Tag Archive for Hardcourt Polo

4 year polo anniversary


Well, I’ve done it.

I’ve kept my interest/body/willpower up high enough to continue playing this sport for another year.

On this day (the 25th of September), four years ago, I played my first game of bike polo–and have been playing fairly regularly ever since. I think playing for 4 years is really quite an achievement, and it better be as I don’t have much else to show for the effort other than a bunch of grumpy joints and a new appreciation of jorts.

Looking back now, I want to condense my 4 years of polo life into a few takeaways, which I’ll try to do right meow:

The spooky crew.

The spooky crew.

To start with, your club is going to change a lot. Like, every year. We have some of the old guard still playing, but I’m comfortable in saying that at least half of our club are people who started after me–and if I remember to recruit actively this upcoming spring, the people after me might find themselves in the same situation. It’s great and not great, depending on whether you’re the sort who likes meeting new people and developing players or not. For my part, I am always excited to see new faces and learn from them as much as they mistakenly try to learn from me.

Next, I’d say it’s safe to realize this is an expensive sport. Sure, you can get into it with a cheap bike and a borrowed mallet, but like all things that grow on you, eventually you’ll start slapping down your shekels for a polo specific bike, new mallets, and everything else we come to associate with bike polo. I don’t want to think about how much money I’ve put down on this sport now, honestly, and I reckon you shouldn’t, either.

DSC_0512Likewise, I’ve come to realize that I’ll probably never be able to travel to a lot of tourneys and I still don’t understand how lots of you do. It’s so expensive! How do you do it?! If I went to even half of the tourneys I wanted to, I’d be flat broke.

Over the years I’ve also become aware that almost everyone reaches a certain level of ability and just hangs out there. I think I’m about as good at the sport as I’ll ever get, and I’m supremely comfortable in that. It doesn’t mean I don’t strive to become a stronger player or anything, but I don’t try to take it so hard when someone is able to do something I simply don’t have the aptitude for. And I can hear you now: “you should always try/you have no limitations/listen to your spirit and truth and light” but I don’t need the comfy blanket of “maybe” to enjoy myself and the game. Thanks. Thanks but no thanks. I’ll just keep making cat noises and be happy with that.

Also, one of the first weeks I started playing back in 2010, I sang:

Down in the west Texas town of El Paso/I fell in love with a Mexican Girl.

And I’ve been singing it with some regularity while at polo ever since. I have no idea why. Four years I’ve been doing that and I can’t stop.

Anyway. A long rant for a rainy day. I’m thankful for my club, which has had no small part in keeping me coming back, and thanks to the sport as a whole for being such a hoot. Let’s see if I make it to year 5 (which is I think is the year I need to create Dumbledore’s army, right?).

The Goalie as a Megaphone

Lancaster United Pick-up tourney (41)

Thanks to Paul Donald, who gave me this idea for a post

When I get into goal, I get chatty.

For one thing, it’s boring to just sit back there when the ball is scooting to the left and right–even more boring if you’re down by 3 and are trying to make sure that nobody is gonna sneak one in by taking a big, dumb, long shot.

But getting chatty isn’t just my way of entertaining myself: the goalie (that is, the person who is hanging back in the defensive half), has a pretty good view of the action in the offensive half. One trick I’ve learned in bike polo is that a team that communicates well plays well, and the person back is a key player in that communication.

Instead of getting all #quietcore about what’s going on up front, consider (basically) narrating the action. You’ll feel goofy at first–or even after doing it for a year or so, but it’s invaluable to team-mates who can then use that information to make faster plays or better decisions.

It’s hard, in the heat of play, to be completely aware of where the ball, team-mates, and opposing players are. Having one person who is able to feed you that information via yelling down court is a boon to anyone who wants to know more than they can take in with their own observations.

So what should you tell your team? Well, I always try to let them know what the other team is doing (“GOAL OPEN” “ONE DABBING” “HE LOST THE BAAAAAALLLL”), and sometimes where their own player is (“YOU CAN PASS BEHIND” “IN FRONT OF GOAL” “HE HAS YOUR PICK”). I’ll also put on the coach hat on occasion, too, letting the player know if their breakaway was successful and they can take their time on the shot or if they have a player right behind them who is gaining speed.

It’s not quite the move that will people to ooh and ahhh at you, but it’s one that your team-mates will appreciate and might just make enough of a difference that you’ll win a game that you’d otherwise struggle in.

BUT–there are also times when you shouldn’t say a damned thing: this is when it’s apparent that your two players have a connection established and don’t need your help or calling. I, as an opposing player, often use the calls from the opposite team to put myself in position to interrupt the play they’re trying for. Point in fact one of my favorite things is to shout the same thing the other team is shouting at each other while interrupting their action. It’s a delicate sort of balance to know when you should or shouldn’t be a megaphone. My suggestion is this: if it seems like your team is trying something sneaky, keep your squawkbox closed.

Report from my Foreign Correspondent: ESBI 2014

Bench 6
Saturday, July 26, 2014 5 AM. I roll to Chinatown after driving all night to find a cozy little parking space across from the park to catch a few hours of sleep.  Left with a bike and a bag, my ride disappears as I begin to wander. Luckily I stumble into a Chinese bakery and grab what I think to be a donut and mosey on down to the pit to watch people practice sword fighting and feeding pigeons. Before I am fully awake the first player rolls in. Now I almost don’t recognize him with a derailleur, two independent breaks, and backpack of brooms. I introduce myself and we talk for a while as there is very little cleanup or preparation to do. Soon after they are arriving in packs and the first game is underway very quickly.

A small history

There have been 6 previous ESBI (East Side Bench Invitational) with none occurring last year. The teams attending are Boston, DC, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and 2 New York’s (Alpha and Bravo). The Previous champs, Richmond, were unable to attend. Clubs may bring any number of players, but may utilize a bench of 9 maximum each game. Scoops are allowed.
Interviews with the team captains go well and provide me a good insight to the plans of the captains and their clubs. I learn Pittsburgh and Boston have very thin rosters consisting of as little as 5 or 6. For Pittsburgh this is attributed to their club size while Boston was bad timing. Having visited Boston a few weekends ago I found this strange that of the dozen players I met there is only one I can recognize here. The low rosters are seen by their captain’s optimistically as an advantage as there are less changes, lineups, and management to do. There are also several ringers (who all turn out to be wicked awesome) from Canada and Lancaster. I am also invited to play but decline to avoid bias and embarrassing everyone with my world class skill (ok maybe to avoid embarrassing myself). Instead I take administrative roles of sometimes timekeeper, statistics keeper, and referee. Statistics keeping I am very pleased about as it is both new and superb in learning every single person’s name.
bench1Most games Saturday are decided by no more than five points which was quite surprising to me. Most cities are surprisingly well matched. The flow of the teams is smooth for the most part with unfavorable lineups are quickly worked out by the captains. I also notice the connections between certain players (example: Nate and Zac of NY Alpha) are insane. The true strength of the 3v3 game is in these connections. In bench it is having those connections with a manager that knows when and how to implement them. But laughs are had on and off the court and I get a good vibe from all the players. This seems like a more serious series of city vs city pickup games. 
A few small issues occur Saturday as well. Mostly players forgetting helmets, some tardiness, lack of whistles, and magical dicks kept reappearing on the scoreboard. Only one major issue is a disagreement between referee and player. This was caused by the rotation of referees and the differences in enforcement. Having dedicated referees is a must have for every competitive tournament. Also Chombos slide whistle (http://youtu.be/Qa7uLxu0XAc) while hilarious did not make the players stop.
The most interesting match of Saturday is New York Alpha vs Philadelphia. This game remained within one point the entire first half. Second half begins and there are no point for 10 solid minutes. The atmosphere of the game adopts a much more serious tone quickly. NY Alpha Philly pulls off the win but it’s clear if a rematch happens Sunday it will be the hot ticket and there is no clear favorite.

Read more

The Horse Speaks: Eastside Bench Invitational 2014

2014-07-26 08.59.48

This report filed by Horse (you can tell because none of the pictures are of bike polo and are only of his motorcycle, primarily).

I hadn’t been to NYC in years. I spent a day there in 2012 for the Summer Solstice yoga conference in Times Square, but that doesn’t really count… because it’s yoga, and because it’s Times Square. Needless to say, I was amped to load the bike onto the motorcycle and head up to the big city to play ESBI 2014 with Philly in the famous Pit.

The ride up was fantastic if uneventful. You get a lot of looks with a bicycle strapped to your motorcycle, and I imagine there are quite a few Instagrams with the hashtag #wtfamilookingat. The route north through PA is really beautiful, and surprisingly short, making me wonder why I hadn’t done it before.

Then I got to the Holland Tunnel, New York’s $14 way of telling you to piss off and go back home. I get it, it’s neat, it was probably expensive, and it’s a tunnel…but $14 bucks to drive a mile? Immediately upon exiting the tunnel I discovered two things. One, iMaps is terrible in NYC, and two, cabbies have zero regard for human life. Fun.

2014-07-25 16.54.09Somehow I made it to the registration party and was ultra-happy to see so many familiar faces. The bar we were at reminded me of the Fridge in Lancaster, lots of bottle selections, good tap choices, and odd small plates like little cheeses and pretzels. I met up with my host for the weekend, Andrew Otto, and proceeded back to the bonified Brooklyn Loft that I assume he had swiped the keys to at a Laundromat. I quickly passed out on the couch.

Saturday was pretty damn epic. I had never played a bench tourney before, and the hour long matches really test your endurance (I have none) and your strategy (thank god Biddle has some).   Philly played really well, beating out NYC A in a super intense matchup, and finishing the day seeded second. There was a lot of other cool shit that happened but I was too tired to remember much of it.

Saturday there was a party at this bar in Brooklyn that was awesome, except for the part where it was cash only.   I still don’t understand cash-only. I probably never will even if you explain it to me. Its just dumb. I had a few drinks, hung out with the poloverse, chatted up my pals from Holy Ghost and called it a night.

2014-07-25 23.29.26Sunday was the big show. Single elimination. Philly and NYC-A got a buy to the second round so I grabbed breakfast with a small gang.   DC got eliminated right away along with NYC B, so the second round was NYC A on Boston, and Philly on Pittsburgh.   Both games were awesome, and close, and come finals time it was us and NYC-A.

Before finals talk though, its worth bringing something up that pissed me off, and really, the only thing that pissed me off all weekend.   Overall the reffing was pretty good, enough volunteers, relatively consistent if laid back calls, and good vibes. That was until the NYC A and Boston game. Alias  volunteered to ref, and then shit hit the fan.   More specifically, Dnola’s shit.   If you’re reading this, Dnola, you’re a douchebag.   If you think you’re being funny you’re the only one laughing. You look like an idiot parading around making a point, berating the refs, and outright insulting people.   I would hope that the sport would have the same reaction to bullying as it would to sexism, but I was let down. Your club seems to have come to terms with your attitude, which is a sad thing, because no one deserves that kind of response, or to be surrounded by your negative energy.   Disagreeing with a ref’s call is one thing, but your actions and words went far beyond humor or heckling, during and after the game. Grow the fuck up. Heckling is awesome and an important part of any sport, but being an asshole is not.

(rant over)

Finals were sick.   We got out to an early lead on NYC going in to the half, and were feeling really confident.   The tides shifted though, as Zac and Nate gathered momentum and one goal after another broke us down.   It was awesome to see them in action in bench format.   What a rally.   It’s one of those losses that you can feel good about, for sure.

Overall? Sick weekend.   Awesome format, great hosts, great courts, great people. It made it worth the 2 hour ride home in the worst storm of the summer.

Why You Don’t Get The Blue Shell.


A little while ago I came across a really solid, my-generation analogy of how and why reverse racism (that is, the “majority” saying they are persecuted as much as the “minority”) doesn’t work out. Despite how much this statement drips with privilege and assumption, it is singularly one of the silliest things anyone can say when they know they’re pinned and can’t quite work out how to respond. More specifically, how the argument of “they get their own special things and I don’t” doesn’t make sense: and it all came down to Mario Kart:

blue shell

And despite the poster only having 24% battery life, I’m glad they shared.

Now, relating this to bike polo:

mario2There is a lot of talk about making the game as competitive as possible–and as enjoyable to watch as possible. But rarely is there a discussion about what competitive and enjoyable means. There’s so little effort in making the game welcoming to newcomers that we may just make a super competitive game that is enjoyable to watch up until the point where this generation stops playing and we realize that there is nobody to fill the void we’ve left (I’m using the editorial “we”, as I’ll be easier than hell to replace).

I’ve talked about it before on the blog: the importance of creating competition for more than just the best players (my suggestions included making a separate league for newer or less skillful players, creating B or C specific tourneys, and actually trying to recruit and train new folks rather than hope they stumble across your pickup day), but it seems that my blog doesn’t move and shake the very core of bike polo as much as one would think. In the past the NAH has created rules to favor the uppermost level of play because, simply, those were the people who were playing and making the sport more visible.

mariokart3But there is another, more sustainable way to get the sport into the eyes and wallets of sponsors and sports shows: sheer numbers. The work of 6 amazing teams can be drowned out by the effort and fun of a nationwide or worldwide sport. Recruiting as many players as possible changes the demographic of who plays, and that increases the likelihood that our sport will become more visible and more accepted. When creating rules we should think about what benefits the newest players–not the best players (they will do well no matter what, despite all their grumbling). The sport will survive only if we create an environment where it can do so, and right now we’re too focused on how to make the same people who always win happiest, rather than helping people who’s impact is less visible but much more powerful.

It’s time, I think, for the very best players to recognize that they are outliers in the sport. They are the ones who are impacted the least by new rules or by the success of the sport. In essence, the best players are the least important–and they aren’t the ones who need to be helped. Let’s give the blue shell to the folks who need it–and to the folks who will help keep polo going after we’re all too wrecked to care.


Spirit of Polo: The Cheap Trip Challenge!


The only reason I’m able to go the North American Bike Polo Championship is because the readers of this blog made it possible through donations. I’m constantly aware of this, and as such I want to make sure I’m being as prudent as possible with the money forked over to me.

This is precisely why (okay, that’s an outright lie, but it still works) I went with Spirit Airlines as my plane-of-choice to get to Minneapolis. Spirit—for those of you who don’t know—is the airline of bottom-line service. Basically, your ticket gets you a plane ride. Everything else costs lots of money (a regular sized carry-on costs thirty-something bucks, as does checking your bag one way, meaning $60 some dollars in total).

The thing is, Spirit is rated the worst airline by passengers for this very reason: along with the apparent cattle-like experience that passengers say the flight itself is like. But for a guy who is trying to travel on donated money, cheap is cheap, and I’m willing to give it a go.

Really, I feel worse for my travel partner, Horse, who is built like a regular sized human and will surely have cramps by the end of each flight.

But I thought if nothing else, travelling cheaply as possible would provide entertainment for you polokins, and what else am I but a fool for you. So I’m playing a little game called The Spirit of Polo: The Cheap Trip Challenge!

The rules are super simple:

  • I will find every single way to save money on this trip (within the rules of reason)
  • I will try to “live off the land” in Minneapolis (beg/borrow/steal)

So far, I’ve saved money by not buying any baggage space on the Spirit flight (saving myself $60 bucks right from the get-go). I’m planning to hit up a thrift shop/Walmart when I touch down for the cheapest clothes I can find, and perhaps a quilt for sleeping. I’m positive I can spend maybe $30 bucks on enough to get me through the 4 days I’m in Minneapolis, cutting my overall baggage costs in half. Spirit allows me a purse sized carry on for free, so I’ll be able to bring my voice recorder and notebook to do the reporting dance (maybe—and this is a big maybe—I’ll be able to fit my netbook. We’ll see).

I’m truly worried if I’ll be able to fit my Pith helmet in my pursebag. I’m going to try to wear it during check in and get by the restriction that way—but there is a good chance they’ll tell me I can’t wear a helmet on a plane, and then I’ll just have to play it by ear (if worse comes to worse, I can put it in Horse’s checked bag. But that wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining for my readers, so I’m hoping against hope.

In the spirit of bike polo, I’m also planning to eat as cheaply as possible—meaning I foresee a bunch of horrible eating decisions in my near future. 4 days of ramen, here I come!

Anyway, seeing as though it’s the week of North Americans now, I’m getting jazzed about this trip. I hope to meet a bunch of you there (I’ll be the short guy hopefully wearing a pith helmet and carrying a notebook).


The NAH Hand Dance

First: Boston bike polo did a great job with this visual guide to ref hand signals.

Second: I did this.

NAH Hand Dance

Interview with Ginyu Force, 2014 SEQ Winners

Sam Bennet 3

Ginyu Force, winners of the Southeast Qualifiers held just last weekend, were willing to sit down with me (read: write me emails) to answer a few questions I had about their team, the event, and their region. I was so happy to have learned about their win and that they’ll be heading off to North Americans where hopefully they’ll give me a free beer or something. Maybe a hug.

I’ll let Ginyu Force introduce themselves for the uninitiated:

[We are] just some goofballs from Tallahassee, Fl. Probably the same as every college grad. Working multiple jobs, thinking too much about polo, saving up pennies for Fixcraft gear, and asking off for every other weekend. Florida is alright though. Year round polo isn’t so bad.

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK! https://www.facebook.com/pages/GINYU-FORCE/121824234636364

Congrats on your SE Qualifier win! How are you feeling right now? 


Photo by Wade Thompson

Photo by Wade Thompson

Christopher Hill: Good. Really good. I’m pleased that we stuck to our game plans. We stayed calm and collected, and played “our” game all weekend. It feels awesome to win, especially two years in a row. I can’t wait to get to Minneapolis again!

Arnold Francisco: Feeling great! It feels good to play with Bob and Chris again. We spent the 3 or 4 tournaments we attended before SEQ playing with other friends so it was nice to play in this important tournament together. We had a good time and executed all of the goals we set for ourselves each match. 

Bob Delgado: We are extremely proud to represent our region for the second year in a row. We plan on bringing a solid group of teams to the North American Championship. It’s a shame we can’t bring more but we are doing everything we can to gain more spots for next season.

What were you surprised about at the qualifier?

C: Well, there’s a whole incident where 15 or so players awesome players from Florida were disqualified due to transportation issues (all were on the same bus, which broke down on the way to the qualifier). Long story short, the brackets became very skewed, teams got switched around and there were a lot of strong players that didn’t get their shot at qualifying. Toward the end of the PM bracket on Saturday they made it safely to the courts and organized a “Best of the Rest” tournament on a 3rd court that wasn’t being used in the tournament. It was an unfortunate incident.

Any teams that really put up a challenge? Why? 

C: Dauphins from Mobile are solid dudes. Their club has always been a rival and sister to ours. They know us really well and It’s always a pleasure to play them. I’m stoked to watch them at NA’s. 

Harmony Rose 3

Photo by Harmony Rose

Larry Hoover was tough because Kyle and Serg are both of TBP (well, Serg is formerly of.) They play pickup with us every week and know us better than anyone else there. But we stayed cool and capitalized. It’s going to be great to be in Minneapolis with those guys too. And you know we want to go to that NAH bench tournament! 

A: Dauphins from Mobile, AL. Mobile has always been a strong club with great people on and off the court. KG, Jaques and Bernard (who recently returned from a few months of school in France being sure to spend free time playing polo with some of the best in the world) play a very awesome game together. I’m glad they qualified because I believe they will represent the Southeast region as a strong and smart team.

The 2nd place team Larry Hoover, made up of 2 Tallahassee players, was also a challenge. They know how we play based upon their familiarity with how we play at pick up. The tenacity of their play style was certainly proven in their game against Dauphins as they came back from being down 2-0 to winning the game 4-3. I love teams that fight until the last second and I’m glad those boys are headed to NA’s!
Last but not least – Broken Bones from Memphis, TN. Solid guys and great players coming from a very young club in the region. They travel to a lot of tournaments and put a lot of work into being better polo players as well as trying to grow the Southeast. Our regional rep, Adam Hite, is on this team. They are very fast and their defense is incredibly strong. I can’t speak for Bob and Chris but they were definitely the team that made me hustle on the court. It was a great time.

B: We played a lot of good teams along the way.  The ones that stick out most are Larry Hoover (Mostly Tallahassee), Dauphins (Mobile) and Broken Bones (Memphis). We knew going in that those were the teams to beat. However the team wearing the Ninja Turtle shirts really caught us off guard. It took us over six minutes to break down their defense and score our first goal. 

As the #1 team in the SE region, how do you think you’ll stack up to the other region’s top teams?

C: Last year we were the quintessential “first timers” from your article on types of people. I was just so stoked to see top-level teams play for real. It was eye-opening. Getting shredded by the Beavers is always a humbling experience. But now we know what to expect. The stars in my eyes won’t be as blinding this year.

Wade Thomson 2

Photo by Wade Thompson

A:  We were lucky to not only qualify for NA’s in 2013 but also make the trip up to the biggest polo tournament on the continent. Last year was quite the eye opener for me. I think we were under the impression that there were some teams we were for sure going to beat. But one thing I learned is that every team there is there for a reason: they are the best players in their region and they traveled to show you why. I have changed a lot of aspects about how I play since then and I believe we know what to expect at a caliber of polo we rarely get to experience. Every game is different for us. There are a few basic rules we have set for ourselves but for the most part, we kinda figure out what we are going to do during a game 30 or so minutes before the match. So the short answer is: I have no idea how we will do but I know we’ll have a fucking blast finding out! One thing is for sure: I hope we get to play The Guardians! 

B: We will see come July. 

How has the SE region developed you as a team?

Read more

Bench Format: Tips From Some Veterans


Feature image from Urbanvelo.org

Bench format, for the first time ever, is going to be an NAH sanctioned event this year. With this announcement came the very expected responses of awesome or what? Why? and everything in-between (Awesome-wut?). I myself have only ever played in competitive bench games three times my whole entire life: twice at the past two Eastside Thaws, and once at the Keystone Classic Happy Fun Time day.

I wanted to provide you polocats with some advice on the bench format, but realized very early on that I didn’t really know enough to give any. No, that hasn’t stopped me in the past. No, I’m not turning over an new leaf. No, I’m not talking to myself someone’s actually asking me these things right now. Yes, I’m lying.

So I reached out to Nate Mumford, who almost immediately pointed me in the direction of Zach Blackburn and Paul Rauen, who both have been intimately involved with Bench games ever since they became a very NYC thing to do. Both of those esteemed gentlemen were somehow willing to answer my questions:

So below you’ll find Blackburn (B) and Paul (P) answering my questions. A few things of Note: Blackburn’s background is that he’s been playing bike polo forever, was in the first Bench Minor tourney (He named it, even), and has been involved in bench games all over.
Paul helped organize the Bench Minor tourney in NYC from the start to BM4, and while he isn’t nearly so involved in the bike polo scene nearly so much. But this gives him a very unique perspective, in that he can look back at it from a historical perspective rather than an active one.

When was the first time you played in a bench format game?

BThe first Bench game I played in was the inaugural bench format tournament, the Bench Minor in NYC. I actually came up with that name and asked Adam Menace to use it because I thought it was funny, “It’s a pun! The highest form of humor!” and he agreed. I think the northwest area tried to throw an even more inaugural bench tournament the weekend before ours and had this ridiculous poster that was drawn with a crayon and showed seven or eight passive aggressive hippies all dressed with the same jersey.

BM3No idea how their tournament went, but we had Benny Snodgrass, a co-worker and friend of mine reffing with a jersey and whistle and everything who had formally reffed peewee hockey games. He was scooting around back and forth on his bmx bike and getting a lot of satisfaction from calling our sport’s first interference penalties. We were using Menace’s ideas and just making up the rest as we went, and I’ve got to say, I don’t think I’ve felt like anything has felt quite as pro besides North American’s in Minneapolis. The ref chairs with umbrellas built-in would be the deciding factor there.

P: We played in pick up in NYC in the Pit prior to the first “Bench Minor”.  The Pit is the ideal venue for this style due to the ramps at the southern end.  No doors, and substituting is easy. I’m also biased because I learned to play polo in the Pit (2006) and have many wonderful memories of that park.  it’s pretty special. 

What were some of your initial concerns with bench format? What are some mistakes people make in their first game?

B: The ramps at the Pit in NYC seems to have been built with Bench games in mind, so managing the shift changes was basically telling people, “I want you on the court before your replacement gets to the bench, and keep leading out further and further until the ref calls us for a too many men penalty”.

Besides that, it was hard waiting for a goal to make a change because sometimes a goal wouldn’t happen for 5 minutes, and I didn’t want our players to get restless or cold from standing around too much. I already noticed the impact that mechanicals and injuries would have on an on-going game so I made sure the next line was ready to go way before they were expected to go on in case someone dropped a chain or got a toe stuck in a chainring or something.

PIll advised subbing, taking long shifts, “putting the team on their back” and trying to be a hero. Honestly, the biggest mistake is looking at the game and experience through the lens of the individual.  It shouldn’t be about what you’re getting or not getting from it, it’s a group exercise and different than your 3 person killer squad. Also, it’s much longer in duration, which allows for momentum swings.  Keeping a positive attitude isn’t just lip service; there is so much time to come back in bench format, that getting bent out of shape about being down a few goals is self defeating.  As Ian once told me, “don’t beat yourself.”

Are there skills that you work on for bench format that are unique?

P: Communication is key.  If you don’t talk or understand the skill sets of your teammates, you’ll be caught out. I think it’s also important to have a unified voice on the bench.  It could be multiple voices, but it must be unified.  No room for negativity, complaining about playing time, etc.  It should be positive 100% of the time.  All criticism should be constructive and about making a better connection on the next shift.  There’s plenty of time to unpack it after the match. Approach it from the angle of “how can my team grow and succeed and enjoy the experience?”

 BM2I think some people are really effective in this style, because they don’t need a lot of warm up (or they play so frequently they’re always warm– like a Koyo type). Others are only comfortable w/ certain roles, line mates.  I found it helpful to try and know as much about your teammates’ comfort zones, and then play to those strengths.  I think bench is a great vehicle for supposed B/C level players because they get substantial playing time in fast paced situations w/ strong teammates.  Some of NY’s best wins (one at Boston’s Allston court I recall) was purely on the shoulders of great, grinding defense from Tommy G and other B level NY folks.  ( i can call Tommy “b level” because he doesn’t play anymore, ha)
It should be relationship building.  You should be learning from your team about good choices and bad choices.

And what about the “manager” position? What skills do they need?

B: Keeping an ongoing dialogue with your team and keeping them motivated is completely different than managing yourself with just two other people. You need to let them know that if they’re out there playing like crap and making mistakes that they’ll get pulled early, and they have to feel inspired to do better. It’s a mix of positive and negative motivation and it’s nearly impossible to handle that while putting yourself in the game at the same time. 

P: Since I played this role for NYC and volunteered to manage the Bench for Julian in LA (wore the “A” in NYC and LA as well) , I personally think it’s quite important.  I think the manager has to have the respect of the cohort and I think if you don’t have that already via previously shared experience (pick up or tournament or whatever) than you need to show you’re there to facilitate, you’re acting in the group’s best interest, and you’re comfortable making difficult personnel decisions, which is chiefly calling subs, setting strategy, calling off a player even when they’re giving you the skunk eye, shortening the bench when need be and managing playing time across the bench.

Having a quick word with someone as they exit as well, finding the right way to reorient them. Also, I’ve found it much easier to concentrate to the degree necessary if I don’t also try to play.  The need for the managerial role is perhaps less important on a city team when everyone has bought into a structure/game plan, but the opposite could also be true if you have competing egos, which most clubs do to some degree. I’ve done a lot of management in my work life, and I always like to listen and observe more than I dictate, but managers need to find what works for them.  It’s definitely not for everyone, but I liked the challenge and responsibility.

One more thought: Alex Ferguson talks about a manger’s need for absolute power and control of his squad, and while that makes sense and has been proven through his career, managing in bike polo is difficult because it’s an informal environment without major assets in play. It’s almost essential to default to that policy when you’re managing a business like a enormous global franchise, but finding the right tenor for polo is difficult due to the varied degrees of maturity, commitment, sobriety and competency at play.

How important is figuring out the right rotation for players?

BM4B: Having the right three people together, and then making two more lines that are equally balanced is pretty tough. But implying that there should be a 1-2-3 rotation is going to let the other team’s manager have all the fun matching their lines against yours.

I think it’s important to recognize which player or line the other team has and make an anti-line. Tell them, “If those guys don’t score on us, we’ve won half the game. Shut. Them. Down.” Then you try to get your scoring line out while they have their weaker line on. And boom, the score is 30 to 0. Or more like 9-8 after 50 minutes because your “ringer” is more like a “wanker” and your shut down line is trying to make up the difference by being heroes and they’re just giving up empty net goals instead.

So, advice to captains: expect your team to struggle, so set the example and play responsible, energetic, and high quality polo. Inspire your teammates. Someone’s got to, and the manager is clearly dropping the ball.


A big thanks to both Blackburn and Paul for their time and insights. And, as always, thanks for reading, polokins. I hope you have a blast with bench this year.

What Battle Royale Taught Me About Bike Polo


Battle Royale is a movie I saw just last year for the first time, and it’s something that I wished I had seen earlier (like, when I was a kid–so I could play “Battle Royale” with my teen friends.

For those of you not initiated, Battle Royale is a Japanese film (previously a novel/a manga) aptly summarized by Wikipedia:

The film tells the story of Shuya Nanahara, a high-school student struggling with the death of his father, who is forced by the government to compete in a deadly game where the students must kill each other in order to win. The film aroused both domestic and international controversy and was either banned outright or deliberately excluded from distribution in several countries.

So, basically, it’s The Hunger Games before The Hunger Games came out. But it’s so much more than that, and furthermore it’s a learning opportunity for bike polo.

Buckle in, dear polokin. We’re in for some chop.

BR2There is Always Someone Better

in Battle Royale, there are several characters who just seem to get it. Despite being tricked/drugged into competing in the games, these lucky few are just outstanding when it comes to killing and/or tricking fellow classmates.

The lesson here is pretty clear: you’re going to encounter people in this sport who just seem to get it. It’s as if they were made to play bike polo (even though Bike Polo isn’t exactly a heritage game yet). They’ll be able to do things in days which took you months or years to learn. This just happens. It’s okay.

Mostly because in bike polo you aren’t summarily killed with a sickle by a young Japanese schoolgirl.

But really, what you need to focus on is your own skill set. So you’re not able to do a wheelie turn while scooping the ball past your front wheel and making an omelet. So what. you’ve got your own methods, and comparing yourself to someone who is seemingly made for the game won’t help anyone.


You’re Part of a Team…Mostly

Battle Royale is, strictly speaking, a “one against all” event. However, that doesn’t mean that these kids don’t team up for mutual survival (point in fact, that’s a huge part of the movie). Much to the same effect, bike polo is a game where people (3) join up to play against another 3 people.

But remember this: you’re on a team–but you’re ultimately the only person in charge of your own actions. It’s not productive to think of yourself as only one piece of the team’s puzzle. In actuality, you’re the only person who has a responsibility to yourself. As such you should rely on your team to work together, but not so much that you stop working as an individual, too.

BR4Strange Things Happen–Try Not To Panic

So there is this part where a character puts a hand grenade inside Toshinori’s mouth and throws it into Shogo’s hideout.

It’s probably one of my favorite parts because it’s just so ridiculous.

Look at that picture!
Anyway, lots of strange things happen in Battle Royale. Unexpected things that throw characters off enough that they aren’t able to respond in the smartest way. This happens in bike polo, too.

Sometimes the ball isn’t going to bounce the way you expect it to–or you’ll crash for no apparent reason. Sometimes an opponent will throw a head with a grenade in it’s mouth at you react in such a way that you are limited in your response.

Just take a deep breath. Don’t panic.

Some of the best players in the world are the ones who are able to respond to all situations evenly. Not necessarily powerfully or cleverly, but evenly. Don’t over-react, don’t give up. Just try to maintain.


There are other lessons to take away from this fine Japanese film, of course (namely, don’t trust anyone who seems like they really want to be your friend and never turn your back on someone who has a crossbow), but those are for another day.