Rinks V. Courts: Necessity and Want.

When I first started playing polo a whopping year and a few months ago, Lancaster United was still Lancaster City Bike Polo and we played in a caged tennis court. We now play on a roller hockey rink – and while it’s hard to remember, it took some time getting used to the difference between the two.

don't your garage security guards look like this?

Now I need to make the obvious point before getting into this post: Polo players generally don’t have much of a choice where they play. We’re a young sport, and being such we have to beg for or steal court space (until the inevitable Officer Friendly tells us that we can’t have fun in his parking garage anymore).

So let’s say you actually have to make the decision between playing at a tennis court or at a roller hockey rink. What are the overall benefits (and risks) of the choice you make?

The space you play in is sort of the forgotten piece of equipment – and the most important. I don’t think there are many bike polo players out there today who would think playing in a space that was, let’s say, half the size of a tennis court, would think that was legitimate polo. Fun? Sure. Good practice? Maybe – but it’s not going to give you the full experience of polo play.Getting a place that is a good size and readily available is probably the second most important piece of polo equipment (right after the bike).

Tennis Courts

Tennis courts are kind of the start for any club anywhere (and often stay the main base of operation for plenty of great polo clubs out there). They often provide an even playing surface, good lighting, and availability – who the hell plays tennis anymore?

But they are more risky for polo players, too. For instance – if there were anyone who played tennis anymore – it would take a single phone call to the right person to get your little pedalling ass thrown out.

On top of that, the people who generally use tennis courts don’t find the value in our goofy sport (especially when it scuffs up the surface).

Look at that jerk

Secondly, there are these things called corners. Corners – or bastards as I have been known to call them – are great at stopping plays. Of course a clever little polo player can just take a length of 2×4 and block of the corner, but then you’re rolling through town with four pieces of 2×4 in your backpack looking like lumberjack as a young man:

Tennis courts do, however, demand that your short game develops. Unlike little Johnny Polo who grew up playing in roller hockey rinks, for instance, Sammy Smallcourt doesn’t have the space to take his time in getting the ball to where he needs it to be for shooting. No, no he does not. Instead, Sammy learns how to take quick shots in tight spaces – something that Johnny Polo doesn’t necessarily have to learn.

Roller Hockey Rinks

Ah yes, the roller hockey rink. An existence unrealized until a few brave polo players re-purposed it for the most noble of sports. Notice the beautiful goals – the wonderful curves at the corners. My God look at the space!

Not that I’m drawing a biased comparison between tennis courts and these fine pinnacles of human achievement. No sir. Not me.

Rinks, much like tennis courts, are pretty much level – but that’s pretty much where the similarity ends. Rinks are much, much bigger – they are made for contact sports (that is, there are boards along the sides instead of finger breaking chain link fence), and they are not prone to costing thousands of dollars to repaint.

And, on a strictly subjective level, roller hockey players are generally more understanding of a polo player’s need for space than tennis players.Point in fact we here at Lancaster United have a relationship with the local roller hockey players and are “part of the gang” when it comes to court time. It’s pretty swell if you ask me.

You’ll also need to develop endurance to play on a rink. Unlike a tennis court for play, going from end to end on a rink is quite a workout after times. This is a great thing to have in your pocket for tourneys, as you won’t poop out halfway through the day.

A danger, I think, is that you get used to having more room between your goal and the other team – or even just yourself and the other team. I’m hoping that Lumberjack, Horse, Gene, Kyle, Troy, or Zack can leave a comment or two talking about what they encountered moving from our rink to the play area in Philly last year.


Chances are, you either have one or the other – and you know what kids? That’s just fine. But I get the feeling that as we progress as a sport, there will be more and more drive to have each club get at least 1 regulation size court in their area. Much like the difference between playing backyard football or football in a stadium, the dimensions of your play surface can often dictate the skills your able to build.

I know there are many other types of areas we polokins play in (parking garages, parking lots, etc.), so I do want to hear from you about your own situations and opinions. Just so long as they agree with mine completely.

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  1. Lumberbach says:

    the hockey rink used in Philly for ESPIs last year was pretty close to what we’re used to. the makeshift temporary rinks were a completely different story. short 2′ side boards w/o a doubt changed the game, not only as far as playing things off the boards but also in not having anything to lean into when you get pinched. got my ass checked right over the short boards by one of the lovely ladies we played against.

    PA tourney in philly was on a fairly standard hockey rink, so no big revelations there – surface was a little faster and slicker than our playground grade macadam.

    those were my first and second tourneys. doesn’t matter which court, or what surface – tourneys are just different. I know personally there is a different amount of pressure I put on myself – takes a few games before I shed that tension and until then – I play tentatively and suck.

    more to your point about tennis vs rink. IMO rink has spoiled us and I think has caused us to take games more seriously than we need to. we used to be happy to play Binns park where we had to deal with concrete barriers, steel picnic tables and smelly bums – now we are spoiled and bicker about stupid rules. I look forward to getting some wheatland tennis court play going just to relax things a little.

    • Crusher says:

      That’s a good point, mighty axeman of the woods: The legitimacy of the rink makes players more serious, perhaps. I suspect Horse will chime in here to refudiate your claim that he’d ever play less than 100%, but you’re right – it’s hard to be so serious when you’re mix-matching sports arenas as much as bike polo/tennis.

  2. Karl Berwyn says:

    I’m excited not to have to chase an iced ball down the court, And finally get back to short tight plays. Without a doubt, you need to have boards to improve your game. Most of our nasty crashes occur at a higher speed, usually chasing the ball down. I see smarter plays and less roughness at Wheatland. Looking forward to it.

  3. Irishvelo says:

    We were rougher at Reynolds. Could be because we were young and dumb and full of booze? I don’t believe venue has dictated a more serious play. I believe we just needed to get thru some growing pains and realize, as said before, pick up is suppose to be fun and can be taken seriously. How can anyone take pick up seriously, when you don’t play with the same peeps each game. Wheatland will change the game a little but there will still be “ice ing” on the cake.
    Yes, I’m drinking again.

  4. Crusher says:

    Karl: I agree that the majority of our nasty crashes are at top speed for sure – and I think your dead on that we’ll be much more apt for tight plays once we move to Wheatland.

    Irish: I agree that we were rougher at reynolds – mostly due to our lack of finesse. And as for the drinking: I wouldn’t have you any other way.

  5. Horse says:

    I’m curious if the comparison between Reynolds and rink is really accurate though. We’ve gotten so much better over the past year, its hard to tell.
    Personally, I feel like games on a rink are more… developed. But I’m partial to high speed and serious games.
    I will agree that the rink takes some of the fun out of it, but not intentionally… its just faster games.
    You had to have fun playing at Binns because it was a fine balance of avoiding getting hit by cars chasing the ball, trying to see the trashcan goal, and avoiding riding through that homeless guys feces.

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