A few things drummed up this post in my mind, one being the goofy storm caused by two players going after one another on this very site (which is great for traffic, lemme tell you), and another being the discussion I saw on Facebook between bike polo players concerning the recent events around the Miami Dolphins bullying case. It seems that these two are at least a little bit tied together, in that they both deal with the emotions that flare up during competitive sports (hell, I’d argue non-competitive sports as well, though I’m hard pressed to think of a non-competitive sport. Sport sleeping, maybe?).
Bike polo, as it currently stands, has an in-house reputation for shit talking and court-anger. What I mean is: you’ll have two guys who are civil to each other before a match, be absolute monsters to each other on the court, and then be civil to each other again afterwards (perhaps after a period of time, of course). This is an accepted thing, I’ve seen it at almost every tourney I’ve gone to and have likewise seen it within pickup days.
But that’s not to say that there isn’t a lingering emotion that sticks with people. We aren’t machines, after all [except for Robocop, who is in fact mostly machine], so it’s impossible to believe that everything that happens on the court stays there. Likewise, it’s also impossible to use the excuse of “we’re all horrible people on the court” to allow for truly unsportsmanlike behavior.
It comes down to a few things: civility and self-control. It’s easy to lean on the crutch that “you didn’t mean it” or “I was just excited,” but if you can’t keep a clear enough head to not violently swing at another person’s mallet or worse, check them illegally or without warrant, then you are the worst kind of polo player, bar none. A player who cannot remain civil, even when the tension is at it’s highest point in the game, isn’t much of a polo player at all.
But we don’t see it that way, necessarily, as an overall group. The first rule was certainly “don’t be a dick,” but we’ve made over-aggression acceptable to the point where we don’t see swinging a mallet at an opponent’s back or checking someone over the boards from behind as violating that rule. It’s simply become accepted and seen as something that happens, which is wrong.
I’m not saying people shouldn’t check, nor do I believe that calling every single contact between mallets as a hack is the right thing (point in fact, I hate when people do that). What I am saying is that sportsmanship should not take a back seat to “making a play work” or some other nonsense like that.
If you become too frustrated with your team-mates for making a play, or you get aggro on a player from the opposite team who is simply out-playing you, it’s your fault. They didn’t force you to feel any particular way, and your reaction is yours alone. Take moments during a game to recognize that the people around you are also just as excited to have camaraderie and fun, and that chances are pretty good they didn’t wake up with the intent of making your day bad.
In much the same way, recognize that you’re bad-mouthing players while they play (again, something that is embraced in bike polo) needs to be done in the right spirit. If you’re simply trying to hurt people, you’re missing the point. Words hurt–even words spoken in jest. You need to not only recognize whether someone is up for verbal taunting, but if they are up for it every day. There are some days, dear reader, where every single slight given to me cuts me down. There are others where I laugh along with everyone else. I am a human, and we have the remarkable ability to feel different things on different days. Nobody is a robot [except for Robocop, who has no emotions other than disgust with your playing style].
So instead of assuming that someone is ready for your witty commentary on their playing, recognize that they might not really enjoy that kind of thing, and decide whether you want to make them frustrated for your own benefit. In the same way, instead of lashing out at your club because they are mocking you (making the situation so much worse), take a step away from the situation and ask yourself why you’re getting so frustrated, and how you can address it in a civil manner.
I get it. We’re all just PBR drinking, sarcastic people, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a modicum of self-control and awareness. Sarcasm means, after all, to tear one’s flesh–and if that’s all we’re ever doing to each other, we’ll be too torn up to play.