Tag Archive for NAH

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

Less Talking. More Doing.

nah

If the polo community does not hold folks (NAH, Beavers, Mr. Do) accountable for their actions, no one will.

I, too, was surprised by the events of the week, but am thankful to be a part of a community where I can posit concerns and know that it will not fall on deaf ears.   NAH and Mr. Do constitute a small group of PLAYERS: Ben Schultz, Joe Rstom, newly acquired John Hayes, recently retired Chandel Bodner, Nick Kruze, Dustin Bouma, Jenn Gallup and the whole Do team, they all contributed to big strides in this sport now beloved by thousands.  These folks, NAH especially, are not faceless elected officials deserving of your condemnation.

reftalkThey are committed to cultivating the well- rounded and inclusive development of bike polo, to pushing the boundaries of competition for all that commit themselves to it, and to actualizing the full history-making potential of a fringe sport.  There are efforts that have failed and fallen short—but make no mistake, it is not for lack of trying.  Personally, I have witnessed many a pick-up game or tournament interrupted by NAH phone calls about rules, reffing, or representation.  I have experienced firsthand the frustration caused by spending more time organizing than playing the sport you love.

IMG_4877

These are situations NAH organizers and board members take on for the love and growth of the sport.  NAH was created only a few years ago by a handful of enthusiastic players, Ben (and if you know Ben, you understand his level of enthusiasm is infectious) and Kev specifically, now leaders passionate about supporting and growing this community.  It is this small collection of VOLUNTEERS working to organize the very sport/community that has brought us together, in community and critique.  But, a critique is only as valid as the solutions it offers in resolution of the issue in question.

I implore you to take your critique to the next level and position yourself to be a part shaping NAH projects and public presence for the sake and future of bike polo.  Use your energy to volunteer for NAH, join and/or start a committee, offer to volunteer

Fathers Day Bike Polo (61) (Copy)

at the North American Championship or regional qualifier, create history, leave a legacy.  Contact me directly if you want to get involved.  And yes, I am telling you what to do.

What Are You Afraid Of?

afraid

As a member of the polo press (The Association of Bike Polo Journalists), I probably spend more time thinking about the future of bike polo than most people should. I think about not only where I’ll be in regards to the sport in ten years’ time (in a wheelchair, writing cryptic missives from the bench), but where we’ll all be in even 5 years.

It makes me creep out, sometimes, as there are days where the current discussion around the game spins its way into something close to collapse. In particular, there are a few things that I’m afraid of whenever they come up or someone gets particularly riled up:

balanceWhen folks think there is not a balance between no-rules and NAH rules. This one is more boggling than anything, and strikes me as the same nonsense that comes out of super-liberal or super-conservative arguments. There really isn’t any reason to believe that one side is going to kill the other, nor that one will triumph in the future. There aren’t very many absolutes in the world, and I don’t think there are any in bike polo.

But the conversation remains heated: people who follow the rules are mocked when in the minority, and likewise people who don’t know the rules are shunned when they find themselves in a sea of pro-rules folks. Outside of the enjoyment in watching these groups attack each other with confusing and non-applicable rants (“You’re doing it WRONG!” or “You’re RUINING what bike polo IS!”), they fail to see that this kind of self-challenging is a healthy way to balance the way the game develops as we see more involvement and standardization in play.

What scares me is, simply, that people will become so very blinded by their belief there is no chance for balance that they actively work against it, resulting in a longer-than-necessary growing pain period.  Read more

Review of the 4.0 Ruleset: Curiosities

you can

First, and before I even utterly destroy this nonsense of a rulebook dive into what the newest rulebook offers, I’d like to recognize all the folks who put the time into getting us to a point where we’re on the 4.0 rule set. Sure, I could write up a post about how much this ruins bike polo (or about how much I hate bike polo in general, just to be on the inside), but things like this take a helluva lot of work, and I am not blind to that.

Now then:

I’m not going to be covering everything, just what I find to be notable. If you want to read the whole kit n kaboodle–and you should–go here:

http://www.nahardcourt.com/proposed-2014-ruleset-version-4-0-beta/

1.1: Ref

The first section that strikes me as kinda great is the hand signal section at 1.1.9:

Hand-Motions

Why is this great? Well, for one thing, it removes doubt visually for what is being called. I know I as a player can barely hear a ref, and as a spectator I definitely can’t. Adding visual cues is an outstanding way for refs to communicate instantaneously what their intent is.

1.3: Goal Judge

Section 1.3 (Goal Judge) is also a move in the right direction, as it gives more power to someone who should be assisting the ref as much as possible. I would like to see the power of the goal judge expand even more, honestly. While I think it’d be tough to implement a GJ who is able to ref in tandem with the ref, I would like the GJ to have the power to signal an illegal action has been taken, and then be able to signal to the ref what that illegal action was (infractions, illegal moves, etc).

An interesting bit of phrasing comes up around 2.1.2.3.1:

injured playersSo if you’re team-mate breaks their toes, is replaced, and then “thinks” they can play again, tell them to bugger off. No you won’t ruin this for me, Harold. You’re the one with weak toes. 

2.2: Courts

Only two notable things I want to bring up here:

1. Court boards are 4 feet high at least

2. Courts have two doors symmetrical to the half court line

Both of these are, for better or worse (I think better), putting the demands of running a good tourney into law. You can’t half-ass your courts for an NAH tourney anymore, and for a short guy like me, having doors required is super great.

2.3: Goals

I have a disappointment here, and I’m sure someone could explain it all away for me pretty rapidly, but why do we require that goals have firm top crossbars? It seems to me that goalies leaning on the top crossbar is a big issue (big enough to have rules written for), and we could eliminate that issue by making it so goals didn’t have firm crossbars, but rather just the net suspended in between.

Oh, I guess because falling on a standalone bar would suck, maybe. I think I just answered my own question. Carry on.

2.4: Bicycles

Crandall Rule

I propose we call this the Crandall Rule.

2.5: Mallets

I see we still have language about carbon fiber mallet shafts. Who the hell is using carbon fiber and could you please contact me? 

5: Ball Handling

This whole section introduces some changes to what we understand currently. Most notably:

Ball Handling

So, you can ball joint anywhere, but only for two seconds (I plan to shout while I’m ball jointing so the ref knows I’m following the rules), you can scoop, and you can’t carry. I enjoy that violating the time limit and the carry-rule results in a ball turnover.

Sorry, Dave.

We then get into penalty format which, while very interesting, I will not really cover here in full. I really strongly suggest you go out and visit the proposed rules to read over this section though.

Section 10: Bodily Contact Penalties

However, I will bring up a few of the body contact rules that struck my interest in particular the checking rules:

body movin

I like that a hard line has been drawn to remove some of the confusion over what constitutes an extension. Hit with your shoulders, people. It’s not hard to understand.

I also like the inclusion of ball-specific contact (anything outside of that, save for a moving screen, is deemed interference). This helps strengthen the fairness of the game, I feel, as we had some issue last year with off-ball contact.

Disappointingly, headbutting (10.6) is still illegal.

10.10: Flagrance

defenseless

If this is the case, I should never be physically struck, as I should always be deemed defenseless.

And that’s my overview. Again, not a complete examination of the rules, I’ll leave that to LoBP (ALL HAIL), but the parts that interested me the most.

New Regions? Well…If I May…

Hipstervania

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:

Regions2

My Argument for No Goal Limit

scoreboard

Game format is something that people get mighty touchy about when brought up. By way of example, just bring up the idea that bench format should be more prevalent (and see how many people either tell you how wrong you are, or just stop listening altogether and decide to not invite you to their son’s Bar Mitzvah). It’s one of the holiest things in bike polo–surprising, given what bike polo is.

Currently there is a vote occurring to determine what rule changes are on the minds of bike polo players. The NAH (Specifically Chairman Kruse)  hopes to gather up enough information through the votes in order to better determine how they can create rules which satisfy players. I for one think it’s pretty awesome that they are going about it this way. One polokin, one vote, I say.

So naturally I voted, and generally speaking, I don’t share opinions of where the sport should be heading with bike polo at large (save for jousting, contact rules, and the idea of the crease (though my vote is in 2nd place right now, I still have lots of people that agree with me (I just need validation))). But what bothered me most was this:

game formatOkay. Okay. I get it. Doing unlimited score would fundamentally change bike polo. I’m not fighting that argument because I don’t have much ground to stand on.

But PEOPLE! We’d be introducing two elements to bike polo that are very important and valuable: consistency and the importance of strategic planning! …at least in my mind right at this moment. Read more

NAH Website Woes: Who’s to BLAME?!

NAHs

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.

unavailable

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.

 

Is it Time for Two Leagues?

big league

If there is nothing else I have learned by going to tournaments (outside of the power behind a person who has sunscreen and the value of a pop-up tent), it’s that there are simply some teams that will always win, and teams that will always loose. Point in fact, my first big tourney (ESPIs in Frederick a few years ago), the Beaver Boys and the Means both attended, and even then I understood that those two would be the first and second place teams–which of course, they were, if memory serves).

And that’s sort of the nature of the sport right now: a player signs up for a tourney, they take a look at who is going, and they figure out the first 5 teams if they want to.

And while that’s all well and good, it leaves a lot of weaker teams feeling as though they really don’t have a shot. While it’s not important to play in a tourney with the expectation of winning the whole thing (being a Millennial, I think I’m supposed to get an award for just participating, right?), there is something to be said for going to every tournament and knowing that you’re not even going to get close to the podium.

There are hundreds of bike polo teams that go to dozens of tourneys each year, and the majority of them are, I’d dare say, disenfranchised about winning a damn thing.

What I’m talking about has nothing to do with being fair–there are always going to be players who are better than other players–I’m talking about the survival of our sport. If newer/less skillful players stop going to tournaments–or feel like they simply shouldn’t waste the money to be devastated by a series of A class teams–then we’re cutting off the growth of our sport, at least in the manner of having a vibrant, changing tournament structure. Read more