I recently watched an episode of (I think) Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel just before heading off to polo. One of the topics discussed was the increasing amount of attacks on officiators by athletes, their parents, and spectators in general. There was really some faith-in-humanity destroying segments, including interviews with a family of a ref who was recently killed due to a head injury sustained by an angry athlete in Utah.
And I guess this is the way it is now: refs arriving early to games they are officiating in order to find escape routes , contacting the head of security for events and asking who they should run for if things go wrong—it’s the nature of sports in our country.
So how does this apply to you and I, polo players extraordinaire? To put it as simply as possible: our sport is young enough that we can avoid that trend.
When bike polo was first invented in Ireland, sportsmanship was very different than it is today. You played hard, but players were also expected to be knowledgeable about rules and recognize when they’d done something particularly against them. Officiators were respected and obeyed (and, to the defense of your great grandfather, there was still plenty of arguing and cursing, but the call on the field was obeyed as law—that’s why the officiator was there).
The reason for this is really pretty easy to grasp, too: you’re playing a game, and games have rules. If you break those rules, you’re ruining the entire basis of the game, and that’s just as lame as you can get. Take the call and move on.
Lots of sports are now so entirely focused on amazing achievement and not on sportsmanship – look at American football as your paradigm of the player becoming more important than the sport—and this has caused a fundamental shift in respecting officials and in listening to their enforcement of the rules.
One thing that is constantly called for in our sport is a more organized, widely available set of refs to officiate every NAH event—and I don’t disagree. However, I think we as the players of that sport also must make sportsmanship as integrated as possible in the game itself. We don’t have to look at rules as limiting, but rather enabling for great plays to be achieved and for the playing field to be more equal between teams. You might be a heartless brawler, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should win everything simply because the other team is scared you’re using a spraypainted-yellow-iron mallet.
Our rule set – as flexible and changing as it is – started as one single rule: don’t be a [jerk] (I honestly don’t know if I can swear on Urban Velo, but you know what that rule actually says). Within that simple little rule is the entire foundation for sportsmanship. It wasn’t a specific binding law, it was an understanding through polo that there were situations where a player could manipulate the game in such a way that made them dangerous to other players (while benefitting themselves). Before the larger rule set, players themselves made on-the-court decisions if a particular event was fair or violated that first rule of polo. It worked because we agreed to have it work.
I’m not suggesting that sportsmanship can be instilled by just removing all of the other rules we have now and going back to one, but I am suggesting it’s important to keep that ground rule in your mind—to instill it in new players and remind veteran players to keep the first rule as a basis for actions in heated tourneys. We’re fortunate that we don’t need to deal with players who attack refs (there’s always the possibility that it will happen, and that will be a fun day of shouting at my computer screen as I write incomplete sentences about the end of our sport). I think it’s important that we continue to keep a level head about sportsmanship and accept calls as they come – learn what the rules are – and keep ourselves vigilant against making ourselves more important than the game we are playing.
It’s from the polo war room that I write to you, and with the season in full swing, I’m more than happy to be here amongst my many leather bound mallets and polo related beverages. This is probably my second favorite time of the polo season, actually, as anything is still possible in relation to Nationals and Worlds, there are so many tourneys to go to, and people are still working out exactly what they’re going to blame the NAH for the most.
My money is on the 17 year Cicadas, btw. Totes the NAH’s fault.
So, let’s see what’s going on by way of the tourneys:
First, we have the Solo Polo Santa Fe II out of Santa Fe. A pickup tourney were you go, free of charge, and just play. Despite my natural desire to hate them for spelling “immediately” as “IMMEADITLY” on the flyer, it does seem like a pretty rock solid good time if you’re able to make it there. Breakfast and lunch provided, fun to be had by all, and lots of room for polo rookies.
Next, I want to highlight the Northside Regional Qualifier which is taking place June 15th and 16th . It’s the Northside Regional folks, I shouldn’t really have to explain this one too terribly much. How-ev-er I will tell you what makes it great: one court for dedicated pickup the whole tourney, and the courts are lit until 1AM – so don’t you worry your pretty little heads if someone is a few minutes late to get into their game. Lots of beer to be had at the registration party (at a pub) and a brewery crawl for people who understand that Michigan has some of the finest beers about.
And ON THAT VERY SAME WEEKEND OH MY GOD is the SouthEastern Regional Qualifier which has been dubbed by organizers as “Ya’ll about to drink so much moonshine you’ll think you’re Hellen Keller.” If that doesn’t set up your expectations, I don’t quite know what will. This tourney will only see five teams qualify for Nationals, so competition is expected (by me) to be fierce and bloody. At least I’m hoping so. If you are planning to attend this one—as in already have registered and are all set—make sure you get your housing sorted. Looks like it’s going to be tight quarters unless you’re prepared.
As a side note: if you look at the thread for this tourney on League of Bike Polo (ALL HAIL!) you’ll see that, once again, someone thinks that Horse is the person running Lancasterpolo.com and not me. I guess nobody can believe that a short hobbit-y fellow could talk so much about polo. Let’s leave the tourneys before I start crying.
Next, let’s talk about some of the hoopla in the forums.
One topic that caught my fancy was a conversation about joint pain. Outside of VFW bingo nights, conversations about joint pain often come up on the LoBP forums and are often met with the same series of comments: “man up,” “here’s a wrap you can try,” and “yeah, me too.” The best advice I’ve come across as far as what people say has worked is twofold: take a break and exercise the joint. I understand why that can sound like bullish advice, but it makes sense: you’re using a specialized set of muscles to play the sport, and those muscles, probably, don’t see much workout during your regular day. Making them stronger can help in making them more resistant to the strains our sport puts on them. Give your wrists a break for a while and after they feel better, figure out a way to work them out for strength.
(Insert joke here. Laugh to yourself. Moving on…)
Honestly, though, I think it’s important to not act like a buffoon if you’re experiencing nagging pain in polo. Nothing could be worse than doing real harm to yourself because you chose to ignore the pain. Taking a few weeks off is much better than taking a few years, right?
Now, let’s talk about bike polo equipment:
First, Milwaukee has released this new head you should be excited to catch. See what I did there? Okay, seriously though, the Small Mouth Monohead from MKE has been out for quite a while, but I’ve never caught up to talk about it: at five inches and about 83 grams, the never-recycled UHMW head is as clean as it is dependable. Pre-drilled so you have a harder time messing up your mounting, the head has a 2.5 inch outside diameter and a single capped end. Currently at $21.99, it’s well within the price range of high quality heads and really is just a no-nonsense, I-want-to-buy-a-good-mallet-head purchase.
Next I was excited to see that Portland Bike Polo’s “Electric Salmon” head is back and up for sale. (I’ll spare you all the fish jokes I had lined up for this one given that I used a bunch for the MKE above.) Anyway, the Electric Salmon is UHMWPE milled to have an open side and a capped side. Weighing in at about 78 grams, the head is softer than what you’ll find with a UHMW head but lighter for it. What I appreciate most about the head (outside of how good it feels, as I had one for a little while before giving it to our resident mallet expert Kyle), is how honest the product page is: “If your spirit animal is Thor riding the Incredible Hulk, you will break this mallet. If you smash the mallet into the ball instead of into the ground, the mallet will last for months.” Coming in at 25 dollars a head, it’s high in cost compared to some other non UHMW heads – but take heart: multiple orders get discounts in initial price, depending on how many more than 2 you buy.
Finally, Fixcraft is planning to release its new mounting system on the 7th of June (during their Fixcraft Friday event). There has been a lot of hub-bub about this new mounting system and I can echo the excitement. I wrote an initial review here, if you want to read particulars, but I think I can safely say that the world of polo is pretty excited to see what Fixcraft has come up with this time. Price is unknown at this point, so we’ll have to see how it falls in line with other mallet assembly options. They’ve also redesigned their mallet heads, and shafts, thought it doesn’t seem like you need to use either, necessarily, to use the cleat mounting system. I don’t have a link to point you to, so I’ll point you to the Merch Table and let you gander around there for a while.
And that’s your polo update! Before I leave you, I want to invite you to comment and make suggestions as to what you want to see here. More strategy? More about tourneys? Something else? Feel free to drop a line and let me know what you’re wishing for. I’m like the godmother of polo, minus the wings.
Looking into the crystal ball that is League of Bike Polo (ALL HAIL!) I see a few very exciting tournaments coming up in May:
First, the Boot Camp Training Weekend for Ladies Army 5 is happening May 4th-5th. This is interesting because of the swingers nature of team selection: everyone puts something familiar into a bowl—three items are drawn out and that’s your team for the first day! The second day is a pull-out bench format: coolers full of beer. Pull out a beer, and everyone who has that brand of delicious PBR is on your team. I gotta say, this sounds like something I could get into.
Next up is Bear Polo 4 out of Fort Meyers that same weekend (May 4th and 5th). This one is a bit more traditional with Swiss rounds the first day and double elim the second. There are literally no comments on the thread for this tournament so far, so I’m guessing the field is still wide open?
And then, on May 10th-12th, is Ladies Army 5. I’m excited by this one for a few reasons: 1, they have done so much promotion for it that I literally feel like it’s the super-FIFA-Olympics, and 2 because I will get to watch polo that weekend from the comfort of the polo war room. This is happening in Burnaby, Canada if you don’t know, and if you don’t know, now you know. Ya know?
The last one I want to talk about is the Knoxville Marble City Open, happening May 11th and 12th. This is the first tourney these folks have put on, and they are equal parts overly-emphatic about explaining rules on the tourney page as they are willing to take suggestions to make it better. There is something magical about going to a first-ever city tourney, and I really think if you’re in the area you should give it a go.
Check out these (and other exciting tourneys) over on the LoBP(ALL HAIL) tournament page.
Next, let’s peek on over at the boards and see what’s what in the world of grown men getting huffy at each other—actually, it’s very far from that in the one posting that I want to talk about over on LoBP. It seems the topic of player licensing came up again and the NAH (specifically, Eric from DC) made it a point to address the complaints and observations in a courteous, careful manner. I have to say that it’s one of the most productive and respectful conversations I’ve seen on the boards in a long time, and I’m excited as to what that says about possible outcomes and resolutions. Check it out here and add into the conversation as long as you a. keep it on topic and b. resist the swelling urge to be a complete jerk. You can be a little bit of a jerk, but don’t go full jerk. Not in public, anyway.
Yes, it’s time to talk about new equipment popping up around the polo-sphere!
Here we have Modifide’s shaft, which, according to Modifide’s Facebook page, was designed with the help of Northern Standard for lightness and the mounting system. I haven’t tried these shafts out so I can’t speak to them in any way, but there you go—I told you. It doesn’t look like they are up for sale yet (as of writing this), but by the looks of things they should be up soon.
Next, Fixcraft’s lifeline dual break pull (which seems to be off the site at the moment, but they still have a post on Facebook about it). This is a way of making many single brake levers into a dual lever. Right now they have a short pull available but will soon have a long pull as well. Seems like a cheap way to customize your polo rig on the fly.
And that’s really all I’ve seen around the interwebs this week—but I think they are enough for now, don’t you?
No, I don’t either. I want more. All the polo equipments.
Finally, I want to discuss what play has been like now that I’ve been using a shaped head (specifically, the Modifide ARC Mallet head). I can bring it all down to three things:
- Ball handling: seems better
- Shooting: not really different
- Hooking: more dangerous to me
Ball Handling: The ARC head’s shape allows me to cup the ball a little bit (without removing the chance for a defender to get it from me) which thereby allows me to look up more during play. I know that the ball is rolling to the center of my mallet because that’s the only place it has to go, and that allows me more predictability in play. That’s kind of great, and I enjoy it very much for that reason alone.
Shooting: I don’t know how the shape could help me shoot, so I don’t really want to bring that up as the reason, but I’m far more accurate with this mallet than I have been with others. It might be the larger flat surface of the shooting end. Regardless, I find myself able to make long-range shots more accurately, scoop more accurately to team-mates, and all around feel better about myself as a person.
Hooking: Gene made this very apparent to me yesterday during pickup: when someone hooks you, you’re hooked for good. The man pretty much hooked my mallet and then rode around me until he decided to let me go. The shape acts as a wedge to another person’s mallet, and that means you’ve really got to work to get free (good if you are trying to stop a play, bad if you’re trying to make one). I suspect this will change as I get used to people trying to hook my mallet, but yesterday it scared me. Scared me real good.
And that’s your update for now. Thanks for reading, and keep the rubber side down.
Let’s start this column with a look at some of the upcoming tourneys in April, shall we?
On the West Coast and out of San Francisco comes the SF Survivor Bench Weekend (April 6th and 7th) . Featuring everything you’d expect out of San Fran (Friday pickup, a poker party, potluck BBQ, knife fights) along with prizes and otherwise interesting hilarity. If you’re in the area it’s a good way to get into the groove of the season, no doubt.
Next on the ol’ agenda, we have Bike Polo Spring Break (BPSB) out of Lexington, KY (Also April 6th and 7th). If the poster is any indication of what to expect, people can expect rainbows and pixilated mohawked gentlemen trying to pick up pixilated women at the beach, and dolphins riding jetskis. However, if you know anything about Lexington Bike Polo, you’ll know that they put on one heck of a shindig and it’s definitely worth your time and effort to be there.
Another hot number comes the April 13th weekend: Battle For The Midwest 2, which features (now get this) a $40 dollar fee per player, which includes beer all weekend, 3 meals Saturday, and at least 2 meals on Sunday. That’s what I’m talking about, Midwest! As of me writing this, there is space for 1 more team, and I’d suggest pulling at least 7 of your buddies together to go to this one – if nothing else just to see if you can make your money back in beer alone. I know you can, Baby Cake. This is another bench format tourney as well. Lots of sponsors, probably lot of awesome.
And that VERY SAME WEEKEND (April 13th) we have the Eastside Regional Qualifier out of Boston. The Eastside Regional Qualifier holds a special place in my heart, and while I haven’t been able to form up a team for it (I only write about bike polo well enough, I don’t play it so well enough), I might just make an appearance up there to document the happenings. The fee is sixty bucks registration plus 10 bucks to the NAH for their contingency fund (which you can read about here). So that’s a seventy spot for your team to head up to Hockey Town and get your game on. Boston brings the heat when it comes to an event like this (God knows the weather typically doesn’t, am I right?), so you’ll be in good hands.
And that’s my upcoming tourney wrap up (yes Southwest Regional Qualifier, I see you there – next time).
So now that you know what tourneys are upcoming and have a reason to start packing for all points, let’s talk about what bike polo as a whole has been discussing, and from a quick glance at the LoBP (ALL HAIL) forum, it looks like the most recent conversation is on mallet hooking the goalie to force a footdown or a roll-out. As most people in the forum thread accurately point out, this is a perfectly legal move and a very effective one at that. However, the gem of this thread comes from a very important clarification that many bike polo players fail to grasp: the difference between a hack (or slash) and a hook.
A hack or slash is when there is a forceful movement of your mallet against your opponents in (generally) a downward or sideways motion. A hook is when you make contact with the opponents mallet first, and then lift or push away. This is obviously a simplified explanation, but it’s an effective one, I find. If you roll up to another player and swordfight with them, you’re doing it wrong.
One of the most discussed forums I’ve seen is one dealing with moving picks and interference rules. I’ll leave you to get the little details, but it comes down to this: how should moving picks be handled in bike polo of the future, and should there be penalties for offensive and defensive interference.
I was having a hard time understanding most of what was said (surprising, no?), until Kev of Toronto posted this video and noted that around 16:55 there is a great example of “off-ball body checking” that should be made illegal for fairer play (or at least for less violent play). I watched the video and saw how and argument could be made for offensive picks being not so great. But from that point on the conversation spins into somewhat veiled personal attacks, quotes to simply dissect semantics, and other adventures in saying the same thing over and over again.
You know, typical board stuff.
Let’s finish off with something near and dear to all polo player’s hearts: new stuff round up.
Arena Bike Polo has come out with some shiny new bike polo shafts and mallet heads, and I must say that I’m a fan of both. The shaft just looks great and feels light in the hand while still maintaining strength, and the Alchemy head is basically the economy (don’t take that as slight in any way) version of the M.I.L.K. head out of Geneva. It’s peppy, well-constructed, and currently one of my go-to mallets. I haven’t done a full review of it on Lancaster Polo yet, but I will very soon. You can check out their fine products right here.
Next we have a newer entry into the bike polo equipment game, this being Modifide. The piece of equipment in particular is the ARC mallet head, made of Canadian UHMW and built with the curves previously unseen in the sport. I played with one for a day so far, and I am impressed with how the shape controls the ball. The price is high here in the states (40 bucks or so with shipping included), but I guess that’s the price you pay for engineering and…stuff… Check out their Facebook page for more on the ARC. I have a full “first day” review of this mallet head on lancasterpolo.com right now, if you’re so inclined.
Finally we have Northern Standard coming out with a suspiciously similar-to-the-ARC mallet head and a new shaft to go along with it (which has the same basic shape as their honeycomb mallet a little while back). I can’t speak much to either the shaft or the head as I haven’t tried them out, but if past performance is any indication of future projects, I think we’ll have some fine additions to put your wallet toward. Most notably is the end of the mallet shaft: Four-toothed for your mallet head’s pleasure, though that doesn’t seem to be on the site quite yet. The price is $28 Canadian dollars, which is something close to $28 American dollars as of this writing. Add $10 dollars shipping to that and you’re looking at about the same price point as the Modifide. Here is the NS website for you to gander wares.
So that’s the polo update from your humble columnist. I hope the beginning of your season is going well, and I look forward to seeing you crazy polokins at the tourneys!
For those of us who do not actively engage in reviewing the boards on League of Bike Polo (ALL HAIL!), there was recently a topic and interesting conversation about creating more legitimacy around refs (if you like, you can read through it right here).
Forum posts and conversations about getting refs into a better position for bike polo officiating isn’t uncommon. In fact, I’m willing to say that this conversation is one that comes up right alongside the best mounting system for mallet heads, mocking people who are still playing on fixed gear bikes, and whether scoop shots should be legal. But unlike all of those other conversations, I think this one is actually, well, important.
Ok, ok. I really enjoy people who get worked up about the legality of scoop shots. People act like a dog with rabies on that one, and it’s high-larious.
At the core of the conversation on LoBP (ALL HAIL!) is the recognition that refs don’t have enough clout to demand respect, are under-appreciated by the NAH, and need to be given special privilege in order to really help officiate the sport and move it in a way that is less focused on group consensus and much more so on cut and dry, good officiating. There are a few ways to go about determining how much of that argument is true, and how to go about making those things happen if they are indeed the path forward.
First, let’s talk about clout. I think it’s a fair thing to say that nobody wants to listen to someone who has no idea what they are doing (look at congress (har har har topical humor)). The problem with how refs are chosen currently at a bike polo tournament is that they aren’t necessarily qualified in any way. The conversation goes like this:
Panicked organizer: Hey you there – you ever read the NAH ruleset?
Drunk, only-playing-for-2-weeks-guy: The one that says something about clubs?
Panicked organizer: Perfect! Go to court three – here’s a whistle!
This works just fine if you see the ref as someone who just kinda keeps time and initiates the game, but it’s not good for much else. The problem we’re bumping into today is that players are used to that mode of recruiting refs, and because of it they aren’t willing to listen to the ref no matter how well they blow their whistle.
NOTE: not always, and I want to stop here to note that there are some awesome, dedicated people who are willing to and have been refs for tourneys. But this isn’t the standard. There. Now I feel like I’ll cut down on some haterade you’ve been brewing up for me. At least a little.
So the first step, as I see it, is making sure that the refs who are overseeing games are qualified to do so. This qualification can be anything from a little ol’ test given them before they are permitted to ref to a full blown certification. Either way, there has to be a level of expectation that the ref knows a standard amount of rules, and that no-matter who the ref is, they will be able to recall and implement that standard set of rules.
Next, let’s talk about the NAH/ref relationship. Speaking in generalities—as I am known to do—the ref and the NAH should be thick as thieves. However, the NAH has been kinda quiet on the front of getting refs the stuff they need to be true refs of the sport. It would be great to see a training program, some monetary support (so we could have refs that travel to event to ref, not to play and also ref), or even just some sort of recognition for being a ref. This is probably the most ambiguous requirement I have, but I think it’s a big one: the NAH is recognized as a governing body of the sport, and transferring some of that recognition to the refs (who are the governing body within a tourney itself) is pretty damned important, in my book.
Finally, special privilege. Refs really don’t get anything for being a ref right now, and that makes it hard to recruit people into being a ref over, let’s say, just playing in the tourneys they go to. I don’t have a super clear answer on how to address this, but I have a few ideas. For one thing—and I’ve mentioned it before—refs should be paid. Either with cash money or with travel compensation/free stay/free meals. It’s not easy to ref.
It’s not easy to ref.
It’s not easy to ref.
Got it? It’s hard. It takes a lot of energy. Thankless energy, I should add. So compensation should be addressed if you want to get refs who are both up for and excited to be the single point of enforced rules in a tourney. Furthermore, refs must be given full control over the game they are overseeing, and that control should be paramount to the control of the hosting group. What I mean is this: if a player blatantly commits a foul, argues with the ref, and then becomes vengeful (basically a danger on the court), the ref should have the right, with the blessing of the organizers, to throw that player out of the tourney. This helps assure that the ref has some legitimate power in the games they are reffing, they are recognized as an official, and players don’t try to argue or ignore what they have to say. This will only work, however, if the ref is as professional as we can make them. It takes something respectable to give respect.
If I use my imagination, I can see a time not so far from now where refs are brought in to officiate tourneys solely. They aren’t players who don’t have a game to play and they aren’t newbs from the hosting club who don’t have a team to play on. They are people who are vetted and certified from an organizing body, who know the rules and the grey areas that they need to make judgment calls in – they are able to deal with angry players and confusing calls, and able to handle that responsibility all day alongside other “professional” refs who are capable of conferring with them on calls and plays.
So why shouldn’t we aim for that?