This is a contributed article by Christian Losciale, who I spoke to at Worlds about this topic (a bit) and others:
Our sport is young. In fact, it’s too young to care only about winning.
Don’t get me wrong. I want to win. I do. Badly. Hell, I might give a testicle if it meant I’d be a WHBP Champ. But at this point in the sport’s fledgling state, it’s not the only thing I think about.
I imagine our sport being watched by crowds of non-players. Beyond that, I don’t dream too much. Still, perhaps it’s too romantic of me to think like this. When I do, a particular style of bike polo excites me, a style I’ve heard a few people describe as Tic-Tac. It incorporates a hard forecheck, an aggressive offense and a load of passing. Players that perform this style well misdirect opponents. Tic-Tac players make aggressive moves when opponents assume conservative moves, and Tic-Tackers make conservative moves when opponents anticipate aggressive ones.
But that’s not the only style out there. Here are a few others:
The three-cog machine
Each player offers a different skillset. Usually, you get a quarterback who rotates deep in the defensive zone to protect the net. At the same time, the QB coaches his other two teammates. Meanwhile, an enforcer moves lightning fast to make room for the attacker. The enforcer is capable of scoring too, often with a hard shot rather than finessing in front of the net. An attacker poses an offensive threat. (S)he could be another hard ripper, or more of a move maker who creates one-on-ones at the net.
The Turtle, a.k.a. Triple Goalie
Player 1: “I got net.”
Player 2: “I’ll just park in front of you.”
Player 3: “Hey, me too! But who’s going to get the ball so we can score?”
Player 2: “No one. We’ll wait for it to come to us. Duh!”
Player 1: “Yeah, we’ll just capitalize on their ‘impatience.’ Why score five goals when you can win with one?”
Player 3: “Oh, of course!”
Player 1: “And if you get the ball, just pedal as fast as you can toward their net.”
Player 2: “Yeah, we’ll just make sure the defenders can’t get to you. We’ll ride them off or park in front of them. It’s teamwork. Otherwise, if we didn’t stop them from getting to you, you’d have to pass it to one of us.”
Player 3: “That makes sense. Why should they get the chance to take the ball from me anyway? That’s what they get for trying to score goals by working the ball deep into our defensive zone.”
Player 1: “Now you’re getting it.”
This strategy’s downfall is its aggression. Sometimes too many passes leads to a missed opportunity to shoot. There’s seldom a goalie defending the net. Instead all three players maintain a rotation to keep the ball moving and keep the defense on its toes. That is, if the defense is willing to attack.
Put simply: Pass. Make a move. Catch. Pass. Make a move. And so on, until there’s a shot opportunity.
It’s exciting and entertaining. Why? The team functions as a unit to try to score. The whole court gets used, quite creatively when pro Tic-Tackers are on it. Also, it’s risky. One misplaced pass can cater itself to an opponent’s breakaway. For some reason, audiences — of movies, rodeos, WWE Pay-Per-Views, etc. — love the thrill of a risk.
Tic-Tac polo butts heads with a more conservative approach: Turtle polo. When a team stacks the net with two or three goalies, they wait patiently for their opponents to attack the net, make an effort to win the ball and drive it up court, not necessarily by passing the ball. Moving screens and off-the-ball contact are other elements often used in Turtle polo. The ball carrier finds space because teammates screened two opponents, and all that’s left to do is speed up the court and score on the goalie. It’s teamwork in its own rite, though scoring plays often start and end without passing the ball.
Teams of each style have gone deep into competitive tournaments. Yet Tic-Tac polo entertains me. It captures me, as a player and spectator. It makes me want to play harder.
To get non-players even interested in what bike polo is, it needs to be entertaining. So I concern myself with these silly intricacies about bike polo with hopes to play a style of bike polo that is entertaining and victorious. I work toward playing a respected, hard-nosed style to progress the sport. To where? I’m not sure.
One thing I know for sure is that our sport won’t progress its pool of resources if we — the players — comprise a plurality of its audience.
Bike polo isn’t ready.
It simply is not ready for our sport to be dominated by players who want nothing else but to win. If that becomes the case—and I am not suggesting that it is the case yet —I fear our sport is going to get ugly if not unwatchable.