I remember, maybe two weeks after joining this club (known as Lancaster City Bike Polo at the time), I felt like I was part of an organization. Loose, perhaps, but there was still a sense of order and responsibility. Polo elders had their say, Horse and Kyle seemed like the leaders of the group, and when something needed doing, it got done.
It was that feeling that first drew me into the sport, because I certainly didn’t have any sort of skill on a bike and I couldn’t hit a ball to save my life–yes, yes, I still can’t. shut up. But that sense of being part of something larger than myself drew me in, and it made me feel as though playing great polo was secondary, perhaps, to being part of it.
Within the first few months of playing, we had a few club meetings at bars just to make sure our club was healthy and heading the right way. We talked about where we could play other than the middle school tennis courts. We talked about getting sweatshirts made and I brought up starting a little blog to get ourselves known in the larger polo world.
And behold: we had sweatshirts made with our club’s logo, we found Fairview (where we still play), and Lancasterpolo.com has grown up to be what it is now. Accomplishment. Achievement.
But that was almost three years ago now, and somewhere between then and now, my club stopped feeling like a club at all. It seems like we’re just a bunch of people who gather at appointed times to drink, shit-talk each other, and play polo.
And that sounds like a great way to spend time, does it not?
But let’s look at the trouble in this ongoing scenario, and it’s one that’s been bothering me for some time now.
With the majority of Lancaster United seeming rather disinterested in growing to a regional level of play (i.e. going to tourneys with the expectation of competing), and with not a single team existing within the club itself that manages to go to tourneys (the closest being team Scrimmage, Ted, Troy and me, all of us playing at ESPIs in Frederick once), every pickup day is more or less just that. There is no drive in the club, and that lack of direction makes for “meh” pickup days, at least for me.
I have heard of other clubs imploding, of course. The common thread in those stories is typically that the people in the club stopped caring about polo and instead cared about just having a fun, drinky time with friends. They used polo as a vehicle to see buddies and shoot the shit.
Again, I can hear you polokins out there screaming that’s the point, you dummy. You’re taking it too seriously!
I hear you, my dear readers, I do. But let’s say I want to compete on a bigger level than just a pickup game.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I want to practice with a single team every once and a while.
At the root of it, as I eluded to earlier, is a lack of leadership, I think. We have a hard time coming to a decision on anything now, which is a stark difference from where we were a few years ago. It makes us stagnant and complacent with simply not pissing each other off, and I’m pretty sure we’re cutting our own throats with that “whatever works” mentality. In the past it has been Horse who was a mover and shaker–and while we often maligned him for being the “mayor of bike polo,” the truth is the guy got stuff done. But he wasn’t chosen to do that role–he did it because nobody else would, and the amount of times he’s been badgered and dismissed as merely too enthusiastic has taken its toll (as he now rarely rallies the troops as he once did). With him absent, it seems we’ve stopped growing out and up, and instead are simply happy staying right where we are.
Let’s say I want to do more than just have a good time each and every time I go to pickup? I don’t think it’s too much to ask. Point in fact, I believe that Lancaster United is a bit backwards in this: we don’t seem to be interested at all in sending players–much less teams–to tourneys. We don’t worry about expanding our skills or growing the club.
I look at Roller Derby as an example of a hard drinking, hard-playing group of people who place organization and leadership right in line with having a good time. The Derby Girls in Lancaster have a reputation of being hard-as-nails in competition and having a blast while practicing/hanging out, and I don’t see why little ol’ Lancaster United can’t do the same thing. I don’t see why the two must be mutually exclusive.
I wonder–and truly wonder–how other clubs have approached this problem (or is it even a problem in other clubs?). I wonder if they have a set leadership group that listens to what the club wants and enacts it, or if people just group-vote. I find it very hard to believe that every single club just does straight democracy like we do and thereby encounters the crushing halt of group-think.
It’s because of these things: a lack of direction (other than just meeting to throw games, squabble with each other, and shit talk), and lack of competitiveness, that I feel like we’re not nearly so much a club as polo players who live close by to each other–and I don’t remember it feeling quite like that before.
And again, I hear those of you out there making the argument that adding organization to bike polo is against the foundations of the DIY aesthetic. I say to you, quite frankly, that the argument is bullshit. I want a club that wants to do more than just goof around on a court twice a week, that is able to send teams to tournaments and do well. It’s not too much to ask, I think, to have a club that’s able to make decisions without getting lost in a forever-circle of suggestion making and “why-didn’t-you-ask-me” accusations.
I guess what gets me is that nobody seems vested in Lancaster United outside of playing pickup. We stopped trying to advance ourselves, and it makes me very concerned about where our club is heading.