Archive for Tips

I Dreamt About Polo, Realized A Skill Upon Waking

dreaming

Last night I had a few dreams: I was an astronaut on an adrift craft with only myself to keep company by. I was also involved in some sort of running of the bulls? That dream, however, unsurprisingly switched to bike polo, playing on my home court with a few people from all around the polo environs.

In the dream I was trying to get in place to help out a play, but I realized I was playing more for myself to get the pass or the shot and not for my team mates to do the same. Because of this, I wasn’t in the best position to enable my team mates to have the highest likelihood of scoring on goal.

yeagerWhen I came to this realization in the dream, my team mate (who I think was Greg Valentine but I can’t be sure (he’s pretty dreamy, right. That last name, too. sheesh)) and I had this moment of mind-meld. He looked up and nodded and I nodded, and then we were like the two guys in one of those monster fighting robots. We were able  to work with each other selflessly rather than trying to hog the spotlight or trying to only produce a positive situation for one of us.

When I woke up, I realized that this was actually a useful piece of advice, so I wrote it down: when you’re playing, you should be playing as a team–but that means more than just saying you’re playing as a team. It means you should be thinking of yourselves as a unit–as an entity that is not supporting someone else or creating opportunities for the individual, but as an entity that is supporting the entity.

borg queen2Think of the Borg, you nerds. Completely selfless actions to complete an overall goal. No ego, no blame, just a constant drive to complete a mission as presented by that weird lady with U locks all through her head.

This isn’t so easy, really, to get the hang of–but I think it’s easy to get into the mindset of after practicing it for a while and having a team that is on board. Keep in mind, if one person on your team can’t or won’t subscribe to this model of thinking, it won’t necessarily work. Or, maybe it will work but not as effectively. I suspect some of the better teams out there are already working off of this premise either without knowing it or just as a matter of course, but I also reckon that lots of newer teams or just formed teams for tourneys (as is often the case) don’t consider whether they are playing for themselves or are playing for the team.

Anyway, just wanted you guys to crawl into my brain case for a second.

Have a Plan, but Have a No-Plan Plan, Too

RVA Pickup (18)

I spoke a little bit about this in the past (as I think I’ve talked about most thing in the past at this point), but I want to bring it up again from a different angle–the no-plan-plan angle.

I’ve spent lots of time on this blog discussing tactics and tips for playing–little ideas that might pay off in big ways when all the ducks line up and you’re able to make something happen. But one thing that I don’t discuss very often is how important it is to be prepared for every single one of your sweet moves to fail.

There’s a saying I’m sure you’re familiar with: everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. It’s something that is more than some machismo idea of forward thinking: it’s an absolute truth. People (myself included) can have lots of ideas about what will and won’t work, but when the rubber meets the purloined tennis court, all those plans count for bupkis. In bike polo, getting punched in the face–if not literal–refers to the ball getting stolen right as you start your big play up court–or what happens when there is a breakaway and all 3 of your players are in the offensive zone.

The point I want to emphasize here is simply that you shouldn’t build your entire repertoire off of plays, nor should you build it off of situations–at least not entirely. You should, hopefully, be able to work on your awareness and responsiveness on the court. It’s a great thing to know how to triangulate your position or how to scoop-pass to yourself, but if you don’t know what to do when something new happens on the court, you’re not going to become as strong a player as you can be.

It’s about mental elasticity: promote in yourself the ability to quickly respond to new situations and address them as they come. By opening yourself up to this kind of rapid, lateral thinking, you’re creating an environment where a play gone wrong doesn’t spell disaster for your team or for the game.

How can you work on this? I think it’s a mix of a few things, but the biggest of the things is to not think “no, and-” and instead think with “yes, but-”

An example:

You’re cruising down the court and are waiting for your team-mate to swoop around the goal to line up for a pass/shot. They get in position and you send the pass to them. Unfortunately, an opposing player read your play and has intercepted the ball.

The wrong thing to do is think “No, this play didn’t work, and now they’re going to score/and now I’m out of position/and now everyone will know I’m not nearly as good a player as I think I am.

The right thing to do is think “Yes, the play didn’t work, but now my team-mate is in the right position to stop the break away/but now they’re expecting that play, so I can try something else/but now we can pull them all out of position.

It’s a matter of perception: one will result on dwelling on the play or effort not working (and letting that flavor your response to it), and the other is using that situation to build your response quickly. It opens your eyes to the possibilities rather than the single possibility that escaped you.

 

I know, heady stuff for Wednesday morning. You can handle it.

Stay In Their Lane!

lane

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to play in the Chilidelphia A/B tournament (on the B side). I had a good time, meeting a few new faces and having my chain pop of mid stride, causing me to crumple over my handlebars and hit the soft, urine-soaked pavement of PHI-town learning a few new things about how I play tournaments.

Playing in the B tourney also gave me lots of time to remember some of the more rookie mistakes we all make on occasion, and the one that really struck me was how folks sometimes forget about lanes.

Lanes are, in I CAN’T HELP MYSELF LANE-MAN’S TERMS HAHAHAHA I KNOW IT’S LAYMAN’S SHUT UP how folks move up and down the court–mostly from one goal to the other. Their lane is the open path they have between where they currently are and where they want to be (which is normally a shot on goal).

What happens, I find, is that newer or less experienced players will not close down a player’s lane–they won’t get in that same lane to stop them from having a clear path to the goal. This is most notable when a player is trying to defend the goal and–instead of getting in the shooter’s lane to potentially deflect the shot–make a loop to get in position as the goalie. This causes a situation where the goal is not only missing a goalie (until the person gets in place), but there isn’t even someone to shoot around on the way to the goal.

So the quick tip here is: if someone has a clear lane and you don’t want them to score, try to get your bike and body in that lane (note: this doesn’t mean right in front of them. This means physically putting yourself in their line of site from where they are to the goal).

Likewise, if you’re trying to help your own teammate get to the goal, try to keep their lane clear by blocking other players out.

reading rainbowIt takes practice (most everything does), but when you get the hang of it you’ll find that you’re more often in a good position to stop or help a play than you are if you’re simply chasing the ball or your trying to get yourself in a good position for something that hasn’t even happened yet. Thinking strategically like this makes you a value to your team and a constant disruption to your opponents. But don’t take my word for it: practice it a bit at pickup and see how it works for you.

Cutting Out Ego, Increasing Flexibility

Buddha

Carter is a few things to our club. For one thing, he’s the youngest player (I think 14 now?). He’s also the coolest. He was our mascot for a while (when he was so young–10 I guess–that we wouldn’t let him play because we were afraid he’d get hurt or be overwhelmed–things that seem absolutely ridiculous now.

Carter is also one of the best players we have, and I’ve been setting out to crack the code as to why.

One of the elements that make him such a strong player is that the dude has no ego. Zip. None. I think it might be because we all out-age him by almost 20 years or so, but whatever the reason, it isn’t there. You can say “Carter, be right here for the pass” and he’ll say “yup” and be there for the pass. You can say “Carter, this is what you could have done better that last play” and he’ll say “yup” and the next time that same situation comes up, he’ll do the better thing.

You can tell him he needs to work on a skill, and he’ll work on that skill until he’s better than you at it.

And he smiles the whole time. The. Whole. Day. Read more

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.

It’s Important to Play With Yourself

Lancaster United Pick-up tourney (71)

Now wait a minute.

It’s easy to just play bike polo on pickup days and think you’re really getting everything you need. Honestly, you’re probably getting at least 75% of what you need to play good polo. But, and this is something I’ve just formulated recently, you’ll never have a really great idea of what kind of player you are/what you’re good at unless you take some time to dribble around with the ball on your own.

Reason being, I think, because when you’re playing your trying to play in a group. You’re considering your team mates and your opponents and how cool you look to all those cool people being cool on the sidelines. You’re not intrinsically in your own head–at least not in a good way.

You won’t work on a skill over and over and over like you need to, and even if you did manage to do that in front of your club, who’s to say their reaction or suggestions wouldn’t set you back a bit in your own learning? There is something wonderful that happens when nobody is watching you practice: you don’t get nearly so concerned about messing up. And I mean that even if your reaction to messing up in front of people is to say something funny and try again–you’re still changing the way you’d normally respond by yourself. You’re creating another layer to consider rather than focusing on the one thing you’re working on.

Playing by yourself gives you time to take time. It gives you an opportunity to not push yourself too hard (or to have someone keep telling you what you’re doing wrong over and over). It’s more…well…I guess understanding. I mean, unless you’re a complete jerk to yourself, in which case you’ve got bigger problems than hitting the ball in the same spot all the time.

So as much as it might pain you to think about hitting around the ball on a day where you aren’t going to play polo, hear me out: you’ll be filling in some gaps that don’t come with just playing pickup or at tourneys. You’ll be making yourself a more able and self-aware player.

IMHO: The Hitbox

Chris1

This is the second installment of a series of thoughts Chris Hill of Ginyu Force has about particular skills in bike polo. The series, (IMHO), will run whenever he sends me another article.

You know how sometimes when you’re watching baseball they put that little square up over the batter to show you where the pitcher is aiming? It’s called the Sportvision K-zone™ and  apparently, it won an Emmy. I like to pretend to use this award winning technology in bike polo. Except I take that little square and I place it on the ground next to me.

photo from: sportsvision.com

photo from: sportsvision.com

Before you can shoot the ball, you have to get it, and yourself, into a position that allows for a shot to happen. Facing the right way, clear of defenders, and having the ball next to you. This post is concerning the latter. I call this Emmy winning strategy, the Hitbox. I always imagine a targeting reticule a la Starfox. This square is where you want the ball to be when you shoot it.

Barrel-Roll

Now everyone is different, so don’t let me tell you how to define your hitbox. It’s whatever shape and size and color you want. But let me tell you a little about mine: it’s about the length of my five-hole, about a foot-and-a-half (.5 meters) deep, and about a foot (.33 meters) out from my bike, and green, Pantone 354 (goes great with a pink Fixcraft head!). It’s pretty much the area where I can handle the ball beside myself, without reaching or leaning out too far. A more flexible or longer-limbed player than I would probably have a larger box. A shorter person would have a smaller box. It’s pretty relative to size.

In my minds eye, I’m scooting around with this box next to me all the time, trying to keep it visualized while ball handling and especially when shooting. I’m constantly moving the ball with the intention to move it into this square right before shooting it. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, move ball into square, look up, look down, shoot. It’s like shooting a one-timer from a pass to myself every time. That change in perception helped me. All I did was think about it differently and something changed. Mostly for the better. Read more

The Goalie as a Megaphone

Lancaster United Pick-up tourney (41)

Thanks to Paul Donald, who gave me this idea for a post

When I get into goal, I get chatty.

For one thing, it’s boring to just sit back there when the ball is scooting to the left and right–even more boring if you’re down by 3 and are trying to make sure that nobody is gonna sneak one in by taking a big, dumb, long shot.

But getting chatty isn’t just my way of entertaining myself: the goalie (that is, the person who is hanging back in the defensive half), has a pretty good view of the action in the offensive half. One trick I’ve learned in bike polo is that a team that communicates well plays well, and the person back is a key player in that communication.

Instead of getting all #quietcore about what’s going on up front, consider (basically) narrating the action. You’ll feel goofy at first–or even after doing it for a year or so, but it’s invaluable to team-mates who can then use that information to make faster plays or better decisions.

It’s hard, in the heat of play, to be completely aware of where the ball, team-mates, and opposing players are. Having one person who is able to feed you that information via yelling down court is a boon to anyone who wants to know more than they can take in with their own observations.

So what should you tell your team? Well, I always try to let them know what the other team is doing (“GOAL OPEN” “ONE DABBING” “HE LOST THE BAAAAAALLLL”), and sometimes where their own player is (“YOU CAN PASS BEHIND” “IN FRONT OF GOAL” “HE HAS YOUR PICK”). I’ll also put on the coach hat on occasion, too, letting the player know if their breakaway was successful and they can take their time on the shot or if they have a player right behind them who is gaining speed.

It’s not quite the move that will people to ooh and ahhh at you, but it’s one that your team-mates will appreciate and might just make enough of a difference that you’ll win a game that you’d otherwise struggle in.

BUT–there are also times when you shouldn’t say a damned thing: this is when it’s apparent that your two players have a connection established and don’t need your help or calling. I, as an opposing player, often use the calls from the opposite team to put myself in position to interrupt the play they’re trying for. Point in fact one of my favorite things is to shout the same thing the other team is shouting at each other while interrupting their action. It’s a delicate sort of balance to know when you should or shouldn’t be a megaphone. My suggestion is this: if it seems like your team is trying something sneaky, keep your squawkbox closed.

Mallet Orientation, IMHO

Chris2

This is the first installment of a series of thoughts Chris Hill of Ginyu Force has about particular skills in bike polo. The series, (IMHO), will run whenever he sends me another article–but if this first article is any indication, we’re in for some awesome talk about building your skill set.  

There’s an abandoned tennis court down the street from my apartment. I like to roll over there after work and shoot around until sundown. Squint at a fence post, look down at the ball, squint back at the fence post, swing, and hope for that sweet “plink”. On the sidelines at a tournament, I once overheard someone say “50 shots a day” when talking about their practice routines, and I really took that to heart.

Since NA’s I’ve been thinking especially about shooting. It’s so hard. It seems like so many players can put the ball perfectly, exactly where they want every time from anywhere. But how? I love/hate that there isn’t a clear answer. There’s no right way to take a shot. Our sport is still DIY in the technique department. Leaning on the boards, watching NA’s these past few years, I’ve noticed common subtle tricks the top level players use: how they carry their mallet, positioning the ball just so, swinging a certain way. Trying to emulate these techniques has shown a surprising improvement in my shots. So Crusher and I came up with the idea to start a series about practicing and perfecting the fundamentals. I’m not trying to say that I’m of any caliber to be handing out lessons, but I’d like to share some of the things I think about when I’m poking around the ole’ tennis court.

First, mallet orientation.

I remember the Beavers playing at North Americans in 2013. It was my first NAs and I remember watching every one of their games. I was studying, trying to figure out what makes them the best in the World.  Besides being struck by their sheer size and stickball wizardry, I noticed they carried their mallets in a different way. Read more

Getting Better Doesn’t Just Happen, Bub.

blame

There are times in my past where I felt as if a switch would be flipped. Like a lever would be pulled down in my brain and suddenly I’d be up-to-snuff with other bike polo players that I’d come to respect and admire. But the fact is that doesn’t happen.

Believe me, I’ve pulled on everything I could all over my body, and the only thing that changes is you’re not allowed to go into certain businesses anymore.

I think part of the problem was that I was hoping, incorrectly, that the problems I had with certain fundamental skills (shooting, passing, speed, court awareness) could be ignored until I played long enough that they would, inherently, be corrected.

But I’m here to lay some truth down on you, friend: the problems you have now as a player will be the problems you always have unless you work to correct them.

If you find that you aren’t very good at connecting with the ball–like your mallet scrunches up as if it were some delightfully hilarious flamingo when you’re whapping at the ball–then that’s something you need to address right now. Not down the line, not when it magically solves itself because somehow at seven months of play it disappears, right. now.

If you’re not too good at disrupting a play and then getting control of the ball, work on that with a friend immediately. If you can’t collect a pass or make a quick shot on goal; try to exercise those muscles at your next pickup day.

There isn’t a magical clock in your abilities that suddenly starts going off as soon as you play X amount of games or reach an undisclosed amount of years playing. Truth is, if you just keep playing the same way you’ve always played, you’ll…uh…always play that way.

You must take ownership of your own development if you indeed want to grow as a player (if you don’t want to grow as a player, then ignore this whole post. If you’re just in it for the funsies and nothing else, you’re all set, really. Just keep having fun. I’m not talking to you lucky devils). There isn’t anyone who is necessarily going to take you under their wing and teach you how to become the next great polo phenomenon unless you’re asking around and listening to their advice (even then, in all honesty, chances are you already know what they’re going to tell you, but aren’t willing to practice enough to make that knowledge anything more than knowledge).

There are limitations, of course–both physical and situational–that can limit you in your growth. Believe me, if there is one person who should be aware of limitations in growth, it’s me. BUT! That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about even the most basic skills going un-developed because players aren’t willing to work on those skills. I’m talking about always having trouble getting the ball off of the wall, wanting to get better, but ignoring the fact that getting better means putting in the work to do so.

So this is my tip for today. My plea, really: take ownership of your development, and accept the challenge of working at getting better at bike polo. Don’t rely on time or pickup games to somehow bless you with the skillset you need to get great. Become a student of the game and get your hands-on-education started up!