Billy, We Need to Talk About Your Mallet Control

It’s fun to swing the mallet at the ball. When you really swing as hard as you can and that little orb flies off exactly where you meant it to go (yes, you did mean to send it into the boards. Of course). It’s a good way to take out some of the stress for all those times you avoided pushing someone over in the office.

But heed and listen, o polo player: think before you swing!

There are instances when swinging with all your might may seem like a good idea – it may even be the best move possible given the circumstance – but having a bit if situational awareness before cocking back your mallet is key.

I have watched and experienced a lot of dumb accidents while playing polo, but the one I see the most often is when a player begins a big swing and ends up catching another player in the face with their mallet. I’ve had this happen to me once (on the receiving end), and that’s the reason I wear a face cage now.

Most recently I watched someone in Asheville during the Throwdown tourney get caught with a follow through to a swing. She ended up with a lovely cut on the bridge of her nose, two black eyes, and a bloody T-shirt.

So who’s fault is it?

Like all statements I make, let me give myself an out by saying it’s 50/50.

The player who is swinging at the ball should be aware of who is around them. There isn’t a right of way rule for swinging at the ball. Being in a cluster and swinging your mallet around like Mel Gibson in Braveheart (back when we all still liked him) isn’t a good way of avoiding the first rule of bike polo.

It doesn’t take much – and if you’re a more experienced player you should already have a predisposition to knowing where people are on the court. Newer players develop this skill with time, so they might want to give a quick glance around if at all possible.

Furthermore, a good shot in polo is one that doesn’t take up a lot of swinging space and is controlled. Lomax has said repeatedly that a good shot is one that is more like a jab in boxing. Watch any video from nationals to understand why he’s a good point of reference on how to swing a mallet.

In making a shot, practice keeping the mallet head on your mallet hand side the whole time you’re going through the motion. Try to limit the distance you raise the mallet head up and how far you swing past after shooting (again – think quick jab: make contact with the ball, then immediately draw your mallet back). Do this and you’ll remove a lot of the danger for other players – plus you’re eliminating many chances that a defender has to stop your shot.

If you’re defending (or simply close to a player who has the ball), you’re equally responsible for getting chopped in the face. You must expect the ball carrier to shoot the ball, and be equally ready for a mallet coming up towards your nose/eye/teeth. If you don’t think you can block/avoid that contact, then don’t put yourself in the position to start with. Besides, if the other player is taking big swings, it’s easy to hold your mallet out to stop the shot when they have it arced behind themselves from a distance.

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5 comments

  1. john from dc says:

    Gotta disagree here. Defensive awareness is an important survival skill, just like defensive cycling is on the road. But it is 100 percent on the person swinging the mallet not to hit someone in the face. Don’t do it. Ever.

    • Crusher says:

      A good point. Anyone want to argue the opposite?

      • Primary Alex says:

        Kind of, with caveats.

        I’m of the opinion that playing the ball is (almost) never a dirty play. If you are controlling the ball away from your bike and someone rides over your mallet and crashes themselves, that’s on them.

        Likewise, if I have control of the ball and decide to shoot, it’s up to the defender to decide whether blocking my mallet with his face is worth it.

        Of course, some discretion is advised. If you’re in so much traffic that you can’t get off a shot without knocking out someone’s teeth, chances are you’re getting off a clean shot anyway. And further, there is a clear distinction between a defender getting in the way of a clean, controlled shot (defenders fault) and an offensive player swinging his mallet wildly out of control in an attempt as a smash-slap shot he’ll never pull off anyway (offensive player’s fault).

        So yeah, control your mallet. Compact swings, jabs not haymakers. But if someone puts their body in the path of your well-controlled and predictable swing… yeah, I think that’s on them.

    • fan man fan says:

      Since I started playing with a facemask, I feel a lot more responsible for getting hit in the face. without having that tiny voice in the back of my head saying “don’t get hit in the face”, I’ve found I can now get lower and reach further when trying to block/interrupt shots, where I would’ve been naturally timid about before. I also get hit in the face(mask) a lot more now, (even by players who know the game and aren’t reckless), because I feel 100% okay riding up behind someone about to shoot and sticking my grill near their back axle.

  2. john from dc says:

    I won’t argue with myself, but I like what you said about limiting backswing and about great shots being like a jab.

    Several great players have told me that you don’t have to swing hard to shoot hard. I’ve found that I can fire a rocket from a well aligned shot much more easily than trying to power the shot down the court.

    I still miss the ball or misjudge my swing and come close to a defender once in awhile, but it’s much less often after I started focusing on clean straight-on hits vs. power shots.

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