Tag Archive for Hardcourt Bike Polo

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.



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

New condition discovered: pololow


A recently non-published scientific study found that a staggering number of polo players seem to be suffering from a condition known as pololow. Pololow is especially common amongst players living in regions around the high and low latitudes which are exposed to climatic changes, making polo playing up to weeks in succession near to impossible.

The first symptoms appear with the falling of the leaves mid to late October (may vary), the researchers found a correlation between large numbers of leaves on polo courts and the slipping away of bicycles to induce to the first symptoms of pololow. The average playing speed decreased substantially during the 4 week observation period of polo players across the nation (players with courts that are not surrounded by trees were not affected). The onset of the condition will appear at the latest with the first snowfall and the coherent numbing (and subsequent aching) of toes in insufficiently insulated shoes.

For the unknown observer (Polo-Muggles aka Puggles) this form of depression may not be instantly noticeable, yet common withdrawal symptoms can include:

A polo player in hibernation.
Sleeping through the winter is one form of preventing pololow.

  • Restlessness
  • Intense boredom
  • Mood swings
  • A loss of libido
  • Bursting into tears when videos of polo tournaments are posted on facebook
  • Some species of polo players report an uncontrolled yelling at traffic lights with each changing colour, the common phrase to be heard being “3, 2, 1.. POLO!”, followed by a hectic sprint.

A form of hibernation has also been observed amongst polo players, this form of metabolic suppression is commonly maintained by a regular inducement of mulled wine. The closing of christmas markets at the end of December considerably complicates the uptaking of these alcoholic beverages.

Other attempts at delaying the onset of this condition include taking a sudden interest in knitting, stamp-collecting and ironing undergarments. None of these attempts have proven successful in completely preventing the outbreak of pololow.

There is a scientific consensus that the acute lack of roofed playing grounds for polo players is responsible for the consistent rise in cases of pololow on a global scale. It cannot be ruled out, that the condition may reach an epidemic state within the coming years if a solution is not found.




We Didn’t Play Polo, But…

2013-12-08 12.14.30

Sunday morning started like any other Sunday here at Lancaster Polo Dot Com headquarters–with my dog’s nose pushing on my forehead, reminding me that it was time to pee and eat food. So that’s precisely what I did, taking a peek outside to see that there was indeed no snow on the ground.

Around 10 AM I made omelets for my wife and I (mushroom, pepper, and onion, as I’m sure you’re curious) and there started to be a few flakes flittering down from the heavens.

What-ev-ah, I said. I’ll just put on a hat to protect my delicate skull from melting snow.

2013-12-08 12.14.34But by the time I actually hit the road, it was coming down very well. My normal drive of twenty or so minutes turned into one of maybe a half hour. Not terrible, I grant you, but I certainly could have read the signs at that point.

Where we play is perched on top of a hill, and that hill makes itself very apparent when there is ice or snow. This isn’t important now, but it will be later on in the tale.

So I get to our courts just as the hockey players are leaving. The goalie (a boisterous, foaming-at-the-mouth type) tells me that they played for as long as they could, but the court was getting too thick for their roller blades and they decided to pack it in. I told him we’d give it a shot and he laughed at me long enough that I felt the need to turn away from him.

Rodney showed up then, and we discussed how stupid we were for being there. I went out on the court and did a series of front wheel skids, which was a new experience for me and not altogether unenjoyable.

2013-12-08 12.14.38Then Troy showed up and promptly announced we were idiots, and we agreed. From that point all three of us rolled around the court, and I found one of the ice patches that formed near the goal.

I didn’t hurt myself too terribly when I fell, but I decided to take my time getting up by first making a polo snow angel. That was the best thing to have happened while courtside.

After I got up and snapped a few quick pictures (to prove that we three were the strongest and dumbest of our club), people began posting on facebook that they were not coming out. We weren’t surprised, and decided to head back to our warm little polo hovels ourselves.

And that’s when that hill I told you about came into play. You see, I tried to go back the same way I came, but an ice truck had slid sideways about halfway down the hill, and I was waved to a stop by a woman in a van.

“If you go down that way, you’ll DIE.”

I thought it was a bit dramatic of a statement, and I tried to peer down the hill to see the Earth opening up with tentacles coming out (how else could she be so sure of my death), but she said it again and then told me to go any other way. She was a goof, but not incorrect, so I turned my delightfully bad-in-the-snow Saturn Ion around and found the highway, taking a good hour to get home.

So instead of playing polo I cheated imminent death and read 200 pages of Storm of Swords.

Bike Polo Isn’t an Institution. It’s an Experiment. Calm Down.


The announcement of proposed changes to the structure of the regions in North American Hardcourt Bike polo came with it’s expected share of tooth gnashing and dismissive, regurgitated whatevers from across the polosphere. And for good cause–regions are being broken up, most established regions are losing allotments for the upcoming year (South East losing something like 40% of it’s allotment, I believe I read), and conversations springing up discussing how all of this is either going be a good change or yet another horrible one that nobody likes God-why-do-I-even-play-this-game.

But there is something to remember in the midst of celebration or disappointment: nothing is written in stone. Point in fact, it’s not even written in wood or dirt or…uh…I don’t know, sand? Sand I guess?

Bike polo is so remarkably under-developed as a sport, and it’s one of the reasons that the rules, regions, voting, and processes change almost every year. The people we entrusted to help solidify and protect the game are (as we all are) still trying to work out what works best. Whether you’re a confederate or a federalist (that is, don’t care what the NAH has to say or are a staunch supporter), the truth remains that those folks are attempting to do what’s right for bike polo as a whole, as we all are. Mostly.

So when you feel as though some core value of what you understand bike polo to be is being attacked, keep in mind also that bike polo isn’t an institutional thing being attacked by some radicals. It’s a developing sport which is so new it can take enormous hits from experimentation. There are no sports that were completely formed even years after they went onto a national level (American football played around with the points system, moving the field goals, allowing for the forward pass, etc). Hell, even President Teddy Roosevelt had a say on the safety rules of Football, and I’m pretty sure Obama hasn’t even heard of bike polo (thanks, Obama…). 

So when your hackles flare up because it’s decided that a crease will exist in the sport/not exist, or you see that your region is being split up/not being split up, try a few breathing exercises and remind yourself that it’s probably not forever. That which does not work will be abandoned, and that which does will be kept.

The real danger, I feel,  is in not allowing for those experiments to take place. Bike polo can’t possibly be as good as it’s going to get in structure, and it’s our jobs to be open-minded enough to make mistakes until we find the successes open to us.

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.


New Regions? Well…If I May…


The NAH announced a proposition to create new, more balanced regions for North American Bike Polo. I for one think this is a lovely idea, as there are a good amount of players who were relatively distanced from the center of their region and look to benefit from a re-drawing of the regional lines.

However, what is very disappointing is that the NAH is not taking this opportunity to re-name regions. But don’t worry–your old buddy Crusher has done it for them.

I present to you my 2014 proposition for the renaming of the potential new regions:


Break Through the Coroplast Ceiling: How To Move Up After Going Stale

break through

I would like to just spend a few minutes, before beginning the article, admiring how well I made that graphic. Just look at it. It’s a fist going through corrugated  plastic. I knew the MFA would be worth it!

But I’m not here to stare in amazement at the glory that is two stolen images being blended together into perfect harmony. I’m here to address the very serious issue of getting stuck in the just-before-getting-better rut that polo players often find themselves in. And, more often than not, stay in for much longer than they should.

Let me explain:

It’s so easy, after getting past the new-player jitters, to assume that you’ll just become a better player through consistent playing and effort. To a large extent, that’s very true. However, there’s another point that isn’t nearly as recognized, and it comes when you stop developing as a young bike polo player. Much in the same way as public education fails when explaining sexual development to kids (“Well, you get hair places, you voice changes, and then babies, lol! Have a good time with crushing self-doubt and confusion about gender roles!”), bike polo really doesn’t have very solid, understood advice about what to do to go from a pretty alright player to a next-level (this being your next level, not “the” next level, which is a confusing, goofy term) player.

Of course, there are folks who aren’t necessarily concerned with developing past a certain point in their play style, and that’s okay, too. If you’re in this game to just have fun and blow off some stress from the day, so be it. But I’m willing to bet there’s at least a few readers out there who find they really aren’t moving past the point they are now, and they’d like to.

My first bit of advice is to watch Mr. Do Videos with analysis in mind. It’s fun to watch bike polo videos just for the sake of watching, but it’s so much more valuable to watch bike polo to figure out what the big names (haha) in our sport are doing to be so good. This is an easy thing to do, and it pays off if you’re able to discern strategy and intelligent play from the tape.

Next, try plays. Maybe it’s just a Lancaster United thing, but we almost never run plays. It’s silly, especially considering how effective even the most simple elements of plays are in opening up scoring opportunities. Find a few people in your club who are up for some playmaking and executing, and give it a shot. If nothing else, it will add some variety to pick up.

Also consider exercising specifically for polo.  Now, I don’t do this at all, and chances are I won’t, because laziness is my favorite. BUT, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t. Building up your endurance, core strength, and bike muscles (i.e. leg bits) will help you worry less about how tired you are after matches, and make your focus all the more centered on the game itself. 

Do those things, and I think you’ll find some new skills and talents opening up to you, and you’ll step on through to the other side of your own abilities.

Work on Dumb Long Shots, But Not Dumb Big Swings

Lancaster United Bike Polo  (21)

Kyle, Godfather of polo in Lancaster and all around lexicon of confusing verbal cues, is fond of saying (after a long shot is taken on goal), “come on! You ain’t that desperate!”

And while I am loathe to disagree with Papa Karl, I gotta say in my defense, I’m always that desperate.

And you should be, too.

The thing about working on your longer shots is that, quite simply, you should only really be using them when you’re in a tight spot. Sure, it’s fun as hell to nail a goal from your own goal line, but unless you’re playing on RVA size courts, you’re also opening yourself up to a lot of mistakes (missing, of course, but also ball turnover, losing momentum, etc.). But the thing about tight spots is, naturally, that you don’t know when or how they’re going to occur. By being prepared for that eventuality, you’ll be more likely to work your way into a better position.

I’ll give you an example:

Ted, Troy and I (TEAM SCRIMMAGE AWWW YISSS) were playing a match together, and we found ourselves in overtime. I got control of the ball maybe 10 feet in front of our goal and lined up/took a long shot.

Fathers Day Bike Polo (76) (Copy)Glory be: it made it into the goal and the match was over. Now, could I have done my slow little dance up to the opposing goal and taken a higher % shot a few feet away? Yeah, assuming that I have any more likelihood closer than further away, I could have. But I would need to work my way through three rotating defenders, and that may have cut my likelihood of scoring way down.

I have been, for the past few months, taking pot-shots at goal from the opposite side of the court. I’ve gotten alright (for me!) at getting closer and closer to the goal. It’s another thing to add to my toolbox for bike polo, and something I feel every player should be competent with.

Will it always work? No–God no, it won’t. Will you mess up so much sometimes that your other team-mates will get grumpy? I mean, probably?

But if you can get that long shot down to something close to good, you’ll find yourself with plenty of opportunities where it’s a useful way to get that important goal.

However, don’t think that you need to windmill your arm around to get that big shot off. Try to move your arm as little as possible when taking that shot (while still keeping power). Point being, as you arc your arm up over your head like a barbarian bringing their axe down on some poor Roman, the ball is still moving. You’re increasing the likelihood of that ball getting out of position, hitting a rock, etc. You’re also damning yourself if you miss, as your follow through will render your mallet altogether useless.

RVA Pickup (19)So, instead of swinging wildly at the ball, try a controlled, powerful swing. I’ve managed to get myself to a point (after two flipping years of being aware) where my swing doesn’t get past my shoulder, and sometimes even stays below my saddle. I put all that power into my shoulder and elbow, which seems to give me enough to zing the ball down court. By doing so, I’m limiting the chance for an opponent to steal the ball, interrupt my mallet-movement, or even just get in my way.

In summary: learn that long shot, but forget that big swing.

NAH Website Woes: Who’s to BLAME?!


With the roll-out of the new “Voting” website, there have been a QUAGMIRE of mistakes and errors (1), leading to perhaps the greatest failure in NAH history.

Today, just after hailing the great success of their newest voting web portal, the NAH released the following statement:

NAH DownNo big deal? NO BIG DEAL, NAH?

Hundreds of bike polo players are now disenfranchised as the website is now “practically inaccessible” according to the writer of this article.


Thanks, Obama

This only illustrates the continued problems that the NAH has experienced with the bloated, under-developed efforts to further the political aims of Chairman Kruse.

With 2014 nearly upon us, this most recent flub throws into doubt whether bike polo will exist in the new year, much less if we’ll be able to argue over rules we only barely understand.

More as this story develops.


What I learned at the first-cold-night of Polo


Last night brought about the first under 30 degree night of playing polo. Thankfully, there was very little wind, so it wasn’t at all bad to be out pedaling around in. We had probably the perfect number of players show up (8 early on, with 7 remaining the whole night + an occasional 8th (Couscous’ son)) and we had some very solid, very close games all night long. So! What did I learn?

1. Young players will be the end of us all: We already have one slaying 13 year old on the team, and as it turns out, Couscous’ son has all the trimmings to also be a slayer. I don’t like it. They’re so young–they have so much time to learn the sport. It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair at all.

But it also makes me very hopeful. If the starting age of polo players (who can handle the bulk and aggression of adults) is 13, then I can see a longevity of our sport. I can see it being something that is, at some point, part of a high school gym class.

2. Gentlemen Jack is disgusting: Don’t buy it. Really. It’s not worth the money or the amount of disappointment you’ll feel at having a swig. It does work at keeping your joints warm, though, so I am thankful for that.

3. Talking all the time, even if you have nothing to say, is a value on the court: I jabber a lot on the court. It’s just what I do to release my own tension and let my team know what’s going on. Last night my jibber jabber turned out to be more helpful than most times in showing off where I was and promoting my other two players to communicate back. It’s helpful if you keep in mind that you’re just playing a game (so don’t act so very serious when your on the court), and you’ll find yourself getting jabbery, too.

4. Cutting lines is as important as making lanes: I don’t know where I picked it up, but I find myself, when in goal, telling people to “cut his line.” What I mean is, cut the direct path a player or the ball has to the goal. If my other two players can consistently “cut the line” of another player, it makes those frustrating goals through my 5 hole less frequent.

In much the same way, making lanes for your ball carrier is the best way to stop people from cutting your own line and makes shooting on the goal so much easier. So instead of just rolling up-court and hoping for a pass to shoot on, think about how you can help the gal who has the ball on your own team.

5. Go fast when players slow down, and slow down when they are going fast: The easiest way I get out of a situation is to do the opposite of what the other players are doing. When I get a break away, I inevitably have someone who is catching up to me (slowski). So what I do is apply the breaks super-heavy when they get just out of reach. They zip past me and then I have a clear wing and, generally, a clear shot on goal.

P.S.: it took until about 3AM for my flanks to get warm again. I thank you, bodyfat, for the insulation.