Tag Archive for bike polo advice

Complain Better, And Other Useful Polo Skills

angry coach

Complaining is (and if that darned reality TV has its way) always will be a part of the human condition. It helps us externalize and internal discomfort, it helps us commiserate with others, and it makes grievances known. It’s also a pretty great way to get under someone else’s skin, if you do t all wrong.

Bike polo is a factory of complaint. Take a look at the online forums, at discussions around the rules, or even just chit-chat courtside to get a taste of what bike polo runs on: a general mal-content and bitter dislike for anything less than what you want. 

Okay, I’m hyper generalizing here. But there is a whole website (up until recently it had gone dark, but now has a fresh new post) dedicated to complaining about bike polo. C’mon now!

However, there is a stark difference between a good complaint and a bad complaint, and just to help out in only the basic, altogether useless way that I normally do, I’d like to talk about the difference between the two.

So far I’ve come across much more “bad” complaining than “good” complaining in our sport. Bad complaining (as I see it) is made up of:

  • Bringing up problems without solutions
  • Attacking individuals rather than ideas
  • Complaining only for the sake of creating malcontent
  • Complaining only for the benefit of oneself

These four generally bring about more negatives than positives (sure, you’ve just made yourself feel better about shouting to the organizers, but those boards that are falling down are not going to magically prop themselves back up because you cursed and said something clever, for instance). Furthermore, consider whether what you’re saying is actually for the benefit of all (complaining about how there is a big ol’ hole in the middle of your court) or just for yourself (complaining that you don’t like how player X always takes the ball from you, and how they shouldn’t be allowed to because it’s not fair).

So what’s the bad outcome of complaining in a jerk-ish manner? Well, besides stirring up aggression in an already aggressive game, you’re pinning yourself as a–you guessed it–complainer. While there is fundamentally nothing wrong with bringing up problems (squeaky wheel getting the grease, and all that), there is a problem with complaining so much–and so often about things that only concern you–that others will simply begin to ignore you. You may find yourself soon bringing up valid concerns, but having those concerns land only on deaf ears.

Bike polo breeds a certain amount of dissent–it’s part of what makes the game so fun, really–but don’t try to go so far as to complain about everything without considering how you can first solve the problem yourself. If all we become are complainers, we’ll drive away the next generation of players through our drone of whining.

Skills Practice: Let’s Talk About BRUCE! Ball

BRUCE

Lead photo by Steve Bourque

Last night Horse, Kokus and I were waiting for the rest of our club’s players to come out for humidity +6 bike polo, and we found it hard to just sit in the sun like that and wait. Horse suggested we play BRUCE! ball so we did that for a while, and something struck me.

I’d played BRUCE! ball before, but I hadn’t played it after taking time off nor when I planned to really pay attention to what I was doing. I found it was both fun and a great way to sharpen up multiple skills all at once.

For those who are uninitiated, BRUCE! ball came to Lancaster via DC bike polo (and, point in fact, isn’t at all what DC calls Bruce Ball. It’s actually just called “Five Hole” or something down there. Whatever. We like calling this game BRUCE! ball anyway). I don’t know where they got it from (and feel free to tell your creation story below, DC), but the way we play it here in Lanc-Land is as follows:

  • There is at least one ball used during play. You can do more than one, and that adds a bit more excitement.
  • Players attempt to shoot the ball through the 5 hole (the space between the back wheel and the front wheel) of other players
  • Each time a ball passes through your own 5 hole, you earn 1 point
  • Once you reach 5 points, you are eliminated from play
  • The goal is to not get any points, or to at least get the least amount of points out of all players

I really like this game for a few reasons. To start with, it’s something to do when you don’t have numbers. It’s also a good way of just goofing around with other polo players. In a more practical sense, however, you’re learning how to defend your 5 hole against shots (which will make you a stronger goalie), you’re learning positional awareness, as you’re always trying to stay perpendicular to other players who want to shoot at your 5 hole, and you’re gaining accuracy/ball control.

On top of all of this, you’re also learning how to shift from offensive to defensive positioning and mindset quickly, which is a skill that pays HUGE dividends in the long run of your time in the sport.

BRUCE! ball also didn’t feel like something stupid to do while we were waiting to play a match. It felt like a completely different game entirely rather than a replacement, which was enjoyable. I felt like I was warmed up for playing polo, sure–hell, I even felt like my mind was more prepared for hand-eye coordination and skill–but I wasn’t upset that I was playing it instead of being in a match.

Anyway, I thought I’d pass this along for folks who hadn’t considered it before. I thought it was a pretty swell way to pass the time while building up some core skills all players need to have.

YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO

YOU

There are times–rare as it may seem–when a fellow player on the court will take a moment to tell you what, in their opinion, you might have done better with the previous play/error. It is during these times (again, rare as it may seem), you might have the immediate desire to give that person a wedgie and then push them into a puddle.

This is almost a ritual in bike polo, I’d say.

The thing about that impulse–that you-are-no-better-than-me-shut-up-already feeling, is that nine times out of ten it’s unwarranted. But only 9 times, so don’t completely lose that fighting spirit.

When it comes down to it, I think the frustration folks feel when getting a tip or suggestion from a fellow player may stem from a few frames of mind, including:

  • This person always tells me what to do
  • This person isn’t a better player than me
  • I already know what I did wrong
  • I’m grumpy
  • I don’t want other people to know I messed up

All of these are very much so ego-driven. Much like a Zen master, you must release your ego in order to actually grow a bit in this area of the game–you need to re-frame your brain space in order to accept that you aren’t the center of the universe and you don’t need to take suggestions like laws. 

I’ll give an example:

Kyle, for better or worse, gives a lot of suggestions on the court. By suggestions, I mean he yells stuff like “you GOTTA stay BACK!” or “You NEED to look for those passes, bud!”

And sometimes this rubs me the wrong way–I think it’s the way he phrases it (he seems angry). But after a period of years I’ve come to realize that  Kyle really is just trying to help me out, even if his delivery isn’t the best mode for my sensitive nature. Now he’ll instruct me and I either listen and agree or I say “yes sir,” which means I heard what he said but I’m ignoring it because I’m I’M NOT JUST A PIECE OF A CHESS BOARD TO MOVE AROUND okay, maybe a bit.

Anyway, what I’ve learned is to take the advice when it’s beneficial, ignore the nagging feeling of being “put in place”, and likewise ignore advice when it’s given maliciously or for any purpose other than making me a stronger player. Try that out, if you can.

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.

 

 

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.

 

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

How Many People Should Chase The Ball Carrier?

chase

QUESTION: How many people should be chasing the ball carrier?

ANSWER: 1. Now go back to work.

Okay–so it’s not quite that cut and dry. But there are only a few instances when engaging 2/3rds of your team on one other player ever really makes sense, and the rest of the time it’s just poor positioning. Let me explain:

The ball carrier isn’t the most important person in the game. The ball is the most important person in the game. Now that may lend you to say “but Crusher, if the ball carrier has the ball, I’m going after the ‘most important person in the game’, right?”

Well no, not really.

The ball is a tricky thing, and it uses every opportunity to abandon the ball carrier through a pass or a shot or even just a wild bounce off the boards. If you’re thinking that the ball carrier and the ball are synonymous, you’ll find yourself in a bad position if the ball does in fact leave the ball carrier.

I feel like I’m doing a poor job of explaining this. Let me try another way.

Your focus as a defensive player should be:

  1. Stop/prevent shots on goal
  2. Disrupt momentum of other team
  3. Become an offensive threat

and in that order. Your mission is not, nor should it ever really be, to double team the ball carrier. Why? Because then you’re leaving 2 players from the other team to challenge your goalie (or, as can be the case, to challenge your third player who is not in goal).

2 to 1 coverage on the ball carrier is a great way to lock out that player, but it’s a pretty horrible way to maintain a defensive barrier or to be open for a dish or flubbed pass. You’re leaving huge areas of the court wide open while you and that other dummy are concentrated in one area.

Another (and potentially more harmful) scenario to avoid is that of chasing the ball carrier or the ball in tandem with another player out of your defensive zone. Let’s say you and a team mate pursue the ball down court (which feels great, as you’re getting closer and closer to the ball)–but you don’t get it. The person who was playing goalie comes out and retrieves it, and pops a pass up to their other two team-mates by your goal. Now you’ve got 1 person who is in the right position from your team (hopefully) and 2, including yourself, who are not. You see the dilemma.

Naturally if all three people from the other team are at your goal and the ball goes loose while heading towards the opponent’s goal, you should absolutely pursue it, but let’s assume they actually have at least one person back.

It’s a natural urge to focus on the ball. It’s the focus of the game, after all. But it shouldn’t be the only thing you’re thinking about. In the back of your head should also be the focus of where your teammates are, and how your position can either help or hinder a momentum shift.

A Quick Tip: On Defense, Be The Weight On A Metronome

Metrinome

Consider the metronome.

This little clever device uses two weights, one on the bottom of a long, thin rod and one (which can be slid up and down that rod) which helps dictate how quickly the rod moves from left to right. No matter where the smaller adjustable weight goes, it’s always attached to the larger weight at the base by the rod it’s affixed to.

Now then, what does that have to do with bike polo?

Nothing. It’s for keeping time when playing music, you dummy. What a dumb question.

But if I had to stretch to come up with a link (since you’re forcing me to), I’d say that the humble metronome can be used as a good reminder of how you should play when on defense. Or at least a way you can play while on defense.

I'm SURE this clears everything up, right?

I’m SURE this clears everything up, right?

At the Thaw this year, Alexis told me several times early-on to “come back to center,” after I left the zone of the goal to disrupt a play. After the first few games I realized that I was basically creating an arc of defense around the goal, but that I should always swing back to center after I did my part to either move the ball out of play or, more advantageously, reverse the play entirely.

I’d swing out, interact with the play, and then when the immediate danger was past, come back to just in front of the goal (allowing me be more prepared for the play moving to one side or the other.

Back and forth, and back and forth. Like a freaking metronome.

And I saw the logic behind it: having a reliable, consistent point of resetting on defense allowed my other two team-mates to know approximately where I’d be, but also allowed me to not get stuck too far away from the focus of most offensive plays (this being the goal, of course). I tried not to linger too far to the right or left, and certainly didn’t engage too far away from my own goal when we didn’t have the momentum to support it.

Great offenses begins with gaining possession of the ball in your own half and charging past all those poor folks who are facing the wrong way, I believe, and acting more like a metronome allowed me to be prepared to make this happen.

So give it a try (instead of chasing the ball into the corner or shadowing your own player as he tries to dig something out from another player). So far I’ve been incorporating it into my own play and found it to be a very useful technique.