Archive for NAH

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.

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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.

New Regions? Well…If I May…

Hipstervania

The NAH announced a proposition to create new, more balanced regions for North American Bike Polo. I for one think this is a lovely idea, as there are a good amount of players who were relatively distanced from the center of their region and look to benefit from a re-drawing of the regional lines.

However, what is very disappointing is that the NAH is not taking this opportunity to re-name regions. But don’t worry–your old buddy Crusher has done it for them.

I present to you my 2014 proposition for the renaming of the potential new regions:

Regions2

Practicing as Ref: One of My 2014 Goals

Ref

I have a lot of goals for my 2014 bike polo season. Some are generally unrealistic:

  • Get to be the bike polo analyst for ESPN
  • Grow three inches taller
  • Score a goal on a Beaver Boy and then say something amazingly clever to him that just breaks him down

and some are more realistic:

  • Travel to more tourneys
  • Get better at my game,
  • Become a solid ref who is sought after for NAH events

I want to speak to the very last point on the second list, there.

Reffing is something that NAH sponsored/qualified tournaments need, but something that is in short supply. There are great refs out there, but they are so few and, as is often the case, already involved in the tourney as a player, that their own time is limited. I’m hoping to step in as the next generation of ref: a player who isn’t playing at a qualifier but is there solely to ref the tourney.

Yeah, playing is more fun, it’s true. But I’m very aware that I’ll probably never play in a national tourney, and even more sure I’ll never play at Worlds (everyone has a skill set, physical ability isn’t one of my tools). However, I know I can make a positive, lasting impact on bike polo as a whole by becoming a dependable, “world-class” ref. That’s where I can have the most positive impact.

With that in mind, I approached my club during a meeting we were having with the idea that I’d officiate pickup games. I set up these parameters:

  • I’ll act like a ref: whistle, rulebook, etc.
  • I’ll call infractions, start and pause games.
  • My team doesn’t need to listen to me. If I make a call they can just tell me to bugger off, and that’ll be that (it’s pick up)

The response was a mix of “yeah, who cares” and “it’d be fun to learn what the rules are.” I think, overall, it will make my club stronger, as we’ll be more aware of the rules, and it will put me on the path to being more confident at calling out as a ref.

There are other great resources of course, as evidenced by the the entire website resource ref.nahardcourt.com, which I have been/will be using as it grows–and as I expand my reffing talents.

This whole new venture made me wonder if anyone else out there is practicing this side of the sport, or if they all come by it honestly. It makes me think about whether having reffing be part of what your club teaches you should be more systemic in the sport, as some people will be better at reffing than they are at the game, and there’s room for everyone to expand into the talents they have within our sport.

My Argument for No Goal Limit

scoreboard

Game format is something that people get mighty touchy about when brought up. By way of example, just bring up the idea that bench format should be more prevalent (and see how many people either tell you how wrong you are, or just stop listening altogether and decide to not invite you to their son’s Bar Mitzvah). It’s one of the holiest things in bike polo–surprising, given what bike polo is.

Currently there is a vote occurring to determine what rule changes are on the minds of bike polo players. The NAH (Specifically Chairman Kruse)  hopes to gather up enough information through the votes in order to better determine how they can create rules which satisfy players. I for one think it’s pretty awesome that they are going about it this way. One polokin, one vote, I say.

So naturally I voted, and generally speaking, I don’t share opinions of where the sport should be heading with bike polo at large (save for jousting, contact rules, and the idea of the crease (though my vote is in 2nd place right now, I still have lots of people that agree with me (I just need validation))). But what bothered me most was this:

game formatOkay. Okay. I get it. Doing unlimited score would fundamentally change bike polo. I’m not fighting that argument because I don’t have much ground to stand on.

But PEOPLE! We’d be introducing two elements to bike polo that are very important and valuable: consistency and the importance of strategic planning! …at least in my mind right at this moment. Read more