4 year polo anniversary

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Well, I’ve done it.

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

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

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

The spooky crew.

The spooky crew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Hurt Myself and Now I Can Shoot Better?

MattRookie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help Bike Polo Journalism Stay Alive!

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I and my mortal enemy fellow polo blog writer, Aaron Hand, recently teamed up to figure out a way for the both of us to cover our operating costs while still giving the community we love something in return.

Taking hold of the Association of Bike Polo Journalists I came up with a little while ago (which is most strongly comprised of 321 POLO! and this site here), Aaron developed a great plan to make a great bike polo shirt that not only kept you looking…how do they say it…fly, I think…but also to help Aaron and I cover the not-small expense of running sites, writing articles, and keeping up to date with bike polo news.

Let me tell you, it’s not free, and it’s not quick. This work legitimately takes a large chunk of my life to do, and I’m sure that Aaron is in the exact same boat.

So we teamed up with One to One Print Shop and Paulette à Roulettes to put together this pretty fantastic tee shirt (and sweatshirt):

ABPJ-Shirt

Caro gave us the cool picture on the back (Luca of Call Me Daddy and Marc of Steel Magazine), and Lancaster’s own Lumberjack made the ABPJ graphic on the front. With One to One doing the printing, this is shaping up to be a pretty outstanding way to show your support for your humble bike polo journalists while having another cool bike polo shirt to show off to your cool friends in the cool days of bike polo.

We’re offering the “Heavy Hitters in Hardcourt News” design as a t-shirts for only $20 +shipping and as a crewneck sweatshirt for $35 +shipping. You can find both designs right here.

Speaking for both Aaron and I, it’d mean a whole lot if you’d buy one of these shirts/crew neck sweatshirts. Not only will it be nice to recover at least some of the costs we put into running these blogs for you (yes, also for us, but we love you so), but it’d be so heartwarming to see you guys at tournaments wearing them. I might just cry like a little crying hobbit.

Thanks!

VANDALrgz: Giving Bike Polo its Style

VANDALrgz_WE-2

VANDALrgz was first spotted, (in my case), at Worlds in 2013–and from that time to now the clothing company has sprouted up everywhere you look when it comes to bike polo tournaments and culture. I managed to pin down Malakai Edison and Spencer Sward for this interview regarding what VANDALrgz is, what it does, and what they hope it will be in the future.

Who are you, and what are you making/how did you get started?

We are Malakai Edison and Spencer Sward. We have been playing Bike Polo for 5 years and instantly fell in love with the game and the culture. We are thoroughly invested in the Bike Polo community, Bike Polo lifestyle, and see Bike Polo as an integral part of our identity. VANDALrgz began as a late night conversation after polo. (Malakai:) I told Spencer about these dreams that I had been having about starting a lifestyle brand that centered around Bike Polo. I wanted to join in the growth of Polo as a larger form of expression, much like skateboarding.

VANDALrgz_WE-1Spencer and I had both grown up as skaters and witnessed the the strength of the skateboarding scene. I explained my vision for what I saw was possible in the future and Spencer immediately said he wanted to be involved. We immediately began meeting regularly to go over designs I was working on. Themes began materializing including the Three Hearted Octopus, Watermelon, the 8 Pointed Star, and Vandalism. We both have Fine Arts degrees and Spencer was receptive to my insisting to really develop the theme, logo, and over all branding of the project. I kept drawing and getting more confident with the cohesive collection of imagery that I had been amassing.

In 2013 we had our soft launch of a few products and the creation of our online store and the VANDALrgz brand. We agreed that our brand wouldn’t be about making money, but instead fostering another part of the Bike Polo scene that was not only centered around equipment. Sean Ingram of Fixcraft was a huge supporter from the get go and encouraged us to do something all our own.

A big part of VANDALrgz is the “polo is life” mantra–how do you sustain that?

“i LIVE BIKE POLO” is as simple as it sounds, we see Bike Polo as an identity. Just like with our pasts in skateboarding, we identify as Bike Polo players. It is not only a sport, it is a style… a community… a culture… Bike Polo is one of those action sports just like skateboarding or surfing and has a whole culture that goes along with it. Bike Polo is often how we live. We approach BIKE POLO with the mediums of Art, Music, and Apparel.

What is the rgz of the VANDALrgz? I just want to know.

VANDALrgz can be pronounced VANDAL-ragz or vandal r-g-z. The rgz refers to ones style, fashion, or look. rgz could be synonymous with “colors” or flag or crest.

What separates your clothing from what I could buy in other places?

Read more

From the President of the NAH: 4 Questions Answered.

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I’m fortunate in that Ben Schultz doesn’t hate me. Besides being a stand-up guy all around, he’s also the president of the NAH and as such it’s beneficial to me to have his ear and his willingness to answer questions when I’ve got them. It’s exactly this that brings us to the article your excited little eyes are now reading.

After Worlds and concurrent with my “The NAH Killed Bike Polo” article, Ben and I were in discussion about where the sport is and where it’s going. He was kind enough to answer some of the questions I had concerning the mistakes and lessons he and the NAH have gained over the past year (and, indeed, past years):

Why is experimentation and failure important to the future of the sport?

Ben: So many old chestnuts come flooding in……Both are essential to learning about what you’re doing, and progressing from there. Experimentation should be fun but failure is a part of that process, which means frustration can also be a part of that process. So I try to keep in mind that one, every failure is a step closer to getting it right, and two, what are the stakes? This is polo we’re talking about, so my patience for the process is pretty high at this point.

How do you & the rest of the NAH consider rules and what to change?

Ben:Those surveys helped a lot, hahaha. Observation and vision. And it’s important to understand – this isn’t a process limited to NAH staff, never has been. We all play and we all watch the game being played. Similar situations unravel on the court, but we all interpret them differently. So even though the NAH staff has to do the actual work, we always consult other players, on the phone, in email, on LOBP, on social media, or on the spot. We pool these experiences and varying ideas of what the game should be and then we do the best we can.

What is the power split, in your mind, between what the NAH decides and what regions themselves decide, how do you think that’s going to change in the future?

Read more

If You Can’t Ref, Don’t.

Ref

There’s plenty to be proud of about Worlds this year. Great courts, lots of people got to play, and the majority of us got to watch it from the comfort of our own bike polo aviary homes.

But there was one instance I saw where there wasn’t anything to enjoy, and that was when Ratking had a match go south on them because a ref wasn’t able to make accurate calls.

At a World Championship.

In 2014.

It’s something that’s bothered me from then until now, so let’s talk it out.

The thing about reffing is, frankly, I’m no good at it. I can see infractions and I kinda sometimes know what the call is, but none of that happens instantaneously. It happens about five or so seconds late, and that makes me, you guessed it, a crummy ref.

The thing that makes me so comfortable with being a bad ref is that I know I’m a bad ref, and so I avoid the position as much as possible. When Joe asked me to ref at North Americans (half-jokingly, I’m sure), I gave him a clear, definitive no. Not because I don’t believe in giving back to the sport and not because I’m lazy (I did goal judge a whole lot, point in fact), but because I knew I wasn’t up to the challenge, and that I wouldn’t be doing the best for the players.

And having that knowledge, friends is [a G.I. Joe joke].

But it’s strange to me that I, lowly as I am in the sport, would recognize that whereas at Worlds, that thought didn’t apparently cross the minds of the organizers. Having someone holding the whistle doesn’t make a ref. Hell, passing the NAH ref test doesn’t make a ref.  It’s something else–it’s knowledge and application. I understand the drive to help, and even the pressure to do so, but the fact is that unless you’re very confident and very able to apply the rules and regulations in a match, you shouldn’t be using a real, qualifying/NAH tourney to learn how to.

And I realize that this goes against some of the other things I’ve said on this blog (one of which I’ll include below just to show you how hypocritical I am).

Now I’m not exactly blaming the organizers of Worlds, and I’m certainly not blaming the poor guy who Ratking made walk off in search of a more qualified ref. I’m blaming the oddity of polo where we demand good refs but refuse to make them or try to create strong avenues to practice. Something I liked about the Eastside Thaw last year (that worked with some success, though players still yelled at refs like it ever makes a difference), was introduce the idea that it was a place for players to learn to ref and for players to learn to play. I think there should be a push for that–a live clinic of reffing. Doing it on the web is a great first step, but like many things, sometimes doing it for realsies is the best way of learning.

I’m going to say: if you don’t know how to ref, don’t ref. Don’t put yourself in a position to make yourself feel bad nor to destroy a team’s chances to advance because of your mistake. Furthermore, you should determine early on if you’re any good at reffing to begin with (which is something different than knowing the rules), and if you’re not good, don’t force yourself into it.

I have no doubt at all that the next round of great refs is out there–but we shouldn’t be so desperate to put a whistle in someone’s hand as to take anyone at all. It reduces the trust in refs overall and makes a mockery of enforcing rules.

 

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.

Is This Even Possible?

impossible

The Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Idea

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

The NAH Killed Bike Polo

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And The NAH (Along With Our Help) Will Bring It Back, If We Let It.

There was one sentiment shared often during and after Worlds this year (outside of the typical, and well deserved, congratulatory huggery): bike polo is dead. Or is dumb–or is going the wrong way. Whatever language you want to use, there was a collective groan from the bike polo community (granted, perhaps a small contingent, but an important one) that something had gone wrong in the process of getting to the biggest of the big-tournaments of the year.

And that’s exactly where I think we should be with the sport, though it might not feel very much like it (or feel like anything but un-enjoyable to be a part of).

The way I see it–and the way you should all, by now, understand I see it–bike polo isn’t at all set in stone as to how it’s played. We have folks who think it should have no rules but the first rule of bike polo; we have folks who want to have a 200 page rulebook that leaves no question unanswered. Mostly, we have folks in between: they know we need some rules, but they don’t know what those rules should be, or which ones are the most beneficial.

[NOTE: a whole other subject--and one I'm brewing up on right now, is the reffing that happened for some of Worlds. Don't think I'm ignoring that--it's just a big subject on its own that I want to tackle in a different post]

deadpolo

The voice of a whole wing of bike polo, I’m quite sure.

And that’s where I think most of us are, the NAH and the bike polo community (of which the handful of bike polo players on the NAH are a part of) don’t quite know what right looks like just yet, only that bike polo needs to remain a fun and dynamic game to play. Read more

IMHO: The Hitbox

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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