Problem players: people who lose their cool, who verbally or physically attack other players, who are generally bringing down the happy-fun-times that bike polo was created to bring about. These are the people who cause a lot of heartache and headache for a club who might not be readily prepared to deal with such a person. I’ve been there, as I think all clubs have been–and I want to help in the most Dr. Phil-ish like capacity I am able to. Hell, I might even throw out some Southern witticisms while I’m at it just to really drive home the comparisons. Who knows.
I think the trouble with trouble players comes from a few sources. One, there isn’t any sort of hierarchy inside of a club, which makes it impossible to discipline someone effectively (or even talk about what’s going wrong). Two, there isn’t any sort of code of conduct (written or otherwise) to indicate what is and is not good behavior. Three, and this is the toughest of the three; there is a fear of losing a friend (which, presumably, this person is despite their ridiculous behavior. These three all together lead up to a significant problem for any club who has someone who did something very much so against the spirit of the game (let’s say they punched another player in the face) or someone who repeatedly commits smaller actions which make other players uncomfortable or upset (someone who, let’s say, consistently picks on another player to a point that is far beyond heckling).
In these cases, as with any case where there is an element of an organization that is causing harm to themselves, to other individuals, or to the group itself, it’s important to remove the emotional and instead work of facts. To do this, there must be some form of expected conduct–whether that’s something that is verbally understood by your club or it is a literal document that states what is and is not acceptable to do as a club member. This isn’t something that tells you what you can say or can’t say–or what you can do in your off time: it’s specific to pickup and (if you want to get really thorough) tournaments. It should have both the types of infractions and the punishment for infractions. Something like:
1. Purposeful physical attack on another player:
-1st time: 2 week suspension
-2nd time: 1 month suspension
-3rd time: banned from club/pick-up
2. Purposeful physical attack on player’s equipment:
-repayment of any broken equipment in money or in replacement within 30 days
Now, this all seems pretty stodgy, and it is. There is nothing that should make you feel good about having a document like this on hand in your club, specifically for something so loose and free flowing as bike polo. BUT–when it comes time when a player lashes out at another, you’ll be happy to have this document to lean on.
Why is that? For a few reasons: you remove the argument that you’re just punishing the player for no other reason than to get back at them. Point in fact, you (as the club president or representative or whatever) are simply following a document that your club agreed on. There doesn’t need to be any emotion in it at all. The other player did X, and the result is Y.
But this also means that there must be some sort of hierarchy in the club (someone who is elected or chooses to enforce the rules agreed to by the club. Really this can just be a collective thing–everyone is responsible for knowing and enforcing the rules–but generally people don’t want to be bothered. Instead, having someone who is willing to enforce the rules (and having a club that’s willing to abide them) is the key.
But what if the person to be disciplined doesn’t agree? Well, I don’t envy you, but the best thing to do in this case is simply make sure the club refuses to play with them on the regular days of pickup. The thing of it is, you’re not this person’s parent and you aren’t their boss. The most you can do as a club is punish them within the confines of regular activity (as far as a suspension or removal from the club is concerned). If this person shows up during a suspension, your club should simply stop playing if they try to jump in. Likewise, if they show up after being kicked out of the club, you should let it be known they aren’t welcome to play.
If that person decides to invite your club to play on some other day (and players show up to play), that’s outside of your responsibility or punishment. Hell, if that person creates a whole new club outside of yours in the same city, that’s likewise not yours to deal with. The punishment you enforce only has so much range, and that range is specific to your club.
And here’s the truth, anyway: unless someone really, really did something horrible (like knifed another player mid-court or repeatedly tried to check someone into the goal after being suspended over and over), chances are your club will decide to invite them back. That’s okay. A club removal doesn’t need to be permanent, necessarily–but that option should be on the table.
So What About Feelings? Well, I guess you humans have those. They are a huge part of our sport (hugs for days) and one of the big reasons problem players hang around for so long is because you’ve got a whole club of people who don’t want to really offend anyone else. That’s fine, I suppose, but it doesn’t do much for the health of your club overall. This is why you have that document and why you have an informed club. Through this you can help remove emotions, and make sure that people know it’s not that anyone is angry, just that the rules need to be enforced because everyone agreed they should be. Will there be problems? Of course. Arguments? Sure–but it won’t just be a matter of one group arguing with another group about whether someone should be disciplined or not. It will be a previous agreement to be enforced.
In the long term, it sucks to be the person to boot someone out of your club for a few weeks because they can’t control their temper or because they are endangering other players. Man, it’s the worst. But having that dynamic in place is a good way to make sure that all players can expect that the other players have their best interests in mind–and that if they don’t, the club still does.
But bike polo is a DIY, no rules game where–Shut up. It hasn’t been that for years and you’re being dumb. We have rules, we have the potential to hurt each other, and we have increasingly difficult relationships to form with club member retention, growth, and community support. Club members who don’t support those drives aren’t going to be very valuable in the future, so I wouldn’t worry too much about their squawking.
So there you have it. Some sort of governing body in your club, some sort of agreement through the club, and a recognition that you’re enforcement of conduct rules isn’t anything personal. I don’t see what could possibly go wrong.