This is the first installment of a series of thoughts Chris Hill of Ginyu Force has about particular skills in bike polo. The series, (IMHO), will run whenever he sends me another article–but if this first article is any indication, we’re in for some awesome talk about building your skill set.
There’s an abandoned tennis court down the street from my apartment. I like to roll over there after work and shoot around until sundown. Squint at a fence post, look down at the ball, squint back at the fence post, swing, and hope for that sweet “plink”. On the sidelines at a tournament, I once overheard someone say “50 shots a day” when talking about their practice routines, and I really took that to heart.
Since NA’s I’ve been thinking especially about shooting. It’s so hard. It seems like so many players can put the ball perfectly, exactly where they want every time from anywhere. But how? I love/hate that there isn’t a clear answer. There’s no right way to take a shot. Our sport is still DIY in the technique department. Leaning on the boards, watching NA’s these past few years, I’ve noticed common subtle tricks the top level players use: how they carry their mallet, positioning the ball just so, swinging a certain way. Trying to emulate these techniques has shown a surprising improvement in my shots. So Crusher and I came up with the idea to start a series about practicing and perfecting the fundamentals. I’m not trying to say that I’m of any caliber to be handing out lessons, but I’d like to share some of the things I think about when I’m poking around the ole’ tennis court.
First, mallet orientation.
I remember the Beavers playing at North Americans in 2013. It was my first NAs and I remember watching every one of their games. I was studying, trying to figure out what makes them the best in the World. Besides being struck by their sheer size and stickball wizardry, I noticed they carried their mallets in a different way.
When I had the ball driving, shuffling down the court, my palm was down, thumb towards my body, the capped end of my mallet pointed at my wheel. (fig1)(fig2). What I noticed the Beavers did was carry the ball with their palms down, thumbs in, just like me, but their mallet heads pointed toward the ground (fig 3).
I had never even thought to question how I held my mallet before. That realization still sticks with me. It’s the moment when I really felt how huge bike polo could be. Here I was, one of the best players from my region, watching another player from across the country, and realizing that everything I knew was wrong. Okay that’s dramatic, but I was floored by how much I saw and learned that weekend. It really proved to me how important it is to travel and experience other play styles.
I was really excited to get home and try this different mallet approach. I could see two advantages to carrying one’s mallet this way. One, maneuvering the ball left or right uses the more predictable sides of the mallet as opposed to the head and open end (See http://vimeo.com/77691583 at 0:56). And two, when you swing around to take a shot, now the capped end is pointing directly forward (fig4) Seems obvious, but until then, I had been trying to develop a shot based on how I held my mallet while dribbling. The Beavers had developed the opposite.
I think more than a few players made that same realization, because this past year at NAs, I saw lots of people dribbling this way. As a technique, it’s a tradeoff. Dribbling is a bit more difficult. There’s a smaller surface to make contact with the ball, but it allows you to take hard, square shots more easily. If you rotate your palm in, thumb now up, you’ll notice your mallet is oriented just like before, cap towards your bike. Now you’re shuffling and dribbling just like before, only with a different twist in your wrist.
If you’re not already playing this way, I recommend you give it a try. Next time you’re out on the court alone, or the first one to pickup, pretend your mallet head is full of your favorite expensive local brew, or ice cream! It’s hot out. Dribble around while trying not to spill it. Take shots without readjusting your grip. Take 50 of them. Keep in mind, any change is going to feel wacky at first. Get ready to whiff a lot. If you dig it, then hell yea. If you hate it, then dump it. Just like anything in bike polo, do what works for you.
I’ll be continuing this series for a while with a few more posts about shooting and some about bike maneuvers. Next we’ll talk about finding your hitbox and swinging.