Tourney Interview: Alias and the Eastside Thaw

Thaw 2

The Eastside Thaw is, more or less, the start of my bike polo season. Held early in March, the Thaw is a chance to meet new players, old friends, and play the game in two of it’s more interesting varieties (these being Bench format and a random-draw team). Alias, who is again heading up the Thaw, was kind enough to answer a few questions I have for him: 

I went to the Thaw last year and had a blast–as the organizer, do you think it went well?

It started out a bit touch and go, but eventually I got into a rhythm and things smoothed out.  It was my first tournament in a lead role, and while I was pretty prepared for the known-unknowns, a few of the unknown-unknowns got me.  I definately had a lot of lessons learned, and I’m more prepared for this year.

What surprised you about running the tourney, and what have you learned from it?

Eastside Thaw  (14)You’ll want to be in more than one place at once, and you’ll panic the most when you don’t have something to do.  What I’ve learned is largely about what prep-work can be done beforehand.  Attempting to do early morning court setup, and the card draw was a mistake.  It took too much time, and cut into play time.  The lesson here is to have a check-in event the night before.  This year, we’ll have evening access to the courts on Friday until 10:00pm.  We’ll do the card draw then, and it will have the added benefit of encouraging players to arrive on Friday instead of early Saturday morning.  I think adding this sort of feature to an event gives me as an organizer an administrative buffer to catch any details that slip throu… are you still awake?

What can we expect to see changing this year (and give a little run down on how it worked last year as a point of reference if you can)?

Eastside Thaw  (15)Like I said, card draws on Friday.  This will speed things up on Saturday.  I also have a better plan for how to do the bench team draft.  This should make it easier on the captains.
We are at two identical inline hockey courts, so there’s a better symetry in all the games–no more dead boards.  The courts are very large, so players that are used to tennis court games will find that the games will take more out of them.  This will matter a lot more during the bench games.

What do you think are the essentials for putting on a good tourney?

Eastside Thaw  (49)A good relationship with your parks & recreation department/office (or whatever host location you are using).  No event exists without a place to play.  Everything else is icing.

But let’s talk about icing.  There’s a structural benefit to providing food at the court.  It keeps players close and ready to play.  Additionally, I’m providing bike valet parking for security reasons.  Bikes have been stolen from Frederick at past events, so I wanted to provide this as a service/conveniance.  It also looks better than a grass plot littered with bikes.

Lots of what I’m able to provide comes from local bike-shop support and partnership.  Involvement with your local shops goes a long way.

The Thaw is a pickup tourney on day 1 with a bench format tourney on day 2. Do you see this as a great way of getting the best of both worlds? Which part is your favorite of the two? 

Eastside Thaw  (214)Day one isn’t quite a “pickup” tournament.  In a pickup tournament, you could still get three very experienced (or inexperienced) players on a team.  I call this format a “shuffle deck” tournament.  Each team has an A, B, and C skilled player and so the teams are as horizontally balanced as you can ever have.  What I like about day one, is that it establishes some mentor-mentee relationships in the polo community.  If you’re new to polo, you’ll hopefully get some constructive coaching on how to best contribute to a team.  If you’re an ace at polo, you’ll have to exercise team leadership, and get your team to perform at it’s best.
Day two is admittedly my favorite.  I love bench games.  They are exciting to be a part of both on and off the court.  There’s an awesome feeling in doing a substitution smoothly, and getting feedback and new objectives.  It’s really fun to strategize on the sideline, and then go out on the court with a specific mission.

Last year there were no prizes/no rewards for finishing at the top. Was anyone disappointed at that? Why do you think it’s not so important to give prizes?

Eastside Thaw  (137)

Nobody expressed any dissapointment to me.  So if there was any, nobody found it important enough to say anything.  Perhaps other tournaments might have a better incentive for prizes, but part of the goal of this event was to foster interclub relationships, develop skills, and build enthsiasm for the season.  Prizes aren’t a necessity for those goals.
The only prizes I’m doing are for refs.  I think an event like this is a great opportunity to teach people how to ref, and that it’s a respectable thing to be a *good* ref.  The Eastside Thaw II is not merely an event to play a bunch of polo, but to play a bunch of skilled, and clean polo.  Here, I see a good fit for prize incentives for those willing to better the polo community as a whole.

Are you noticing more people signing up this year, or are they the same folks?

I’d say that 60% of those registered are people that came to the first Eastside Thaw.  Most of them are also those who live the closest to DC, so that’s a possibility as well.  The event is capped at 72 players on Sat, and the waitlist is longer this year than last year.  The event filled up in 13 hours, compared to two weeks last year.  There’s certainly a temptation to open the event up and make it larger, but I think keeping it small is a strength.  I hope that if this idea is popular, other clubs might adopt it as well.

How are you going to decide A/B/C players this year, and how are you going to determine teams for the first day?

Eastside Thaw  (219)I have a secret panel of players who grade players.  I take their inputs and look for where people agree.  Ultimately, I decide, so if someone gets put in the wrong level, that’s on me.  This process worked pretty well last year, and I think there were only a few controversial ratings.

Tell me a little bit about the location problems and how you resolved it.

Eastside Thaw  (5)Ugh.  Let’s focus on the positive.  The City of Frederick has been amazing to work with, and their pricing for their awesome facilities is perfect for our local/regional needs.  This is the fourth time DC Bike Polo has used these courts, and I don’t expect it will be the last.  I’ve had a few people shoulder tapping me about future events here, but one thing at a time, okay?

Anything you want to add?

Eastside Thaw  (230)My favorite memory of last year was Sprink’s bench team “Sprinks Break” doing a big group hug after they were knocked outon Sunday.  That’s the moment I knew the event was a success.  More recently, in San Juan, I became more aware of some friendships that started at last year’s Thaw because they were teamed up on day one.  That made me feel pretty proud.  With the Eastside Regional Qualifier coming up in May, I hope that some players meet their future teammates in Frederick.  That would make me very happy.
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