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4 year polo anniversary

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Well, I’ve done it.

I’ve kept my interest/body/willpower up high enough to continue playing this sport for another year.

On this day (the 25th of September), four years ago, I played my first game of bike polo–and have been playing fairly regularly ever since. I think playing for 4 years is really quite an achievement, and it better be as I don’t have much else to show for the effort other than a bunch of grumpy joints and a new appreciation of jorts.

Looking back now, I want to condense my 4 years of polo life into a few takeaways, which I’ll try to do right meow:

The spooky crew.

The spooky crew.

To start with, your club is going to change a lot. Like, every year. We have some of the old guard still playing, but I’m comfortable in saying that at least half of our club are people who started after me–and if I remember to recruit actively this upcoming spring, the people after me might find themselves in the same situation. It’s great and not great, depending on whether you’re the sort who likes meeting new people and developing players or not. For my part, I am always excited to see new faces and learn from them as much as they mistakenly try to learn from me.

Next, I’d say it’s safe to realize this is an expensive sport. Sure, you can get into it with a cheap bike and a borrowed mallet, but like all things that grow on you, eventually you’ll start slapping down your shekels for a polo specific bike, new mallets, and everything else we come to associate with bike polo. I don’t want to think about how much money I’ve put down on this sport now, honestly, and I reckon you shouldn’t, either.

DSC_0512Likewise, I’ve come to realize that I’ll probably never be able to travel to a lot of tourneys and I still don’t understand how lots of you do. It’s so expensive! How do you do it?! If I went to even half of the tourneys I wanted to, I’d be flat broke.

Over the years I’ve also become aware that almost everyone reaches a certain level of ability and just hangs out there. I think I’m about as good at the sport as I’ll ever get, and I’m supremely comfortable in that. It doesn’t mean I don’t strive to become a stronger player or anything, but I don’t try to take it so hard when someone is able to do something I simply don’t have the aptitude for. And I can hear you now: “you should always try/you have no limitations/listen to your spirit and truth and light” but I don’t need the comfy blanket of “maybe” to enjoy myself and the game. Thanks. Thanks but no thanks. I’ll just keep making cat noises and be happy with that.

Also, one of the first weeks I started playing back in 2010, I sang:

Down in the west Texas town of El Paso/I fell in love with a Mexican Girl.

And I’ve been singing it with some regularity while at polo ever since. I have no idea why. Four years I’ve been doing that and I can’t stop.

Anyway. A long rant for a rainy day. I’m thankful for my club, which has had no small part in keeping me coming back, and thanks to the sport as a whole for being such a hoot. Let’s see if I make it to year 5 (which is I think is the year I need to create Dumbledore’s army, right?).

I Hurt Myself and Now I Can Shoot Better?

MattRookie

There is no way I can explain how I injured my left index finger without making it sound like I assaulted my wife, so let’s just try for it and see how it goes:

I was play-fighting my wife and I forgot, somehow, that her father was a boxer in the Navy. Long story short, I went to do a haymaker over her head and she, with reflexes like a gorram tiger lifted her elbow at the right wrong moment, causing my half-closed hand to strike her steel elbow. We heard a series of pops and crunches, and then my wife laughed and asked if I was okay.

I was not, dear readers. I was not okay.

Long story short, that was about two and a half weeks ago and I still can’t make a fist with my left hand. My left hand on my shooting arm. I think you are picking up what I’m laying down.

So I skip out on bike polo for one night but then go the next time we’re playing, and it hurts like hell after the day is up but I manage to squeak through alright. Then we go to Philly the next weekend and sister, I played really, really well.

Somehow, because of the way I was forced to hold my mallet, I managed to get shots that were a touch more peppy and a touch more accurate. At first I chalked this up to Philly being nice to me and to some strange dumb luck that comes from stepping in courtside dog poop. However, this past Sunday back home I played and again: accurate, powerful shots.

rookie-of-the-year-photoBeing the kind of guy who dwells on things, I tried to figure out what’s really going on, here. Sitting up in my polo aviary, I help my mallet in my hand and watched it as I swung it around. What I noticed was how I needed to lift my index finger off of the mallet when it began it’s forward swing (because of the pain that came with the fulcrum of the mallet going forward). In lifting off that index finger, the mallet had less guidance from me as it approached the ground–meaning that it had a bit more snap to coming down, and a bit more of the initial accuracy I planned on having when swinging at the ball to start with.

It makes me wonder, actually, what kind of hand position that various players have in the sport. I wonder if, all this time, I was being too rigid with my grip and losing something in the manner of strength or accuracy.

Anyway, as the movie goes, chances are that I’ll re-injure my finger somehow and then I’ll lose my new shooting abilities (and I don’t want to overstate it: I’m not like a super powerful shooter now–just a bit stronger than what I was before the…incident…).

But for now, it’s pretty fun to see how this injury is impacting my play. And even more fun to lose the ability to use my index finger for about a day after playing bike polo.

Is This Even Possible?

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The Problem

I was recently speaking to a bike polo company’s head honcho and they mentioned how hard it is to sponsor teams. The reason it’s hard, so says the head honcho, is because teams don’t stick together for very long in the sport (with the exception of a few, generally top, teams).

That got these old brain bits spinning on how we can address that: One way would be to encourage you silly players to stick with your teams for longer than a season or two. But, if I’m honest with the chances of me saying something and anyone listening, that’s not likely to have much of an impact.

Maybe we could go to bench format and thereby have actual teams who can switch out players as much as they like between seasons, much as most every other team sport?

Oh, oh you think 3v3 is sustainable. Oh okay nevermind, nevermind.

BUT THEN this humdinger crossed through the old goal line in my noggin, just bear with me and try to read it to the end.

This idea stems directly, I imagine, from my maligned idea of having different countries also competing at worlds (so every American team would earn points towards an “America” score, French teams a “French” score, etc,; until at the end of the tourney we can also crown the country that won the World tournament).

The Idea

So what if we created…how do I explain this…What if we created “teams” from teams. By way of example: Read more

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]

deadpolo

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

World’s Week: WHOOPIDIEE DOOO!

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Today begins the week of Worlds: where players from all over the polo kingdoms meet up to see who is the biggest of the big, the bravest of the brave, and who can know the sweet kiss of French Wine without losing all sensation in their limbs and deciding that they are too bohemian for such a mainstream sport as bike polo.

Me? Oh, I’ll be on a 5 year anniversary adventure from Sunday to Monday, so chances are I won’t even really get the chance to watch the action live. You’ll need to fill me in, Polopals.

If I have one hope, however, it’s that the Beavers get clobbered.  No, not because I dislike the Beavers (point in fact, they are some very sweet fellas), but only because they are one of the tippiest toppiest teams in the world, and I’m the kind of guy who likes rooting for underdogs. Honestly, I’m rooting for Rat Kings because they’re one of our Eastside teams in attendance, and because they have the most magnificent facial hair.

I am also excited, believe it or not, to see how the rules are handled in France. I know we’ve been having some fun and excitement over here, but I’m curious about how the Europeans have been handling the new rule set (and how the refs are going to differ between the U.S. and the E.U.

But, if I need to be honest with you cats–which I generally try to be–Worlds has always been a kind of…I don’t know…a sign that my favorite part of bike polo is coming up: fall/winter polo. With Worlds comes an end to the super-hot days of bike polo (at least the continuous super hot days) and the start of the fall days; my favorite days.

Fall means turducken (which I’ve only gone to once but love), it means pumpkin beer and games that are cool on the lungs and the courts. So while we’re all getting excited about Worlds and about watching  the glorious live-streaming of it, I’m getting excited about what comes after it.

No, no, not the bench tourney (thought that should be pretty fun, too), but the joy of not having to switch out the ball your playing with every game/being able to not sweat through your gloves as much.

BREAKING: Baristas, Bike Mechanics, Messengers DISAPPEARING

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(Lancaster, PA)
All over the United States, there are disappearances occurring. Coffee shop patrons are going without having their names spelled incorrectly on biodegradable cups, bicycle commuters are finding their favorite bike shops closed, and executives attempting to send dirty pictures to other executives have lost a means of delivering those delightful hand drawn images of butts.

In a press meeting with concerned parents everywhere (finding that their 30 something aged children were not asking any longer for monetary assistance), FBI agent Nicholas Slavorski indicated that there would be no investigation held.

“Listen,” he said from the window of his 2 story home, “your kids disappear all the time. They’re probably going to some man burning festival in the desert or taking part in a co-op somewhere. Get off of my damn lawn I just got it landscaped.”

For some this explanation is enough, but not for handcrafted-jewelry-collector Jennifer Bannis, who wants answers as to why her order for a set of bracelets made from toothbrushes hasn’t been fulfilled.
“I paid good American money for that jewelry, and now the seller has disappeared! How am I going to show that I’m hip?”

From New York to L.A., young, bike savvy people are flying the coop and not leaving anything more than empty beer cans and strange, cryptic messages made up of song lyrics and upside down question marks.

::This story is developing::

6 Ways To Troll The League Of Bike Polo Forums

troll

In all truth, the LoBP (ALL HAIL!) forums are kind of the greatest thing to come out of our sport. They provide all the inside entertainment that a polo player needs in order to have a great time while at work or away from the courts.

But what if you don’t have anything constructive to say (okay, you’re in good company, really)? What if your post gets lost or nobody xWhatevers it? Might I suggest adding a new level of entertainment?

1. Ask–as a person outside of the bike polo community–what your new mallet design should have. Make sure to emphasize that you’re new to bike polo but want to revolutionize how the sport is played. Also make sure that you show a few really horrible done-in-MS-Paint drawings of your proposed design, including a mounting system that doesn’t make sense and a material that hasn’t ever been used in the sport. Maybe glass or something.

2. Copy someone else’s comment in your response, and then don’t mention any of it. For instance, copy something like “The problem with 4 foot boards is that they are hard to pay for in a regional tournament” but make your comment only about how frustrating it is that the NAH balls only come in orange. Keep doing this until someone notices, then copy their noticing into your response and call  them a poser.

3. Post a picture of a recumbent as your new polo bike.  Make sure to photoshop the NAH logo onto the flag.

4. Go into any rules discussion and demand that snortling be allowed. Do not explain what snortling is, but be adamant that the game will be ruined if it’s taken out of legal play.

5. Create a fake tournament 

6. Create two accounts and constantly argue with yourself about trivial points of the game. Type of rubber used in tires? Best kind of grip? The most appropriate shampoo for bike polo players to use? Ol’ Billybo and Charles R. Figglebottom just can’t seem to agree on anything, and will take up dozens of posts to make sure you know it.

 

Want to Grow Bike Polo? Forget Sponsors–Look to Schools.

schoolpolo

Image from the “Living the Dream” contest most recently held here at Lancasterpolo. 

Is Sponsorship the Only Way?

The bike polo Illuminati spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to decide if indeed bike polo is in the decline (I don’t think it is) and what we can do to reverse that trend if it proves to be accurate (which it’s not). Still, even if you’re only mildly involved in the game, chances are you have some sort of interest in where the sport is going and how that’s going to affect you down the line.

One of the refrains I hear more often than not is “wait until we get our first big sponsor.” And, no doubt, if Gatorade or Nike or Adidas wanted to throw a few thousand dollars at the NAH each year, we’d see some significant changes to how much support clubs got in order to host tourneys and build courts and whatever else. But throwing money at something isn’t always the best way to fix it. I know this as a fact, as I recently tried throwing my wallet at a leaking faucet and all I got was a wet wallet. (Thanks, Obama.)

But as true as that sounds–that getting a big chunk of dough will help our sport–I believe there is a more effective way to:

  • Gain a steady stream of new players for all clubs
  • Establish the sport as marketable/profitable
  • Create a community that is unified and vibrant

Look to the Gym Class

And it comes down to introducing grade-schools to the sport, and encouraging them, in turn, to introduce bike polo as a extra-curricular activity/gym class event.

Why is this a good idea? Well, let’s start with the basics: the more people we have getting involved in bike polo, the more likely it is that the sport will live beyond the first big wave we have going right now. People who learn to play a sport earlier in life are likely to develop a certain enjoyment from it, and typically continue to play that sport into college (or at least play it on the weekends with friends to stay in shape after college and what-not). Furthermore we’d be institutionalizing the game itself, making for a set way of learning the sport and having it be available to more people than just those who stumble into the game through luck.

This model (the school focus rather than sponsor focus) also gives bike polo equipment manufacturers something that they’re dying for: bulk orders. Imagine if a school–just one–needed to begin this sort of program up. They’d need to order dozens of complete mallets, dozens of various sized bikes (or at least bikes that could suit all body types–I remember how fun it was to be the only guy who needed the smallest golf club in gym class), and safety equipment to boot. Even if just a few companies were able to lock down those orders, the impact on their ability to research and develop more equipment (not to mention offer it up at a cheaper price) would be monumental. Read more

She’s Polo Hot

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This phrase, along with a handful of others, has come up along my travels in our sport. I’ve heard it, said it, and taken part in conversations circulating about the attractiveness of various female players and the qualities of that attractiveness when compared to the attractiveness of women as a whole (the implication being that female bike polo players are generally unattractive when compared to most women, hence polo hot suggests that a woman is hot for a bike polo player).

Today it’s sticking in my throat. Today it’s bothering the hell out of me.

Bike polo is pretty cool in that we have guys and gals playing side-by-side at tournaments and pickup. It’s nice that we are breaking down a wall (or more appropriately, trying like hell to build a wall to start with). I’ve had plenty of conversations with men and women about whether women have a place in high level play (women rarely make it to the highest levels of competition), and if women in the sport would be better served with their own league.

Those are two topics that I think I’ve covered in the past (links below), and not the subject here. This is about a particular mindset that male polo players seem to possess. I use seem here because there has yet to be a tournament I’ve gone to where the hotness of a female player hasn’t come up–either in a positive or negative manner (by this I mean someone shouting a quasi-sexual, positive heckle at a female player or saying to the nearby group that a particular woman was hot).  Read more

What Battle Royale Taught Me About Bike Polo

BR1

Battle Royale is a movie I saw just last year for the first time, and it’s something that I wished I had seen earlier (like, when I was a kid–so I could play “Battle Royale” with my teen friends.

For those of you not initiated, Battle Royale is a Japanese film (previously a novel/a manga) aptly summarized by Wikipedia:

The film tells the story of Shuya Nanahara, a high-school student struggling with the death of his father, who is forced by the government to compete in a deadly game where the students must kill each other in order to win. The film aroused both domestic and international controversy and was either banned outright or deliberately excluded from distribution in several countries.

So, basically, it’s The Hunger Games before The Hunger Games came out. But it’s so much more than that, and furthermore it’s a learning opportunity for bike polo.

Buckle in, dear polokin. We’re in for some chop.

BR2There is Always Someone Better

in Battle Royale, there are several characters who just seem to get it. Despite being tricked/drugged into competing in the games, these lucky few are just outstanding when it comes to killing and/or tricking fellow classmates.

The lesson here is pretty clear: you’re going to encounter people in this sport who just seem to get it. It’s as if they were made to play bike polo (even though Bike Polo isn’t exactly a heritage game yet). They’ll be able to do things in days which took you months or years to learn. This just happens. It’s okay.

Mostly because in bike polo you aren’t summarily killed with a sickle by a young Japanese schoolgirl.

But really, what you need to focus on is your own skill set. So you’re not able to do a wheelie turn while scooping the ball past your front wheel and making an omelet. So what. you’ve got your own methods, and comparing yourself to someone who is seemingly made for the game won’t help anyone.

BR3

You’re Part of a Team…Mostly

Battle Royale is, strictly speaking, a “one against all” event. However, that doesn’t mean that these kids don’t team up for mutual survival (point in fact, that’s a huge part of the movie). Much to the same effect, bike polo is a game where people (3) join up to play against another 3 people.

But remember this: you’re on a team–but you’re ultimately the only person in charge of your own actions. It’s not productive to think of yourself as only one piece of the team’s puzzle. In actuality, you’re the only person who has a responsibility to yourself. As such you should rely on your team to work together, but not so much that you stop working as an individual, too.

BR4Strange Things Happen–Try Not To Panic

So there is this part where a character puts a hand grenade inside Toshinori’s mouth and throws it into Shogo’s hideout.

It’s probably one of my favorite parts because it’s just so ridiculous.

Look at that picture!
Anyway, lots of strange things happen in Battle Royale. Unexpected things that throw characters off enough that they aren’t able to respond in the smartest way. This happens in bike polo, too.

Sometimes the ball isn’t going to bounce the way you expect it to–or you’ll crash for no apparent reason. Sometimes an opponent will throw a head with a grenade in it’s mouth at you react in such a way that you are limited in your response.

Just take a deep breath. Don’t panic.

Some of the best players in the world are the ones who are able to respond to all situations evenly. Not necessarily powerfully or cleverly, but evenly. Don’t over-react, don’t give up. Just try to maintain.

 

There are other lessons to take away from this fine Japanese film, of course (namely, don’t trust anyone who seems like they really want to be your friend and never turn your back on someone who has a crossbow), but those are for another day.