Our grand pappy of Polo here at Lancaster United (as far as longest time playing) is Kyle – and Kyle is always willing to give advice. Sometimes he gives this advice in not such a pleasant way (where were you guys!? Ya gotta play up for @!&$!s sake!) and sometimes in a very helpful way.
I want to talk about the helpful way, first.
Kyle pointed out to me that, when playing goal, I should be “at the blue line” (that is, around the defensive 3rd on my own side). This makes sense. It allows you to pick up an errant ball, help out your offense if need be, and still hustle back to your goal when needed. I followed up this piece of advice by talking with my personal Bike Polo Sensei Horse, who agreed with Kyle and further explained the value of “circling” in the defensive 3rd.
My problem was this: I’m not the fastest player and getting back into the goal when someone is trucking on down seems to be very difficult. Horse, being the equine that he is, explained that I should circle in a way that allows me to keep an eye on the play in front and also be in the right position to run back. Essentially this means you should stay on the side that your mallet hand is (if you’re right handed, stay on the right hand side so you can scoot right in, if that makes sense).
So, full of vim, I stepped on to the polo court.
And every damned player managed to shoot before I could get back in goal. Then the same thing happened to Horse when he tried to show me how to do it.
And, for the first time, I disagreed with Kyle and Horse.
Here’s the reasoning Horse/Kyle provided, and here’s my defense against it:
1. You’re useless hanging out in goal – or, at best, waiting for a 1 on 1 situation or a 2 on 1 situation to deal with.
Ok – but this is void if a player up court can shoot a rocket from half and make a goal while the “goalie” is trying to hustle back. Then it’s a 2 on 0 or 1 on 0 situation. To help me in this point, I submit exhibit A: When watching Ladies Army this Sunday, I didn’t see a single team not keep someone sitting in goal while the other two were up. So there.
2. If you stay near half, you can come in and rescue a play/get the ball
This one is probably the most valid of the arguments for moving around more while on defense. There are plenty of times where (from my ivory tower of goal), I can see opportunities to swoop in and disrupt/enhance a play. If I were at half court I could probably make it happen, too – or at least try to make it happen.
My only true defense comes in the form of risk mitigation: is it more worthwhile to have a third guy on offense and leave your goal wide open, or only have 2v2 (assuming they have someone in goal, too) and have your goal defended against a lucky/accurate shot?
Besides, if a ball gets hit out of the offensive zone, a good goalie can reach it before anyone on the other side of the court can. It’s much harder to catch a player who has the ball and is already at top speed towards your empty net.
In the end, I think the sport is going to start demanding a more static goalie position (not that they’ll be in net 100% of the time, but that a single player will have that role as a primary position, and they’ll stick in goal more often than not). We’ve seen this in tournaments and in more serious play situations, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. The balance comes in when deciding how the defensive element of a team acts (hang out in goal or float around the defensive zone). I think the criticism against this (having “just a goalie” is useless in play) will quickly diminish as more and more podium teams prove the opposite.