Archive for NAH

Why Do We Even Have Qualifiers?

cart horse

Note: This isn’t a post hinting at Lancaster not hosting ESQ2014. We are. Promise. 

A Qualifying Series Lends Credibility, But Not When There is Nothing to Qualify.

The NAH Qualifier series is certainly something that I look forward to every year. Not because I necessarily play in it (I skipped the Eastside Qualifier last year), and not because I necessarily watch them…

Wait. Why do I look forward to them?

I guess I look forward to them because they mean polo is happening, but as far as my day-to-day polo life goes, the Qualifier series is kind of beyond my scope. It’s just another tourney to either be a part of or aware of, but not much else.

In recent years (read: the past 2), I’ve noticed a bit of a drop off in attendance to the Eastside Qualifier, and I think that trend is felt in a few other regions as well. I’m not saying that this is a sign of the decline of bike polo here in the states (just the opposite, I’m in firm belief that bike polo is growing), but it does point to something.

The Cart Before The Horse

The NAH was originally created to investigate and gain sponsors for the sport (NOTE: I was told this a year or so ago during a phone conversation with an NAH official. I  can’t verify it and, futhermore, have received an email saying it’s false. So feel free to ignore this line while I try to verify). The idea was, if I am remembering my history correctly from The NAH and other Magical Creaturesthe idea was that money would help the NAH take care of rules, running tourneys, and solidifying the sport throughout North America.

Well, as it turns out, that didn’t quite happen. The market of support simply wasn’t/isn’t around for bike polo, and the NAH as it stood needed to fall back to what it could do, namely create rules and orchestrate a qualifying series.

From the point of inception, the NAH has been dwindling, however. Through a mix of payless work and hours of stress, the core of the NAH is down to just 4 people, and those folks are often the only line of action when it comes to organizing the sport nationally.

What does this have to do with the NAH Qualifier series? To put is succinctly, I think bike polo isn’t big enough in the US to justify such a large series. Furthermore I think you, dear reader, probably know this in your heart as well.

It only takes a passing glance at a few of the regions to how this argument can be worked out. Hell, just look at the SC regional lineup as it stands at the writing of this piece:

SE qa

That’s 5 teams registered for a tournament that is coming up at the end of this month. 10 days away.

If the Qualifier was a big deal–if it was something that people just couldn’t wait to be part of, why can’t an entire region manage to get more than ten teams to register and pay up?

If we look at all qualifiers so far :

  • Cascadia: 23 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • Mexico: 13 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • Great Plains: 7 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • South West: 7 confirmed teams (out of a potential 32)
  • Eastside: 24 confirmed teams (out of a potential 36)
  • Heartland: 19 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • Great Lakes: 18 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • Northside: 12 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • Southeast: 34 confirmed teams (out of a potential 34–the only full qualifier, at this point in time)

Clearly there are a bunch of things to take into account with these numbers. Maybe the amount of potential teams is too high for some regions, maybe folks are just waiting to register because they know they have time, etc.

But one thing is clear: the qualifiers are a very big process that simply isn’t drawing in people as quickly as it should, and maybe the way around that is to simplify the system.

Two Tourneys, One North Americans

The thought I keep having is that we’ve over-complicated something that needn’t be complicated. Here’s my suggestion for the NAH (which I’m sure they’ll deeply consider because damn, I’m just that important to the world, right?):

  1. Keep the regions, but
  2. For qualifying for NAs, split the NAH regions in half.
  3. NAH West qualifier, NAH East qualifier
  4. Top teams go to North Americans.

splits

I think regional tournaments are still fun and a great way of sharpening skills/playing bike polo. Futhermore I think having a good idea of how individual regions perform is good. I’m not suggesting that we completely eliminate regions.

Well, okay, maybe I am. But it doesn’t matter either way in this suggestion.

Outside of the complains coming from the folks who are directly on one side of that line or the other, this would effectively make it fair for players to play in this bare-bones style qualifying series. While I was tempted to suggest that we just have North Americans, I realize that it would be entirely too large to manage for any one club (and maybe this would be, too); but by splitting North American Polo in half, we could create 2 qualifiers, West and East, to figure out who goes to North Americans.

The NAH West and NAH East qualifiers would also need to be more days, obviously, maybe something closer to Worlds in that it’d be 4 days long instead of a weekend. Furthermore, more teams would qualify this way (rather than figuring out how many qualifying spots are provided based on regional affiliation).

In my mind, a few clubs (and the regional reps) would help put on these tourneys, and they’d have a whole year to set it up. This allows for a great concentration of effort by a large amount of polo players to find a well placed location, get it polo ready, and plan.

The Benefits

Outside of the complications coming from 9 qualifying tournaments (if my hand counting is correct), we’re also concentrating the focus for players, removing some of the headaches that the NAH faces, and creating a larger event where more players are able to come together. Yes, we’ll need to request off of work for more time, but you’ll be able to do that almost a year in advance, and if your company won’t give you off for 4 days with a year notice, you shouldn’t be working there anyway.

Futhermore, regions aren’t so dependent on how many teams sign up–being one of those organizers this year, I can tell you that I’ve been sweating bullets waiting for the money to drop so we can keep working on what we need to work on. Instead they can focus on…well…helping all the regions around them put on this mega-tourney.

The Risks

I really have no idea if this would work or not. I feel like it would, if we step out of our “this is the way we’ve always done it” mindset and start thinking of how we can streamline the process of qualifications and make our events a bit bigger & a bit more sponsorable.

I think one of the biggest risks is making sure that teams all have a fair shot at going to North Americans. Surely we limit the dream-killing destructiveness of some teams by keeping them locked up in regions, but opening the series up to just 2 qualifiers (East and West) means lots of teams are going to get thrashed pretty early on, and that might very well be disheartening.

But, if I can be Machiavellian for a moment: conducting the tournaments like this is a hands off sort of way to make sure that the North American championship only has the best teams, as the weaker teams will be knocked out during the larger qualifiers. We’d save time and travel expenses for folks who really weren’t going to make it very far anyway.

(I’m one of those people. I can say it because I’m one of them. Isn’t that how it works? I have lots of not-going-to-make-it-through-North-Americans friends.)

 

So give this some thought and let me know what you think yourself. I’ve just been spitballin’.

 

 

 

Introducing The Insta-Ref!

2014-03-19 08.19.52

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All you need to do is:

1. Wait for a “potential-call” moment

2. Press the Insta-Ref™ button

3. Perform the action prescribed by the random selection of the Insta-Ref!

2014-03-19 08.20.39

Possible Actions Include:

  • Make Up A Rule
  • Distract With Animal Noises
  • Yell “I AM The Law!”
  • Blankly Stare At Players
  • Blow Whistle Louder
  • W.W.N.K.D (What Would Nick Kruse Do?)

Each of these possible solutions are specially formulated to simulate actual, real life reffing!

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Not Embarrassed.

2014-03-05 09.30.02

So I’ve been working at memorizing the 2014 NAH rule book. In particular, I’ve started making flash cards to quiz myself on sections/language of the rules, hand signals, requirements of play and penalties.

Basically, I’m nerding out as hard as possible on understanding and remembering the rules. I’m not ashamed. I’m not embarrassed.

One of the main reasons I’m doing this (besides the Eastside Qualifier coming up here in Lancaster and my own aspirations in becoming a top-notch ref), is because part of the Eastside Thaw this year is a…well I don’t quite know how to phrase it, really. Alias is asking folks to work on being refs, and particularly “good” refs (I think this means you don’t start crying after players tell you everything that’s wrong with you) win stuff and acclaim.

And gamification works on me, folks. It really does.

So I’ve spent the past week reading over the rules every night before I go to bed, and by the end of today I’ll have flashcards to carry around and drill myself on whenever I have a spare moment or my boss pulls me into a meeting.

Is this going too far? Maybe so–but it’s something I want to be good at, and like all things you want to be good at, you’ve got to embarrass yourself a little bit to get there.

So anyway, we’ll see how much sticks and how well I do as a ref during the Thaw. Here’s to hoping, right?

…got my own whistles and everything…

 

Shake off the Winter Blues: It’s (almost) Polo Season

Distant Elmo

Friends, we’re almost there.

March is here and that means that polokins everywhere are going to be coming out of their caves and log cabins to crack open a High Life and get to work on the 2014 NAH/Tourney series. While it still might seem like a ways off right now, the truth is it’s just around the corner, and that’s certainly something to get excited about.

2014: The Year of Rules

As for this humble editor, I’m seeing this year as one that is more or less focused in on the new rule set we’ve been given this year–namely the interference rules and how they’re going to play out in actual game play. A good thing about these new rules is that they seem to be focused on evening the playing field a bit and are likewise some of the most articulate we’ve seen in our sport. A bad part, I fear, is that to actually enforce the rules will take more than just 1 ref.

Consider this: if there is an interference call to make, the infraction needs to occur near the ball carrier or the ref needs to not be watching the ball carrier (which opens them up to more missed calls). Really, I think this can be avoided by giving more power to the goal judges to signal that an interference infraction as occurred (which the ref can then choose to recognize or not), but that level of power doesn’t currently exist for the goal judges.

So, like I said, I think there are going to be some late night meetings and long forum discussions on the interference rule. Furthermore I see at least one helmet thrown in anger per tourney until we get to NORTH AMERICANS JOE RSTROM, where people will either have worked it all out or simply given up.

NAH Qualifiers Feel like Qualifiers

This year I also think we’ll see the rise of more well-run qualifying tourneys. No, I’m not saying every single qualifier in the past was horrible: I’m saying that it’s just a natural matter of course. As we progress, we’ll get better at doing things. This year, we’ll get better at throwing the qualifiers. Clubs are getting more time to prepare, to make inroads with local businesses and motels, and are securing great spots to host. I think it’ll be a banner year for the qualifiers and set the bar for what comes next.

This is also the year that the Mexico Region will host it’s first (I think, right?) Qualifier. Altogether exciting, the Mexico qualifier is going to be a fun one to watch with teams that most of us are relatively unfamiliar with–for now.

 

The Year of The Newbie

Let me qualify that statement: the 2014 season will bring about a heavy focus on gaining more players (and those players going to tournaments). This is more of a wish, I think, but it’s about time we get another big injection of new players into tourneys and clubs, and as a club member, it’s your job to make that happen.

The sport is beginning to get some footing as far as folks recognizing it, and that means it’s time for bike polo clubs to actively recruit players (instead of just accepting them when someone stumbles into a pickup day). Put out flyers, get the slightest bit involved in your community, and you’ll see a drastic influx of newer players.

Yeah, it’s rough for more veteran players to take on new players, but you’re tending to your future, not your present. Without heavy recruitment every once and a while your club is going to falter.

Monday Impossible: Break Up Players Into Divisions?

MONDAY'S IMPOSSIBLE

A few weeks ago I went out to the local beer hole with a few bike polo players to talk shop and see who could drink the most while still maintaining verbal acuity (the answer was nobody). Early in our frivolities, we got on the subject of really outstanding players and how they make going to tourneys (with the idea of winning) a forgone conclusion for most other players.

In the past I’d mentioned having a major and minor league for this very reason, actually, though when I brought that up the people around me made the wise choice of ignoring what I was saying. Good on them, really.

But then Lumberjack brought up this idea:

What if we had divisions in NAH Tourneys?

Now I realize this isn’t a new idea. As far back as 2011 people were suggesting this very thing on LoBP (ALL HAIL!), but I wasn’t part of those conversations and I’m willing to act like they didn’t happen.

What Lumberjack suggested, more or less (the beer was taking it’s effect on me at this point), was the following:

  • Players would, for 1 year, have their records of goals/wins/other important data recorded
  • After that year, the club reps would tally up the group and split them into A/B/C rankings based on defined measurements from the NAH
  • Those players would then go to tourneys and play in those divisions (C players playing on Friday, B players on Saturday, and A players on Sunday, much like (he says) MTB racing does.
  • Players individual records are continuously kept, allowing them to either move up or down based on performance.

There are lots of problems with this model, but I’ll get to those in a second. First let’s talk about the benefits.

1. All levels of players have a chance to win big: Let’s say you’re a C player and you really want to go to a tourney, but realize you’re just going to be pushed out of the thing by Saturday. Well, that really doesn’t give you much of a positive outlook on how things are going to go down, is it? If we broke things into divisions like this, there’s a very real possibility that your team could make it to the podium, as there’s an equally good chance that the folks you’re playing against are around your same level of play. Same with B Players, too.

2. Seeding is less difficult: Instead of having a day where organizers try to work out who is the strongest and who is the weakest team, they can simply start up the tourney for each division respectively. Since everyone is already vetted into a group, organizers can simply create brackets and start the event!

3. bigger tourneys, smaller brackets: Sure, we’re talking about having three individual tourneys happening here, but the brackets will be far smaller for each one, and that leads to a faster event.

4. More entertaining to watch: One of the big things that gets tossed around in bike polo is making it more exciting to watch. Well if you have players who are all closer in skill, the games get more fun, and you have more people to root for. Breaking up NAH tourneys into Divisions gives viewers more champions to root for, and inherently creates more viewers simply because the people who are playing in other divisions will more than likely want to cheer on their friends who are in the currently playing group.

 

And now some of the problems that I can see with this: Read more

Are you there, NAH? It’s Me, Crusher.

IMG_0017

Thank you.

Thank you for working for free, for listening to the people you work so hard for and who complain about what you’re doing all the time. I know, because I’m one of them. Thanks for thinking about the sport in big-picture terms, about what comes ten years from now and not just what happens tomorrow. Thank you for creating rules that you recognize still need work, but you’re willing to experiment and see what makes the sport better.

Thanks for admitting when you’re wrong and not trying to push conversations away that might be damaging. It’s easy, I think, to just ignore what a small group of people might be saying against you–but the NAH doesn’t do that. Ben, you in particular are ultra-sensitive to how well the NAH helps the entire world of polo, and I could hug you for it.

The thing I’m noticing more of now, though I knew it before, is that the people who appreciate what someone else does for them almost never express it enough. Instead the space is filled up with people who are critical. Don’t get me wrong–I think being critical of an organization is about as appropriate as you can get, but to do so without also recognizing the good that a group does is dangerous. It’s a good way of making those people (in this case, the group of folks that is the NAH) feel like they aren’t doing anything right, in which case if they have any sense, they’ll just quit. It’s not like it’s how they make money. Point in fact, they’d probably make lots more money if they didn’t spend so much time dealing with all the stuff that comes from trying to organize a governing body.

It’s easy to tear something down, especially when you feel as though that thing is not doing enough to help you. But  the truth is it’s only possible to do so much when you don’t have a budget, don’t have the people, and are balancing all of this work on top of your other life (work/family/etc). It’s a damned shame to not at least recognize this when we talk about what the NAH could be doing more of, whether it be community outreach or rule making or whatever. I get it, you’re stretched out. Nick is worn out  from this rules discussion, Joe is putting up the good fight to make the application of those rules work, John is trying to make a big impact in tourneys and Ben is, as ever, digging himself deep into the trenches for all of us to depend on, complain at, and suggest to.

But we almost never say thank you–at least not in the public space.

So, even though I point out your faults and hold you accountable more than I probably should, I thank you, NAH, for putting up with so much for so little. It’s a job I certainly wouldn’t want to do, but somehow you make it work.

 

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Less Talking. More Doing.

nah

If the polo community does not hold folks (NAH, Beavers, Mr. Do) accountable for their actions, no one will.

I, too, was surprised by the events of the week, but am thankful to be a part of a community where I can posit concerns and know that it will not fall on deaf ears.   NAH and Mr. Do constitute a small group of PLAYERS: Ben Schultz, Joe Rstom, newly acquired John Hayes, recently retired Chandel Bodner, Nick Kruze, Dustin Bouma, Jenn Gallup and the whole Do team, they all contributed to big strides in this sport now beloved by thousands.  These folks, NAH especially, are not faceless elected officials deserving of your condemnation.

reftalkThey are committed to cultivating the well- rounded and inclusive development of bike polo, to pushing the boundaries of competition for all that commit themselves to it, and to actualizing the full history-making potential of a fringe sport.  There are efforts that have failed and fallen short—but make no mistake, it is not for lack of trying.  Personally, I have witnessed many a pick-up game or tournament interrupted by NAH phone calls about rules, reffing, or representation.  I have experienced firsthand the frustration caused by spending more time organizing than playing the sport you love.

IMG_4877

These are situations NAH organizers and board members take on for the love and growth of the sport.  NAH was created only a few years ago by a handful of enthusiastic players, Ben (and if you know Ben, you understand his level of enthusiasm is infectious) and Kev specifically, now leaders passionate about supporting and growing this community.  It is this small collection of VOLUNTEERS working to organize the very sport/community that has brought us together, in community and critique.  But, a critique is only as valid as the solutions it offers in resolution of the issue in question.

I implore you to take your critique to the next level and position yourself to be a part shaping NAH projects and public presence for the sake and future of bike polo.  Use your energy to volunteer for NAH, join and/or start a committee, offer to volunteer

Fathers Day Bike Polo (61) (Copy)

at the North American Championship or regional qualifier, create history, leave a legacy.  Contact me directly if you want to get involved.  And yes, I am telling you what to do.

Review of the 4.0 Ruleset: Curiosities

you can

First, and before I even utterly destroy this nonsense of a rulebook dive into what the newest rulebook offers, I’d like to recognize all the folks who put the time into getting us to a point where we’re on the 4.0 rule set. Sure, I could write up a post about how much this ruins bike polo (or about how much I hate bike polo in general, just to be on the inside), but things like this take a helluva lot of work, and I am not blind to that.

Now then:

I’m not going to be covering everything, just what I find to be notable. If you want to read the whole kit n kaboodle–and you should–go here:

http://www.nahardcourt.com/proposed-2014-ruleset-version-4-0-beta/

1.1: Ref

The first section that strikes me as kinda great is the hand signal section at 1.1.9:

Hand-Motions

Why is this great? Well, for one thing, it removes doubt visually for what is being called. I know I as a player can barely hear a ref, and as a spectator I definitely can’t. Adding visual cues is an outstanding way for refs to communicate instantaneously what their intent is.

1.3: Goal Judge

Section 1.3 (Goal Judge) is also a move in the right direction, as it gives more power to someone who should be assisting the ref as much as possible. I would like to see the power of the goal judge expand even more, honestly. While I think it’d be tough to implement a GJ who is able to ref in tandem with the ref, I would like the GJ to have the power to signal an illegal action has been taken, and then be able to signal to the ref what that illegal action was (infractions, illegal moves, etc).

An interesting bit of phrasing comes up around 2.1.2.3.1:

injured playersSo if you’re team-mate breaks their toes, is replaced, and then “thinks” they can play again, tell them to bugger off. No you won’t ruin this for me, Harold. You’re the one with weak toes. 

2.2: Courts

Only two notable things I want to bring up here:

1. Court boards are 4 feet high at least

2. Courts have two doors symmetrical to the half court line

Both of these are, for better or worse (I think better), putting the demands of running a good tourney into law. You can’t half-ass your courts for an NAH tourney anymore, and for a short guy like me, having doors required is super great.

2.3: Goals

I have a disappointment here, and I’m sure someone could explain it all away for me pretty rapidly, but why do we require that goals have firm top crossbars? It seems to me that goalies leaning on the top crossbar is a big issue (big enough to have rules written for), and we could eliminate that issue by making it so goals didn’t have firm crossbars, but rather just the net suspended in between.

Oh, I guess because falling on a standalone bar would suck, maybe. I think I just answered my own question. Carry on.

2.4: Bicycles

Crandall Rule

I propose we call this the Crandall Rule.

2.5: Mallets

I see we still have language about carbon fiber mallet shafts. Who the hell is using carbon fiber and could you please contact me? 

5: Ball Handling

This whole section introduces some changes to what we understand currently. Most notably:

Ball Handling

So, you can ball joint anywhere, but only for two seconds (I plan to shout while I’m ball jointing so the ref knows I’m following the rules), you can scoop, and you can’t carry. I enjoy that violating the time limit and the carry-rule results in a ball turnover.

Sorry, Dave.

We then get into penalty format which, while very interesting, I will not really cover here in full. I really strongly suggest you go out and visit the proposed rules to read over this section though.

Section 10: Bodily Contact Penalties

However, I will bring up a few of the body contact rules that struck my interest in particular the checking rules:

body movin

I like that a hard line has been drawn to remove some of the confusion over what constitutes an extension. Hit with your shoulders, people. It’s not hard to understand.

I also like the inclusion of ball-specific contact (anything outside of that, save for a moving screen, is deemed interference). This helps strengthen the fairness of the game, I feel, as we had some issue last year with off-ball contact.

Disappointingly, headbutting (10.6) is still illegal.

10.10: Flagrance

defenseless

If this is the case, I should never be physically struck, as I should always be deemed defenseless.

And that’s my overview. Again, not a complete examination of the rules, I’ll leave that to LoBP (ALL HAIL), but the parts that interested me the most.

What’s Your Retirement Plan: Life After Polo

forbesbikes

Let’s say there comes a day (and this day is surely decades away, right?) where you can’t play polo anymore. You’re just too old, too tired, or too broken apart by the sport to play anymore in the “big leagues” of organized tourneys.

It’s bleak to think about if you’re currently an involved, tourney-active player–but no person remains in peak condition their whole lives. Well, almost nobody. Lumberjack is inexplicably the most fit person I’ve ever met and he’s past the typical age of a polo player. Dude is going to outlive us all.

But let’s say, for whatever reason, you aren’t able to play anymore. Have you considered what you’re going to do? Have you given thought to how you can stay involved, or are you planning to just completely abandon the sport?

Well, my hypothetically retiring friend, let me make a few suggestions to you before you sell off your bike to a museum and start going to your club’s 50 year reunion. Read more

Bike Polo Isn’t an Institution. It’s an Experiment. Calm Down.

Experiment

The announcement of proposed changes to the structure of the regions in North American Hardcourt Bike polo came with it’s expected share of tooth gnashing and dismissive, regurgitated whatevers from across the polosphere. And for good cause–regions are being broken up, most established regions are losing allotments for the upcoming year (South East losing something like 40% of it’s allotment, I believe I read), and conversations springing up discussing how all of this is either going be a good change or yet another horrible one that nobody likes God-why-do-I-even-play-this-game.

But there is something to remember in the midst of celebration or disappointment: nothing is written in stone. Point in fact, it’s not even written in wood or dirt or…uh…I don’t know, sand? Sand I guess?

Bike polo is so remarkably under-developed as a sport, and it’s one of the reasons that the rules, regions, voting, and processes change almost every year. The people we entrusted to help solidify and protect the game are (as we all are) still trying to work out what works best. Whether you’re a confederate or a federalist (that is, don’t care what the NAH has to say or are a staunch supporter), the truth remains that those folks are attempting to do what’s right for bike polo as a whole, as we all are. Mostly.

So when you feel as though some core value of what you understand bike polo to be is being attacked, keep in mind also that bike polo isn’t an institutional thing being attacked by some radicals. It’s a developing sport which is so new it can take enormous hits from experimentation. There are no sports that were completely formed even years after they went onto a national level (American football played around with the points system, moving the field goals, allowing for the forward pass, etc). Hell, even President Teddy Roosevelt had a say on the safety rules of Football, and I’m pretty sure Obama hasn’t even heard of bike polo (thanks, Obama…). 

So when your hackles flare up because it’s decided that a crease will exist in the sport/not exist, or you see that your region is being split up/not being split up, try a few breathing exercises and remind yourself that it’s probably not forever. That which does not work will be abandoned, and that which does will be kept.

The real danger, I feel,  is in not allowing for those experiments to take place. Bike polo can’t possibly be as good as it’s going to get in structure, and it’s our jobs to be open-minded enough to make mistakes until we find the successes open to us.