Tag Archive for Bike polo tips

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.

Hacking Bike Polo

hackers

There are players who play the game, and there are players who play the system

At North Americans, it’s hard to bump into a player who doesn’t know what they are doing. If everything turns out the way it should (which it seemed to me was the case), the best players from each region show up at Minneapolis to challenge each other. There aren’t any brand-new players (well, okay, there might be–but they are very good), and there isn’t anyone who doesn’t deserve to be there.

But there are different types of strategy being employed: people who are just really good at playing the game, and people who are really good at hacking bike polo. Those are the people who are the most exciting to watch, in my opinion, simply because they are using their brains to win.

battlefield 1942I think the best way for me to relate what this looks like is to nerd out and tell you about my (past) enjoyment in playing Battlefield 1942 when I was in college. The computer game is your basic, first person shoot-em-up game where you fight Nazis, among others, and try not to get killed yourself. If you were in a particularly good game it played out in a way that was acceptable to nerdlings like myself who wanted the experience of being at war without actually getting out of their chair/losing weight/making a difference for their country. But because of this, games became very repetitive (if X happened that meant Y would happen, which meant Z and a bazooka blows off your face).

But I learned early that I could simply not think like a player and instead hack the mentality of the game. I’d go far around the map–all the way away from the action–and then circle back behind enemy lines. I’d sneak to a good position and plink off other players at random–letting some get very close to my position without attacking them to cover myself. It made the game fun for me and infuriating for other players. All of my dork-tentacles wiggled in self-esteem.

Now coming back to another nerd endeavor: in bike polo between two equalish teams, you can pretty much expect a fair amount of back and forth passing and shooting–someone being the fast aggressor, someone being the defensive back, and someone floating around the middle and diving back or forward depending on the situation. If it doesn’t make for a boring game, it does make for a predictable one. Essentially, the game becomes one where both teams are waiting for the other to make a mistake.

hackBut then there are players who simply hack that expectation. They are figuring out what the other players are expecting and working around that expectation. This is where the Nino Dios did very well, and where the Ringers did very well, too. These teams didn’t play traditional polo, necessarily. They were using the rules and the expectations of play to their own ends, allowing them to confound the people they played against and to present situations that people were not used to.

Consider the power you can gain, here: even if you’re not a great player, you can use that brain of yours to figure out what others are expecting you to do, and not do that. It’s the smoke and mirrors of bike polo, and teams that do it very well find that they are presented with easy opportunities to score simply because the other team is so out of position that the goal is open or the goalie underprepared. Some of this stems from fancy footwork with the ball (passing to yourself, sneaking it through someone’s bottom bracket, etc.), but other elements include thinking outside of the game itself–thinking of the game as a thing to be puzzled out rather than to be played.

Is it for everyone? No, probably not. But it is a fun way to come up with some new techniques to win–particularly if you find yourself matched up against an equal or stronger team.

Why do we even have rules? My case for (and against) the NAH Rule Set

rules

One of the near-constant statements that I hear from my club, at tournaments, and as an off-hand murmur is how the rules are destroying the essence of bike polo. Whether it’s folks who go to tournaments (and have gone to tournaments since forever ago) or it’s folks who just play pickup, there is a distinct and lasting distrust whenever the NAH dictates a new rule based solely off of a tournament or Nick Kruse’s hope that bike polo will some day become hockey.

And while I’m not on that side of the conversation, I can certainly understand it. The same way someone can understand why certain people don’t like ice cream, I suppose. I mean, they are wrong, naturally, but that just leaves more for me.

The biggest complaint is how rules fundamentally change the spirit of the game (the spirit apparently being a balding punk rocker who refuses to recognize that he’s actually a middle aged clerk at the local bodega). Bike polo was started with just a handful of rules, and those rules saw the sport through for quite a while, really. But there is a mental exercise we should take part in before we say that the NAH is power hungry and trying to make bike polo into an over-controlled bore-fest.

1. How has bike polo changed since its inception?

2. Do the new rules follow a few simple requirements?

As far as the first question goes, I think you can see what I’m getting at: bike polo could have just a few rules when it first started because we weren’t hosting large, organized tourneys, we weren’t playing at the speed and caliber we are now, and folks weren’t thinking about how they could game the system more than they were thinking about how they could have fun. The game itself evolved past the point of having just a handful of rules–and now we’re exploring just what rules need to be in place to support the monster we’ve created.

(And I hear you: we shouldn’t have allowed bike polo to change so much that the original game requires more rules. But if we’re talking about having a qualifying series at all, we must agree that we need to have a bit more than don’t be a dick on the books.

The second question’s requirements, as far as I see them, ask us to run any rule through two criteria:

  • Does the rule make the game more fun to play for everyone?
  • Does the rule make the game more safe to play for everyone?

If the answer is yes to both, you should have that rule. The rule to not allow for headbutting someone on court satisfies both requirements (for most people), so it’s a clear winner. The rigidity of the high sticking rule certainly makes the game safer to play, but may not making more fun to play (I know I’ve rolled my eyes when this is called after a player far away from any other player gets called for it).

By running rules through these two filters–at least as an outsider to the creation of rules for the sport–I can figure out whether the rule is beneficial or arbitrary/detrimental. These filters also recognize that it’s possible for a rule to not be beneficial to an individual player, but be beneficial to a majority of players, by comparison. Some folks do really well with checking people from behind–but that does’t mean it’s safe or makes the game more fun for everyone.

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.

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.

What I Learned at Pick-up Last Night: Muggy Edition

Mug

Yesterday was a good day of pickup, the weather just threatening to turn rainy but instead maintaining the pregnant possibility of rain–a mugginess that left my nether regions to turn into a swampland and my shirt to cling impossibly to my many slopes and rolls.

I know you were looking, Hbach. It’s okay. I’m not offended.

Anyway, I learned (as I hopefully always do) a few things along my sweaty adventure. Here they are:

passA great pass is worth ten break-aways. I, being a lefty, often find that my team-mates are not in the very best positions for me to pass to them. It’s not their fault of course, being wrong-handed is confusing even for me.

This often leads me to drive up the court and try to take my own shots. Does it make me feel a bit like Horse? Yes, yes it does; but it also makes me feel terrible when I fail to actually get a goal while my team-mates are so nearby.

Last night I saw how useful it is to depend more on passing than clever legwork around the opposing team. Not only does it save a whole mess of energy, but it redirects the energy and attention of the other team, allowing more opportunity for them to become confused and poorly positioned.

work glovesWork gloves do nothing for your hands other than protect from scratches and scrapes. Hbach managed to club my thumb and it hurt. It hurt bad. I can’t quite bend it the whole way and I blame my gloves for it. NO IT’S NOT BECAUSE I LOST MY GLOVES IN D.C. IT’S THE INANIMATE OBJECT’S FAULT. Damned leather gloves. Useless.

Now that Northern Standard have ceased producing polo equipment (dashing my hopes for a V2 of the Enforcer gloves), I need to find a new pair that have digit protection at the very least. My hands are my money-makers, and you can take that statement however you like.

swordI don’t know the rules around sword-fighting: last night I had a few instances where I was fighting off two opponents from getting the ball from me when my own team-mates were either far away or tapping back in. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if holding/slapping other mallets away (not hard enough to do any sort of damage, really!) is legal, strictly speaking. I wasn’t necessarily holding the ball on the wall or anything like that, but I certainly was aiming to stop the other team from getting possession. I’m looking for some clarification, here. Irregardlessessly, it made me feel like a sword-master, and that was worth the penalty call, if I were to get one.

And when the ref says I was assessed a ball-turnover penalty, I’ll say “not today.”

 

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.

 

Playing for Fun or Playing to Win? Or Both?

Question

Breaking people into two camps is fun, and remarkably easy to do on the internet. Today I’m looking at the people who play polo for fun and the people who play polo to win (that is to say, people who only find polo truly worthwhile if they are winning at it).

These camps are generally opposed to each other, and you can tell who’s who by finding the people who are getting frustrated by team-mates who aren’t straining every muscle to pursue a ball and, comparatively, the players who are getting frustrated because nobody is smiling.

2014-04-16 09.20.19I fall fairly soundly into the “play for fun” category, and as my detractors might quickly point out, this is in part because I’m not terribly good as a player. But more than that, I find polo to be a good, healthy way to not become the type of writer I think I would become if I didn’t have at least one thing to do outside of writing. This isn’t to say that I don’t have moments where I want to win–I think I have those moments most of the time–but that isn’t the only way I find joy in the game.

Not that I would mind the money, of course.

Not that I would mind the money, of course.

The play for fun people are frustrating for the play to win people because, honestly, they aren’t taking polo seriously enough. Yeah, I wrote that just now and I’m only half joking.

It’s hard to deal with team mates (even in pickup) who aren’t in the same mindset as you are. This can go either way (too serious or not serious enough).

The balance, I think, is learning to be serious when being serious matters–for yourself or for the situation you’re in–and making sure that you remember why you started playing in the first place (which is, more than likely, to have fun).

I’m really not suggesting that the little Venn diagram I made at the beginning of this is accurate. I think people are a blend of those two circles more than anything, but it’s very possible to become too hard-lined during pickup or too apathetic in a tournament (where you’re letting your team mates down, of course. If your whole team is there just to have fun, by all means do so!).

Bike polo is, above all else, a competitive effort. It involves scoring goals and the premise of winning and losing, despite the nagging feeling we all have that we’ve lost by simply being active in the sport at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s an all-or-nothing sport, either. Being aware of how you’re perceiving the game (both in the larger sense and individual games) can help you adjust your fun-to-win meter a bit more appropriately, allowing for you to support your team-mates while not coming off as too serious or too easy-going.