The Difference Between Us: Recognizing Mistakes v. Style


Horse, for better or worse, is my bike polo coach. I think it’s a mix of us talking about polo so much, he being the guy who got me involved in the first place, and the fact that Horse pretty much has an opinion on everything (and is very willing to share it). It works out pretty well, as he’s one of the best players we’ve got and knows how to explain plays, techniques, and other sundry details of the sport to me in ways that a writer can understand (“Crusher, shooting the ball on the goal accurately is like the way a woman’s hair looks in the moonlight – it’s just right, man. It’s just right”).

However, there are times when he makes suggestions where I just get peeved. It’s not when I’ve made a big, obvious mistake and he points it out (though that does curdle my girdle as well), but more when he points out a way that I play as something than needs worked on.

This got me to thinking: are there times when players are trying to correct something that really shouldn’t be corrected? I don’t think anyone would deny that people are all individuals and there’s not a single best way to play polo, so why is it so hard to recognize when another player simply has a different style than your own?


newguyThe most obvious identifier is how long they’ve been playing the sport: if they are only a month in, it’s safe to assume that suggesting things is not trying to impose your play style on someone else. In fact, the worst thing to do would be not telling a new player what they are doing wrong.

Dangerous for no reason?

Next, frame their actions with danger: are they doing something that puts themselves or others in the way of unnecessary harm? There are some great players out there who do things that should result in a crash, but they are able to pull it off. Likewise, there are other players who, in simply trying to hit the ball, nearly take out a pursuer, a nearby team mate, and themselves.

What are they?

Are they even human?

elephantJust kiddin. What I mean is: are they more of a defensive player or offensive player – do they rely on speed or tactical ball control? Our wiliest player, Karl, does some stuff that makes me panic (holding the ball in front of goal, slide stopping just in front of someone, wild-ass swings from a half mile away), but he generally makes all of those things work. He is very skilled in picking up speed and ball control, and he uses that to his advantage. Another player, Yeager, is great at tearing apart plays and defending the goal. These two have remarkably different play styles but both are equally valid. To that point, both would be at a serious disadvantage if they tried to clone each other’s skills. Players experience the game differently and respond differently, and that’s just a swell thing.

(To the first question I posed: Karl is not human.)

Do you want to have a team of 1 play type?

On top of everything else, you have to decide if you’re correcting something for the sake of how you believe the sport should be played or if you’re correcting something because it will advance the player.

Nobody benefits from 3 players that play the exact same way – it ruins the chemistry of the team and the likelihood of being worth a damn.

So the next time you want to correct a player on the court, consider why you’re doing it, and what the end result will be.

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  1. Horse says:

    hmm. I’m torn on this one. (are you surprised?)
    While yes, everyone is going to play to their own abilities/advantages, at the same time, being a team sport, shouldn’t we aim to play in a way that works with our team? Shouldn’t we instead of trying to clone another persons skill-set, learn that skill set in addition to our own?
    If someone had said, ‘hey (insert player), you need to ride left foot forward and play left handed’, then yea… let the dude do his own thing.
    But if someone on your team says, ‘hey man, your scoop passes from 3 feet away aren’t really getting the job done’ then isn’t that to the better of your team dynamic?
    Its got to be about balance. Your skills have to be unique, but also complementary to your team. The extreme you’ve laid out indeed makes a team of identical players, but the other extreme is a team who doesn’t work well together because they’re not paying attention to what works.
    as always, just opinion:)

  2. Ddub says:

    “Nobody benefits from 3 players that play the exact same way – it ruins the chemistry of the team and the likelihood of being worth a damn.”
    (the guardians seem to do pretty alright)

    • Crusher says:

      There are three ways I will defend myself against your point: 1. I wrote likelihood, not absolutely. 2. The Guardians are one team out of the entire world of polo. 3. Jerk.

  3. Irishvelo says:

    Styles need to mesh but on a team understanding each others abilities/style is more important(because then you know where each other will be on the court). On a team, it’s more about trusting each other(look at us at ESPI’s last year). Look to hockey, soccer, lacrosse….lots of different styles from player to player…winning is about the teams ability to capitalize on each others style.

  4. Irishvelo says:

    Team dynamic….. 1980 USA Olympic hockey team comes to mind.

  5. Karl Berwyn says:

    It also really comes down to how well you position yourself on the court. Staying in a triangular position to your teammates while playing a defensive zone, rather than sitting in goal and watching from afar. Chances are your team won’t hear you calling out plays and the ball is less likely to be iced the whole way down the court, because you will be at your blue line or half to pick it. I’d also have to say communication plays a huge roll, no matter how you do it. Whether your the silent type or the oh so obvious. Cause after all it’s not a one man team, you have two other teammates that are waiting for a pass to set up the perfect play. Use it to your advantage.

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