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Recognizing and Avoiding Positional Traps in Bike Polo

Editor’s note: I’m only writing this post to use that featured image.

There are lots of easy ways for an experienced player to get newer players out of the way. The first might be the smell of their equipment, but the second is maneuvering in such a way that the newer player is out of the play. You’ve experienced, witnessed, and completed these sorts of maneuvers quite often yourself, I’m sure. The problem (and the way to avoid getting put into this situation) is fairly simple: recognize when the trap is occurring, and do the opposite of what triggers the trap.

One example of this is when the opposing player (who has the ball and is approaching your goal) tricks you into coming out of position. Let me draw you a picture:

out of position

As you can see in this highly skilled, somehow patriotic diagram, the player who is helping cut the line steps out of place (to attack the upper opposing player who has the ball), leaving the goalie to have a harder time either a. dealing with a pass to the other player or b. be facing the wrong way when the ball carrier moves further down the court. The advice I have for you here is to stay closer to the goalie (not like, in the crease or anything, but close enough to help disrupt a pass or block off another player) and to not face the opposite way as the ball carrier (or at least not put your momentum into going the opposite way that they are going). As I and many other smarter people have said before, it takes very little to get past someone when they are pedaling towards you. Read more

In Memory of Caleb Walker


Today, at 5:45 in the morning, Caleb Walker died as a result of a cancer he’s had in his body for a long, long time. At that time, 5:45, I was asleep or just waking up, and I’ve just now found out.

While Caleb–and indeed all of us–knew that this was coming down the line, it still is a surprise for me, and I’m having some difficulty processing it. It’s hard to think about and to know and accept.

Caleb is one of the newer members of our club. He started playing and loved the sport. He wasn’t the greatest (because he was so damn new, and because he had something in him that limited his balance and everything else), but he was so great to have around. He was one of the keenest shit-talkers and always willing to be helpful and caring about the rest of us.

About halfway through his time with us in the club, he went off of treatment and grew back some of his hair and a pretty good beard (the Walker clan grows good beards. It’s a fact). He was always happy. I remember we were lined up for a joust and I asked him how an event went (this guy started a foundation called A Week Away, which helps people with cancer and their families take time away from treatment/work with all expenses paid–giving them some sense of normalcy and joy) and he told me he’s so incredibly lucky to have the community, family, and friends that he has. And I agreed with him. I agreed with this guy who was dying of brain cancer that he had a good life. Because he did.

Caleb Walker was a joy to know and a good friend. He would have become a really strong polo player because, like all things, he put his whole self into the sport. He became part of our club as quick as you can imagine, and with his passing I think we’re losing someone who would have rapidly become a staple. Hell, he was already becoming that in the short time we as a club got to spend with him.

There really isn’t much I can add to this, but I will point you to his foundation and ask that you consider participating, as it was one of his deepest passions. He was a great man, and leaves the world a better place than when he found it. He will be deeply, deeply missed.



The Horse Speaks: Eastside Bench Invitational 2014

2014-07-26 08.59.48

This report filed by Horse (you can tell because none of the pictures are of bike polo and are only of his motorcycle, primarily).

I hadn’t been to NYC in years. I spent a day there in 2012 for the Summer Solstice yoga conference in Times Square, but that doesn’t really count… because it’s yoga, and because it’s Times Square. Needless to say, I was amped to load the bike onto the motorcycle and head up to the big city to play ESBI 2014 with Philly in the famous Pit.

The ride up was fantastic if uneventful. You get a lot of looks with a bicycle strapped to your motorcycle, and I imagine there are quite a few Instagrams with the hashtag #wtfamilookingat. The route north through PA is really beautiful, and surprisingly short, making me wonder why I hadn’t done it before.

Then I got to the Holland Tunnel, New York’s $14 way of telling you to piss off and go back home. I get it, it’s neat, it was probably expensive, and it’s a tunnel…but $14 bucks to drive a mile? Immediately upon exiting the tunnel I discovered two things. One, iMaps is terrible in NYC, and two, cabbies have zero regard for human life. Fun.

2014-07-25 16.54.09Somehow I made it to the registration party and was ultra-happy to see so many familiar faces. The bar we were at reminded me of the Fridge in Lancaster, lots of bottle selections, good tap choices, and odd small plates like little cheeses and pretzels. I met up with my host for the weekend, Andrew Otto, and proceeded back to the bonified Brooklyn Loft that I assume he had swiped the keys to at a Laundromat. I quickly passed out on the couch.

Saturday was pretty damn epic. I had never played a bench tourney before, and the hour long matches really test your endurance (I have none) and your strategy (thank god Biddle has some).   Philly played really well, beating out NYC A in a super intense matchup, and finishing the day seeded second. There was a lot of other cool shit that happened but I was too tired to remember much of it.

Saturday there was a party at this bar in Brooklyn that was awesome, except for the part where it was cash only.   I still don’t understand cash-only. I probably never will even if you explain it to me. Its just dumb. I had a few drinks, hung out with the poloverse, chatted up my pals from Holy Ghost and called it a night.

2014-07-25 23.29.26Sunday was the big show. Single elimination. Philly and NYC-A got a buy to the second round so I grabbed breakfast with a small gang.   DC got eliminated right away along with NYC B, so the second round was NYC A on Boston, and Philly on Pittsburgh.   Both games were awesome, and close, and come finals time it was us and NYC-A.

Before finals talk though, its worth bringing something up that pissed me off, and really, the only thing that pissed me off all weekend.   Overall the reffing was pretty good, enough volunteers, relatively consistent if laid back calls, and good vibes. That was until the NYC A and Boston game. Alias  volunteered to ref, and then shit hit the fan.   More specifically, Dnola’s shit.   If you’re reading this, Dnola, you’re a douchebag.   If you think you’re being funny you’re the only one laughing. You look like an idiot parading around making a point, berating the refs, and outright insulting people.   I would hope that the sport would have the same reaction to bullying as it would to sexism, but I was let down. Your club seems to have come to terms with your attitude, which is a sad thing, because no one deserves that kind of response, or to be surrounded by your negative energy.   Disagreeing with a ref’s call is one thing, but your actions and words went far beyond humor or heckling, during and after the game. Grow the fuck up. Heckling is awesome and an important part of any sport, but being an asshole is not.

(rant over)

Finals were sick.   We got out to an early lead on NYC going in to the half, and were feeling really confident.   The tides shifted though, as Zac and Nate gathered momentum and one goal after another broke us down.   It was awesome to see them in action in bench format.   What a rally.   It’s one of those losses that you can feel good about, for sure.

Overall? Sick weekend.   Awesome format, great hosts, great courts, great people. It made it worth the 2 hour ride home in the worst storm of the summer.

The Biggest Mistakes I Saw at North Americans


It’s pretty easy to focus on all the great things about great players–but frankly it gets repetitive and boring to talk about. Instead, I want to share with you some of the biggest mistakes our greatest players in North America made so that you, dear polokin, can learn from the boneheaded actions of our best and brightest. There is one thing that you may notice in this set of mistakes: that all of us make the exact  same mistakes throughout the sport, regardless of skill.

It’s just more stunning when the greats do it, I guess.

1. Going behind your own goal on defense: unless you’re one pedal away from the ball and your whole team is in your defensive half and an attacker isn’t also going for it, it’s a dangerous thing to dip behind your goal. You’re eliminating yourself (more or less) from defending the goal, you’re slowing your momentum, and you’re giving the attacking team an, at best, a 3v2 situation. Just avoid doing this. Stay in front of your goal line. Even if you think you can get the ball but there is an opposing player who might also be able to, let them get it and strip it from them in the open. You’ll have more momentum and a better chance of turning the play into something.

2. Shooting instead of passing/passing instead of shooting: this is a hard one to always get right, but maintaining a situational awareness can go a long way. I saw a dozen situations when a player had an open shot on goal and decided to pass instead (while this can indeed still lead to a goal, you’re adding another variable and possibility for failure) or have a person who was in better position to score but took the shot themselves–di-rectly into a defensive player’s wheel.

I thought, and I guess still think to an extent, that only newer or panicked players fail to look around and make those split-second decisions when it comes to passing or shooting. Apparently it happens to all of us–so I’ll make this recommendation: instead of trying to always be doing something, give yourself a second (but just one) to figure out the best move. BUT LET ME BE CLEAR: this kind of thinking should be happening whether you have the ball or not. The best outcome is that you have been figuring out who you’d want to pass to/when you’d want to shoot before the ball is in your possession. That way, when it happens, you just act. However,

3. Don’t go faster than you can think: It’s an exciting game. I get it. But don’t get so excited as to make a silly mistake. I watched as some of my favorite players ran up the court full-tilt before they had a solid hand on the ball, leading to a flubbed pass or shot or even just a quick turnover. It’s one thing to hold on loosely (hold on loosely), but another to just hope that by the time you get to the opponents goal the ball will somehow listen to what.

Same token: your mallet is a tool, not a club. don’t just go flapping it around everywhere hoping that you’ll be able to disrupt the ball. For God’s sake, be a surgeon and not a sturgeon.

I don’t care if that works. It needed to happen.

4. Arguing with the ref: are you serious? Really? Has any ref ever changed their mind after you stopped the game, rolled past them 3 times and swore? Dum dums.

So those are my big four. They didn’t happen all the time, but they were spectacular when they did. It’s both comforting and interesting that the big-name players (mostly) still make these very typical mistakes.

Why You Don’t Get The Blue Shell.


A little while ago I came across a really solid, my-generation analogy of how and why reverse racism (that is, the “majority” saying they are persecuted as much as the “minority”) doesn’t work out. Despite how much this statement drips with privilege and assumption, it is singularly one of the silliest things anyone can say when they know they’re pinned and can’t quite work out how to respond. More specifically, how the argument of “they get their own special things and I don’t” doesn’t make sense: and it all came down to Mario Kart:

blue shell

And despite the poster only having 24% battery life, I’m glad they shared.

Now, relating this to bike polo:

mario2There is a lot of talk about making the game as competitive as possible–and as enjoyable to watch as possible. But rarely is there a discussion about what competitive and enjoyable means. There’s so little effort in making the game welcoming to newcomers that we may just make a super competitive game that is enjoyable to watch up until the point where this generation stops playing and we realize that there is nobody to fill the void we’ve left (I’m using the editorial “we”, as I’ll be easier than hell to replace).

I’ve talked about it before on the blog: the importance of creating competition for more than just the best players (my suggestions included making a separate league for newer or less skillful players, creating B or C specific tourneys, and actually trying to recruit and train new folks rather than hope they stumble across your pickup day), but it seems that my blog doesn’t move and shake the very core of bike polo as much as one would think. In the past the NAH has created rules to favor the uppermost level of play because, simply, those were the people who were playing and making the sport more visible.

mariokart3But there is another, more sustainable way to get the sport into the eyes and wallets of sponsors and sports shows: sheer numbers. The work of 6 amazing teams can be drowned out by the effort and fun of a nationwide or worldwide sport. Recruiting as many players as possible changes the demographic of who plays, and that increases the likelihood that our sport will become more visible and more accepted. When creating rules we should think about what benefits the newest players–not the best players (they will do well no matter what, despite all their grumbling). The sport will survive only if we create an environment where it can do so, and right now we’re too focused on how to make the same people who always win happiest, rather than helping people who’s impact is less visible but much more powerful.

It’s time, I think, for the very best players to recognize that they are outliers in the sport. They are the ones who are impacted the least by new rules or by the success of the sport. In essence, the best players are the least important–and they aren’t the ones who need to be helped. Let’s give the blue shell to the folks who need it–and to the folks who will help keep polo going after we’re all too wrecked to care.


Bench Format: Is It Really That Great?

Guest post by Nick Kruse

(featured photo credit:

I want to know what’s really great about bench format… really.  I need someone to hash this out for me.  To the believers out there in the community, those who champion bench format as the future, I want to make clear that I’m only raising some points and asking some questions.  In the end, I like that people have fun playing bike polo and it doesn’t matter much to me that certain styles are on the rise.  I’ll get my fun, you’ll get your fun.  Deal.

I still want to know, though.  I can’t help but feel like bench format is an example of Bike Polo (The royal “Bike Polo”! You know, the editorial…) trying to modify another sport to fit our own in a way that seems unnatural and clunky.   It’s in the back of my head, a pressing doubt of the style’s authenticity.

I started skateboarding when I was 13 years old, and if there’s one thing I know in life, it’s that there’s nothing worse than being a poser.  So someone needs to tell me what we are getting at, here.

MenaceIt’s interesting to me how Bike Polo arrived so conclusively at this place – where bench format has become a mainstay, where you’re hard-pressed not to find yourself in a bench game at some point through the season.  My first summer playing bike polo was the summer of the first Bench Minor in New York City.  This is where it started.  It started in New York, it started with a tournament named after a penalty in hockey, and it started with one person.  Menace(

I met the guy only once, four years after the first Bench Minor.  I stood outside Vanessa’s dumplings in Chinatown and listened to him lament about how Bike Polo was already ruined.  It’s over.  Go home.  Still I think you would have a hard time finding someone whose input has been more pervasive in the game as it is played today.  We have a rule set that was partially started by him, and the organizing body of our sport has just released a sanctioned tournament that will be played in bench format.  The format he made PDFs about and advocated for constantly. His format.

Is bench format right for bike polo?  Is it solid?  Does it make sense?

More to my overall point, though, I just want to leave it noted that this was all started by a former player that polo’ed in a hockey sweater and named the first big time bench tournament after a hockey term.  A name that was so addicting to those that learned of it that everyone kept calling this format “Bench Minor” for three years.

Anyone that plays polo knows that in the time since this first bench tournament, the format has been a staple of our sport.  It has been filled with drama and upsets and fights, it has pitted cities against cities; overall it has been a pretty good time.  I get all that.  I really get it.  I’ve played in two Bench Minors, I’ve played in the battle for the Midwest in Mankato, I’ve witnessed the excitement of a draft, I’ve gotten in a fight, I’ve won and lost at it.  Still, I am concerned with authenticity.  Is bench format right for bike polo?  Is it solid?  Does it make sense?

More specifically, I have two questions. Read more

Having a Three-Way Courtside.


At the Masters tourney, I realized I had feelings for the other two Ms of 3 M.

Dude feelings-bro feelings. Bromance.

It happened right in the middle of the game against Lomax, Russo and Glatfelter: we had  every expectation of losing (and we should have), so we went in with the notion of just playing as best we could and taking the loss.

By Golly, we did play the very best we could, and at the five minute mark, both Horse and Lumberjack looked back at me in goal and had a smirk on their faces. I realized I did, too. We were all loving the game for the sake of loving the game. Then, suddenly: feelings.

It’s kind of a rare thing to really just experience the game of polo while playing it. Sure, you’re there–on the court pedaling around like a madman–but you’re so busy doing that you can’t observe the sport anymore. You’re too deep into it.

But that game in particular, I was just all up in and loving the game. It all felt perfect and natural and amaze-balls.

So then we won, somehow, and as dazed as you please we left the court and huddled up to talk about what happened. It went something like this:

Horse: Uhhh

Lumberjack: Uhhh

Me: Uhhhhhhh

Lumberjack: We just…

Horse: And we…

Me: So then….

All: Uhhhhh

And then we pretty much clapped eachother on the backs and laughed and got some water and laughed a bit more. We experienced top-notch polo in our little team, and it kinda rocked, speaking for myself.

And I guess that’s what you should look for when forming up your teams: do you have that natural cohesion and does the game just unfurl itself in front of you while playing alongside your other two team-mates? Do you struggle to communicate or does it just come naturally and smoothly? Are you able to go into games with the general understanding that you’ll just do your best?

Because that’s the other part of the equation here: once we got knocked out of the tourney, there was absolutely no malice between us. We knew that we played as best we could, and how can you fault someone for that? We just took the rest of the day to enjoy the games, drink some beer, and chit-chat with all the people we never met before.

And on the car-ride back we talked about how we’d be BFFs forever.


How Crusher Got His Groove Back

Crusher Irish and Ted Lancaster United Bike Polo

When I got my new polo bike, two things happened: I became much better at taking risks and challenges on offense, and I became much worse at defending the goal.

The first bit (becoming better at offense (in that I was willing to actually go on offense more)) was just fine by me, but I was really upset about my goal game going to the birds. I prided myself, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, on my brick wall goal tending.

The Iron Curtain.

The lead shield they use on your junk during dental X rays.

That was me – that was my role in the dynamic of a team.

But then I got my sweet new whip and I kinda lost that ability. I chalked it up to my wheel base being different, my dependence on those big wheels compared to my much smaller 26ers now, and just a general learning curve.

Well my friends, for reasons which will elude me, it seems I’ve got my groove back. Took plenty of time to get here (what, like months and months now), but I think the last pickup day fleshed out that the skill is still there, it was just taking a little breather.

got his groove back

No real lesson here, just wanted to share the happiness. Onward and Upward (and you’re welcome for that picture).

I Can’t Quit You


I have not been playing much polo for the past 3 months. I made up a bunch of excuses as to why I was going to be taking a break. Excuses. Tell me the last time an excuse was the whole truth… Quite simply my life was getting out of balance, and setting polo aside for a season was one of the more easy steps toward restoring balance. I let life trump polo. You say life IS polo. I say it is not. Read more

Just a heads up

I’m spending my week in the glorious King of Prussia area finishing off the last residency for my MFA. I’m not quite sure if I’ll have time to post this week or not, but just know that I’m not being held prisoner by RVA or DC bike polo. I’ll see you polokins next week, huh?