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.
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 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).
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.