeling of an actual community. Don’t talk about your concerns, don’t talk about club-wide initiatives, and certainly don’t talk about how to make your club stronger.

What are you doing in my developer, you goofy lady?!

What are you doing in my developer, you goofy lady?!

Next, hold a grudge. It can be against a person or several people (even the whole club if you’ve got that much rage to call on. It can be about a situation that occurred sometime while playing that nobody apologized for. Hell, it could be about nothing in particular, just so long as people in your club know that you’re angry. Holding a grudge is a great way to make people feel uncomfortable at all times, and that’s what you’re after. With every pickup day, let the grudge build until it becomes a big ol’ wet blanket that covers and hides any sort of fun bike polo used to be.

holeAnother outstanding way to destroy your club? Inter-club dating and noodling. Now we ourselves have a famous Lancaster bike-polo-playing couple, and they seem to make it work rather well, actually, so I can’t speak from direct experience here, but I have noticed time and time again that clubs get pretty weird when you mix sex into them. The problem isn’t when the folks are dating, of course, but afterwards. At most you’ll have a somewhat present tension when the two are together at pickup, at worst you’ll lose a player (or several players as sides are drawn and “girls/guys only!” tree houses are put up courtside). 

So basically, if you’re going to date someone from your club, you need to get married forever. Problem solved. Life partnering.

passive resistA more subtle way of destroying a club involves a little trick Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi taught me a while ago, and that’s passive resistance. Refuse to help your club in any way. Stop the urge to be useful, and instead only complain when something goes wrong, but don’t give praise when something goes right. Ignore the calls for help, let Timmy drown in the well.

Refusing to help is a good way of spreading apathy across the club, and soon it will be impossible for anyone to even get the court swept before playing. And you’ll be laughing (LAUGHING!) as you watch the pillars crumble. Or playing the violin, if I want to tie in some classic tropes.

mrrudeFinally–and this is probably the most satisfying–be as rude as possible to new players. Make them feel guilty for being as bad as they surely are at the start of their bike polo adventure. Yell at them on court, and talk down about them on the sidelines. Hell, make sure they know that you don’t really want to play with them, and throw A games EVERY SINGLE TIME you pick up the mallets. If they want to succeed, they’ll get better. Otherwise they clearly don’t care enough, and who has time for that.

With these simple efforts, you’ll have no club in no time!

Inflatable Helmets: Are They Really That Great?

Guest Post by Nick Kruse

YES

A Change of Plans

change

So I realize going to Worlds is a bit of a stretch for a polo-journalist who isn’t playing and isn’t necessarily making any money at the whole journalism thing.

While I was travelling down to D.C. for their “Earth Day/Jess B-day/Alex Go Away” pickup day, I brought this up with my travelling band of merry friends, Jason and Emily.

During the conversation I explained how great it was to have people who believed in my enough to send me their money (and really, it is remarkably humbling), but that I didn’t think anyone in bike polo had enough to give to some fool who just wanted to take pictures and write flowerly remembrances of the event. Just looking at the rate I’ve been collecting and the logistics of taking that time away from work/trying to survive whilst away from home, I don’t think I can make it within a reasonable time frame of planning.

Somehow (and I don’t remember if it was me or it was Emily or Yeager), the phrase was uttered “well, why don’t you go to North Americans instead?”

And it clicked. It clicked so hard.

The thing is, I’m much more of a North American focused reporter as it is, and the flights to the middle of America are significantly less than those across the pond. I’ll be able to cover North Americans which I have yet to do, not be stymied nearly so much by being so poor, and probably not lose my job/my wife’s love for going to France without her.

That being said, I can still use any money you, dear polo world, are willing to give me. While the amount I have collected thus far $400 freaking dollars! is enough for getting most of a plane trip to the heartlands, it’s not quite enough for lodging or eating or any other expenses.

I cannot stress enough that this is not me trying to get out of footing any money myself. This is me being poor as hell. If I could travel to tournaments and do reporting on my own dime, I certainly would. But I don’t have a dime. Hell, I don’t even have a drawing of a dime.

So that’s my update. If anyone who has donated thus far is very upset with me, feel free to email me and let that be known. I realize I’m changing the scope of my goals, but really it just makes it more likely that I’ll be able to use the money for the purpose of covering bike polo, and I hope that satisfies you all!

Thank you again, and may you always find the back of the net.



Your Friday Quiz: How Will You Break Your Polo Bike?

Bench Format: Is It Really That Great?

gustavhoiland.com

Guest post by Nick Kruse

(featured photo credit: gustavhoiland.com)

I want to know what’s really great about bench format… really.  I need someone to hash this out for me.  To the believers out there in the community, those who champion bench format as the future, I want to make clear that I’m only raising some points and asking some questions.  In the end, I like that people have fun playing bike polo and it doesn’t matter much to me that certain styles are on the rise.  I’ll get my fun, you’ll get your fun.  Deal.

I still want to know, though.  I can’t help but feel like bench format is an example of Bike Polo (The royal “Bike Polo”! You know, the editorial…) trying to modify another sport to fit our own in a way that seems unnatural and clunky.   It’s in the back of my head, a pressing doubt of the style’s authenticity.

I started skateboarding when I was 13 years old, and if there’s one thing I know in life, it’s that there’s nothing worse than being a poser.  So someone needs to tell me what we are getting at, here.

MenaceIt’s interesting to me how Bike Polo arrived so conclusively at this place – where bench format has become a mainstay, where you’re hard-pressed not to find yourself in a bench game at some point through the season.  My first summer playing bike polo was the summer of the first Bench Minor in New York City.  This is where it started.  It started in New York, it started with a tournament named after a penalty in hockey, and it started with one person.  Menace(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kp4jP0ttkDc).

I met the guy only once, four years after the first Bench Minor.  I stood outside Vanessa’s dumplings in Chinatown and listened to him lament about how Bike Polo was already ruined.  It’s over.  Go home.  Still I think you would have a hard time finding someone whose input has been more pervasive in the game as it is played today.  We have a rule set that was partially started by him, and the organizing body of our sport has just released a sanctioned tournament that will be played in bench format.  The format he made PDFs about and advocated for constantly. His format.

Is bench format right for bike polo?  Is it solid?  Does it make sense?

More to my overall point, though, I just want to leave it noted that this was all started by a former player that polo’ed in a hockey sweater and named the first big time bench tournament after a hockey term.  A name that was so addicting to those that learned of it that everyone kept calling this format “Bench Minor” for three years.

Anyone that plays polo knows that in the time since this first bench tournament, the format has been a staple of our sport.  It has been filled with drama and upsets and fights, it has pitted cities against cities; overall it has been a pretty good time.  I get all that.  I really get it.  I’ve played in two Bench Minors, I’ve played in the battle for the Midwest in Mankato, I’ve witnessed the excitement of a draft, I’ve gotten in a fight, I’ve won and lost at it.  Still, I am concerned with authenticity.  Is bench format right for bike polo?  Is it solid?  Does it make sense?

More specifically, I have two questions. Read more

5 Ways to Sneak Polo Into Your Workday

five

I never felt the need to say it outright, but just in case you cats haven’t figured it out yet, I kinda think about polo more than most other things in my life. In fact,  I make it a point to pat my polo bike whenever I walk past it, and I carry my mallets in my car so I can hold onto one when I’m driving to work.

I don’t think this is irrational. Stop looking at me like that, non-believer.

Actually, let me just make a graph of what I spend time thinking about, scientifically constructed of course:

Crusher Thoughts

 

With so much time spent thinking about polo, I often find myself unsatisfactorily distracted with other things interrupting my happy-time daydreaming. I figure I’m not the only one dealing with this, so I thought I’d share a few ways that I get around the burning horror that is the workday and provide yourself with some respite with polo-ey thoughts.

Visualize Playing a Match

thinkingI don’t know where I heard this story, so it might not at all be true (but that doesn’t change it from being a good story): an American POW in Vietnam found himself locked in a container that only had enough room for him to sleep in the fetal position and stand with his back and knees bent. It’s pretty horrible, but he realizes he needs to entertain himself or else he’ll go insane. So what does he do? He imagines himself golfing. Everyday, he stands up to a hunch and imagines he’s on the green, swinging at a ball and putting and everything else.

Well, he gets out of Vietnam, eventually, and goes to play golf: and his game is significantly better than what it was before he got locked up in a little cell. Reason being that he visualized playing so much that he fundamentally understood the game better.

And while I certainly don’t draw a direct line of comparison between a cubicle and a POW cell, the mindset can certainly be the same: escape the thing you’re doing by using your brain and imagination.

Sneak in Polo Videos

They are all over the place, and it won’t take much to have a little screen of it going while you’re doing other work. Sure, you’d be a dummy to ONLY have that up on your screen, but even just listening to the sounds of a match is a great way to escape the tedium of the workday.

Get Other People Into It

I’m known as the polo guy at work. It makes people stop me in the hallway to ask about upcoming “matches” with “other teams.” It gives me a chance to talk about polo with the people outside of my own head, and is a great little breather between writing articles about Legacy Support and drinking much too much diet soda.

Plus, I have in the past recruited people to come play! Sure, one quit playing and the other only came out once, but still!

Visit Forums/Websites

LoBPThere are lots of places on the web to get insight on the sport. Between blogs, forums, and club-specific sites, you can almost certainly delve into something you’ve never thought about before on a weekly basis. And really, who doesn’t like getting unreasonably upset at another person for a very tiny reason from time to time (looking at almost any forum on LoBP (ALL HAIL).

WRITE AN ARTICLE FOR A WEBSITE!

Okay, so maybe this is just me, but I think there are lots of very smart people in bike polo, and there are lots of websites that are looking for smart people to give their opinions. The open word document is universally accepted as work in the western world, so why not subvert the system and write up a polo blog post? Send it out to 321, GOALHOLE, Boston bike polo or any of the other great polo sites out there. Chances are high that the folks there will read and publish your work (if it’s worth a damn), which will give more voices to the sport and give you some time to really think about polo.

I MEAN I NEVER DO THAT, RIGHT? I’M WRITING THIS FROM MY HOUSE YESTERDAY EVENING.

How Many People Should Chase The Ball Carrier?

chase

QUESTION: How many people should be chasing the ball carrier?

ANSWER: 1. Now go back to work.

Okay–so it’s not quite that cut and dry. But there are only a few instances when engaging 2/3rds of your team on one other player ever really makes sense, and the rest of the time it’s just poor positioning. Let me explain:

The ball carrier isn’t the most important person in the game. The ball is the most important person in the game. Now that may lend you to say “but Crusher, if the ball carrier has the ball, I’m going after the ‘most important person in the game’, right?”

Well no, not really.

The ball is a tricky thing, and it uses every opportunity to abandon the ball carrier through a pass or a shot or even just a wild bounce off the boards. If you’re thinking that the ball carrier and the ball are synonymous, you’ll find yourself in a bad position if the ball does in fact leave the ball carrier.

I feel like I’m doing a poor job of explaining this. Let me try another way.

Your focus as a defensive player should be:

  1. Stop/prevent shots on goal
  2. Disrupt momentum of other team
  3. Become an offensive threat

and in that order. Your mission is not, nor should it ever really be, to double team the ball carrier. Why? Because then you’re leaving 2 players from the other team to challenge your goalie (or, as can be the case, to challenge your third player who is not in goal).

2 to 1 coverage on the ball carrier is a great way to lock out that player, but it’s a pretty horrible way to maintain a defensive barrier or to be open for a dish or flubbed pass. You’re leaving huge areas of the court wide open while you and that other dummy are concentrated in one area.

Another (and potentially more harmful) scenario to avoid is that of chasing the ball carrier or the ball in tandem with another player out of your defensive zone. Let’s say you and a team mate pursue the ball down court (which feels great, as you’re getting closer and closer to the ball)–but you don’t get it. The person who was playing goalie comes out and retrieves it, and pops a pass up to their other two team-mates by your goal. Now you’ve got 1 person who is in the right position from your team (hopefully) and 2, including yourself, who are not. You see the dilemma.

Naturally if all three people from the other team are at your goal and the ball goes loose while heading towards the opponent’s goal, you should absolutely pursue it, but let’s assume they actually have at least one person back.

It’s a natural urge to focus on the ball. It’s the focus of the game, after all. But it shouldn’t be the only thing you’re thinking about. In the back of your head should also be the focus of where your teammates are, and how your position can either help or hinder a momentum shift.