Taking big swings feels great, but knowing how to work the ball around your bike in a tie-up is probably more important. For one, you’re not moving fast, so losing the ball means you are effectively out of the play. Secondly you look like a buffoon. Seriously. We all talk about it.
Learning how to control and keep the ball when you have the opposing team all around you is a key lesson for any bike polo player. Without this ability you effectively become useless anytime another player is saddling up next to you. To help the polo community at large (which, as you know, I feel compelled to do so very often), here are three quick tips to help you keep your nuts in the squirrel house.
(I don’t know where that came from, either)
1. Dribble the ball
This is probably the most basic but most useful way to keep other mallets from stealing your lunch. Instead of just pushing the ball along and waiting for someone to pluck it from you, move it around a bit with your mallet. Push it forward and backward and to the side and back. Moving the ball around when people are trying to take it from you makes them a little less apt to succeed.
This has the fringe benefit of increasing your hand/eye/ball/mallet coordination as well, and I think that’s probably important, too.
2. Use your Bike
I’m a lefty, and that’s a damned useful thing in bike polo…mostly.
Whenever a player is approaching me from the opposite end (head on, if you like), I can safely wait until they start moving towards my mallet hand and then use my bike to cut them off. This forces them to either go past me and turn back into me or try to turn alongside me. The benefit to this is that they’ve effectively got their bike, my bike, and my mallet to get through before getting the ball. Hell, I’ll lean into them a little bit just to remind them that I’m the one who’s in control and they are no better than a board to me.
Yeah I said it.
This is particularly effective in front of goal, as you may also be covering the view of the goalie and setting yourself up from some stealth style shooting.
3. Lift your Mallet/Shift the Ball
I’ve noticed that lots of players will try to swing wildly for the ball as they ride past in hopes of dislodging it from you. While this may be effective on certain occasions, it’s easy enough to mitigate.
The polo player in the know will either lift their mallet (oftentimes the aggressor is aiming for the mallet head and not the ball) or shift the ball under their bottom bracket or away/closer to them.
If you’re observant, you can tell what kind of trajectory the other player is coming in on with their mallet. If they are taking a big swing, you can safely predict where the mallet head is going to be and adjust for it. I have seen some amazing displays wherein the ball carrier simply pushed the ball closer to the defensive player to have their mallet go, ineffectually, over the ball. This both keeps the ball moving in the same general direction and frustrates the poor defensive player who is now reconsidering life choices.
All in all, I think the skill of keeping the ball to yourself is one that is often overlooked for shooting and passing, but is just as important. If you can become adept at keeping the ball you can move all the way up court for that shot no-matter the situation, have more passing opportunities, and certainly more chances to shoot.