Ladies Army 5: Interview with Lisa, Jill, and Shannon (Part 2)

April 3, 2013

You’ve got a whole mess of sponsors, it seems to me.  Do you think this is a sign of the times, or did you and your team do some fancy footwork to make that happen?

As I mentioned, Tiffany Morrow was gracious enough to share the sponsorship list from Lexington, so that was really helpful, but before we even had a confirmed location or date, I was pounding the proverbial pavement seeking sponsorship.  We have a solid sponsorship package (graphic design by Shannon Frey), that supports the tournament’s legitimacy and we have been complimented by several people for our social media campaign.  But also, yes, the prominence of this tournament on the polo calendar has certainly turned the spotlight on it and we are all flattered and only too happy to accommodate anyone who wants to be part of it.

What do you think your freak out moment is going to be?

Oh man!  I don’t know.  I feel like we are so prepared.  We all did a happy dance when Geoffrey Tomlin-Hood (who did the AMAZING promo video) secured a hard wire internet connection for the live feed.  That was my pre-tournament freak out issue: are we going to be able to live-feed??!!

I think the behind-the-scenes is always way worse than people’s perception.  And there are things you can’t control, such as the weather (even though I did a 12 year historical forecast data search for the tournament weekend!!).

I think if anyone is seriously injured, I would be really worried; or if our food gets shut down, or if we get busted for alcohol consumption, because ‘we aren’t drinking on site’.  Shit, now you’ve got me worried…

My freak out moment has nothing to do with the organizing.  I’m going to lose it when I have to line up on the court for the first game.  “IT’S HERE! OMG IT’S FINALLY HERE! HOLY SHIT I ACTUALLY HAVE TO PLAY POLO NOW!”

Where do you see Ladies Army in a few years?

I’m going to leave this one to Shannon because I can’t even begin to guess.  I never thought it would become what it has in four short years.  Who knows?!  I’m happy to watch what happens from the sidelines from here on in.

Shannon hopes it doesn’t change too much.  She thinks this year we’ve seen a “leveling off” of interest (due to travel constraints, understandably) but hopes the tournament keeps this level of excitement and hype.  She also don’t want to see it getting too large, “I’d like to see ladies who attend LA “X” but who’s focus is on the North American “season”: qualifiers, NA’s, worlds.”

Do you think there should be more lady-specific tourneys?

I think they are great, and there are more: Hells Belles has done really well.  Mallet Dolorosa in Berlin April 6-7 this year.  I know there is a concern about a gender split in the sport, and that there is minor support for a gender split (from the women’s side, I haven’t heard anything from the men’s side), but I don’t see that happening anytime soon, and personally, I hope it never does.  I also think the rise of the co-ed tournaments is filling a gap.

Shannon would also like to try and avoid segregation of the sport, and although some people feel it is an inevitability, she too would like to postpone that for as long as possible.  “There is a place for women in bike polo and I’d like for us to have a chance to prove that.  One female-only tournament is already kind of pushing our luck, but I’ve always felt that as long as the primary focus of the tournament was fun and encouragement it would be hard to argue that it was “unfair” for us to have.”

Why do you think women are (typically) under-represented in NA’s and Worlds? (this is a question I’ve asked in other interviews, I’m interested in your take).

Jill

Jill

Jill and I agree that it is in part due to sheer numbers, “Women are under-represented in NA’s and Worlds simply because compared to the number of men who play, women are far fewer in numbers.  The number of women who are honestly contending for a NA or World podium finish are even fewer.”  She continues with an observation about skill, “There are currently no NAH regulations that state tournament teams must have female members, therefore men who compete to finish on the podium won’t consider playing with a female for competitive reasons.  Until women start “slaying” against men resulting in high profile podium finishes, they will continue to be under represented on the national and world bike polo courts.”

Shannon sees this problem as two-fold, and also weighs in with the skill issue.  “First is that in a general sense we just don’t have the skills to be there yet.  Right around the time that polo started shifting away from “good old times at pickup” (about four years ago) to something more serious, was right around the same time that a bunch of ladies started picking up mallets.  Bike polo (like any sport) takes time to really get to the A+ level.  So, the ladies that started playing a few years ago are not only fighting for recognition amidst all of the dudes that already have several years of polo under their belts, but they are fighting against a sport that’s evolving at a blinding pace.  As a side note, you also don’t see a lot of lady players coming into the sport with a bmx/downhill/trails background that sometimes accelerates the learning curve.  The bar for top tier players just keeps getting higher and higher.  Essentially we are swimming upstream.”  However, Shannon has hope that eventually women will have a greater presence at higher tier tournaments, “but it will require a lot of hard work to get there”.

 

Shannon’s second reason is that given a choice, most players (both male and female) would choose a guy as a team-mate.  She explains with a hypothetical situation.  “Your teammate for the qualifier has just broken their wrist in an unfortunate keg-standing incident, and they are unable to play.  The only two players left available are one male, and one female player.  Both are of exactly the same skill level.  Who do you choose?  It seems to me the vast majority of polo players (myself included, being completely honest) would choose the male player.”  Shannon explains that may be because you see more male polo players at the top tiers than you do female players and by association, thinks dudes are better at polo.  Also, Shannon comes back to Jill’s point about sheer numbers, i.e. there are just more men than women playing polo.  “Either way, the point is that in a general sense, women will actually have to be better than their male equivalents to get picked for teams.”

What can polo at large do to increase the likelihood of female players feeling more welcome?

You know, I am guilty of not being super welcoming to new players (whether or not they are female).  Sometimes you show up for polo and you really want to play great games and having a new player on the court can be frustrating, especially those days when we are five games deep at Grandview and you are only going to play three of four games all day…  I think the sport in general needs to have some type of structure for welcoming new players.

We tried newbie nights in East Van, but they didn’t take off until newbies themselves were running them.  They still don’t play regularly, but now when there is a call out, there’s a pretty good turn out.

I also think skills and drills is another great way to get more people engaged in the game.  It’s a very individual exercise that is going to help you understand how to be on the court.  We’ve had a few in East Van and they are well-attended, but I think the sport needs to focus on developing those skills and drills that work and are relevant.  You know, just like basketball, soccer, hockey, etc all have practice drills, bike polo needs those too.

I also think that the sport needs to do more outreach to younger players, get our kids playing early.  We are attempting that in East Van and I know folks like Brian Dillman and Dan NOLA have done this in the past with some success.

As for women in particular, there is a stereotypical inherent attitude of looking like an idiot, being afraid of failing and of getting hurt.  I think those are larger societal issues that bike polo alone can’t address, but it can certainly help contribute to helping to resolve.

Welcoming travelers is a big one.  I’ve traveled quite a bit playing polo and I’ve been welcomed in most cities, but when you travel and want to meet these people who share the same love and passion for something you do, it’s a real downer when they are assholes.  That’s happened once or twice.  So you know, just don’t be a dick, you were a noob once too.

Shannon agrees that a congenial attitude can go far to be welcoming to women, “Smile.  Be nice.  Be encouraging.  Get the current ladies in your club to host ‘lady newbie days/nights’.  It doesn’t have to happen frequently, even just a couple times at the start of the season, it just has to be enough to break down that first wall.  Then, for the love of god, don’t stick them in net.”

Anything else you’d like to add?

Jill's First Ladies Game (LEX)

Jill’s First Ladies Game (LEX)

Jill thinks that it is important to note that bike polo is in fact a contact sport which means men and women are competing on a basis of physical strength.  She can recall the days of yore when “DON’T BE A DICK” was rule number 1 (of a short and simple rule set.  “This rule has transformed into the subjective “dangerous play” rule.  The problem with this is what referees construe as dangerous; “being a dick” is purely subjective.

In my experience, most men I compete against in tournaments will usually play the ball and utilize their handling skills to win rather than slamming me around, however there are definitely some dicks (both men and women) out there who can’t handle the ball or their bikes and will use brute physical force to take me out of a game.  To those unrefined cowards I say, practice more, lose gracefully, and keep bike polo beautiful.”

On a very personal note, I have a few things to finish off with.  First of all, I’m getting old.  I’ll be 40 in June.  This may be my last big tournament, both playing and organizing.  This sport takes its toll on your body and the time commitment to pulling off something like Ladies Army is a serious part-time job for about six months (don’t tell my boss!).  On top of that, I feel like I have contributed to the sport as best I can on and off the court and I am happy to just show up, play some decent games and leave the polo on the court.  I know I am not the only woman out there thinking that this year.  So yeah, I want to see new generations of women playing and I hope Ladies Army can continue to do what it does: provide an awesome space for women to play and provide an amazing and memorable weekend for everyone involved.

All three of us would like to thank you and Lancaster Polo for your interest in Ladies Army and for giving us the opportunity to further promote the tournament and women in bike polo!

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