I’ve been trying to set up an interview with John Hayes since the day the NAH announced that he was taking over for Chandel as Tournament Director. With Christmas, New Years and work conflicts, it took us over a month to finally sit down and talk, and in the end I’m thankful that the stars finally aligned for us.
To prepare for our Facebook Messenger interview I got comfortable on my couch and turned on An Idiot Abroad on Netflix so that I could get in the right frame of mind for an interview with an Englishman. I believe John had the same idea, as he wanted to wait until the American Football match between the Seahawks and 49ers had ended. This is what came from it…
321Polo: Even though you’ve been here for a few months now, welcome to North America John and most importantly, Welcome to the NAH!
John Hayes: Thank you!
321Polo: For those that may not know who you are and are thinking “why should this guy organize tournaments for the NAH?” can you tell us about the work you did for bike polo in England and Europe?
John Hayes: Ok, sure…
So, I’ve been playing bike polo since 2009, I started around the time of the first Euros in London. London was at the forefront of taking polo to a more organized level, there was already the LHBPA in existence, when I started. Apart from playing, I quickly got into attending LHBPA meetings, and from 2011, organizing local tournaments in London. I then moved on to organize national qualifiers, and helped out at big international tournaments in 2011. In 2012, I scheduled the worlds in Geneva, and the London Open, the biggest 2 tournaments in Europe that year, and the same for Euros 2013, London Open 2013, and Worlds 2013. So moving to North America, I come with a long experience of organizing tournaments. That’s why when Chandel wanted to step down from her role, she had a chance to work directly with me, and being local, it was an easy handover.
I understand many North Americans won’t know me if they’ve not been to the Worlds or haven’t been at a tournament that I’ve organized or scheduled, but I’m hoping they won’t just think “who’s that guy from Europe” and will extend the trust Ben and Chandel have shown in me in this role. I attended a lot of tournaments in NA last year, NAs, Eastside qualifiers and a few regional tournaments (Puerto Rico, Midwest Open), so I have an understanding of the NA scene, and the unique features it has.
Oh, and another thing to mention, I come from a maths/computer science background, so I have a good understanding of the concepts and software involved in formatting. Add that to the fact I’m a massive sports nerd, so I get what works for other sports.
321Polo: Did you approach Ben Schultz and let him know that you were interested in taking over for Chandel? Was it something that came about just knowing Chandel? How did you and the NAH higher ups get connected for you to take over?
John Hayes: I didn’t directly approach anyone about the role, ultimately it was Chandel who suggested it, and then Ben confirmed it. I’d offered my help to the NAH, if they needed it, great, but they’d also done fine without me, so if not, it would have been ok. Obviously it helped that I had meet both of them many times before.
321Polo: Knowing that you moved to Toronto from the UK for a job, I assume that you have a pretty serious full-time job. So, looking at how much time Nick Kruse puts into the rules and how much Joe Rstom puts into the Ref Organization, do you have any worries about giving your full attention to your NAH duties?
John Hayes: Yes, for sure, it’s a factor. As you say I have a full-time job, which takes up a lot of my time, but this is something I’m really motivated for, and I try to fit it in when I can. I think if it’s well planned, it doesn’t take too much work. The winter is taken up with planning, and if that’s done well, the summer should be pretty easy. We’ve already done most of the planning for this year, the main outstanding issues are finalizing the last few qualifiers, registration, and then making sure the qualifiers go smoothly.
321Polo: For people who may not be sure what the Tournament Director for the NAH does, can you describe your duties for us?
John Hayes: So the main focus is the NAH tour, that’s the qualifiers and the NAHBPC. Apart from that there is some crossover into rules, where they are related to elements of tournament format and then general structure; for example, Joe Rstom and I did a lot of work at the end of last year to restructure the regions. We were also working on new ideas and tournaments for this year, and future years.
321Polo: What else have you and Joe Rstom been working on?
John Hayes: One thing we really want to improve in tournaments this season is making sure the schedule isn’t rushed. A few things at the Worlds were frankly embarrassing, and down to bad planning, or being too ambitious, so the last few weeks I’ve been running the numbers on lots of different formats, looking at what number of teams, and formats work in which scenarios. I’ve just finished writing that up, and that will shortly be released as part of an Appendix to the rules. It will apply to NAH tournaments, but hopefully be a good guide to anyone who wants to run tournaments. We want to make the best use of all our qualifiers, but we recognize each region has different setups and challenges, so we want to make sure the qualification system is as consistent as possible, and all eventualities are covered.
Also, Joe and I have been looking at alternate formats as Swiss and Double Elim are flawed in various ways (though they are the best we have right now). For Swiss, there really is no better alternative as long we stick to the same number of teams, but we are looking at alternate elimination formats. One we have been working on is a best-of format, similar to the playoffs in the NHL/NBA.
321Polo: Can you explain this a little more for us?
John Hayes: It allows us to keep game times constant across the whole tournament, but instead in the elimination you have to win 2 games (or 3 in the later stages) to progress. Now, I’m not sure when you will see this format, at the moment it’s still in the planning stages. We hope it will be a good balance between making sure everyone has a good chance to go through, and not get knocked out due to freak results, but also that we aren’t playing a lot of games that don’t really achieve very much towards the final results.
321Polo: Would this system see fewer teams going on to the final day?
John Hayes: No not really, the timing is roughly the same as for Double Elim. I should mention that we will, as a whole, be slightly reducing the number of teams in the Elim, based on the feedback from last year. We had too many Sundays finishing too late.
321Polo: Along the lines of big changes in NAH tournaments, I know, from personal conversations, that you are a proponent of the NAH switching from regional qualifiers to a points based system. Can you lay out the John Hayes 100% ideal NAH tournament season? Not to say this will happen in the NAH, I’m just curious of your thoughts.
John Hayes: One of the ideas we have been bouncing around is a ranking system, which amongst other things would be used to decide teams for North Americans, rather than basing it purely on regional qualifiers. Players would earn points over a 12 month period, with the main tournaments, and regionals (equivalent of qualifiers) earning the most points, and other tournaments earning less. Now, in such a system, we would have to be careful not to reward travel above quality, so our idea was 3 majors (West Coast, East Coast and central), along with maybe 10 regionals, spread around the continent. Finishing high in any of those tournaments would effectively guarantee a spot, and the rest would get filled up from overall results. This is not to undermine the new system we’ve just put into place, which will be around for a while, even if idea becomes reality.
321Polo: What do you mean by that?
John Hayes: Well, I wouldn’t want people to think we don’t believe in our own work on the new regions. We think it is a big improvement on the old system and it may be such a success that we don’t even need to make any changes.
That’s not to say a points/ranking system couldn’t be used for other things. We are working on an exciting new tournament, which we hope to announce in the next few months. All I’m going to say now that if it happens, everyone will be playing this summer for their clubs, as well as their own team.
321Polo: I know you are new to the NAH, but I assume you still used to follow the North American Championship online, on top of playing in them this past season, so do you feel that there are teams in attendance that shouldn’t be there, or maybe there are teams that should be there that aren’t? It seems to me, that in the current regional system, that the tops teams are still there and the teams qualifying for Worlds are doing so justly.
John Hayes: I wouldn’t say there are teams in attendance that shouldn’t be there, but it’s also fair to say many of them aren’t realistically competing for the top spots. As long as we make sure every competitive team in NA has the best chance to attend, then I’ll be happy. Now I’ve not suggesting there is a new Beavers Boys hidden somewhere in Manitoba right now, but maybe in a few years there will be, and making sure they have the same chance to attend, as teams in the big scenes, is important.
321Polo: Switching it up a bit, were you surprised by the lack of backlash against your new region set up, or was there any behind the scene backlash? I’m only talking from the point of view of someone watching League of Bike Polo.
John Hayes: I was actually really pleasantly surprised by the lack of backlash; the vast majority of people were very positive about it, especially in the areas affected. I think most people appreciated we made the changes we did to help the majority of players in North America. Sure, some regions lost a spot they would have had under the current system, but instead, plenty of areas, who had little motivation to get involved in the qualification process will now be able to go, and hopefully build up those scenes. I’m personally very happy with the fact that Mexico is now officially part of the NAH; it should help provide more competitive teams to the NAH, based on their World’s performance. I’m also hoping it will provide more crossover between the US and Mexico, in terms of attending tournaments.
321Polo: I was very excited to see Mexico added back into the NAH, and I think giving them their own region was a great idea. How is the communication with that region? Are they active in setting up representatives?
John Hayes: Our main contact there is Ignacio Pelayo, who came recommended by many other players. He is the rep for Mexico, and very easy to work with; he’s already been working with all the clubs, and between them they have scheduled their qualifier in Guadalajara. He can be reached at email@example.com.
321Polo: That’s great! How about the other new regions, do they seem to be coming together as easily?
John Hayes: Well, UMW (Great Lakes), and LMW (Heartland?) has been very easy, as we are still working with the same people. For Prairie/Great Plains, it’s been a bit harder, as they didn’t have the infrastructure, and shared communication in place (especially north and south of the border), but we have a new rep there, Dave Meaghan, and Saskatoon locked in for the qualifier.
321Polo: John this has been so amazing and insightful, I can’t thank you enough for sitting down with me tonight. In parting, are there any final words that you’d like to share with the Poloverse?
John Hayes: I guess I just hope that everyone has a fun and competitive season, and if they have any questions, comments or (constructive) criticism, to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oh, by the way, we have 8 of the 10 qualifiers locked in, so expect announcements on that in the next few weeks, once the other 2 are sorted.