The biggest difference between a team of bike polo players and just three people wearing the same colored shirts who play bike polo is simple: it’s the mindset of teamwork. Polo is a sport that promotes the idea of individualism in play (this is you taking the ball up, this is you shooting, this is you cursing as the ball makes a 90 degree turn away from the goal, somehow), but doesn’t reward a lone wolf sort of player.
So while it’s a natural feeling, I think, to conceive yourself as a single element that may or may not have a positive impact on the game, it’s not the right feeling to have, nor is it the right mindset to have if you hope to create a strong, dependable team.
We here at Lancaster United bumped into this as I suspect many clubs have: when planning for ESPIs in Frederick last year, we wanted to come up with the best teams possible to send. Well, the best team possible, really. Instead of thinking about who plays well together, the 3 “best” players teamed up. This left six more of us that were interested in going but didn’t expect (we were, after all, not one of those three) to do well. Because of this, we formed up teams with each-other based on how well we played together and, generally, just because we were fond of listening to each other sleep in hotel rooms.
The A team we sent didn’t do nearly as well as all of us expected, and the reason was, frankly, because they weren’t a team. They were three great players who were all playing a 1 v 3 game against every team they came up against. No matter how good of a player you are, that kind of strategy won’t win a tourney and it certainly won’t win you any easy victories, either.
It’s teamwork that gets a, ahem, team, to succeed. While some people just come by this naturally, others need to work on it a touch during pickup. There are three elements that I want to touch on:
These three, when working together, can make up for a fair amount of lacking skill and experience. Perception is simply the ability to recognize what your other team mates want you to do and how well you are able to communicate to them what you’d like to have happen. I’m not talking about Beaver boy ESP or super-secret hand motions, I’m talking about being able to recognize when a team-mate is in trouble or when they are in a good spot to shoot/pass/pick.
Expectation is knowing how your team-mates are going to respond. If I’m on a team and get the ball, it’s great if I can expect that one of my teammates will come up with me and create some blocks/lanes for me. It’s wonderful if I need to clear the ball out and can expect a team mate to have read the play and put themselves in a position to get that dish. It’s great if I foot down in goal because I’m a horrible player and can expect that one of my teammates will take the position while I go to tap. It’s a lack of expectation that can sink a team.
Finally, Acceptance is simply that. So your team mate messed up the entire play – so what? The worst thing that can happen is you bear a grudge past the play. I will curse under my breath when someone misses an easy pass, but then I let it go because why the hell wouldn’t I? I have watched tournament teams implode because one player makes a mistake, the other two can’t forgive them, and then they stop passing/communicating/having fun. Adrenaline will always be up during play, but that’s no reason to disenfranchise a team mate and essentially throw away the game because you can’t accept that they are human.
With those three, you’ll move much further in both your teamwork and in your final rank for any tournament you go to. A fourth element that I’d say is very important but not directly related to play-time is non-polo time. There is a reason why professional teams spend lots of time both at “work” and during off-time, and it’s because the better you know someone, the better you’ll play in a competitive situation with them. If you plan to have a team for the upcoming season, go out for drinks with the other two – have them over for a mallet making night or to cuddle up to Sleepless in Seattle (looking at you, Gene-o). The point is, you can’t expect to get those three qualities without having a good relationship with your teammates, so you’ve gotta work on that one, too.