Tag Archive for NAH

Why You Don’t Get The Blue Shell.

blueshell

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.

 

Why do we even have rules? My case for (and against) the NAH Rule Set

rules

One of the near-constant statements that I hear from my club, at tournaments, and as an off-hand murmur is how the rules are destroying the essence of bike polo. Whether it’s folks who go to tournaments (and have gone to tournaments since forever ago) or it’s folks who just play pickup, there is a distinct and lasting distrust whenever the NAH dictates a new rule based solely off of a tournament or Nick Kruse’s hope that bike polo will some day become hockey.

And while I’m not on that side of the conversation, I can certainly understand it. The same way someone can understand why certain people don’t like ice cream, I suppose. I mean, they are wrong, naturally, but that just leaves more for me.

The biggest complaint is how rules fundamentally change the spirit of the game (the spirit apparently being a balding punk rocker who refuses to recognize that he’s actually a middle aged clerk at the local bodega). Bike polo was started with just a handful of rules, and those rules saw the sport through for quite a while, really. But there is a mental exercise we should take part in before we say that the NAH is power hungry and trying to make bike polo into an over-controlled bore-fest.

1. How has bike polo changed since its inception?

2. Do the new rules follow a few simple requirements?

As far as the first question goes, I think you can see what I’m getting at: bike polo could have just a few rules when it first started because we weren’t hosting large, organized tourneys, we weren’t playing at the speed and caliber we are now, and folks weren’t thinking about how they could game the system more than they were thinking about how they could have fun. The game itself evolved past the point of having just a handful of rules–and now we’re exploring just what rules need to be in place to support the monster we’ve created.

(And I hear you: we shouldn’t have allowed bike polo to change so much that the original game requires more rules. But if we’re talking about having a qualifying series at all, we must agree that we need to have a bit more than don’t be a dick on the books.

The second question’s requirements, as far as I see them, ask us to run any rule through two criteria:

  • Does the rule make the game more fun to play for everyone?
  • Does the rule make the game more safe to play for everyone?

If the answer is yes to both, you should have that rule. The rule to not allow for headbutting someone on court satisfies both requirements (for most people), so it’s a clear winner. The rigidity of the high sticking rule certainly makes the game safer to play, but may not making more fun to play (I know I’ve rolled my eyes when this is called after a player far away from any other player gets called for it).

By running rules through these two filters–at least as an outsider to the creation of rules for the sport–I can figure out whether the rule is beneficial or arbitrary/detrimental. These filters also recognize that it’s possible for a rule to not be beneficial to an individual player, but be beneficial to a majority of players, by comparison. Some folks do really well with checking people from behind–but that does’t mean it’s safe or makes the game more fun for everyone.

The Lesser of Two Evils: Why You Should Ref at the NAHBPC

scale

North American Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship is running into the same problem as every other NAH event since forever: finding dedicated (or even semi-dedicated) refs to officiate the tournament. While this isn’t particularly surprising, it is disheartening. If there should ever be a time when finding refs isn’t impossible, it should be the damned tournament of tournaments in the land.

refBut I get it…I really do. Being a ref is stressful, generally not fun, and altogether demanding. You need to think on your feet–you need to ignore the amazing amount of name calling and under-the-breath insults from players and fans alike. You must shore yourself up to making that bad call and sticking by your guns (because there is nothing worse than a ref who waffles between calls). When I reffed I found that I was more concerned about making the wrong call than making any call at all, so I froze up. It was unfair to the players and very stressful for me (my heart raced more when reffing than when playing, if that’s an indicator for you).

And you have to do all of this when you could just be heckling with your friends or taking a nap, or whatever else.

The scale is heavily in favor of not being a ref. It’s true.

But just because something is easy to do doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

Between the “evil” of inconveniencing yourself, and the “evil” of doing nothing, someone who cares about the enjoyment of the sport for all should choose inconvenience. Furthermore, I suggest (and God, this will be hard for some of us) that players and spectators alike recognize that being a ref is damned hard work, and try not to back-talk the ref or scream out what the call should be. They’re dealing with enough as it is, and they don’t need someone else–someone who isn’t willing to be a ref–telling them how to ref.

I’m pleading with you–you who have taken the ref test and indeed are certified now–to consider reffing this weekend. If enough certified refs sign up, the tourney could have a pretty healthy rotation of refs coming in and out, meaning that any one ref won’t have to do more than a few games at a time.

MeatloafAt the Eastside Regional Qualifier we had to stop running games on one court for a few minutes because nobody would step up (myself included–though I was manning the control tent so whatever, whatever). I know that it’s not the greatest job in the world, but it’s a necessary one and I’m really confused as to how we have this growing body of players who want to do everything they can for each other, but who are unwilling to do this. It’s like a damn Meatloaf song.

Sign up: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1zKgrBhxP8X4P2jqc2ZGSc0I9JkdoKQaosAC4p-8tP6I/viewform 

 

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

3 Ways You Can Shape Bike Polo’s Future.

robot

If you have big hopes of changing the way that American Football is played, you might as well go after changing the course of planets. It’s a remarkably cemented sport full of people who are more important than you making big-time decisions (read: trying not to change much of anything) for their own profit and gain.

Same goes for most sports, probably.

But hardcourt bike polo is so young, so flexible and willing to listen that you (yes, you!) have a chance to make a big impact even now. There are a few reasons for this, but if I had to cut it down to a little list, I’d say the impact of the individual is stronger in bike polo because:

  • The administration (NAH) is tiny
  • There isn’t any money in bike polo
  • Most people know each other

These three actualities give your average, involved bike polo player the opportunity to speak her mind and have those words travel all the way up and down the polo community.

But it’s not just a simple matter of making a forum post on LoBP (ALL HAIL!) or by making suggestions on your club’s Facebook page–though both of those are a good start. It take a bit more involvement and patience, I think, to shape the future of the sport we all want to succeed (but seemingly don’t believe will).

1. Volunteer to take a role with the NAH: The NAH is currently four people. Four! We have Nick Kruse writing rules, Joe Rstom helping write those rules and creating training for refs, John Hayes helping with tourneys and Ben Schultz working alongside those three while also trying to push the sport forward with sponsorships/structure/every other damn thing. There are club reps and regional reps, sure, but they aren’t necessarily “THE” NAH. They are ambassadors between the NAH and the clubs/regions.

Because of this, they (the NAH) are desperate for more help. I bet you dollars to cronuts that if you were to contact anyone in the NAH , they would be excited to have you help out. It doesn’t take much to get your foot in the door. Volunteer to help with rules or to start up community outreach or ANYTHING. I’m sure they have a whole bunch of things that simply haven’t taken off due to personnel constraints.

2. Don’t rage quit: If helping out the NAH isn’t your idea of a good time (or you aren’t willing to join that group in order to fix the problems you see them creating), then don’t get in their way, either.

I’ve seen some posts here and there from people expressing “fuck the NAH”–which is fine, of course. Saying that is how I start every morning.  But that kind of sentiment really isn’t helping anything. Honestly, if you were able to get just 10 of your friends to join the NAH at an organizational level, you could easily take it over from the inside.

But if, instead, you decide that the whole mess is just too much stress to deal with, the logical option would be for you to step out of the argument. Participate constructively or don’t participate at all, but turning over tables and saying that anyone is trying to destroy the game is as foolish as it is goofy.

3. Make a stronger club/local scene: Charity starts at home, and in all honesty the majority of us play pickup more than anything else. This might come as a surprise, but you can do whatever you want in your own polo club.

This also means that you can make your club a model for bike polo as a whole. If you think that the way your club handles rules, local tourneys, and the game in general better than others, try to help your other local clubs work the same way you do. I don’t mean this in the “you should do it this way because we are better” sort of way, but more in the helpful, fostering sort of way.

Think of it as a big brother or big sister program for clubs that are just starting out. Not only does this help grow the sport, but it also makes local tourneys more fun and bigger, creates a better relationship in-region, and gives you some of that good ol’ “one voice” power that comes from a unified group of people. This helps you (and your club (and your region))) do more than just suggest a good idea that is lost in the sea of other ideas.

 

The truth is, we’re a very young sport with some very dedicated people playing it. We’re also experimenting and messing up here and there. If you want to see the sport go one way or the other (or the tournament series, or the style of play we embrace, etc), it’s still possible for you to make an impact by voicing your ideas. This isn’t true with many sports, and I’d hate for intelligent folks to squander that sort of opportunity.

The Ref Revolution.

JOER

How the new Ref Certification Program is dragging North American Bike Polo (Kicking and Screaming) Towards the Future

Earlier this week, the NAH released the new 2014 Ref Certification site. On the surface, this seems like a natural progression to share the rules and make sure people are at least flipping through the rule-set in order to get a passing grade in the section quizzes. But after some pre-release testing and experience with the new system, it’s very clear that there is much more going on.

Rules and bike polo have a strenuous relationship. Bike polo players, as a generality, are very willing to ignore rules when it’s convenient. That sounds like a mean-spirited snarkism, but in my experience it’s true. Because of this, the NAH of the past found itself happy if people simply accepted there was a rule set in general. It made them weak as far as governance went in tournaments, and weaker still when it came to training up refs to enforce the rules at all.

The Beginning of Training

Last year, however, the NAH introduced an online system of quizzing for potential refs to become “certified”. In essence, it allowed for the NAH to assure that people who wanted to be refs were able to parrot back sections of the rule book in the form of a multiple  choice quiz. It was effective in that it encouraged folks who wanted to learn some manner of having a test at the end of study, but it wasn’t exactly engaging and certainly one-dimensional. It was, however, a start.

This year the certification program has changed, and it adds a few things the program was lacking as of last year: explanations and challenges.

More than Check Boxes

new coursesThe new Certification program is now used in tandem with tournament requirements, as the front page of the new section points out:

A minimum of two paid and certified referees per court, available to be scheduled throughout the duration of the tournament. The names of these certified referees should also be sent to the Referee Committee prior to the qualifier. So, for a qualifier with two courts, four names should be submitted. These certified referees do not need be scheduled the entirety of the weekend. It is recommended that a certified referee oversee the scheduling responsibilities. This underpins what will be a single-referee system throughout swiss rounds and early bracket games, moving to a double-referee system later in the bracket.

After the meeting the basic requirements above, if the organizer wants to schedule unpaid, uncertified referees, that is their prerogative. It is also recommended to have certified referees scheduled for all winners bracket / late losers bracket games, especially when moving to a double-referee system. If a region has significantly less teams, NAH will make exceptions to this requirement case-by-case.

As you can see, refs are

  • Not competing in the tourney (in theory, but not stated outright in the paragraphs I chose above)
  • Paid
  • Certified
  • Doubled up on the final games (a complaint I heard time and time again at Worlds and other tournaments, that reffing requires more than 1 ref)

Compare this to the requirements last year, and you’ll see a near herculean change in expectations. Refs are acting as the foot soldiers of the NAH, exactly as they should be. 

The certification itself is a series of quizzes based around each of the sections of the rule set, as well as a final section that includes video viewing and written analysis of what penalties should be called, why, and how that differs from last year (all of which is submitted and graded by Joe Rstom at the very least).

The quizzes are challenging at times, and purposefully so. I found myself cross referencing the rule set during some section’s quizzes. The video section is remarkably difficult, which is both revealing in how hard it is to ref “live action” play and how valuable it is to practice having your eyes on the game while looking for infractions.

The Value of Conversation

critical thinkingOne of the keenest points that the new certification program provides is conversational explanations of each section. Reading the rule set is perfectly fine if you’re a robot, but if you’re a human (no offense to robots) you’ll need a bit more to really understand how rules work in the bike polo world. Take for example this outstanding explanation of technical penalties:

The delay of game penalty prevents players from impeding the progress of the game to gain an unfair competitive advantage. Players are not allowed to intentionally remove the ball from play to stop the clock, and alternatively, pin the ball to run the clock down. They cannot move the goal to prevent a shot from going in or abuse the rules of restarting play for. This rule ensures continuity and fairness.

The unsportsmanlike conduct is intentionally left open-ended. This rule allows the referee to issue penalties to players that are disrespectful and distruptive. Players are expected to control their tempers and opinions in such a way that respects other players, referees, officials, and the spirit of the game. Of course, civil discussion is allowed to a point, but excessive verbal abuse will not be tolerated.

How is this different? Instead of just reading the two or three lines of rule in the rule set, we’re sitting down with an experienced hand courtside and having them explain what the rule means when applied. We are getting the story behind how to enforce  the penalty, when not to and how to tell the difference. It’s having a teacher rather than having only a book.

Bigger Than You Think

The ability to train and prepare a generation of refs is enormous. It allows for players to better understand the dynamics of the game while also making the playing field more even. It gives the NAH and players a chance to really understand what rules are working and what rules are not, as they should be evenly enforced.

The new NAH Ref certification program is a powerful tool not only for the NAH to further cement its role in the bike polo world, but also one for players to define their relationship to the sport. Knowing the rules to play by gives players the chance to work on skills and techniques that compliment those rules (instead of ones that are strictly against the existing laws of the game).

Furthermore, the expansion of the certification program demonstrates the ever growing presence of bike polo as a solidified, cohesive organization. That’s something most of us can recognize as a positive for a sport that suffers from a severe identity crisis nearly every year.

 

Why Do We Even Have Qualifiers?

cart horse

Note: This isn’t a post hinting at Lancaster not hosting ESQ2014. We are. Promise. 

A Qualifying Series Lends Credibility, But Not When There is Nothing to Qualify.

The NAH Qualifier series is certainly something that I look forward to every year. Not because I necessarily play in it (I skipped the Eastside Qualifier last year), and not because I necessarily watch them…

Wait. Why do I look forward to them?

I guess I look forward to them because they mean polo is happening, but as far as my day-to-day polo life goes, the Qualifier series is kind of beyond my scope. It’s just another tourney to either be a part of or aware of, but not much else.

In recent years (read: the past 2), I’ve noticed a bit of a drop off in attendance to the Eastside Qualifier, and I think that trend is felt in a few other regions as well. I’m not saying that this is a sign of the decline of bike polo here in the states (just the opposite, I’m in firm belief that bike polo is growing), but it does point to something.

The Cart Before The Horse

The NAH was originally created to investigate and gain sponsors for the sport (NOTE: I was told this a year or so ago during a phone conversation with an NAH official. I  can’t verify it and, futhermore, have received an email saying it’s false. So feel free to ignore this line while I try to verify). The idea was, if I am remembering my history correctly from The NAH and other Magical Creaturesthe idea was that money would help the NAH take care of rules, running tourneys, and solidifying the sport throughout North America.

Well, as it turns out, that didn’t quite happen. The market of support simply wasn’t/isn’t around for bike polo, and the NAH as it stood needed to fall back to what it could do, namely create rules and orchestrate a qualifying series.

From the point of inception, the NAH has been dwindling, however. Through a mix of payless work and hours of stress, the core of the NAH is down to just 4 people, and those folks are often the only line of action when it comes to organizing the sport nationally.

What does this have to do with the NAH Qualifier series? To put is succinctly, I think bike polo isn’t big enough in the US to justify such a large series. Furthermore I think you, dear reader, probably know this in your heart as well.

It only takes a passing glance at a few of the regions to how this argument can be worked out. Hell, just look at the SC regional lineup as it stands at the writing of this piece:

SE qa

That’s 5 teams registered for a tournament that is coming up at the end of this month. 10 days away.

If the Qualifier was a big deal–if it was something that people just couldn’t wait to be part of, why can’t an entire region manage to get more than ten teams to register and pay up?

If we look at all qualifiers so far :

  • Cascadia: 23 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • Mexico: 13 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • Great Plains: 7 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • South West: 7 confirmed teams (out of a potential 32)
  • Eastside: 24 confirmed teams (out of a potential 36)
  • Heartland: 19 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • Great Lakes: 18 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • Northside: 12 confirmed teams (out of a potential 24)
  • Southeast: 34 confirmed teams (out of a potential 34–the only full qualifier, at this point in time)

Clearly there are a bunch of things to take into account with these numbers. Maybe the amount of potential teams is too high for some regions, maybe folks are just waiting to register because they know they have time, etc.

But one thing is clear: the qualifiers are a very big process that simply isn’t drawing in people as quickly as it should, and maybe the way around that is to simplify the system.

Two Tourneys, One North Americans

The thought I keep having is that we’ve over-complicated something that needn’t be complicated. Here’s my suggestion for the NAH (which I’m sure they’ll deeply consider because damn, I’m just that important to the world, right?):

  1. Keep the regions, but
  2. For qualifying for NAs, split the NAH regions in half.
  3. NAH West qualifier, NAH East qualifier
  4. Top teams go to North Americans.

splits

I think regional tournaments are still fun and a great way of sharpening skills/playing bike polo. Futhermore I think having a good idea of how individual regions perform is good. I’m not suggesting that we completely eliminate regions.

Well, okay, maybe I am. But it doesn’t matter either way in this suggestion.

Outside of the complaints coming from the folks who are directly on one side of that line or the other, this would effectively make it fair for players to play in this bare-bones style qualifying series. While I was tempted to suggest that we just have North Americans, I realize that it would be entirely too large to manage for any one club (and maybe this would be, too); but by splitting North American Polo in half, we could create 2 qualifiers, West and East, to figure out who goes to North Americans.

The NAH West and NAH East qualifiers would also need to be more days, obviously, maybe something closer to Worlds in that it’d be 4 days long instead of a weekend. Furthermore, more teams would qualify this way (rather than figuring out how many qualifying spots are provided based on regional affiliation).

In my mind, a few clubs (and the regional reps) would help put on these tourneys, and they’d have a whole year to set it up. This allows for a great concentration of effort by a large amount of polo players to find a well placed location, get it polo ready, and plan.

The Benefits

Outside of the complications coming from 9 qualifying tournaments (if my hand counting is correct), we’re also concentrating the focus for players, removing some of the headaches that the NAH faces, and creating a larger event where more players are able to come together. Yes, we’ll need to request off of work for more time, but you’ll be able to do that almost a year in advance, and if your company won’t give you off for 4 days with a year notice, you shouldn’t be working there anyway.

Futhermore, regions aren’t so dependent on how many teams sign up–being one of those organizers this year, I can tell you that I’ve been sweating bullets waiting for the money to drop so we can keep working on what we need to work on. Instead they can focus on…well…helping all the regions around them put on this mega-tourney.

The Risks

I really have no idea if this would work or not. I feel like it would, if we step out of our “this is the way we’ve always done it” mindset and start thinking of how we can streamline the process of qualifications and make our events a bit bigger & a bit more sponsorable.

I think one of the biggest risks is making sure that teams all have a fair shot at going to North Americans. Surely we limit the dream-killing destructiveness of some teams by keeping them locked up in regions, but opening the series up to just 2 qualifiers (East and West) means lots of teams are going to get thrashed pretty early on, and that might very well be disheartening.

But, if I can be Machiavellian for a moment: conducting the tournaments like this is a hands off sort of way to make sure that the North American championship only has the best teams, as the weaker teams will be knocked out during the larger qualifiers. We’d save time and travel expenses for folks who really weren’t going to make it very far anyway.

(I’m one of those people. I can say it because I’m one of them. Isn’t that how it works? I have lots of not-going-to-make-it-through-North-Americans friends.)

 

So give this some thought and let me know what you think yourself. I’ve just been spitballin’.

 

 

 

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).

Monday Impossible: Break Up Players Into Divisions?

MONDAY'S IMPOSSIBLE

A few weeks ago I went out to the local beer hole with a few bike polo players to talk shop and see who could drink the most while still maintaining verbal acuity (the answer was nobody). Early in our frivolities, we got on the subject of really outstanding players and how they make going to tourneys (with the idea of winning) a forgone conclusion for most other players.

In the past I’d mentioned having a major and minor league for this very reason, actually, though when I brought that up the people around me made the wise choice of ignoring what I was saying. Good on them, really.

But then Lumberjack brought up this idea:

What if we had divisions in NAH Tourneys?

Now I realize this isn’t a new idea. As far back as 2011 people were suggesting this very thing on LoBP (ALL HAIL!), but I wasn’t part of those conversations and I’m willing to act like they didn’t happen.

What Lumberjack suggested, more or less (the beer was taking it’s effect on me at this point), was the following:

  • Players would, for 1 year, have their records of goals/wins/other important data recorded
  • After that year, the club reps would tally up the group and split them into A/B/C rankings based on defined measurements from the NAH
  • Those players would then go to tourneys and play in those divisions (C players playing on Friday, B players on Saturday, and A players on Sunday, much like (he says) MTB racing does.
  • Players individual records are continuously kept, allowing them to either move up or down based on performance.

There are lots of problems with this model, but I’ll get to those in a second. First let’s talk about the benefits.

1. All levels of players have a chance to win big: Let’s say you’re a C player and you really want to go to a tourney, but realize you’re just going to be pushed out of the thing by Saturday. Well, that really doesn’t give you much of a positive outlook on how things are going to go down, is it? If we broke things into divisions like this, there’s a very real possibility that your team could make it to the podium, as there’s an equally good chance that the folks you’re playing against are around your same level of play. Same with B Players, too.

2. Seeding is less difficult: Instead of having a day where organizers try to work out who is the strongest and who is the weakest team, they can simply start up the tourney for each division respectively. Since everyone is already vetted into a group, organizers can simply create brackets and start the event!

3. bigger tourneys, smaller brackets: Sure, we’re talking about having three individual tourneys happening here, but the brackets will be far smaller for each one, and that leads to a faster event.

4. More entertaining to watch: One of the big things that gets tossed around in bike polo is making it more exciting to watch. Well if you have players who are all closer in skill, the games get more fun, and you have more people to root for. Breaking up NAH tourneys into Divisions gives viewers more champions to root for, and inherently creates more viewers simply because the people who are playing in other divisions will more than likely want to cheer on their friends who are in the currently playing group.

 

And now some of the problems that I can see with this: Read more