Archive for NAH

From the President of the NAH: 4 Questions Answered.

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I’m fortunate in that Ben Schultz doesn’t hate me. Besides being a stand-up guy all around, he’s also the president of the NAH and as such it’s beneficial to me to have his ear and his willingness to answer questions when I’ve got them. It’s exactly this that brings us to the article your excited little eyes are now reading.

After Worlds and concurrent with my “The NAH Killed Bike Polo” article, Ben and I were in discussion about where the sport is and where it’s going. He was kind enough to answer some of the questions I had concerning the mistakes and lessons he and the NAH have gained over the past year (and, indeed, past years):

Why is experimentation and failure important to the future of the sport?

Ben: So many old chestnuts come flooding in……Both are essential to learning about what you’re doing, and progressing from there. Experimentation should be fun but failure is a part of that process, which means frustration can also be a part of that process. So I try to keep in mind that one, every failure is a step closer to getting it right, and two, what are the stakes? This is polo we’re talking about, so my patience for the process is pretty high at this point.

How do you & the rest of the NAH consider rules and what to change?

Ben:Those surveys helped a lot, hahaha. Observation and vision. And it’s important to understand – this isn’t a process limited to NAH staff, never has been. We all play and we all watch the game being played. Similar situations unravel on the court, but we all interpret them differently. So even though the NAH staff has to do the actual work, we always consult other players, on the phone, in email, on LOBP, on social media, or on the spot. We pool these experiences and varying ideas of what the game should be and then we do the best we can.

What is the power split, in your mind, between what the NAH decides and what regions themselves decide, how do you think that’s going to change in the future?

Read more

If You Can’t Ref, Don’t.

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There’s plenty to be proud of about Worlds this year. Great courts, lots of people got to play, and the majority of us got to watch it from the comfort of our own bike polo aviary homes.

But there was one instance I saw where there wasn’t anything to enjoy, and that was when Ratking had a match go south on them because a ref wasn’t able to make accurate calls.

At a World Championship.

In 2014.

It’s something that’s bothered me from then until now, so let’s talk it out.

The thing about reffing is, frankly, I’m no good at it. I can see infractions and I kinda sometimes know what the call is, but none of that happens instantaneously. It happens about five or so seconds late, and that makes me, you guessed it, a crummy ref.

The thing that makes me so comfortable with being a bad ref is that I know I’m a bad ref, and so I avoid the position as much as possible. When Joe asked me to ref at North Americans (half-jokingly, I’m sure), I gave him a clear, definitive no. Not because I don’t believe in giving back to the sport and not because I’m lazy (I did goal judge a whole lot, point in fact), but because I knew I wasn’t up to the challenge, and that I wouldn’t be doing the best for the players.

And having that knowledge, friends is [a G.I. Joe joke].

But it’s strange to me that I, lowly as I am in the sport, would recognize that whereas at Worlds, that thought didn’t apparently cross the minds of the organizers. Having someone holding the whistle doesn’t make a ref. Hell, passing the NAH ref test doesn’t make a ref.  It’s something else–it’s knowledge and application. I understand the drive to help, and even the pressure to do so, but the fact is that unless you’re very confident and very able to apply the rules and regulations in a match, you shouldn’t be using a real, qualifying/NAH tourney to learn how to.

And I realize that this goes against some of the other things I’ve said on this blog (one of which I’ll include below just to show you how hypocritical I am).

Now I’m not exactly blaming the organizers of Worlds, and I’m certainly not blaming the poor guy who Ratking made walk off in search of a more qualified ref. I’m blaming the oddity of polo where we demand good refs but refuse to make them or try to create strong avenues to practice. Something I liked about the Eastside Thaw last year (that worked with some success, though players still yelled at refs like it ever makes a difference), was introduce the idea that it was a place for players to learn to ref and for players to learn to play. I think there should be a push for that–a live clinic of reffing. Doing it on the web is a great first step, but like many things, sometimes doing it for realsies is the best way of learning.

I’m going to say: if you don’t know how to ref, don’t ref. Don’t put yourself in a position to make yourself feel bad nor to destroy a team’s chances to advance because of your mistake. Furthermore, you should determine early on if you’re any good at reffing to begin with (which is something different than knowing the rules), and if you’re not good, don’t force yourself into it.

I have no doubt at all that the next round of great refs is out there–but we shouldn’t be so desperate to put a whistle in someone’s hand as to take anyone at all. It reduces the trust in refs overall and makes a mockery of enforcing rules.

 

The NAH Killed Bike Polo

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And The NAH (Along With Our Help) Will Bring It Back, If We Let It.

There was one sentiment shared often during and after Worlds this year (outside of the typical, and well deserved, congratulatory huggery): bike polo is dead. Or is dumb–or is going the wrong way. Whatever language you want to use, there was a collective groan from the bike polo community (granted, perhaps a small contingent, but an important one) that something had gone wrong in the process of getting to the biggest of the big-tournaments of the year.

And that’s exactly where I think we should be with the sport, though it might not feel very much like it (or feel like anything but un-enjoyable to be a part of).

The way I see it–and the way you should all, by now, understand I see it–bike polo isn’t at all set in stone as to how it’s played. We have folks who think it should have no rules but the first rule of bike polo; we have folks who want to have a 200 page rulebook that leaves no question unanswered. Mostly, we have folks in between: they know we need some rules, but they don’t know what those rules should be, or which ones are the most beneficial.

[NOTE: a whole other subject–and one I’m brewing up on right now, is the reffing that happened for some of Worlds. Don’t think I’m ignoring that–it’s just a big subject on its own that I want to tackle in a different post]

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The voice of a whole wing of bike polo, I’m quite sure.

And that’s where I think most of us are, the NAH and the bike polo community (of which the handful of bike polo players on the NAH are a part of) don’t quite know what right looks like just yet, only that bike polo needs to remain a fun and dynamic game to play. Read more

NAHBPC 2014: A Reporter’s Dairy, Final Day +1

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Several things happen on the morning of Sunday, July 13th. For one thing, the smell of our hotel room becomes so unbearable that I find myself unable to go in and out of it without feeling the deep-down need to vomtron 5000. It’s been so bad that the cleaning folks won’t even change the sheets anymore.

Secondly, I am tired of the waffles at the continental breakfast. They’re free, so I eat them (this is actually what the giant insect space aliens are going to say when they stumble across our country/planet in the future, too), but I do so without any enjoyment. Corvus has the first game on court A, so we leave a touch earlier than the other two days. I wear my bought-in-Roseville salmonish shirt and realize almost instantly that it does not breathe. I begin to sweat like mad at the courts.

The final thing I notice quickly is how beautiful all of the women look today, and I know that I miss having Caitlin around to pal around with.

I watch the Corvus v. Dauphins game and have high hopes in the beginning that Corvus will win. Sure, the Dauphins has that lovely fellow Jacques who treated (and continued to treat) hurt polo players throughout the tournament–but Corvus is full of Pennsylvanians, club mates, and longstanding friends. I have my priorities.

The game itself, despite my hopes plays out differently. After an early Dauphins goal, Horse responds with a slap shot from the side, answering with a point of his own. It strikes me as an even match up until the last 2 minutes, when Dauphins turns up  the heat and dismantles Corvus with a 5-3 win. Everyone seems happy with their performance (recognizing the after-loss mile long stare that happens to everyone). Horse tries to take the rust off his bike.

2014-07-13 13.43.35And that’s kind of the theme of the whole tournament. The people at the tourney are jovial. It’s the last day but it still feels like a very competitive pickup day. I manage to slip into conversations and groups without feeling like I’m interrupting, and feel even more comfortable talking to folks that I otherwise would be too intimidated to (here I think of Kremin, who was more than willing to chat me up about his injury and plans, Joey of the Beavers who stops under our tent to shake my hand and talk about playing with Simpson, and Andrea–the person who broke her ankle (I get nervous talking to beautiful women, I start stuttering a lot, you see), about how she’s feeling and what she plans to do about the injury). I don’t know if it’s because the weather was so miserable the two days before or not, but the whole atmosphere of the final day is one of enjoyment and relief. The weather itself is better than anyone could ask for. The air is filled with cottonwood seeds, white and downy they fall like patchy snow across the courts and players and ground. It’s wonderful to behold but they are so ephemeral that I can’t get a single picture of them. In hindsight this makes me happy, as I want them to be something just for us at the tournament (I’m sure someone did get a picture of them, however, but I don’t want to see it).  Read more

Why do we even have rules? My case for (and against) the NAH Rule Set

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One of the near-constant statements that I hear from my club, at tournaments, and as an off-hand murmur is how the rules are destroying the essence of bike polo. Whether it’s folks who go to tournaments (and have gone to tournaments since forever ago) or it’s folks who just play pickup, there is a distinct and lasting distrust whenever the NAH dictates a new rule based solely off of a tournament or Nick Kruse’s hope that bike polo will some day become hockey.

And while I’m not on that side of the conversation, I can certainly understand it. The same way someone can understand why certain people don’t like ice cream, I suppose. I mean, they are wrong, naturally, but that just leaves more for me.

The biggest complaint is how rules fundamentally change the spirit of the game (the spirit apparently being a balding punk rocker who refuses to recognize that he’s actually a middle aged clerk at the local bodega). Bike polo was started with just a handful of rules, and those rules saw the sport through for quite a while, really. But there is a mental exercise we should take part in before we say that the NAH is power hungry and trying to make bike polo into an over-controlled bore-fest.

1. How has bike polo changed since its inception?

2. Do the new rules follow a few simple requirements?

As far as the first question goes, I think you can see what I’m getting at: bike polo could have just a few rules when it first started because we weren’t hosting large, organized tourneys, we weren’t playing at the speed and caliber we are now, and folks weren’t thinking about how they could game the system more than they were thinking about how they could have fun. The game itself evolved past the point of having just a handful of rules–and now we’re exploring just what rules need to be in place to support the monster we’ve created.

(And I hear you: we shouldn’t have allowed bike polo to change so much that the original game requires more rules. But if we’re talking about having a qualifying series at all, we must agree that we need to have a bit more than don’t be a dick on the books.

The second question’s requirements, as far as I see them, ask us to run any rule through two criteria:

  • Does the rule make the game more fun to play for everyone?
  • Does the rule make the game more safe to play for everyone?

If the answer is yes to both, you should have that rule. The rule to not allow for headbutting someone on court satisfies both requirements (for most people), so it’s a clear winner. The rigidity of the high sticking rule certainly makes the game safer to play, but may not making more fun to play (I know I’ve rolled my eyes when this is called after a player far away from any other player gets called for it).

By running rules through these two filters–at least as an outsider to the creation of rules for the sport–I can figure out whether the rule is beneficial or arbitrary/detrimental. These filters also recognize that it’s possible for a rule to not be beneficial to an individual player, but be beneficial to a majority of players, by comparison. Some folks do really well with checking people from behind–but that does’t mean it’s safe or makes the game more fun for everyone.

NAHBPC: A Reporter’s Journal, Part 2

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Sleeping in a room with five other men is something that I don’t necessarily recommend for anyone, but somehow (exhaustion, I think) I sleep well Friday night, despite Sprinks straight up stealing my pillow when I turn to shut of the air conditioner and my pillow drops off the bed Horse and I are sharing. I spent, like, 2 minutes looking for the pillow until I realized Sprinks sucked it up underneath his head like an octopus hiding away a clam shell. I try to be angry, but he looks so happy to have it I can’t be.

After a quick breakfast flanked by Koyo and John Hayes (wherein we discuss the Assassins’ victory over the Beavers once more), I hit a Wal-Mart to:

1. Feel bad about humanity

2. Get drinks and ice for Corvus/NASA

3. Buy a perfectly lovely $3.00 shirt that I might actually wear after the tourney–if I’m able to pack it in my tiny bag (I was able to, dear reader).

2014-07-12 09.49.56When I get to the courts there is a light, frustrating sprinkle (not the pillow thief), and it’s clear that the humidity is much higher than the day before. As a man who sweats as soon as it gets above 60 degrees, I pray to the elder polo gods that there is some kind of breeze to push away the polo stank of 2-day ripe players. I plant myself in the pop tent that Rodney provided us to write a bit and get out of the rain/cool myself. I’m joined by Horse and Sprinks of Corvus, who seem relaxed–and well they should be. They performed well enough yesterday that they were guaranteed a spot on Sunday. Others here, however, are fighting for that honor. It’s and interesting mix of relaxation and stone-eyed focus. For my part, I’m getting more and more nervous about the rain.

2014-07-12 09.15.25I pop over to Mr. Do’s command tents to talk to sweet Jenn and the crew. I confirm with them that they were indeed getting shocked during filming the day before (okay, so they were shocking each other, more or less), and that they are very well prepared for the work they need to perform. Indeed, to me they seem the most prepared out of anyone at the tournament–having taken position under several tents on the side of A court & having a very exciting-looking scaffolding structure upon which they are filming games. The whole team is exceedingly pleasant to me but also clearly quite busy in getting set up and filming, which I am able to certainly excuse. We’re players in the same game, after all: Mr. Do’s team covering the visual, factual side of the sport and me covering the almost-impossible-to-verify, bullshit side. I tip my Pith helmet to them before moseying away to watch Nino Dios (they have a little ~ in their name, but I can’t find the key to put it in place. Forgive me) and Los Quatreros Unitos play, wherein Miguel of LQ proves he’s still at the top of his game. Read more

The Lesser of Two Evils: Why You Should Ref at the NAHBPC

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North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship is running into the same problem as every other NAH event since forever: finding dedicated (or even semi-dedicated) refs to officiate the tournament. While this isn’t particularly surprising, it is disheartening. If there should ever be a time when finding refs isn’t impossible, it should be the damned tournament of tournaments in the land.

refBut I get it…I really do. Being a ref is stressful, generally not fun, and altogether demanding. You need to think on your feet–you need to ignore the amazing amount of name calling and under-the-breath insults from players and fans alike. You must shore yourself up to making that bad call and sticking by your guns (because there is nothing worse than a ref who waffles between calls). When I reffed I found that I was more concerned about making the wrong call than making any call at all, so I froze up. It was unfair to the players and very stressful for me (my heart raced more when reffing than when playing, if that’s an indicator for you).

And you have to do all of this when you could just be heckling with your friends or taking a nap, or whatever else.

The scale is heavily in favor of not being a ref. It’s true.

But just because something is easy to do doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

Between the “evil” of inconveniencing yourself, and the “evil” of doing nothing, someone who cares about the enjoyment of the sport for all should choose inconvenience. Furthermore, I suggest (and God, this will be hard for some of us) that players and spectators alike recognize that being a ref is damned hard work, and try not to back-talk the ref or scream out what the call should be. They’re dealing with enough as it is, and they don’t need someone else–someone who isn’t willing to be a ref–telling them how to ref.

I’m pleading with you–you who have taken the ref test and indeed are certified now–to consider reffing this weekend. If enough certified refs sign up, the tourney could have a pretty healthy rotation of refs coming in and out, meaning that any one ref won’t have to do more than a few games at a time.

MeatloafAt the Eastside Regional Qualifier we had to stop running games on one court for a few minutes because nobody would step up (myself included–though I was manning the control tent so whatever, whatever). I know that it’s not the greatest job in the world, but it’s a necessary one and I’m really confused as to how we have this growing body of players who want to do everything they can for each other, but who are unwilling to do this. It’s like a damn Meatloaf song.

Sign up: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1zKgrBhxP8X4P2jqc2ZGSc0I9JkdoKQaosAC4p-8tP6I/viewform 

 

A Daydream Suggestion for the World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship

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Let’s just get this out of the way: I haven’t watched more than 45 seconds of the World Cup. Actually less than that, as I just watched a single clip of some amazing goal where a guy head butted the ball into the goal. Just that. I watched it twice, so maybe it was 30 seconds worth of watching.

Anyway, thinking about how the World cup is run (again–as I understand the World Cup is run based of my near-nothing knowledge of it), I wonder how we in bike polo might better serve the excitement, camaraderie, and format of our world championship.

Right now teams from all across the globe compete once a year and we name our “best bike polo team in the world.” And that’s great–it’s fun, even! It’s easy to get into those games and get excited at how your team is moving up in the rankings. But let me just posit two ideas for you to mull over:

1. Maybe we shouldn’t do this every year

2. Maybe we should make it more of a global competition

Let me speak to both of those, starting with the one that I think isn’t as exciting.

Doing this worldwide competition each year puts a huge strain on teams financially. It also makes it less of an event and more like other tournaments that anyone is likely to go to. It puts a huge amount of strain on teams to do really well in just one season–and as we know, it’s possible to totally blow your qualifier and then you’re dead in the water.

Now, I think most of these arguments are pretty weak–but let’s consider a few of the benefits of moving to a two-year or even maybe 3 year worldwide championship model. For one thing, the hosting club could really pull out all the stops in regards to building the courts, getting sponsors, and general planning. Instead of only having a year  they could get a lot of time to make a spectacular event happen. Likewise, teams could save up (more likely individuals could save up) and travelling wouldn’t nearly be so much of a please-help-us-get-to-worlds situation.

Or, you know, we could keep it at once a year. I was just spit-ballin.

The next suggestion is more exciting to me, and I think it doesn’t take much to make happen.

This picture straight up lifted from Sports Illustrated

This picture straight up lifted from Sports Illustrated

When I say global competition, I mean more of a nation-against-nation sort of championship (much like the World Cup). The premise of this is simple: each team is indeed playing for themselves (to see who will be the best team in the world), but on top of that is a competition (by point differential or by wins or whatever smarter people than me decide) between ALL TEAMS from the same countries.

So you’d have, let’s say, the Beaver Boys win Worlds, but perhaps France would have the most points as a country, and thereby France would be the top country and get their own sort of recognition/acclaim.

My thought behind this is as such: it makes me, as an American, much more interested in how all Americans are doing at WHBPC, and it creates a bit more camaraderie and national pride than we currently have (where countries are sending multiple teams but really are just competing against those teams as well).

I think it’d be fun to add another level of competition to the tourney, is all. Granted, we’d need to figure out what happens when a country’s team plays against another team from the same place, but I’m sure someone clever knows how to regulate that sort of situation.

Anywhoo–what do you cats think? Worth daydreaming about or am I just getting too stoked off these free Coke Zeros in the office?

The NAH Hand Dance

First: Boston bike polo did a great job with this visual guide to ref hand signals.

Second: I did this.

NAH Hand Dance

3 Ways You Can Shape Bike Polo’s Future.

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If you have big hopes of changing the way that American Football is played, you might as well go after changing the course of planets. It’s a remarkably cemented sport full of people who are more important than you making big-time decisions (read: trying not to change much of anything) for their own profit and gain.

Same goes for most sports, probably.

But hardcourt bike polo is so young, so flexible and willing to listen that you (yes, you!) have a chance to make a big impact even now. There are a few reasons for this, but if I had to cut it down to a little list, I’d say the impact of the individual is stronger in bike polo because:

  • The administration (NAH) is tiny
  • There isn’t any money in bike polo
  • Most people know each other

These three actualities give your average, involved bike polo player the opportunity to speak her mind and have those words travel all the way up and down the polo community.

But it’s not just a simple matter of making a forum post on LoBP (ALL HAIL!) or by making suggestions on your club’s Facebook page–though both of those are a good start. It take a bit more involvement and patience, I think, to shape the future of the sport we all want to succeed (but seemingly don’t believe will).

1. Volunteer to take a role with the NAH: The NAH is currently four people. Four! We have Nick Kruse writing rules, Joe Rstom helping write those rules and creating training for refs, John Hayes helping with tourneys and Ben Schultz working alongside those three while also trying to push the sport forward with sponsorships/structure/every other damn thing. There are club reps and regional reps, sure, but they aren’t necessarily “THE” NAH. They are ambassadors between the NAH and the clubs/regions.

Because of this, they (the NAH) are desperate for more help. I bet you dollars to cronuts that if you were to contact anyone in the NAH , they would be excited to have you help out. It doesn’t take much to get your foot in the door. Volunteer to help with rules or to start up community outreach or ANYTHING. I’m sure they have a whole bunch of things that simply haven’t taken off due to personnel constraints.

2. Don’t rage quit: If helping out the NAH isn’t your idea of a good time (or you aren’t willing to join that group in order to fix the problems you see them creating), then don’t get in their way, either.

I’ve seen some posts here and there from people expressing “fuck the NAH”–which is fine, of course. Saying that is how I start every morning.  But that kind of sentiment really isn’t helping anything. Honestly, if you were able to get just 10 of your friends to join the NAH at an organizational level, you could easily take it over from the inside.

But if, instead, you decide that the whole mess is just too much stress to deal with, the logical option would be for you to step out of the argument. Participate constructively or don’t participate at all, but turning over tables and saying that anyone is trying to destroy the game is as foolish as it is goofy.

3. Make a stronger club/local scene: Charity starts at home, and in all honesty the majority of us play pickup more than anything else. This might come as a surprise, but you can do whatever you want in your own polo club.

This also means that you can make your club a model for bike polo as a whole. If you think that the way your club handles rules, local tourneys, and the game in general better than others, try to help your other local clubs work the same way you do. I don’t mean this in the “you should do it this way because we are better” sort of way, but more in the helpful, fostering sort of way.

Think of it as a big brother or big sister program for clubs that are just starting out. Not only does this help grow the sport, but it also makes local tourneys more fun and bigger, creates a better relationship in-region, and gives you some of that good ol’ “one voice” power that comes from a unified group of people. This helps you (and your club (and your region))) do more than just suggest a good idea that is lost in the sea of other ideas.

 

The truth is, we’re a very young sport with some very dedicated people playing it. We’re also experimenting and messing up here and there. If you want to see the sport go one way or the other (or the tournament series, or the style of play we embrace, etc), it’s still possible for you to make an impact by voicing your ideas. This isn’t true with many sports, and I’d hate for intelligent folks to squander that sort of opportunity.