Tag Archive for Hardcourt Bike Polo

Cutting Out Ego, Increasing Flexibility

Buddha

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Important to Play With Yourself

Lancaster United Pick-up tourney (71)

Now wait a minute.

It’s easy to just play bike polo on pickup days and think you’re really getting everything you need. Honestly, you’re probably getting at least 75% of what you need to play good polo. But, and this is something I’ve just formulated recently, you’ll never have a really great idea of what kind of player you are/what you’re good at unless you take some time to dribble around with the ball on your own.

Reason being, I think, because when you’re playing your trying to play in a group. You’re considering your team mates and your opponents and how cool you look to all those cool people being cool on the sidelines. You’re not intrinsically in your own head–at least not in a good way.

You won’t work on a skill over and over and over like you need to, and even if you did manage to do that in front of your club, who’s to say their reaction or suggestions wouldn’t set you back a bit in your own learning? There is something wonderful that happens when nobody is watching you practice: you don’t get nearly so concerned about messing up. And I mean that even if your reaction to messing up in front of people is to say something funny and try again–you’re still changing the way you’d normally respond by yourself. You’re creating another layer to consider rather than focusing on the one thing you’re working on.

Playing by yourself gives you time to take time. It gives you an opportunity to not push yourself too hard (or to have someone keep telling you what you’re doing wrong over and over). It’s more…well…I guess understanding. I mean, unless you’re a complete jerk to yourself, in which case you’ve got bigger problems than hitting the ball in the same spot all the time.

So as much as it might pain you to think about hitting around the ball on a day where you aren’t going to play polo, hear me out: you’ll be filling in some gaps that don’t come with just playing pickup or at tourneys. You’ll be making yourself a more able and self-aware player.

The NAH Killed Bike Polo

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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

Getting Better Doesn’t Just Happen, Bub.

blame

There are times in my past where I felt as if a switch would be flipped. Like a lever would be pulled down in my brain and suddenly I’d be up-to-snuff with other bike polo players that I’d come to respect and admire. But the fact is that doesn’t happen.

Believe me, I’ve pulled on everything I could all over my body, and the only thing that changes is you’re not allowed to go into certain businesses anymore.

I think part of the problem was that I was hoping, incorrectly, that the problems I had with certain fundamental skills (shooting, passing, speed, court awareness) could be ignored until I played long enough that they would, inherently, be corrected.

But I’m here to lay some truth down on you, friend: the problems you have now as a player will be the problems you always have unless you work to correct them.

If you find that you aren’t very good at connecting with the ball–like your mallet scrunches up as if it were some delightfully hilarious flamingo when you’re whapping at the ball–then that’s something you need to address right now. Not down the line, not when it magically solves itself because somehow at seven months of play it disappears, right. now.

If you’re not too good at disrupting a play and then getting control of the ball, work on that with a friend immediately. If you can’t collect a pass or make a quick shot on goal; try to exercise those muscles at your next pickup day.

There isn’t a magical clock in your abilities that suddenly starts going off as soon as you play X amount of games or reach an undisclosed amount of years playing. Truth is, if you just keep playing the same way you’ve always played, you’ll…uh…always play that way.

You must take ownership of your own development if you indeed want to grow as a player (if you don’t want to grow as a player, then ignore this whole post. If you’re just in it for the funsies and nothing else, you’re all set, really. Just keep having fun. I’m not talking to you lucky devils). There isn’t anyone who is necessarily going to take you under their wing and teach you how to become the next great polo phenomenon unless you’re asking around and listening to their advice (even then, in all honesty, chances are you already know what they’re going to tell you, but aren’t willing to practice enough to make that knowledge anything more than knowledge).

There are limitations, of course–both physical and situational–that can limit you in your growth. Believe me, if there is one person who should be aware of limitations in growth, it’s me. BUT! That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about even the most basic skills going un-developed because players aren’t willing to work on those skills. I’m talking about always having trouble getting the ball off of the wall, wanting to get better, but ignoring the fact that getting better means putting in the work to do so.

So this is my tip for today. My plea, really: take ownership of your development, and accept the challenge of working at getting better at bike polo. Don’t rely on time or pickup games to somehow bless you with the skillset you need to get great. Become a student of the game and get your hands-on-education started up!

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.

Want to Grow Bike Polo? Forget Sponsors–Look to Schools.

schoolpolo

Image from the “Living the Dream” contest most recently held here at Lancasterpolo. 

Is Sponsorship the Only Way?

The bike polo Illuminati spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to decide if indeed bike polo is in the decline (I don’t think it is) and what we can do to reverse that trend if it proves to be accurate (which it’s not). Still, even if you’re only mildly involved in the game, chances are you have some sort of interest in where the sport is going and how that’s going to affect you down the line.

One of the refrains I hear more often than not is “wait until we get our first big sponsor.” And, no doubt, if Gatorade or Nike or Adidas wanted to throw a few thousand dollars at the NAH each year, we’d see some significant changes to how much support clubs got in order to host tourneys and build courts and whatever else. But throwing money at something isn’t always the best way to fix it. I know this as a fact, as I recently tried throwing my wallet at a leaking faucet and all I got was a wet wallet. (Thanks, Obama.)

But as true as that sounds–that getting a big chunk of dough will help our sport–I believe there is a more effective way to:

  • Gain a steady stream of new players for all clubs
  • Establish the sport as marketable/profitable
  • Create a community that is unified and vibrant

Look to the Gym Class

And it comes down to introducing grade-schools to the sport, and encouraging them, in turn, to introduce bike polo as a extra-curricular activity/gym class event.

Why is this a good idea? Well, let’s start with the basics: the more people we have getting involved in bike polo, the more likely it is that the sport will live beyond the first big wave we have going right now. People who learn to play a sport earlier in life are likely to develop a certain enjoyment from it, and typically continue to play that sport into college (or at least play it on the weekends with friends to stay in shape after college and what-not). Furthermore we’d be institutionalizing the game itself, making for a set way of learning the sport and having it be available to more people than just those who stumble into the game through luck.

This model (the school focus rather than sponsor focus) also gives bike polo equipment manufacturers something that they’re dying for: bulk orders. Imagine if a school–just one–needed to begin this sort of program up. They’d need to order dozens of complete mallets, dozens of various sized bikes (or at least bikes that could suit all body types–I remember how fun it was to be the only guy who needed the smallest golf club in gym class), and safety equipment to boot. Even if just a few companies were able to lock down those orders, the impact on their ability to research and develop more equipment (not to mention offer it up at a cheaper price) would be monumental. Read more

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.

 

A Jack of All Trades and A Master of None

Jack

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

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.