Tag Archive for bike polo advice

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

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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

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.

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.