Tag Archive for bike polo skills

I Hurt Myself and Now I Can Shoot Better?


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.

Mallet Orientation, IMHO


This is the first 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–but if this first article is any indication, we’re in for some awesome talk about building your skill set.  

There’s an abandoned tennis court down the street from my apartment. I like to roll over there after work and shoot around until sundown. Squint at a fence post, look down at the ball, squint back at the fence post, swing, and hope for that sweet “plink”. On the sidelines at a tournament, I once overheard someone say “50 shots a day” when talking about their practice routines, and I really took that to heart.

Since NA’s I’ve been thinking especially about shooting. It’s so hard. It seems like so many players can put the ball perfectly, exactly where they want every time from anywhere. But how? I love/hate that there isn’t a clear answer. There’s no right way to take a shot. Our sport is still DIY in the technique department. Leaning on the boards, watching NA’s these past few years, I’ve noticed common subtle tricks the top level players use: how they carry their mallet, positioning the ball just so, swinging a certain way. Trying to emulate these techniques has shown a surprising improvement in my shots. So Crusher and I came up with the idea to start a series about practicing and perfecting the fundamentals. I’m not trying to say that I’m of any caliber to be handing out lessons, but I’d like to share some of the things I think about when I’m poking around the ole’ tennis court.

First, mallet orientation.

I remember the Beavers playing at North Americans in 2013. It was my first NAs and I remember watching every one of their games. I was studying, trying to figure out what makes them the best in the World.  Besides being struck by their sheer size and stickball wizardry, I noticed they carried their mallets in a different way. Read more

Skills Practice: Let’s Talk About BRUCE! Ball


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.

A Jack of All Trades and A Master of None


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

Bike Polo Boot Camp: Turning, Chasing, Ball Control


When someone first starts the altogether goofy endeavor of playing bike polo, they nearly always look as foolish as can be. There’s so much to consider: the mallet, the bike, the wall that is APPROACHING OH MY GOD HOW DO I AVOID THAT WALL?! and so forth.

And it’s so easy for those of us who have been playing for a while to suppress those memories to the same dark, secret corner of our minds that hold the memory of Uncle William drunk while dressed up as a clown and that time we peed ourselves in front of the classroom in 5th grade. Same event, actually.

But it’s a horrible thing for us to forget, as you’ll hopefully get new players and you’d be able to help them learn faster than you did if only you’re willing to take some time to teach them.

It’s with this in mind that I present a few practice drills that our dear Horse has developed to help newer players learn the basics of the sport. Keep in mind: these are probably boring as hell to more seasoned players, but to newer or less skilled players, they are well worth the effort.

Point in fact, I learned while going through these little maneuvers that I could certainly stand to work on my turning and comfort in doing so quickly. So maybe even the more experienced players should give a try to some of these just to be sure that they aren’t themselves missing out on basic bike polo skills.


1. The Simple Circle/The Figure 8

figure 8The premise of this one is simple, as described in the name. Get two cones/bags/whatevers and put them about four bike lengths apart. Then just have your students (or yourself) ride around going one direction. Then go the other direction. Try to turn as closely to the bags as possible. start slow and then speed up until you don’t feel like you can comfortably go any faster (to start).

Next, keep the bags exactly where they are, but cross in-between them (making a figure 8).  Do the same thing as before: start slow and then speed up a bit. These two exercises are teaching you how to turn effectively, which is a skill you definitely need to have on lock down.

2. Three bag figure 8

Now spread out those two bags a bit more and add a third. Try threading through the three bags, now. staying as close to the three bags as you pass them. Essentially, the first bag you pass will be on your left, then the next one on your right, and the last on your left again. You’re weavin, baby!

This will teach you to be comfortable with your bike working alongside momentum and speed, as you should try to do this one as quickly as possible. Again, do this by trying to stay as close to the bags as possible.

3. You’ll feel drunk

Now get just one bag (hell, make it your own!) and try to circle around it going both directions, mallet in hand. Try keeping your back wheel as close to the bag as possible. While doing this, figure out a place to vomit.


A few notes here:

  1. Keep your pedals even (not one down and one up) when going through the three bag figure 8. By keeping your pedals even you are more ready to start pedaling once you clear the obstacle.
  2. When going around a turn (in the simple circle and figure 8), keep the pedal on the side your turning into up. it stabilizes your weight and reduces the chance of a pedal strike.
  3. If you feel like your front end is wobbling/bawking while doing this, try putting as much weight as you can on your saddle. By doing this, you’re taking weight off the front end of your bike, which reduces that twitch.


Read more

Drill Baby, Drill: Get Better at Fast Shots & Bad Passes


If there is something that I’m horrible at, it’s reacting to the ball going on my bad side (the side opposite of my mallet arm). I’ll either make a bad reach for it, or I’ll complain about being left handed, or I’ll just watch the ball sail past and I’ll look at the person who passed it to me with the there-is-nothing-I-can-do face.

But you know me by now, dear reader–I’m always looking for ways to make my lackings into your gains!

So here’s my suggested drill for learning how to respond to the ball no-matter how it approaches you: find yourself a wall.

Yessir. That’s it.

Move along now…

oh, you’re still here–okay.

If your court has a good wall to it, line yourself up across from that wall. Now take a full force swing while pedaling slowly. The ball should come back to you (or at least hit the ball and reverse direction. Move to the ball if you need to, and hit it again. Keep doing this until you’ve pedalled up to that wall you’re hitting. Don’t try to trap the ball (stop it’s movement with your mallet) before shooting. Treat every bounceback as a one-timer shot.

Now turn around and do the same thing to the opposite wall.

I generally get 3 or 4 shots before I need to turn around, though I think I could make that stretch out a bit more. But what happens (and what makes this drill pretty great) is that the ball isn’t going to come back the same way with every shot. Sometimes it will be slow-sometimes fast, and sometimes it will be on your bad side. You’re training yourself to respond to unpredictability, which is really the name of our game anyway, isn’t it.

I have found that when I practice this drill a few times before a pickup day that I’m more ready for weird passes. It also helps you get over the impulse to always trap the ball with your mallet before taking a shot. Two skills for the price of one!


Knowing Where to Be: 3 Ways to Gain Situational Awareness

Gene saving his BFF Forever

Let me be honest: I’m only writing this post to use the picture to the right. Let’s see if it turns into something good.

If there is one defining characteristic of new players (or, to be tactless about it, players that aren’t very good at all at polo), it’s how little situational awareness they possess. Or, if you want to be a jerk about it, how much they’ll run into the wall, the goal, other players, and sometimes into nothing at all.

Add to this the likelihood that, even presented with an opportunity to avoid a crash, a newer player will make a wrong move and end up crashing anyway, and you’ve got one of the reasons that newer players have it kinda tough.

The standby answer from more experienced players (and one that is completely true) is that it takes time to learn situational awareness. It just forms in the mind of the player that they have a preternatural  ability to know where their own players are, where the opposing players are, and where they are on the court.

Well – either they gain that skill or they never do, and then people begin dreading pickup with that person.

I’ve been putting some thought into how someone can speed up the learning curve in this regard: how can you learn to feel out the court and not blindside people for the first month you’re playing bike polo? Here’s three tips:  Read more

Learn the Close Game: Trench Bike Polo

Taking big swings feels great, but knowing how to work the ball around your bike in a tie-up is probably more important. For one, you’re not moving fast, so losing the ball means you are effectively out of the play. Secondly you look like a buffoon. Seriously. We all talk about it.

Learning how to control and keep the ball when you have the opposing team all around you is a key lesson for any bike polo player. Without this ability you effectively become useless anytime another player is saddling up next to you. To help the polo community at large (which, as you know, I feel compelled to do so very often), here are three quick tips to help you keep your nuts in the squirrel house.

(I don’t know where that came from, either)


1. Dribble the ball

This is probably the most basic but most useful way to keep other mallets from stealing your lunch. Instead of just pushing the ball along and waiting for someone to pluck it from you, move it around a bit with your mallet. Push it forward and backward and to the side and back. Moving the ball around when people are trying to take it from you makes them a little less apt to succeed.

This has the fringe benefit of increasing your hand/eye/ball/mallet coordination as well, and I think that’s probably important, too. Read more

Become a Better Polo Player (Cause You Ain’t so Good Now, Bub): Balls Off the Walls.

Ball Control is pretty much the saving grace or the ultimate downfall of every polo player out there. It’s the curse or the blessing – the hero or arch nemesis.

The Obi-Wan or Jar Jar Binks, if you will.

And while it’s apparent that having better ball control inherently makes you a better bike polo player, it’s rare to find any player (or even any club) that regularly practices the skill. Yes, yes – I understand that pick-up games every week are a great way of fiddling around and building the skill up – but they aren’t the best way, in my humble, honest, and unquestionable-because-I-am-an-administrator-and-will-delete-your-dumb-comment opinion.

Building up your ball handling – above being fast or daring,or even scarier than a Canadian – will make you a better player. Do you agree, Shogun of Harlem?

The staring means yes.


Main baller skill to build

There are a milliondozen things anybody could do to make their ball control better, I’ll grant you – but I’m going to look at the one I think separates the (clever comparison would go here, but I can’t think of any. Use your imagination).

Anyway – getting a ball away from a wall presents a series of challenges that are altogether frustrating if you have no idea how to deal with them. I myself have spent many a glorious minute pushing that little selfish bastard down the wall only to find the end of the court approaching and I having made little progress. Read more

Three Skills Every Polo Player Should Have

Photo via Velochimp.com

So I was tasked with the assignment of writing an article about the three key skills every polo player should have, hone, or aspire to learn –  and when I finally got down to writing the article, I struggled.   Things like ball control, shot accuracy, defensive mallet work, and player awareness were all bouncing around in my head, and the finisher was going to be the one people probably focus on least.
Instead, the more I thought about it the more it seemed to me like the magic 3rd skill is the most important one there is – and if you’ve got it down, the rest will come.

That magic skill, the one we take for granted, is bike control.

Now you’re thinking: no shit captain obvious –  but before you click away and find something more entertaining to talk about, bear with me.

Every club has a couple (or seven) players that can shoot like a hockey pro, but God forbid they need to avoid another player or hit the brakes: all hell breaks loose.  So what good  is an amazing shot if you spend your entire game dabbing or folding up against the boards in a mess of spokes and frame?
Every club also has that random guy (or girl) that shows up and seems like they’ve DEFINITELY done this before.
You know the players that make you stop and drop your jaw a bit]: finesse, shots, style, confidence; they’re not careening around the rink barely holding on. Read more