Tag Archive for bike polo advice

I Dreamt About Polo, Realized A Skill Upon Waking

dreaming

Last night I had a few dreams: I was an astronaut on an adrift craft with only myself to keep company by. I was also involved in some sort of running of the bulls? That dream, however, unsurprisingly switched to bike polo, playing on my home court with a few people from all around the polo environs.

In the dream I was trying to get in place to help out a play, but I realized I was playing more for myself to get the pass or the shot and not for my team mates to do the same. Because of this, I wasn’t in the best position to enable my team mates to have the highest likelihood of scoring on goal.

yeagerWhen I came to this realization in the dream, my team mate (who I think was Greg Valentine but I can’t be sure (he’s pretty dreamy, right. That last name, too. sheesh)) and I had this moment of mind-meld. He looked up and nodded and I nodded, and then we were like the two guys in one of those monster fighting robots. We were able  to work with each other selflessly rather than trying to hog the spotlight or trying to only produce a positive situation for one of us.

When I woke up, I realized that this was actually a useful piece of advice, so I wrote it down: when you’re playing, you should be playing as a team–but that means more than just saying you’re playing as a team. It means you should be thinking of yourselves as a unit–as an entity that is not supporting someone else or creating opportunities for the individual, but as an entity that is supporting the entity.

borg queen2Think of the Borg, you nerds. Completely selfless actions to complete an overall goal. No ego, no blame, just a constant drive to complete a mission as presented by that weird lady with U locks all through her head.

This isn’t so easy, really, to get the hang of–but I think it’s easy to get into the mindset of after practicing it for a while and having a team that is on board. Keep in mind, if one person on your team can’t or won’t subscribe to this model of thinking, it won’t necessarily work. Or, maybe it will work but not as effectively. I suspect some of the better teams out there are already working off of this premise either without knowing it or just as a matter of course, but I also reckon that lots of newer teams or just formed teams for tourneys (as is often the case) don’t consider whether they are playing for themselves or are playing for the team.

Anyway, just wanted you guys to crawl into my brain case for a second.

Have a Plan, but Have a No-Plan Plan, Too

RVA Pickup (18)

I spoke a little bit about this in the past (as I think I’ve talked about most thing in the past at this point), but I want to bring it up again from a different angle–the no-plan-plan angle.

I’ve spent lots of time on this blog discussing tactics and tips for playing–little ideas that might pay off in big ways when all the ducks line up and you’re able to make something happen. But one thing that I don’t discuss very often is how important it is to be prepared for every single one of your sweet moves to fail.

There’s a saying I’m sure you’re familiar with: everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. It’s something that is more than some machismo idea of forward thinking: it’s an absolute truth. People (myself included) can have lots of ideas about what will and won’t work, but when the rubber meets the purloined tennis court, all those plans count for bupkis. In bike polo, getting punched in the face–if not literal–refers to the ball getting stolen right as you start your big play up court–or what happens when there is a breakaway and all 3 of your players are in the offensive zone.

The point I want to emphasize here is simply that you shouldn’t build your entire repertoire off of plays, nor should you build it off of situations–at least not entirely. You should, hopefully, be able to work on your awareness and responsiveness on the court. It’s a great thing to know how to triangulate your position or how to scoop-pass to yourself, but if you don’t know what to do when something new happens on the court, you’re not going to become as strong a player as you can be.

It’s about mental elasticity: promote in yourself the ability to quickly respond to new situations and address them as they come. By opening yourself up to this kind of rapid, lateral thinking, you’re creating an environment where a play gone wrong doesn’t spell disaster for your team or for the game.

How can you work on this? I think it’s a mix of a few things, but the biggest of the things is to not think “no, and-” and instead think with “yes, but-”

An example:

You’re cruising down the court and are waiting for your team-mate to swoop around the goal to line up for a pass/shot. They get in position and you send the pass to them. Unfortunately, an opposing player read your play and has intercepted the ball.

The wrong thing to do is think “No, this play didn’t work, and now they’re going to score/and now I’m out of position/and now everyone will know I’m not nearly as good a player as I think I am.

The right thing to do is think “Yes, the play didn’t work, but now my team-mate is in the right position to stop the break away/but now they’re expecting that play, so I can try something else/but now we can pull them all out of position.

It’s a matter of perception: one will result on dwelling on the play or effort not working (and letting that flavor your response to it), and the other is using that situation to build your response quickly. It opens your eyes to the possibilities rather than the single possibility that escaped you.

 

I know, heady stuff for Wednesday morning. You can handle it.

Stay In Their Lane!

lane

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to play in the Chilidelphia A/B tournament (on the B side). I had a good time, meeting a few new faces and having my chain pop of mid stride, causing me to crumple over my handlebars and hit the soft, urine-soaked pavement of PHI-town learning a few new things about how I play tournaments.

Playing in the B tourney also gave me lots of time to remember some of the more rookie mistakes we all make on occasion, and the one that really struck me was how folks sometimes forget about lanes.

Lanes are, in I CAN’T HELP MYSELF LANE-MAN’S TERMS HAHAHAHA I KNOW IT’S LAYMAN’S SHUT UP how folks move up and down the court–mostly from one goal to the other. Their lane is the open path they have between where they currently are and where they want to be (which is normally a shot on goal).

What happens, I find, is that newer or less experienced players will not close down a player’s lane–they won’t get in that same lane to stop them from having a clear path to the goal. This is most notable when a player is trying to defend the goal and–instead of getting in the shooter’s lane to potentially deflect the shot–make a loop to get in position as the goalie. This causes a situation where the goal is not only missing a goalie (until the person gets in place), but there isn’t even someone to shoot around on the way to the goal.

So the quick tip here is: if someone has a clear lane and you don’t want them to score, try to get your bike and body in that lane (note: this doesn’t mean right in front of them. This means physically putting yourself in their line of site from where they are to the goal).

Likewise, if you’re trying to help your own teammate get to the goal, try to keep their lane clear by blocking other players out.

reading rainbowIt takes practice (most everything does), but when you get the hang of it you’ll find that you’re more often in a good position to stop or help a play than you are if you’re simply chasing the ball or your trying to get yourself in a good position for something that hasn’t even happened yet. Thinking strategically like this makes you a value to your team and a constant disruption to your opponents. But don’t take my word for it: practice it a bit at pickup and see how it works for you.

Cutting Out Ego, Increasing Flexibility

Buddha

Carter is a few things to our club. For one thing, he’s the youngest player (I think 14 now?). He’s also the coolest. He was our mascot for a while (when he was so young–10 I guess–that we wouldn’t let him play because we were afraid he’d get hurt or be overwhelmed–things that seem absolutely ridiculous now.

Carter is also one of the best players we have, and I’ve been setting out to crack the code as to why.

One of the elements that make him such a strong player is that the dude has no ego. Zip. None. I think it might be because we all out-age him by almost 20 years or so, but whatever the reason, it isn’t there. You can say “Carter, be right here for the pass” and he’ll say “yup” and be there for the pass. You can say “Carter, this is what you could have done better that last play” and he’ll say “yup” and the next time that same situation comes up, he’ll do the better thing.

You can tell him he needs to work on a skill, and he’ll work on that skill until he’s better than you at it.

And he smiles the whole time. The. Whole. Day. Read more

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.

The NAH Killed Bike Polo

20140903_074132_1_resized

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

Chris1

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

The Biggest Mistakes I Saw at North Americans

bonehead

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.

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.