Our sport isn’t as established as disc golf—not even close to it, really, though both Bike Polo and Disc Golf are fringe sports. Same story with Roller Derby: fringe sport that has a small community of support—a ferocious, tenacious community of support. Somehow, however, bike polo has a hard time gaining even a modest foothold with sponsors, securing polo-specific play areas, and gaining general recognition with the public.
Yes, there are moments where bike polo flares up into the public conscious: a news report from a local station here, an NPR piece about North Americans there—but we’re on about the same level as a cat costume parade (less, actually, as more than 1 national media outlet will cover a goddamn cat fashion show, but not a bike polo tourney.
When I sit in my polo war room and think about the future of our sport, I’m not all sunshine and rainbows. For one thing, the polo war room has horrible lighting, and that makes me broody. But more than that, I can see how our current polo culture is one of cutting our own throats, and it frightens the hell out of me. There are just some things that we’re doing as a group that are, more or less, going to become a self-inflicted wound which will lead to our sport’s early demise.
Consider, for instance, how little support the NAH gets from the bike polo community as a whole. We don’t exactly roll out the red carpet for the people who are trying to legitimize the sport through agreed upon rules, sanctioned tourneys and sponsorships. Part of the problem (if not the biggest part of the problem) is that nobody pays dues to the NAH. I’ve talked about this in the past, but I bring it up because I still feel like it could solve a huge problem of legitimacy: if the NAH is going to create world-class tournaments that draw in sponsorships and respect, they need to have a base of funds to work off of from the very people they hope to help. It’s mind blowing to me that anyone in our sport expects there to be a strong organizing body that operates without any continual funding from the players.
Also, the very format of 3v3 is a dividing and limiting maneuver. Right now, as it stands, we have city clubs that have individual teams within them. These teams are autonomous from the clubs, meaning that they can take or leave the success of the club if they so choose to be so cavalier about it. The net result is a club that doesn’t need to care how much the other club-mates are learning or growing.
While that doesn’t sound like something that can kill the sport, consider this: your club is an ambassador to the rest of the bike polo world for a new player. If you are not invested in new players and the success they can achieve, you are not invested in the success of our sport, nor of the possibility that it will outlive the current crop of star players. Instead of building actual clubs, we are building farms to harvest top players and send them around the states looking for glory—leaving the rest of the crop of players from the club to become more and more disinterested.
Is there a cure for this? Yes—move to NAH qualifiers that are bench format, and move to a bench format Nationals and Worlds. You’d have less teams but more players, more club interactions, a sense of belonging, and an increased dynamic of play where a dynasty team would have a harder time competing. Yes, yes, this is all very scary to think about, and I can hear most of you out there spitting out your kombucha in disgust with my even suggesting such a thing. I stand by my point: if you have a whole club wherein the majority of players do not consider themselves part of a team, you’re creating a non-sustainable club for glory outside of pickup (which leads to less interest in the NAH tourneys, which leads to less interest in membership, which leads to the death knell of our sport—to put it as dramatically as possible).
I strongly believe that moving to a standard bench format could increase the idea of clubs that actually play together as clubs in tournaments, strengthening the resolves of even the best players to dedicate time to the education and expansion of their clubs and the increased benefit to the overall sport.
The last killer of our sport comes from the internal struggle we have with thinking that it’s our sport and nobody else’s. I’m just as guilty of this one as anyone else, but we polo players are super protective of someone outside the sport trying to capitalize on it without going through the right channels. While I’m not disagreeing with that impulse (wtf malletheadz? Lolz), I think it’s enormously important for all polo players to act as marketers for our sport, attempting expansion by any means possible. We’ll never make it as an insular sport, and we’d be cutting of our own feet if we ignore the need for fresh bodies and ideas in our slice of the athletic world. The idea that a player who has been shooting the ball around for years more than anyone else has more say than a six-month player is not useful: point in fact it leads to stagnation in the sport. Being open to new ideas, discussions on rules, and the possibility that our sport may need to evolve to fit a wider player base is simply a necessity of any sport. If we close ourselves off to this possibility, we close ourselves off to having bike polo around for more than the current generation of players.
Whether it’s something you agree with or don’t, the fact remains that bike polo is a young sport that can easily be killed off if the wrong steps are taken. We, as some of the earliest players of Hardcourt Bike Polo, have a responsibility to make the sport as vibrant and sustainable as possible.