As polo develops it is getting more competitive, particularly at the top end. The skill gap between teams is narrowing, and people are being forced to analyse all aspects of the game to eke out an advantage. You just have to look at the development in equipment, be it bikes or mallets, to see how seriously some people are taking things. On court, there are some techniques which can help your team punch above their weight, but which I hate to see. The most common of these is the double/triple goalie set-up.
Players will be familiar with this tactic, and may use it themselves. Basically it involves Team A crowding out their goal area with two or three players, and hence discouraging Team B from shooting. Of course, it’s hard for Team B to score past multiple goalkeepers, but the greater threat is the likelihood of a Team A counter attack. With their players sat so deep, and with their wheels parallel to goal, it’s almost certain that any Team B shot will rebound off one of Team A’s bikes or bodies, fall in easy reach of their mallet, and hey presto, a break forms.
It can be a very effective tactic when you have the lead, but by God it’s boring. I’ve never seen anyone ‘ice’ the ball (holding it in a corner to run down the clock) but persistently erecting a wall in front of goal is just as negative. The difference is it’s generally accepted.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t understand the rules in this area. It’s very hard to see how far the attacking team can go in trying to break up the wall. Hooking is okay, but largely ineffective against good players who aren’t tripods. Body-to-body and bike-to-bike rules are confusing, so jamming in between two of the players and hopping around may be frowned upon, or even called as a foul. It’s still my preferred tactic, and I think the attacking team should be given the benefit of the doubt. Players and spectators should remember that it’s the defensive team (Team A) who are shutting down and killing the game by making shooting so risky that Team B would be foolish to try. Heckle Team A for being cynical, not Team B for being ugly.
I’d prefer not to see a kind of reverse 3-second in the ‘D’ rule but unless a consensus can be reached on what is acceptable contact when breaking a wall, I think it may become necessary if polo is to remain a free-flowing and open game.
Something that really bugs me, and which I moan about frequently, is when people do it when their team is losing. If it’s in a throw-in, it’s going to make this tactic seem more effective than it really is, because fun-loving poloists are going to shoot even if it means missing, creating a break and conceding a goal. My desire to play polo trumps my desire to win throw-ins, and in this situation my (admittedly immature and irresponsible) response is usually to deliver the hardest slapshot I can in the hope it’ll give the defenders a nice bruise and/or rebound so far that my team will get the ball back.
You still see less experienced players do it in competitive games, probably because they’ve learned that it’s effective during throw-ins. And similarly inexperienced, unintelligent or non-competitive attackers will get drawn in and fall into their trap, even in tournaments. I’ve done it myself, and so have my teammates. But no more!
In any competitive game (and maybe throw-ins too – there’s no point practising a play you know to be fatally flawed), I’m going to change my approach. If I’m losing, I’m going to break up the wall sooner and more ruthlessly. If my teammates don’t want to do it, I’ll pass off to them and do the dirty work myself. When I’m winning, I’m just going to retreat to my own half and dribble around, keeping possession away from the loan outfield opponent until time runs out. If my teammates are of the same opinion as me, we can play piggy in the middle by passing around. Or maybe I’ll fight shit with shit and ice the ball until the time runs out.