Tag Archive for Hardcourt Bike Polo

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.

The Cold War: Veteran Players vs. The New Wave

cold war

More Importantly, Who Will Win?

It’s just subtle enough that you might not even notice it, but bike polo is locked in a cold war of sorts.

On one side are the forces that we come to associate with bike polo’s history: clad in mix and match sports equipment, armed with home-made mallets and normally treating bike polo tourneys as social events as much as a sporting event. These are the people who, without question, made bike polo as big and as fun of a sport as it is today. They are the folks who struggled to find a place to play, were often run off by officials and the police, and simply didn’t give up on the game. They are world-forged in the sport, and are oftentimes the people who can identify almost every other veteran player from every other club.

propogandaOn the other side is the second wave of bike polo players: these are folks who look more like they are playing a sport. They have equipment specific to bike polo, they are more likely to wear padding and face cages, and are likewise more likely to avoid drinking heavily until after they’ve played, if at all during the day. They play the sport for the sake of achievement, and are consistently thinking of bike polo as something for everyone (rather than something “for us.”) Because of this, they might also not be as solid on their feet as the veteran players, but what they lack in skill they more than make up for in tenacity and willingness to learn.

But before I dive into this cold war, a caveat: I’m making sweeping generalizations and categorizing all polo players into two groups, which really is impossible to do. Just allow me this editorial hyperbole for the sake of writing coherently, okay?

What Caused the Divide?

When it comes down to it, bike polo has always been a sport for others. It’s creation story is surrounded by people who didn’t quite fit into the sports crowd, nor did they fit into the non-sports crowd. It brings together misfits, really, and that’s part of the draw of it.

quietHowever, all things that are made for a particular group eventually bleed out into the world at large (that is, if they are ever worth a damn), and that’s precisely what happened to bike polo. What we have now is a mix of people who are emotionally invested in keeping bike polo the way it is (that is, not making it too mainstream), and people who are emotionally invested in making bike polo into more than it is (or, more appropriately, into something that gets sponsors and write-ups in sports columns).

The war itself is played out most clearly in any online forum or discussion where veterans call out movements towards regulation (ANY new ruleset), new equipment, or new requirements. It might just be a simple “fuck this” or longer explanation of how we’re making the sport too rigid to play, but it’s all there to be seen. The other side can be identified by how they overstretch to discuss relationships with potential sponsors, how they’re willing to drop thousands of dollars on having the “best” equipment, and how little they regard people who are still using non-polo specific equipment. They build online communities and sustain them, or they actively engage in defending new developments in the sport.

Tear Down That Wall

BERLIN-WALL-pan_641537a-29jw5nyI don’t think there isn’t room for both groups in the future of bike polo (veterans might say “what future” here, but let’s just use our imaginarium caps). Any activity needs people who protect the heritage of the sport as much as people who press forward blindly into what could be.

The truth of it is, I think all polo players have some aspects of both wanting to keep this sport all to themselves and also share it with the whole world in any way possible. Most also lean more one direction than the other. The way to avoid either

  • Losing the foundations of our sport to over regulation and increasing costs
  • Allowing our sport to become stagnant and shrinking

is to recognize the reason and not the manner that people communicate. Sure, Johnny Old-Head just said your new model for a prototype wheel cover is lame and you don’t know what you’re talking about, but it might just be because he’s scared of watching the sport fundamentally change. In the same vein, Susan New-Idea may have just called you out for refusing to recognize the new ruleset, but really it’s because she doesn’t want to see injury befall you or anyone else who’s playing.

Between the veteran players and the new wave, there’s little more to do than try to seek balance. Sure, that might come off as a Russo-inspired phrase, but really it’s the best advice I can give (and anytime I can bring in a Russo-esque thought, I will. Because Russo is a favorite).

Bike Polo in the Media

reporter

Just ran across an article featured on Stack.com about hardcourt bike polo, written by John Bobel. It’s a listicle, to be sure, but it’s not a terribly inaccurate one (save for the section about rules–if the newest ruleset has taught us anything, it’s that there aren’t a simple set of rules to play).

This is, however, yet another display of how bike polo is moving it’s way into the mainstream media inch by inch. I’m thankful for Mr. Bobel’s take on the sport and for getting it out in front of more folks.

Read the article here: http://www.stack.com/2014/03/26/hartcourt-bike-polo/ 

AAAAnd then there’s an article on BBC America that discusses “10 British Things About Jackson, MS,” which also features (small as the write up is) bike polo: http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2014/03/10-british-things-jackson-ms/.

So what does this mean for you and me?

Well, nothing really. Especially for you. You’ll keep playing the sport, I suspect, whether or not it’s covered in the media in a more general way. However, it might be the next stage in the development of our little sport: a wider consciousness of it that might just bring in a few more people to play. If anything, you may notice more film crews or reporters here and there at tourneys, perhaps a few more newbie players who didn’t hear about it from a friend, but rather from an article they stumbled across online.

As for me and the esteemed Association of Bike Polo Journalists, this might be something different. As more news agencies and websites look to reach out into Bike Polo, they might turn to us to help them. Or, alternately, they might push us out of relevancy. I’d like to think that only I will push myself out of relevancy, but whatever.

So, really, I guess I’m just sharing the little bit of pride and excitement that comes from bike polo getting press. I look forward to a day when it happens so often that it’s no longer exciting.

First Look: FBM Ballista

FBM Ballista (11)

Last year, custom polo bikes were all about the sudden and urgent shift to 26” wheels.   Polo specific frames were popping up left and right aimed at the smaller, slightly more agile wheel size, while the 700c crowd was left with a choice between the MKE Bruiser….and……the MKE Bruiser.

It (finally) feels like the steam from the 26” revolution has slightly cooled, and we’re finally starting to see support for those preferring the speed and familiarity of the larger wheel.   FBM stepped up to the plate early with their FGFS Sword frame, which was fairly well received as a workable polo frame, and then really got people excited with the release of their all new Ballista frame, a prototype of which was seen under the asses of Koyo Maeda and Evan George of Assassins fame.

A production pre-order happened, monies were exchanged ($750 to be exact), and quite a few people (our own Jon Kokus included) waited not so patiently by the door for the big brown van to arrive bearing gifts.

Well, for some east coasters, Yesterday was that day!

Here is your first look at the 2014 FBM Ballista polo frameset.

 

Introducing The Insta-Ref!

2014-03-19 08.19.52

Want to run an NAH tournament but don’t have the time or desire to learn the rule-set?

Can’t seem to find anyone willing to blow a whistle for a full day?

Tired of players attacking refs and ruining the joy of the game?

Well the future is NOW!

Introducing The Insta-Ref by Lancaster Polo!

The Insta-Ref™ is the automated, one-touch solution to all of your referee needs. Developed in the secret sanctum of the polo war room deep in the heart of Lancaster County, The Insta-Ref™ is your one-stop solution for any NAH Tournament.

Using the Insta-Ref is Easy!


All you need to do is:

1. Wait for a “potential-call” moment

2. Press the Insta-Ref™ button

3. Perform the action prescribed by the random selection of the Insta-Ref!

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Possible Actions Include:

  • Make Up A Rule
  • Distract With Animal Noises
  • Yell “I AM The Law!”
  • Blankly Stare At Players
  • Blow Whistle Louder
  • W.W.N.K.D (What Would Nick Kruse Do?)

Each of these possible solutions are specially formulated to simulate actual, real life reffing!

Order Now!

The Insta-Ref™ ref management system only exists in limited quantities (read: 1) so act now! The first order will also receive the Insta-Heckle 4000 AT ABSOLUTELY REGULAR PRICE!

INSTA-REF IS INSTA-AWESOME!