Tag Archive for Bike polo tips

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.

How Many People Should Chase The Ball Carrier?

chase

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

ANSWER: 1. Now go back to work.

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

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

Well no, not really.

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

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

Your focus as a defensive player should be:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 5 I learned: D.C. Adventure Edition

DC Bike Polo

This past weekend, I had the good fortune to travel down to D.C. to meet the President and discuss this matter of nationalizing bike polo play bike polo with the fine folks down that way.I haven’t played for a very long time thanks to ol’ mother nature, and when I got out of my car upon arriving to find a glorious, sunny, climbing-to-60ish day; wellsir, you could have knocked me down with a ultralight right then.

Robocop met me courtside and we rode down to the local market to get some Miller High Lifes (only $2.00! Apparently that’s cheap down in D.C.) with Alex, Alias, and Jess. After our starter fuel we headed back to the court where I was re-introduced to the sport.

This is what I learned/relearned:

2014-02-23 12.45.21

1. Bike polo is amazing: BIKE POLO IS AMAZING BIKE POLO IS AMAZING BIKE POLO IS AMAZING. THE PEOPLE WHO PLAY IT ARE GREAT. SCORING GOALS IS AMAZING. BIKE POLO IS AMAZING.

2. My heart was in it, even if my heart wasn’t in it: As you all know by my constant complaining about it, my ticker likes getting uppity sometimes. Well, I guess because of my completely lacking workout regimen over the winter, it wasn’t too keen on me going from potato to polo player all in one day. After a few games I felt it getting into too high a gear and needed to sit a few more games out than what I perhaps would have otherwise. Still, I didn’t die, so that’s a perk.

2014-02-23 12.45.35

3. There are places to be on the court: D.C. as a club is very focused on plays. Not necessarily on planned out, white-board plays, but more like “if I’m here you should be here” plays. To that end, I wasn’t necessarily, ahem, in the right place at the right time.

However, when I was in the right spot, it became apparently that someone would feed me the ball if I was indeed the most likely to make a decent shot. Likewise, after a few games I had a sort of intuition that if I passed the ball to a certain area, my team-mate would likely be there.  Read more

Take Off The Blinders.

blinders

If you were to categorize the qualities of [edit: most] new players that [edit: may make them, generally, seem like a] new player, you could break it down into a pretty simple list:

  1. They don’t have enough stickers on their bike
  2. They can’t yet shoot/pass
  3. They have zero court awareness 

It’s that last point that I’d like to talk about a little bit here (it’s why the last point is bolded, you see. I planned that.)

Having court awareness is a really important element of the game and likewise does quite a bit to accelerate your abilities within it. Now I’ve framed this solely as a “new player” problem, but the truth is any player can have this problem, so keep reading even if you imagine yourself to be anything but a newer player.

Court awareness is, simply, the ability to know where you are in relation to court dimensions and elements (other players, goals, etc.). Court awareness is what allows you to both be in the right spot and avoid slamming into a wall when looking behind your shoulder. It’s what keeps you from accidentally crashing into another player.

What I experienced when first learning the game was a sort of tunnel vision: I’d put my head down to look at the ball and that would be the only thing I could think of. I’d run into walls, into other players, and into the cones we were using at the time for goals. I felt like a dummy.

While that dummy feeling hasn’t left, my ability to judge where I am on the court while depending on my peripheral vision has certainly expanded. I suggest just a few things to help you gain/maintain this ability anywhere you find yourself playing:

  • Try using other objects to judge your position: try looking over your shoulder or to your side while pedaling down court. use the entrance/a post/a line on the court to help you know when you’re approaching the wall.
  • Practice looking away from the ball when you’re controlling it: this is good for many reasons, but in this case it’s good to become used to not focusing on the ball at all times when it’s yours. practice looking up and around until you can do it for longer periods of time. This prevents you from crashing into a defender or losing the ball when you take a long view around the court.
  • Try to listen to people as much as seeing them. Learn to feel the change in your ears (I am not even kidding) when someone is behind you. The way your ear picks up noise changes when a mass is around them, and learning to detect those subtle chances can make you seem preternatural in your ability to detect approaching players.

Taking the blinders off yourself while playing can help you get out of problematic situations before they start, as court awareness also makes you aware of the potential moves of other players. So next time you’re on the court, give a little thought to becoming comfortable with court position (instead of becoming comfortable with sudden trauma to your person).

New Year New Polo New You

YOU'RE GREAT FOR BEING YOU!

It’s 2014, and I’m sure absolutely everything is going to be different, forever.

But let’s just assume (for the slightest of moments) that those big changes are going to require just a little bit of your own effort to achieve. So let’s talk about resolutions, in particular the sort that are polo related–we don’t want to talk about how you’re hoping to avoid gluten this year.

Resolution #1: Travel More

Masters Indianapolis 2013 (34) (Copy)I think this is a great resolution for lots of polokins out in the world. You have your club, and boy do you love them; but it’s okay to see other people. Travelling about like a medicine show salesman is a great way to learn new skills, meet great people, and strengthen your own bike polo experience. I’m going to try to take some of my own advice in this particular case, though I’ve got a big-boy job that really limits my ability to travel.

It’s horrible, and I advise you to avoid what I’ve done as much as possible.

Resolution #2: Get Polo Healthy

2013-04-28 10.40.20There is healthy and then there is polo healthy. For my part, I think getting polo healthy is a really good aim for at least myself, but probably for a lot of players out there.

What do I mean by polo healthy? Wellsir, I mean getting on the bike outside of polo to build up my endurance (of which I have none), my speed (none currently), and my comfort with bike control (I’m surprised I can stay on it at all, really).

I also mean getting my core a bit stronger so I can use my body to help direct my game. Right now I think of myself as a pair of strong legs attached to a barrel of Jell-o, topped with a brain. Oh, and that brings me to the third resolution.

Resolution #3: Pump Up The Self Esteem

rocky-iii-560-mickeyNo, I don’t mean I’m going to try to make myself feel better in all facets of my life, as I think that being a moody, self-deprecating person is an important element to being a successful writer. I mean I want to bolster my self-esteem when it comes to playing bike polo.

This doesn’t mean getting so good that I don’t have any complaints about my play. It means accepting the kind of player I am, allowing for mistakes, and trying to not get down on myself when I have a horrible day at a tourney/at pickup. It’s easy to get all sorts of angry with yourself in this dumb sport, but realizing that you’re there to have fun is a good way of getting out of that rut. Let’s all try that one together, shall we?

Don’t Play Hero Polo

Wolverine polo

There is perhaps no more celebrated a sports moment when one player–after it seems like there’s no possibility to win the championship/game/division title/fight against basketball playing aliens–manages to turn everything around and win the game for his or her team.

Okay, it’s mostly his team because that’s how Hollywood rolls.

But there is a time and a place for those sorts of heroics, and the time and place for them isn’t when it strikes your fancy, surprisingly enough.

Polo kinda lends itself to giving players the mindset that they are much more important than what they actually are. I’m not saying that you can just slack off or that you shouldn’t feel like you’re just as special as a little snowflake, but believing that you’re the only thing holding your team together–or even that you’re the only player on your team that can make the difference–is the wrong way to go about it.

Sure, you very well may be the strongest player in your team, but in a game of 1 against 3, the team playing with 3 will have a much easier time of it. And it’s this sort of rationalized humility that you should be working from.

swordI have witnessed teams that fall apart only because one player believes themselves to be King Arthur, wielding around a mallet like it’s Excalibur and charging to the ball no matter how sensible it is to do so. I’ve also witnessed these players deal with the consequences of how the other two people on their team treat them after the game.

Even if you were able to win playing that way, you’re reducing the confidence your team-mates have in you to play intelligently–and you’re burning up lots of energy trying to save the known universe with your heroics.

So instead of getting it in your head that you can run the whole game from your saddle, consider instead how you can contribute to your team and to a 3 person effort. Hero polo is something that only the very new or the very under-informed play, so knock it the hell off already!

Bike Polo And The Art Of War

Sun Tzu

The Art of War by Sun Tzu is read by military leaders, kids who recently acquired cheap, knock off “ninja swords” from ebay, and guys in B&N cafes who want to seem mysterious to the teenage girl who just poured them green tea (“no sugar, please. It is against The Way”).

Frankly, the book doesn’t really apply to warfare unless it’s being waged in a post apocalyptic scenario where the only weapons you have are the ones you can make–but really, I’d be trying to learn more lessons from Red Dawn, in that case. Because I think you need to practice to eat a deer heart, right?

But I’m up to the challenge of taking the basic lessons provided by this noble work and trying to apply them to the much more important art of bike polo. Here goes nothing:

planning始計,始计: Detail Assessment and Planning

In this chapter, Old Sunny is talking about the importance of planning before doing. In particular, deciding the likelihood of success in war (depending on the season, commanders available, strength of force, and terrain, among other things).

In Polo: 

Before you start a match at a tourney, try to watch a game or two from the people you’re going to be playing against. See who they leave near the goal, who is the most active and who is the most accurate. Be familiar with the court surface and how your tires respond to it. Take a few shots to see how the weather is affecting the ball. These are little maneuvers before a match that can provide a slight advantage over the less curious polo player.

Hell, that one was easy! Let’s move on.


war cats作戰,作战: Waging War

Sun Tzu’s second chapter focuses on the idea of a quick battle: how war is more easily won if the battles within it are quick and decisive. Essentially, limiting the cost of the war.

In Polo: 

I think this is an easy one, too. If you are able to shut down a game quickly, it’s a good idea to do so. You’re saving your energy, limiting the amount of time that other competitors can study your strategy, and opening up more time off court for shit talking and beverage consumption.

BOOM!

catplane

謀攻,谋攻: Strategic Attack

The next chapter defines the source of strength as unity, and lists the five most important factors (in order of importance) to winning a war: attack, strategy, alliances, army and city.

In Polo: 

This one is a bit more tricky…okie dokes… Read more

Is there such a thing as sneaking around on court?

image from threadless.com

We have a particular player on our club, Carter, who is the ninja-ist ninja player I’ve ever encountered. He is quiet on the court, is able to dodge around other players, and sneaks up on my blind side to steal the ball more than I care to admit. Sure, he’s only 13 or something, but after he steals from me (and laughs…he has this flippin’ laugh!) my first though is “I wonder how far I could throw him.”

But that’s one of the things that makes the kid great–he’s exceptionally good at sneaking around the court. It’s a rare thing to encounter and I’m curious about how much of a place that kind of strategy has.

Naturally there are some limitations. With only five other people on the court during a match, you’re not going to be lost in the crowd. But I do believe there are ways to make yourself less conspicuous and more likely to ninja the ball away from an opposing player.

all ahead fullFor instance, I think always pedaling at least a little bit when you’re behind a distracted (working the ball, looking ahead of themselves for a shot/pass, etc.) is a great idea. It stops your freewheel from clicking and gives you what I like to think of as operational silence. I’m not saying that the opponent is forgetting that you’re back there, but they might have a bad judgement about how far away you are. Swoop in and take that ball, Polo-san.

Another great way to make yourself more of a sneak is to mask just how quickly you can go–or lull the other player to sleep with slower movement until you start mashing. You’re counting on the other player to be slower on the uptake, but even a second’s worth of a head start can give you advantage.

Stretch Armstrong imageWhy not try to do the same thing with your mallet reach? Let the other polokin think you can’t possibly reach the ball from where you’re at, and then snake it away from them. Again, this counts on a lot of other variables, but if you can manage it, there will be an equal share of frustration from the other player as there is accomplishment from you.