How do you like that for 100% authoritative statements pal?
I was taking my weekly shower out of mason jars and the thought came across to me: what are a few reasons that our darling sport isn’t more well-known? I am aware, of course, that sports in general take a while to get into the public mind (American football began around 1892 and didn’t really become “the greatest game ever played” until 1958)(thanks Wikipedia!). But beyond that, what is going to propel our sport into the next phase of development.
The phase where we start growing hair in different places and noticing other polo clubs are changing, too.
People need a team to root for
Most major sports—short of tennis, which is kind of goofy anyway—have teams. Most times they have more players on those teams than can play at any given point. The idea of this team, this group identity that folks can get behind, is what makes them so damned loyal to that team.
Right now we in polo have 3 man teams that we draw up out of our club cities (mostly). While this makes 100% perfect sense, it doesn’t lend itself to that big team identity that people can stand behind.
Instead, you can have a club playing against itself, inconsistencies with those teams in smaller or more flexible clubs, and so forth. It doesn’t create a stable identity for spectators to get into.
In Bench Minor format, you do have that whole club feel because, gosh golly, most times it is your whole club or at least most of it. Instead of playing against your own club’s players you’ve got an “us against them” mindset – something that draws spectators into the game a bit more.
People need leaders
One thing that makes bike polo awesome is that a club is pretty autonomous. Sure, we have star players and decision making folks out there, but we’re an immensely democratic sorta operation.
This is also something that hamstrings us, though.
With the 3 man tourney format that is prevalent today, there isn’t really any one leadership role. Sure, we often assign a “team captain” for the sake of making sure money is paid and communication happens, but it’s really more like a team administrator. This makes for an ambiguous face for the team.
Is that a bad thing? No, it isn’t. Most teams shouldn’t have a “face” for them, as most polo players in Lancaster are pretty ugly, save for Pretty Boy Zach.
The point I’m making is this: if larger teams (such as bench minor) start becoming the norm, there will be a need for a team captain, and thereby a single embodiment of the team.
Add alongside that point the ability to then have a coach (someone who decides what player goes out when and why it would be effective), and you’ve pretty much got the winning formula of any other sport: bench of players, team leader, and coach.
Games need to go longer
People will not get excited watching a game that only takes 10 or 12 minutes to finish. Much like [insert lack of sexual prowess joke here about any of your friends], nobody will bother travelling more than 5 minutes to take part in something that is over so quickly.
In order to create a base of spectators (not just players who aren’t playing at the moment), we should give them something to really watch. A game that goes on for 30 or 45 minutes – one where the players and the dynamics of the game change every few minutes. Bench minor can accomplish this need, whereas the traditional 3v3, ten minute game cannot.
Just a note here: I fully realize this wouldn’t work for the way tournaments are being played right now. I’m not trying to address that with this post – so don’t bother pointing out to me how crazy a tourney would be with 30 minute games and how much everything would have to change. That’s a post for someone who is more intelligent than me to write.
Bench Minor causes these things to happen
The more Bench Minor tourneys we see, the more press, interest, and acceptance of our sport will occur, I believe. Bench minor makes our sport fit into the mold of other established sports – it lends itself to public understanding.
If I had to put money on it, I’d say that the way forward, at least for the foreseeable future, is in Bench Minor.
But do we want any of this?
No. We probably don’t. One thing that lots of polo players have, saddled right next to their love of getting new people onto the court, is a hatred of the sport going big. As much as we are renegades of hipsterdom, we are also traditionalists. We want to have this little sport survive as we understand it now, I think. We’re scared of big name sponsors telling us what we can or cannot do, say, or drink. Hell, we’re even scared of the NAH fooling around with what we can do, and we formed that governing body.
For what it’s worth, I can take or leave Bench Minor – I think it has its merits in that it promotes club-ness and competition, but I also like 3v3 tourneys because they are more…singular…I guess. Lots of folks will also point out that bench minor isn’t fair to smaller clubs, and to a point I agree with that as well (though I’d also say that every club started as a “too small” club, and you need to work on that yourself).
In the end, it isn’t a zero sum game. I think 3v3 will exist as a tourney format for a long time (and 3v3 pickup will always), but I see Bench Minor as the thing that moves the whole sport forward.