Rumor has it that the folks in charge want a crease rule. Chances are a crease is coming to a polo game near you. Here is a lil preview.
What are the specs of the future crease?
-A crease will extend about one foot out from the posts along the goal line.
-The NAH crease will have a 4 foot radius. Note that our nets are of NYC’s Red Menace Era vintage and are 2m wide so we used a 4.5 foot radius.
-The crease should be green gold and red.
How does the crease work? It is not perfect, but we’re still trying to smooth things out. Here is how its working for us:
-Only one defender may become stationary in the crease.
-Others defenders may enter the crease but only one can become stationary.
-No one can mess with a stationary person within the crease.
-When the ball is in the crease, anyone may enter the crease.
In Boston we don’t play much double goalie, so the crease hasn’t had a huge impact on game play. But between the crease and the popularity face offs have gained here, we might actually have to change the name of our game to Bike Hockey =^O
To allow the referee to communicate information about stoppages of play and penalties the NAH has implemented the use of hand signals. They are simple and effective – one look at the ref and you know he saw you lean into the innocent off-ball opponent. I’m not sure how much use they’ve seen in the qualifiers because they take a little more experience to master.
Peep this cheat-sheet so you don’t start chirpsing before you know what you got called on.
When the location change of the 2014 Eastside Thaw was announced I knew I wanted to go. These two courts in Frederick Maryland are probably the nicest on the east coast. I was a little weary of the format. Mixed skill level, shuffled teams? Was I gonna get stuck with a couple duds and just get slaughtered all weekend. I got shit for trying to sandbag on Facebook, but not having played a tourney in almost a year and only a couple pickup sessions under my belt since my injury I really had no idea what level I was playing at and how my body would react to tourney speed polo.
But the courts are so sweet, and I figured at worst I’d get a good early season shellacking to keep me humble.
There were actually two tournaments this weekend. The first was a 3v3 with the twist being teams were drawn from three decks of cards. All the players were split into three groups based on skill level (A,B,C) and each team got one player from each level. For the most part this system worked out and the teams were fairly even. Perhaps instead of A/B/C some teams looked like B/B/C or A/C/C.
Mixing skill levels in this way made for some really interesting polo. Not only were most people playing with teammates they might not know or have ever played with before, they were then given a letter that was supposed to mark their skill level.
It took me two games (a loss and a tie) to realize I could not carry my team on my own. I spent the first two games ball hogging and ignoring my teammates. I was forcing the ball up the court by myself and not finding the back of the net. It was once I relaxed and approached it more like pickup, focusing on passing and good communication that the team turned around.
Luckily I had great teammates who didn’t get pissed off at me, and worked hard to get us to the final. Troy from Lancaster was calm and steady and took it upon himself to hang back in net. When he did come up it was with speed and purpose. He scored the goal to put us into overtime in the semifinal with only a few seconds left. Arguably the most important goal of the day for us. Drew from Philly worked the midfield, winning back possession frequently and disrupting the other team’s offense. It was super rewarding to build a team with these guys over the course of the day.
So while I was very skeptical of this format coming in, I really came around to appreciating it. Did it make for the highest level polo possible? No, but that wasn’t the point. It’s a great format for bringing together people and raising everyone’s level. This is the kind of event that will make our region stronger in the long term.
Sunday was a typical bench tourney. As a top goal scorer I was one of the captains and got to pick Nick Vaughan so we won. That guy is really fucking good. One of my favorite memories of the tourney was watching him play against his teammate Alexis. It really felt like watching two Kung fu masters battling it out with their different styles.
My only complaint about the bench tourney is that ten players on a team is way too many. I was really trying to get everyone in to play, but the clock was running too fast and a lot of times guys would only get in for quick minute long shifts. I almost blew the final when I put in our C line not realizing there were only a few minutes left.
The Scoops (wrist shots)
So they allowed scoop shots at this tourney as they had the year before. I hadn’t played in a tourney where they were allowed since the bench ESPI in NYC a couple years ago. I remembered being very frustrated in that tourney with BBP players constantly scooping balls over the net instead of just taking shots. Aside from that and Lomax and a few others making a couple nice looking ones, they didn’t seem to play a very big role.
That was not the case this past weekend. The scoop shot took over games and how people were playing defensively and offensively. I think this was because of a few factors.
– Improved mallet head designs make it easier to grab the ball
– it was a laid back tourney so people were more willing to experiment
– goals were full size 4×6 ft nets so it was pretty easy to find the big gap at the top of the net
I’ll let others discuss the aesthetic merits of the scoop shot. It’s a skill to master, and it’s no surprise that the people with the best scoop shot also tend to be really good players without them.
And no one really knows what would happen to the game five years down the road if we legalized them today.
For me, what’s most interesting is how they affect defenses. A good scooper within a couple meters from net can beat a double goalie fairly consistently. Also if you soft lob a scoop into a double goalie, you are less likely to have a hard rebound to defend. You have to keep strong pressure on the forecheck, which is something people say they want to see. Turtling up and letting a guy pick his corner out isn’t gonna work.
People say goalies would adjust and learn how to block them. I’m not so sure. If you need to keep your mallet down to block your five hole and bottom corners, can you really also use it to protect your top corners? Are goalies really gonna have to be popping wheelies and endoes to block shots? With a shot a goalie can predict trajectory based on the head angle on contact, with a scoop, the shooter can change trajectory during the release. I dunno I guess it could be done.
This tourney was a blast. I got out of the house, got to play polo all weekend with new homies and old buds. The drive there and back wasn’t so bad. I got to travel for the first time with members of BBP’s young guard, Zac, Nick, and Charlotte. They repped Boston so hard both on and off the court. There was an amazingly consistent waffle maker at the hotel which was a big hit. We took a sweet bike ride through the old town of Frederick and saw some sweet historic stuff and forgot to Instagram it. I got in on a couple bad jokes and made my throat sore heckling and shouting at my teammates. And now sitting here looking at all the pics and remembering the good times, it’s like McDonald’s.
For fuck’s sake, follow the rules of bike polo. The rules are there to keep you safe (you fucking goon), and they are there to protect your disgusting body and your piece-of-shit bike and your expensive polo gear. The truly beautiful thing about our sport is that there are so few rules in the first place. I recently read something I really liked on League of Bike Polo: every new sport is advanced in the space between the rules, and that strategic advancement is not dictated by the rules themselves. For example, with the development of bike polo specific equipment, such as mallet heads that enhance scooping ability and frames that center your weight more appropriately for hopping and pivot turning, we are each individually granted the new tactics, and those tactics give us exponentially more choices to make as a team on the court. And that’s a beautiful thing if you ask me.
Now, I realize that not everyone shares my peachy idealistic view of the rules. Some kids want to be Spartan renegades and play by their own rules, and I have been trying my best to appreciate that position. I understand that everyone interprets “the rules” differently, specifically the definitions for high sticking, slashing, and off-ball contact. Some kids want to play exclusively by our golden rule of polo, Don’t Be A Dick. But can’t you see how this reductionist point of view leads to less of a grey area and more of a black hole? If there are enough kids on the court playing by different definitions of a slash or hack, aggression will escalate wicked quick. Retaliatory strikes (guilty of these myself) are arguably even more egregious than offending actions such as slashing, because they are motivated by vengeance and anger, and are way more likely to cause accidents. Also, that’s like totally the definition of being a dick, and we all JUST agreed that we shouldn’t be dicks like thirty seconds ago.
I want to take a moment and recognize the work Nick Kruse is putting into updating the rules. He recently showed me a few of his updates, and his language is so clear and his writing is so effective that I swear I saw a flock of doves fly out of his laptop’s screen. But what do we do when we have a disagreement about the rules at pickup? Shouldn’t the rules be more flexible (i.e. allowing wrist shots, throwing your mallet at the ball) since there are beginners present and we’re all just drinking and having fun? I suggested to our club that we use the most current version of NAH rules and regulations at pickup, but only to enforce turnovers. That way, we have good habits on the court when traveling to other cities for tournaments. You might argue that strictly reffing and enforcing turnovers during pickup games takes away the inherent punk-rock nature that is essential to the spirit of bike polo. To that, I say you are dead fucking wrong, kiddo. We all have lives outside of bike polo, even if we don’t want to admit it; we can’t go around breaking each others’ bones and sporting black eyes to the office— I’m not sixteen anymore. I know that taking hits and falls is part of the game, I know that the smart thing to do is wear pads and a face cage, because accidents (that is to say, accidents caused by Tobi) happen. But should I dress like a NFL linebacker just to play a pickup game of bike polo? I have responsibilities as a human being— I have cats to feed, man!
Let me reframe my argument: I don’t particularly care if people break the rules. It doesn’t make me cry and it doesn’t make me cum, I am completely indifferent to it. Really, I just want to play polo, and if you break the rules and endanger my well-being, frankly that’s ok because I should have expected it— bike polo is dangerous. However, there is a line that any reasonable person should not cross, and it is an admittedly fuzzy line. How do you quantify the aggression in Lomax’s wild swing? If Zach Blackburn elbows you in the chest while you’re playing goal, how aggressively can you protect yourself? I don’t have the answers to these questions. I only hope that we can get back to what the game is truly about, in my opinion, which is mallet skill and speed. Picks and hits have a place in bike polo, but slamming on your friends’ steering arms and knocking them off their bikes seems unnecessarily barbaric. As Bill and Ted once said on their excellent adventure, “Be excellent to each another, and party on, dudes!” -ZS