Archive for Tips

Let’s talk about your balls

balls

Just a quick tip that (I think?) I heard Joe Rstrom point out during Worlds:

If you find yourself icing your hot balls for play, it’s best to take them out of the ice bath perhaps thirty seconds before you’re going to put them into play. Idea being that a completely frozen ball is not exactly the best thing to hit at full force, and it won’t respond how you expect it to (really, it could just break apart. Let’s be honest).

Editor’s Note: A reader commented below that the most current form of the Fixcraft Hot Balls are not meant to be iced at all, but kept only in water. The more you know!

hot ballsSomething else that he said in passing (he’s so full of wisdom) is that the process of evaporation can cool the ball to the just-right temperature more often than not, so dunking a ball in an ice bath and then leaving it out on the bench might be your best bet to get them to the right temperature for play. Naturally, you’d want to do this to a few balls for the course of a game at once (so you can just throw another out when the first gets too gooey).

I haven’t necessarily tried the evaporation method yet, as it’s been too cold to worry about overheating orange balls, but I have high hopes.

Any other tips out there?

Don’t Be Afraid To Fail, Or: None Of Us Are Cool.

bike fall

There is a hope in any person who endeavors to take up a sport that they’ll be cool while doing it. Not good, necessarily, but cool-looking whilst throwing a spheroid like ball into the air or catching one. Humanity hopes that by hitting a rubber thing with a wooden thing that we’ll be able to make the rubber thing go into a net–just so long as we don’t make a goofy face while doing it!

This is one of the reasons that professional face wobbling has never gained a very big following.

But, moreover, we don’t want to fail. Failure (at least in the culture I happen to reside in) is seen as an end point, more often than not. It’s seen as something to be avoided and shunned. Unless you’re in the business of brain surgery or Jenga, failure isn’t exactly an end. This is probably doubly so for bike polo.

bike fall 2

The thing of it is, our little sport demands quite a bit of a person. There’s endurance, strength, hand/eye coordination, technique, awareness, and not least of all, the ability to not take oneself too seriously. It’s easy to feel like (whether you’re new to the game or you’ve just hit a slump) that there’s really no way you’ll get any better.

And this is the part where you’d expect me to say that you will get better, if only you’ll stick with it for just a bit longer!

But that’s a lie, and I won’t tell you it.

You might not get any better than what you are now or, probably more accurately, getting any better might be a tooth-and-nail struggle that takes months and months between trying to learn how to do a particular move and finally being able to do it. And that’s fine. That’s okay.

You might not be any better than what you are now, and you shouldn’t let that bother you too terribly much.

Being afraid to fail can steal all of the enjoyment from bike polo. It’s possible to get so concerned about messing up that you don’t remember to have fun and be happy at the achievements you are able to accomplish. Don’t be so worried about how you look when you fall or how goofy it is to miss an open goal. None of us are cool, we’re all just trying to have fun and make the best run of it we can.

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Want to Strengthen Your Whole Club? Take Off The Training Wheels.

training wheels

There is a standing rule in Lancaster United and, I think, probably one in a good number of clubs out in the poloverse polanet that states, simply, take it easy on newer players. It makes sense and it helps introduce someone to the sport without introducing them to your shoulder/the court surface at the same time.

But I think there isn’t a standing rule on when to stop being so gentle/careful with our club, and it hurts us in the long run, probably.

It depends, of course, on how well individual players progress from being brand new to a bit experienced, but if the more experienced players don’t start introducing the other elements of the game to them (steals, easy blocks, etc.) they’ll never learn how to deal with those problems, and grow as a player.

I CHECKED YOU FOR YOUR OWN GOOD, NEWB

I CHECKED YOU FOR YOUR OWN GOOD, NEWB

Naturally, you’ll feel like a jerk the first time you steal the ball away from a new player who, up to that point, had been able to watch you circle them like a predator while they made their way to the goal for a shot. But that’s okay. Feel like a jerk. The sooner you can turn the pressure up on them, the sooner they’ll be able to grow into a more well-rounded player (and the sooner they stop feeling like a disadvantage on the court, which is something that can surely happen to a player who’s been at it for a while but is still coddled).

With the more recent recruits we’ve had here in Lancaster, there have been a few times where the phrase “it’s okay to play against me like everyone else” has been said. In each and every case, doing what was asked–playing against the newer player as you would anyone else–has resulted in a exponential growth in their enjoyment and confidence.

This suggestion–to be aware of how long you keep the training wheels on someone–isn’t flying in the face of playing against someone the same way they play against you (which I think is very important to do during pickup, too). If a player is not into checking and heavy contact, don’t be that jerk. However, don’t hold back if the new player once to see what that game is like. There’s a chance they’ll tell you to tone it down or that they decided they aren’t ready for it quite yet; but that should be their decision, not yours.

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Take Off The Blinders.

blinders

If you were to categorize the qualities of [edit: most] new players that [edit: may make them, generally, seem like a] new player, you could break it down into a pretty simple list:

  1. They don’t have enough stickers on their bike
  2. They can’t yet shoot/pass
  3. They have zero court awareness 

It’s that last point that I’d like to talk about a little bit here (it’s why the last point is bolded, you see. I planned that.)

Having court awareness is a really important element of the game and likewise does quite a bit to accelerate your abilities within it. Now I’ve framed this solely as a “new player” problem, but the truth is any player can have this problem, so keep reading even if you imagine yourself to be anything but a newer player.

Court awareness is, simply, the ability to know where you are in relation to court dimensions and elements (other players, goals, etc.). Court awareness is what allows you to both be in the right spot and avoid slamming into a wall when looking behind your shoulder. It’s what keeps you from accidentally crashing into another player.

What I experienced when first learning the game was a sort of tunnel vision: I’d put my head down to look at the ball and that would be the only thing I could think of. I’d run into walls, into other players, and into the cones we were using at the time for goals. I felt like a dummy.

While that dummy feeling hasn’t left, my ability to judge where I am on the court while depending on my peripheral vision has certainly expanded. I suggest just a few things to help you gain/maintain this ability anywhere you find yourself playing:

  • Try using other objects to judge your position: try looking over your shoulder or to your side while pedaling down court. use the entrance/a post/a line on the court to help you know when you’re approaching the wall.
  • Practice looking away from the ball when you’re controlling it: this is good for many reasons, but in this case it’s good to become used to not focusing on the ball at all times when it’s yours. practice looking up and around until you can do it for longer periods of time. This prevents you from crashing into a defender or losing the ball when you take a long view around the court.
  • Try to listen to people as much as seeing them. Learn to feel the change in your ears (I am not even kidding) when someone is behind you. The way your ear picks up noise changes when a mass is around them, and learning to detect those subtle chances can make you seem preternatural in your ability to detect approaching players.

Taking the blinders off yourself while playing can help you get out of problematic situations before they start, as court awareness also makes you aware of the potential moves of other players. So next time you’re on the court, give a little thought to becoming comfortable with court position (instead of becoming comfortable with sudden trauma to your person).

How to Beat the Beaver’s Strategy

beaver

In a post which appeared previously on everyone’s favorite hate site, a well thought out treatise was provided which explored just how the Beaver’s manage to win games (and, as the author posits, win them so very boringly). While I’m not taking issue with Ben’s points–I think they are pretty damned accurate, in fact–I do take issue with the idea that this is the end all, be all strategy to win.

Let me rephrase that statement: I refuse to think that the problem is the immaculate strength of the play. I think the problem is how people are falling into the trap of it without thinking.

Bike polo, as with any other sport anywhere that has ever existed, gets into ruts when it comes to how people play and what they think is effective. Folks will run the same sort of play in football as they have for decades because hey, it’s effective. But what if I told you it’s effective because the other team became used to that play and it’s effectiveness, disregarding the possibility of coming up with a more clever counter play?

The point is, it’s rather easy to think that the Beavs have it all worked out (in fact, they kinda have), but it’s silly to think that this one play is going to be the very thing that destroys the enjoyment of bike polo. Let’s take a look at the play as laid out by Ben:

Beaver Strategy

Ben’s Picture, not mine

Okay, so for one thing, those are enormous goals.

Anyway: there are some suppositions in this strategy chart I’d like to suggest. First: the goalie can’t move. I get it, that player really shouldn’t move, perhaps, given that Joey is bearing down on him at Mach Win, but as Rob Biddle has aptly showed me on multiple occasions, it’s very possible for the goalie to roll out and challenge an incoming player effectively. Second is the idea that [RED 2] is forced to go after the ball carrier.

The only thing you have to do in bike polo when it comes to strategy is figure out who you’re going to blame when it doesn’t work.

[RED 2] has a few options, I think. They could cut off [BLUE 2]‘s progression, or place himself on the opposite side of [BLUE 1] to create a pinch between [RED 3], [BLUE 3] and [BLUE 1].

Hell, realistically this is all dependent on how the other team sets up. If they know they are playing the Beavers (and, really, c’mon), they could simply choose to all pursue the ball carrier directly, or cut off blocks to ruin the play. The benefit of this, assuming that you’re able to strip the ball, is that you now have a wide open shot on goal as all 3 of the opposing team are out of position to defend.

While I certainly respect the idea of this play (and the fact that it’s very successful right at this moment), as soon as something is discovered, it is often countered. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see podium teams drill themselves to beat this play (and in that process develop some new super-play that we all can get bored by).

 

 

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

Things to do when you can’t play polo

2014-01-03 10.02.53

The view from the polo war room is looking dismal. It’s feeling pretty dismal too, as the heat doesn’t make it’s way very well to this floor and it’s just at the level of being a touch too chilly.

Point in fact, if anyone wants to donate some space heaters to your old friend Crusher, I’ll be more than happy to take them. I am wrapping a blanket around myself and find it makes me want to fake my grandmother’s accent and pinch cheeks. Weird.

Still, it’s better than outside, which looks and feels like something I saw in a movie once.

Hoth

And it makes me sincerely doubt, given the forecast of unbelievable cold, that the snow will melt away before Sunday Funday comes around. This is more than upsetting.

I’m assuming that there are a good number of bike polo clubs around the country that aren’t going to be able to play this weekend due to the weather, so I thought I’d share a few ways you can still stay in that polo mindset even if you can’t crush it on the court.

One of the best ways is to watch bike polo videosIf you have good headphones, you can basically imagine you’re not in the guts of a Taun Taun trying to stay warm. Plus watching the sport is a low-impact way to participate in it when you aren’t able to go out into the environment due to almost certain frostbite.

Or, if you’re more of a hands on kinda polokin, you can spend the time checking your equipment. Look at your spokes, check your mallet for bends, or even clean out your disgusting bag and re-organize it. A day where you would otherwise be playing (thereby, you have the time) is a great way to put forth the effort that otherwise would cut into more enjoyable things. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think checking your bike polo stuff is really a pain, it’s just something that lots of folks overlook.

Or how about practicing ball control inside. You need to make sure mom doesn’t catch you, but if you can find an open-ish space (basement, living room, heated garage?) you can certainly work on getting more comfortable with moving the ball around. Work on your scooping or switching directions quickly. This can pay huge dividends on the court whenever the sun returns to us.

Perhaps the most fun thing to do is to have a club day at a bar. So you are all planing to spend a few hours playing polo, but now your court looks like a barren waste in Siberia. Well, you already set that time apart–how about you just meet up with your club-mates and have a few pints? Not into drinking? Well how about you all go somewhere to catch a movie–or even just to have a mallet building party or some such. It’s fun to meet up with a bunch f polo players and talk polo, so why not?

Or you could just sit at your computer and complain on Facebook about how dumb snow is. Your choice.

New Year New Polo New You

YOU'RE GREAT FOR BEING YOU!

It’s 2014, and I’m sure absolutely everything is going to be different, forever.

But let’s just assume (for the slightest of moments) that those big changes are going to require just a little bit of your own effort to achieve. So let’s talk about resolutions, in particular the sort that are polo related–we don’t want to talk about how you’re hoping to avoid gluten this year.

Resolution #1: Travel More

Masters Indianapolis 2013 (34) (Copy)I think this is a great resolution for lots of polokins out in the world. You have your club, and boy do you love them; but it’s okay to see other people. Travelling about like a medicine show salesman is a great way to learn new skills, meet great people, and strengthen your own bike polo experience. I’m going to try to take some of my own advice in this particular case, though I’ve got a big-boy job that really limits my ability to travel.

It’s horrible, and I advise you to avoid what I’ve done as much as possible.

Resolution #2: Get Polo Healthy

2013-04-28 10.40.20There is healthy and then there is polo healthy. For my part, I think getting polo healthy is a really good aim for at least myself, but probably for a lot of players out there.

What do I mean by polo healthy? Wellsir, I mean getting on the bike outside of polo to build up my endurance (of which I have none), my speed (none currently), and my comfort with bike control (I’m surprised I can stay on it at all, really).

I also mean getting my core a bit stronger so I can use my body to help direct my game. Right now I think of myself as a pair of strong legs attached to a barrel of Jell-o, topped with a brain. Oh, and that brings me to the third resolution.

Resolution #3: Pump Up The Self Esteem

rocky-iii-560-mickeyNo, I don’t mean I’m going to try to make myself feel better in all facets of my life, as I think that being a moody, self-deprecating person is an important element to being a successful writer. I mean I want to bolster my self-esteem when it comes to playing bike polo.

This doesn’t mean getting so good that I don’t have any complaints about my play. It means accepting the kind of player I am, allowing for mistakes, and trying to not get down on myself when I have a horrible day at a tourney/at pickup. It’s easy to get all sorts of angry with yourself in this dumb sport, but realizing that you’re there to have fun is a good way of getting out of that rut. Let’s all try that one together, shall we?

Bike Polo Boot Camp: Turning, Chasing, Ball Control

boots

When someone first starts the altogether goofy endeavor of playing bike polo, they nearly always look as foolish as can be. There’s so much to consider: the mallet, the bike, the wall that is APPROACHING OH MY GOD HOW DO I AVOID THAT WALL?! and so forth.

And it’s so easy for those of us who have been playing for a while to suppress those memories to the same dark, secret corner of our minds that hold the memory of Uncle William drunk while dressed up as a clown and that time we peed ourselves in front of the classroom in 5th grade. Same event, actually.

But it’s a horrible thing for us to forget, as you’ll hopefully get new players and you’d be able to help them learn faster than you did if only you’re willing to take some time to teach them.

It’s with this in mind that I present a few practice drills that our dear Horse has developed to help newer players learn the basics of the sport. Keep in mind: these are probably boring as hell to more seasoned players, but to newer or less skilled players, they are well worth the effort.

Point in fact, I learned while going through these little maneuvers that I could certainly stand to work on my turning and comfort in doing so quickly. So maybe even the more experienced players should give a try to some of these just to be sure that they aren’t themselves missing out on basic bike polo skills.

Turning

1. The Simple Circle/The Figure 8

figure 8The premise of this one is simple, as described in the name. Get two cones/bags/whatevers and put them about four bike lengths apart. Then just have your students (or yourself) ride around going one direction. Then go the other direction. Try to turn as closely to the bags as possible. start slow and then speed up until you don’t feel like you can comfortably go any faster (to start).

Next, keep the bags exactly where they are, but cross in-between them (making a figure 8).  Do the same thing as before: start slow and then speed up a bit. These two exercises are teaching you how to turn effectively, which is a skill you definitely need to have on lock down.

2. Three bag figure 8

Now spread out those two bags a bit more and add a third. Try threading through the three bags, now. staying as close to the three bags as you pass them. Essentially, the first bag you pass will be on your left, then the next one on your right, and the last on your left again. You’re weavin, baby!

This will teach you to be comfortable with your bike working alongside momentum and speed, as you should try to do this one as quickly as possible. Again, do this by trying to stay as close to the bags as possible.

3. You’ll feel drunk

Now get just one bag (hell, make it your own!) and try to circle around it going both directions, mallet in hand. Try keeping your back wheel as close to the bag as possible. While doing this, figure out a place to vomit.

 

A few notes here:

  1. Keep your pedals even (not one down and one up) when going through the three bag figure 8. By keeping your pedals even you are more ready to start pedaling once you clear the obstacle.
  2. When going around a turn (in the simple circle and figure 8), keep the pedal on the side your turning into up. it stabilizes your weight and reduces the chance of a pedal strike.
  3. If you feel like your front end is wobbling/bawking while doing this, try putting as much weight as you can on your saddle. By doing this, you’re taking weight off the front end of your bike, which reduces that twitch.

Chasing

Read more

Don’t Play Hero Polo

Wolverine polo

There is perhaps no more celebrated a sports moment when one player–after it seems like there’s no possibility to win the championship/game/division title/fight against basketball playing aliens–manages to turn everything around and win the game for his or her team.

Okay, it’s mostly his team because that’s how Hollywood rolls.

But there is a time and a place for those sorts of heroics, and the time and place for them isn’t when it strikes your fancy, surprisingly enough.

Polo kinda lends itself to giving players the mindset that they are much more important than what they actually are. I’m not saying that you can just slack off or that you shouldn’t feel like you’re just as special as a little snowflake, but believing that you’re the only thing holding your team together–or even that you’re the only player on your team that can make the difference–is the wrong way to go about it.

Sure, you very well may be the strongest player in your team, but in a game of 1 against 3, the team playing with 3 will have a much easier time of it. And it’s this sort of rationalized humility that you should be working from.

swordI have witnessed teams that fall apart only because one player believes themselves to be King Arthur, wielding around a mallet like it’s Excalibur and charging to the ball no matter how sensible it is to do so. I’ve also witnessed these players deal with the consequences of how the other two people on their team treat them after the game.

Even if you were able to win playing that way, you’re reducing the confidence your team-mates have in you to play intelligently–and you’re burning up lots of energy trying to save the known universe with your heroics.

So instead of getting it in your head that you can run the whole game from your saddle, consider instead how you can contribute to your team and to a 3 person effort. Hero polo is something that only the very new or the very under-informed play, so knock it the hell off already!