Archive for Tips

Swordplay: A Few Tips on Keeping The Ball

swordplay

I’m not a particularly fast player. I’m not particularly good at shooting or at creating plays or at using my weight to check other players in an entertaining manner. But if there’s one thing I’ve been working on for quite a while (and, if I allow myself a moment of egotistical clarity, something I’m decent at), it’s keeping the ball when challenged by other players.

Okay, not all the time–maybe I’m not terribly good at that, either–but I’m probably better at it than those other things I mentioned above.

Swordplay is my pet name for when two or more players are manipulating their mallets and the mallets of other players in order to gain possession of the ball or to revoke possession of the ball from the opposing player. It’s not hacking per se, as if done correctly the contact between your mallet and the other players’ mallets should be light and intentional (rather than, well…)

The wild swing

But proper playing-of-swords takes quite a bit of technical skill as well as foresight and patience. Doing it well also requires you to work against your gut impulse, and that’s the first lesson I’d like to share:

Work Against Your (And Your Opponent’s) Impulses

Do you remember playing keep-away as a kid? You’d take something from another child (who now, surely, is in therapy) and keep that thing just outside of their reach, mocking them with some horrible nickname like dingus or fart breath or Matthew. 

Wait. Wait.

Anyway–the premise of that maneuver–pushing the other person to reach out for their ball/hat/pants and then pulling it back away from them just before reaching it–works because you’re using their monkey-impulses against them.

Bike polo is a game where most wrong moves are amplified simply because we are on bicycles and not our feet. If you lose the ball when bombing up the court, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to recover it easily. In much the same way, if you can strip the ball away from another player when you are facing the opposite direction, then you are putting them at a serious deficit for getting that ball back quickly.

The natural impulse when someone is coming for the ball is to pull it in closer to yourself, or to shield the ball with your mallet. While this works with some players, it certainly won’t work all the time. My suggestion is this: misdirect and re-maneuver. Instead of pulling the ball into yourself, try pushing the ball through the other player. By this I mean push the ball behind their outstretched mallet or through their bottom bracket. If they are stretching out to get the ball from you, they are leaving the bubble around themselves wide open for you to use.

Let The Ball Float 

Players have a tendency to hold onto the ball like it was life itself. They feel the need to always touch it with the mallet–tiny re-alignments and pushes so that there is no doubt it will go where they want it to.

This is a dangerous thing to do if you’re hoping to keep the ball from players–but it’s also useful to use the expectation against them as well. Since there are many players who always touch the ball with their mallet, people are just as likely to try to hit your mallet head as much as they are the ball. I’ve discovered that it’s quite possible to give the ball a little push just before someone’s mallet comes in contact with mine (and, presumably, in contact with the ball). The ball might be only six inches ahead of my mallet, but the opponent is still aiming for my mallet head, resulting in nothing more than a momentary strike against my mallet head and leaving me free to continue moving up court.

Floating the ball in situations like this might seem very counter-intuitive, but the truth is you don’t need to be controlling the ball to protect it. If you want to practice this, try the following:

  • shoulder up against a wall with a ball on the outside
  • have someone else try to take the ball from you
  • using your mallet, move the ball just before they strike

Eventually work up to a point where you’re doing this while moving, and you’ll see why it’s so effective. Players, generally, want to get the ball and keep moving for a breakaway–so use that built up momentum against them. Missing the ball will destroy the chance for the breakaway, but they’ll still be heading that way anyway–removing them as a threat.

It’s scary at first, I grant you, but floating the ball around your bike while defending it is very effective.

Mallet Down–always

This is a more general suggestion but it’s useful for swordplay as well: keep your mallet down: when shooting, when passing, when moving the ball–keep your mallet head down. Reason being that you’re creating the opportunity for an accidental save or play on top of taking away those seconds of possible steals or interference (with the ball). By swinging wide you’re opening up a chance for some clever player to take the ball or hang up your mallet–you’re putting your “sword” straight up and away from your body, leaving yourself open for an attack.

Wow, that last comparison really came together.

 

Anyway, those are my tips. I think you’ll find the more you work on quick but light mallet  swordplay, the more you’ll be able to defend the ball from attackers and make your run up the court towards their goal more productive.

 

 

What I Learned at Pick-up Last Night: Muggy Edition

Mug

Yesterday was a good day of pickup, the weather just threatening to turn rainy but instead maintaining the pregnant possibility of rain–a mugginess that left my nether regions to turn into a swampland and my shirt to cling impossibly to my many slopes and rolls.

I know you were looking, Hbach. It’s okay. I’m not offended.

Anyway, I learned (as I hopefully always do) a few things along my sweaty adventure. Here they are:

passA great pass is worth ten break-aways. I, being a lefty, often find that my team-mates are not in the very best positions for me to pass to them. It’s not their fault of course, being wrong-handed is confusing even for me.

This often leads me to drive up the court and try to take my own shots. Does it make me feel a bit like Horse? Yes, yes it does; but it also makes me feel terrible when I fail to actually get a goal while my team-mates are so nearby.

Last night I saw how useful it is to depend more on passing than clever legwork around the opposing team. Not only does it save a whole mess of energy, but it redirects the energy and attention of the other team, allowing more opportunity for them to become confused and poorly positioned.

work glovesWork gloves do nothing for your hands other than protect from scratches and scrapes. Hbach managed to club my thumb and it hurt. It hurt bad. I can’t quite bend it the whole way and I blame my gloves for it. NO IT’S NOT BECAUSE I LOST MY GLOVES IN D.C. IT’S THE INANIMATE OBJECT’S FAULT. Damned leather gloves. Useless.

Now that Northern Standard have ceased producing polo equipment (dashing my hopes for a V2 of the Enforcer gloves), I need to find a new pair that have digit protection at the very least. My hands are my money-makers, and you can take that statement however you like.

swordI don’t know the rules around sword-fighting: last night I had a few instances where I was fighting off two opponents from getting the ball from me when my own team-mates were either far away or tapping back in. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if holding/slapping other mallets away (not hard enough to do any sort of damage, really!) is legal, strictly speaking. I wasn’t necessarily holding the ball on the wall or anything like that, but I certainly was aiming to stop the other team from getting possession. I’m looking for some clarification, here. Irregardlessessly, it made me feel like a sword-master, and that was worth the penalty call, if I were to get one.

And when the ref says I was assessed a ball-turnover penalty, I’ll say “not today.”

 

Is There A Wrong Way To Learn Bike Polo?

mrwrong

When I was in elementary school [insert "last year" joke here] I learned a valuable lesson about how different school-children learned. As my third grade instructor pointed out, everyone has their own way of understanding and learning, and it’s the job of a friend to help them learn however they can.

And that was a lesson I took to heart. If I see someone is learning in their own special way, I’m happy for them. I don’t think it’s valuable or prudent to push them into learning a particular way (that is, my particular way).

mistakeThis is all the more true for sports, where learning to play differently can often be a great benefit to the individual player. There’s a chance that the way you’ve learned how to throw a football or kick a soccer ball are different enough that nobody will be able to cope with your skills.

But there is also a very real chance that you’re doing everything horribly wrong and it will stay with you forever because that’s how you learned to do it. Tough luck, feller.

Learning any sport requires at least a little bit of thinking–yes, it’s true. Bike polo isn’t just about how well you can swing your mallet, but also how well you can handle your bike, how aware you can be of where your team is and where the other team is, and blocking/shooting/speed/etc. as well. There are lots of things that go on in a game, and learning each component is important if you want to be a more rounded player.

mistake2

Big mistake

However–and this is the whole crux of the article so pay attention now: the worst way to learn how to play bike polo is to isolate each element. When you’ve been playing long enough that you aren’t falling over all the time and running into walls/people, you are free to focus on shooting or blocking or your speed off the line, but before all that you need to be working on everything together. It’s going to come across as a jumbled mess–you’re going to feel like you simply aren’t getting very far with any one skill set–and that’s fine. That’s how you should be to start.

Only after seeing the whole picture can you break down individual parts to see how they all work together.

I would add to this the following caution: don’t depend on the skill sets of others to define where you think your skill set should be. It’s perfectly fine to see another player pull some awesome move and try to mimic her trick, but it’s not okay to focus only on that and nothing else. You’ll go crazy in your attempts to play like every good player you see. You do you, honey. You do you first.

Do You Have Plays, or Do You Have Ground Rules?

ground

Guidelines of play might be better for a team

I recently interviewed Ginyu Force (an interview that I’ve yet to post, but will soon) about their SEQ tournament win, and something struck me about one of Christopher Hill’s answers to a question I posed.

When I asked Chris what they felt the needed to work on or what they did well he mentioned:

We don’t have plays so much as ground rules. When we’re in this situation, do this. In that situation, do that.

J block (6)And that struck a chord in me (a C sharp, I think). For some reason, I had thought for a long time that the difference between an alright team and a great team was the ability of the team to have a series of plays in their back pocket. Point in fact, I had many conversations with Horse where we figured out certain plays and practiced them a bit. But as soon as Chris gave me that answer, a light switch flipped.

Of course great teams don’t just have plays. That’s too limiting. They have ground rules that they follow. This promotes not only independent and critical thinking, but allows each member of the team to react to whatever the other team throws at them.

Think of it this way: you have a certain play that really works 60% of the time. Well, what do you do when that 40% presents itself? If all you have is that play, any sort of communication or understanding you had with your fellow teammates disappears as soon as things go wrong.

With the “ground rules” method, you have contingencies for how to react to various things.

  • If the other team gets a breakaway, the player closest to the goal gets in front of it, the next closest tries to disrupt the ball carrier, and the furthest away blocks out other opponents from getting involved in the play.
  • If the ball is hit downcourt, player X hangs back, player Y pursues the ball, and player Z gets in front of the goal.
  • When your team gets the ball, reset and then move as a group spaced out evenly, etc.

It’s not quite a play, as it doesn’t depend on a set of perfect situations and positions–it depends on reacting well to outside criteria; which really is all we do in bike polo anyway. It makes your team more apt to act in a way that is positive and usable for the next series of moments (recovering the ball, shooting, passing, scoring a goal, etc) rather than putting all of the work into a hopefully successful play.

Anyway, it struck me as an interesting shift in how one can look at plays and ground rules, and I thought I’d share it.

 

Bench Format: Tips From Some Veterans

BM1

Feature image from Urbanvelo.org

Bench format, for the first time ever, is going to be an NAH sanctioned event this year. With this announcement came the very expected responses of awesome or what? Why? and everything in-between (Awesome-wut?). I myself have only ever played in competitive bench games three times my whole entire life: twice at the past two Eastside Thaws, and once at the Keystone Classic Happy Fun Time day.

I wanted to provide you polocats with some advice on the bench format, but realized very early on that I didn’t really know enough to give any. No, that hasn’t stopped me in the past. No, I’m not turning over an new leaf. No, I’m not talking to myself someone’s actually asking me these things right now. Yes, I’m lying.

So I reached out to Nate Mumford, who almost immediately pointed me in the direction of Zach Blackburn and Paul Rauen, who both have been intimately involved with Bench games ever since they became a very NYC thing to do. Both of those esteemed gentlemen were somehow willing to answer my questions:

So below you’ll find Blackburn (B) and Paul (P) answering my questions. A few things of Note: Blackburn’s background is that he’s been playing bike polo forever, was in the first Bench Minor tourney (He named it, even), and has been involved in bench games all over.
Paul helped organize the Bench Minor tourney in NYC from the start to BM4, and while he isn’t nearly so involved in the bike polo scene nearly so much. But this gives him a very unique perspective, in that he can look back at it from a historical perspective rather than an active one.

When was the first time you played in a bench format game?

BThe first Bench game I played in was the inaugural bench format tournament, the Bench Minor in NYC. I actually came up with that name and asked Adam Menace to use it because I thought it was funny, “It’s a pun! The highest form of humor!” and he agreed. I think the northwest area tried to throw an even more inaugural bench tournament the weekend before ours and had this ridiculous poster that was drawn with a crayon and showed seven or eight passive aggressive hippies all dressed with the same jersey.

BM3No idea how their tournament went, but we had Benny Snodgrass, a co-worker and friend of mine reffing with a jersey and whistle and everything who had formally reffed peewee hockey games. He was scooting around back and forth on his bmx bike and getting a lot of satisfaction from calling our sport’s first interference penalties. We were using Menace’s ideas and just making up the rest as we went, and I’ve got to say, I don’t think I’ve felt like anything has felt quite as pro besides North American’s in Minneapolis. The ref chairs with umbrellas built-in would be the deciding factor there.

P: We played in pick up in NYC in the Pit prior to the first “Bench Minor”.  The Pit is the ideal venue for this style due to the ramps at the southern end.  No doors, and substituting is easy. I’m also biased because I learned to play polo in the Pit (2006) and have many wonderful memories of that park.  it’s pretty special. 

What were some of your initial concerns with bench format? What are some mistakes people make in their first game?

B: The ramps at the Pit in NYC seems to have been built with Bench games in mind, so managing the shift changes was basically telling people, “I want you on the court before your replacement gets to the bench, and keep leading out further and further until the ref calls us for a too many men penalty”.

Besides that, it was hard waiting for a goal to make a change because sometimes a goal wouldn’t happen for 5 minutes, and I didn’t want our players to get restless or cold from standing around too much. I already noticed the impact that mechanicals and injuries would have on an on-going game so I made sure the next line was ready to go way before they were expected to go on in case someone dropped a chain or got a toe stuck in a chainring or something.

PIll advised subbing, taking long shifts, “putting the team on their back” and trying to be a hero. Honestly, the biggest mistake is looking at the game and experience through the lens of the individual.  It shouldn’t be about what you’re getting or not getting from it, it’s a group exercise and different than your 3 person killer squad. Also, it’s much longer in duration, which allows for momentum swings.  Keeping a positive attitude isn’t just lip service; there is so much time to come back in bench format, that getting bent out of shape about being down a few goals is self defeating.  As Ian once told me, “don’t beat yourself.”

Are there skills that you work on for bench format that are unique?

P: Communication is key.  If you don’t talk or understand the skill sets of your teammates, you’ll be caught out. I think it’s also important to have a unified voice on the bench.  It could be multiple voices, but it must be unified.  No room for negativity, complaining about playing time, etc.  It should be positive 100% of the time.  All criticism should be constructive and about making a better connection on the next shift.  There’s plenty of time to unpack it after the match. Approach it from the angle of “how can my team grow and succeed and enjoy the experience?”

 BM2I think some people are really effective in this style, because they don’t need a lot of warm up (or they play so frequently they’re always warm– like a Koyo type). Others are only comfortable w/ certain roles, line mates.  I found it helpful to try and know as much about your teammates’ comfort zones, and then play to those strengths.  I think bench is a great vehicle for supposed B/C level players because they get substantial playing time in fast paced situations w/ strong teammates.  Some of NY’s best wins (one at Boston’s Allston court I recall) was purely on the shoulders of great, grinding defense from Tommy G and other B level NY folks.  ( i can call Tommy “b level” because he doesn’t play anymore, ha)
It should be relationship building.  You should be learning from your team about good choices and bad choices.

And what about the “manager” position? What skills do they need?

B: Keeping an ongoing dialogue with your team and keeping them motivated is completely different than managing yourself with just two other people. You need to let them know that if they’re out there playing like crap and making mistakes that they’ll get pulled early, and they have to feel inspired to do better. It’s a mix of positive and negative motivation and it’s nearly impossible to handle that while putting yourself in the game at the same time. 

P: Since I played this role for NYC and volunteered to manage the Bench for Julian in LA (wore the “A” in NYC and LA as well) , I personally think it’s quite important.  I think the manager has to have the respect of the cohort and I think if you don’t have that already via previously shared experience (pick up or tournament or whatever) than you need to show you’re there to facilitate, you’re acting in the group’s best interest, and you’re comfortable making difficult personnel decisions, which is chiefly calling subs, setting strategy, calling off a player even when they’re giving you the skunk eye, shortening the bench when need be and managing playing time across the bench.

Having a quick word with someone as they exit as well, finding the right way to reorient them. Also, I’ve found it much easier to concentrate to the degree necessary if I don’t also try to play.  The need for the managerial role is perhaps less important on a city team when everyone has bought into a structure/game plan, but the opposite could also be true if you have competing egos, which most clubs do to some degree. I’ve done a lot of management in my work life, and I always like to listen and observe more than I dictate, but managers need to find what works for them.  It’s definitely not for everyone, but I liked the challenge and responsibility.

One more thought: Alex Ferguson talks about a manger’s need for absolute power and control of his squad, and while that makes sense and has been proven through his career, managing in bike polo is difficult because it’s an informal environment without major assets in play. It’s almost essential to default to that policy when you’re managing a business like a enormous global franchise, but finding the right tenor for polo is difficult due to the varied degrees of maturity, commitment, sobriety and competency at play.

How important is figuring out the right rotation for players?

BM4B: Having the right three people together, and then making two more lines that are equally balanced is pretty tough. But implying that there should be a 1-2-3 rotation is going to let the other team’s manager have all the fun matching their lines against yours.

I think it’s important to recognize which player or line the other team has and make an anti-line. Tell them, “If those guys don’t score on us, we’ve won half the game. Shut. Them. Down.” Then you try to get your scoring line out while they have their weaker line on. And boom, the score is 30 to 0. Or more like 9-8 after 50 minutes because your “ringer” is more like a “wanker” and your shut down line is trying to make up the difference by being heroes and they’re just giving up empty net goals instead.

So, advice to captains: expect your team to struggle, so set the example and play responsible, energetic, and high quality polo. Inspire your teammates. Someone’s got to, and the manager is clearly dropping the ball.

 

A big thanks to both Blackburn and Paul for their time and insights. And, as always, thanks for reading, polokins. I hope you have a blast with bench this year.

3 Ways You Can Shape Bike Polo’s Future.

robot

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

Same goes for most sports, probably.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

Not Everyone Gets An Award. Stop Giving Them Away

snowflake

If you don’t give a positive hoot or statement when a new player takes a swing at the ball (no matter the result of that swing), you’re violating the first rule of bike polo. It’s that simple.

If you don’t tell a new player that they are doing a great job after their first month or two of play, you’re a jerk. It’s that simple. Really.

But if you’re still telling a player that they had a good shot at goal when they weren’t anywhere close–and they’ve been playing for almost a year–you’re doing them a disservice. Here’s why:

everybodyWinsWhen I first started playing bike polo, it was hard for me to figure out what I should be doing, really. I didn’t ride a bike regularly, so I had to stare down that whole series of skills, but I also couldn’t shoot/avoid/pass/block/not cry every five minutes, and that would make me a pretty horrible player in anyone’s book.

But I was new, and that gave all the explanation necessary when I flubbed something.

After a few months, I started making those connections. I started getting shots off correctly and passes right where I wanted them (YES I STILL MESS THESE UP ALL THE TIME I KNOW ALRIGHT SHUT IT). I started getting a bit better, and I knew when someone said “nice shot” that they meant it.

Why? Because they didn’t say it when I had a bad shot. They wouldn’t discipline me or make me feel bad about it–mostly–but they didn’t pat me on the head and tell me I was doing great.

The benefit to this is one of personal recognition and drive. It feels good to do well, but you need to know what “doing well” is, and you need to know what it isn’t. By saying “nice shot” or “good pass” or anything in the positive when in fact it was not is, for all purposes, reinforcing a not-so-great action. You’re diluting what is and is not actually a good action.

There is some nuance here–I’m not at all suggesting that you shouldn’t ever say “good pass” or whatever when someone tries and fails to make something happen. I’m saying you should be honest: if it was a good attempt, identify it as such and reward it with a kindness. If it’s not, however, don’t. You’d do that person a better service by helping them develop that missing skill at a later time. “Good job” only goes so far in making someone a better player.

participationConsider this, also: the new player (or even the veteran player who just fouled up, as we all do) isn’t a dummy. They know that they didn’t get the result they were aiming for. If you say “good job” after everything they do, you’re going to start killing them with kindness and desensitizing them to actual compliments.

So while it’s great to support new players with compliments galore, try to decide when they need something more than a kind word (like some guidance and mentorship). If they make a great shot or a perfect pass, hoot and hollar as much as you like–but don’t do the same thing when they shoot and the ball somehow goes backward. It’s not helping anyone. That player wants to become better, and you want them to become better, too. That happens through honesty: honesty with where they are as a player, honestly with what skills they need to work on, and honesty in how you can positively affect the development of your club’s newbs.

 

A Jack of All Trades and A Master of None

Jack

Lemme get my learnin’ stick out on this one.

The phrase “Jack of all trades” is currently seen in a negative sort of light. Point in fact, the original uttering of the phrase didn’t have the “master of none” attachment. Point in fact, it’s been used here in North America since around 1721, and sometimes in a little rhyme:

Jack of all trades, master of none,

Certainly better than a master of one.

And what does this have to do with bike polo, you ask?

Jack3Well, my curious and impatient friend, it has plenty to do with bike polo. Particularly with the kind of player who is the most favorable for a team.

The way I see it, there are lots of people who are really good at one or two things that our sport requires (speed, shooting, passing, drinking, complaining), but there are remarkably few you are good at everything.

And notice the little change I made in that paragraph: some people are very good at a few things, very few are good at everything.

There is a great benefit–and indeed a stronger one–in being capable in all aspects of the game rather than exceptionally good at just one thing. If you’ve got a shot that is simply amazing, that will only get you so far. However, if you have a decent shot, decent ball control and decent court awareness, you’ll go much farther (and be much more beneficial as a player) in the long run.  Read more

Playing for Fun or Playing to Win? Or Both?

Question

Breaking people into two camps is fun, and remarkably easy to do on the internet. Today I’m looking at the people who play polo for fun and the people who play polo to win (that is to say, people who only find polo truly worthwhile if they are winning at it).

These camps are generally opposed to each other, and you can tell who’s who by finding the people who are getting frustrated by team-mates who aren’t straining every muscle to pursue a ball and, comparatively, the players who are getting frustrated because nobody is smiling.

2014-04-16 09.20.19I fall fairly soundly into the “play for fun” category, and as my detractors might quickly point out, this is in part because I’m not terribly good as a player. But more than that, I find polo to be a good, healthy way to not become the type of writer I think I would become if I didn’t have at least one thing to do outside of writing. This isn’t to say that I don’t have moments where I want to win–I think I have those moments most of the time–but that isn’t the only way I find joy in the game.

Not that I would mind the money, of course.

Not that I would mind the money, of course.

The play for fun people are frustrating for the play to win people because, honestly, they aren’t taking polo seriously enough. Yeah, I wrote that just now and I’m only half joking.

It’s hard to deal with team mates (even in pickup) who aren’t in the same mindset as you are. This can go either way (too serious or not serious enough).

The balance, I think, is learning to be serious when being serious matters–for yourself or for the situation you’re in–and making sure that you remember why you started playing in the first place (which is, more than likely, to have fun).

I’m really not suggesting that the little Venn diagram I made at the beginning of this is accurate. I think people are a blend of those two circles more than anything, but it’s very possible to become too hard-lined during pickup or too apathetic in a tournament (where you’re letting your team mates down, of course. If your whole team is there just to have fun, by all means do so!).

Bike polo is, above all else, a competitive effort. It involves scoring goals and the premise of winning and losing, despite the nagging feeling we all have that we’ve lost by simply being active in the sport at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s an all-or-nothing sport, either. Being aware of how you’re perceiving the game (both in the larger sense and individual games) can help you adjust your fun-to-win meter a bit more appropriately, allowing for you to support your team-mates while not coming off as too serious or too easy-going.