I received another mysterious missive from writer HandlebarMustache420, this time discussing his/her view of what it’s like to be new in the sport and what he/she believes is the way to get into the culture. While I don’t exactly agree with the conclusions drawn, I do appreciate different voices and views, so why not share it with the whole polo world (all 12 of you that read the site):
Do you remember your first tournament? I do. It was a nightmare. I didn’t know anyone, obviously, and I walked around the pre-tourney party like a lost kid in a supermarket, eagerly looking for someone to hold my hand and glom onto in conversation. I didn’t know what to talk about. “Where are you from?” sounded trite and unnecessary in my head. I had only been playing polo for six months and I was intimidated. I felt uncomfortable and out of place. More than that, I was playing with some random kids out of necessity, and that, combined with my lack of skill and experience, guaranteed us to fall into a dead fucking last position in the bracket. It was enough to make me want to quit polo entirely.
Now let’s fast forward two years to my most recent polo tournament experience. I remember walking into the party and feeling like the long skinny Tetris piece— because it seemed like everybody was waiting for me to show up and wow this is such a terrible analogy, it makes me feel physically ill. What changed? Sure, I’m marginally better at bike polo, but I have still never won a tournament. I don’t drink excessively or do a lot of drugs or party too hard like some cool polo kids I know. What is it then that makes people desirable as acquaintances?
As a relative newcomer to the bike polo scene, a friend confided in me that he believes that scoring goals is what makes people want to talk to you. If you are really good at bike polo, it doesn’t matter that you are a jerk or a snob or a nuisance, you have the prerequisite social proof. Winning a tournament guarantees that you will never have an awkward moment, shuffling your feet in the corner nursing a warm PBR and staring at peoples’ belly buttons.
Looking back on that first pre-tourney party experience now, there was a distinct difference in the way people carried themselves if they were confident in their abilities on the polo court. That has nothing to do with the number of years that they have played— I know some people that have played for upwards of five years with no trophies to show for it. I have certainly felt excluded from some conversations because I hadn’t yet proven myself as a worthy adversary, or even one worthy of respect and acknowledgement. There is an undercurrent of snobbery that pervades the community at every level of the game. It’s unfortunate, but would hope that people who play bike polo are smart enough to see that everyone deserves respect as an individual.
How do you pick your friends when it comes to polo? Do you exclusively talk to the people who routinely finish in the top 5 bracket placements? Or can you relate to people about other things as well? I think the baseline for human understanding is such that as long as you are not a boorish semi-autistic neckbeard virgin, you have something to offer in every interaction.
My experience was similar to Handlebar’s experience with the first tourney. Point in fact I didn’t even go to the tourney party because I was too scared of new people.
In much the same way, too, I found myself more a part of the scene after 2 years–but it certainly wasn’t because I was any better at scoring goals (or at playing polo in general (though I am better than when I first started, thank God)). I don’t think scoring goals makes people want to hang out with you. It might show you know your stuff, and that might lead to people wanting you on their team; which by extension would make you more involved–but I don’t think it’s the only way.
To disagree with my esteemed mystery writer, I think you can get involved in the community by simply showing that you want to be part of the community. You don’t need to be a goal-scoring machine in order for people to be happy to see you when you pop up at a tournament.
Anyway, that’s my two shekels.