This past weekend was the Mallet Dolorosa Women’s Bike Polo Tournament, and it was awesome, fun, inspiring, badass, and really cold (sad face). I first came to Berlin just for this tournament, where I’ve now decided to set up shop for a month or two, and I’m so glad I did. Forty-one women from all over Europe (with some North American transplants in the mix) came to participate in a women’s shuffle tournament.
Shuffle tournaments are a little different, because instead of playing on a set team for the whole weekend, every game you’re ‘shuffled’ and play with a new group of players. You get points as an individual for a win, loss, or tie, and then, in theory, the best players will have won the most games and then continue into an elimination bracket. Of the 41 players, 24 made it into a re-shuffled single-elimination bracket. We played 7 rounds of shuffle play before the elimination bracket, and so everyone got to play a lot of games, even if they didn’t make it into the final bracket. By the end of the weekend I had played with or against just about everyone.
It was an interesting format that of course isn’t perfect – some really good players were unlucky and didn’t make it into the final 24, and some of the not as strong players lucked out with good teammates and made it to the final bracket. But I think that the pros of the shuffle format outweigh the drawbacks. First, you get to play with or against everyone, and therefore meet a lot more people. Second, because you are constantly playing with new people, you get exposed to a lot of different forms of play and strategies (or at times, lack of strategy). Lastly, since the format isn’t perfect, and you’re never getting into a groove of playing on a set team, it keeps the tournament from becoming overly competitive. Everyone wanted to play well, and show what she can do, but the atmosphere never got too intense.
The coolest part of the tournament by far, was watching incredible female polo players who can really slay on the court. A lot of times women get outshined (outshone?) by men in the co-ed tournaments (more on that in a second), but since this was a women’s tournament, it was all about watching the women kill it on the court. It was inspiring, and definitely motivated me to step up my own game. There are a lot of really talented ladies playing polo, and so it was cool to watch them show-off.
It’s interesting to watch how the style of play will change with only women on the court. A lot of times when women play on co-ed teams (and I’m not saying this always happens, but I know that I, for one, am guilty of this), women end up playing goalie, or have a mindset to always pass to the men to shoot. Maybe it’s a lack of confidence, or if they’re more new to polo than their teammates, but when the team is all women, you can’t always pass, someone needs to shoot. Throughout the weekend you could see players coming out of their shells and taking shots, coming out of goal, and gaining confidence on the court.
Another cool part of the tournament, was to see the boards around the court lined with men cheering on the women playing and getting really into watching the games, while being supportive and respectful. The whole atmosphere of the event was great. Of course, it was also hilarious to watch the guys anxiously waiting for the last games to end and then racing to throw in to play, after having stood around watching polo for 10 hours. You could tell they had some energy to get out.
As it often does, conversations off the court turned to whether or not polo should separate into women and men’s tournaments. Ironically, almost everyone agreed that it shouldn’t separate, but also said that they much prefer to play women’s tournaments. Most people want the door to be left open to play in all tournaments, in large part because there are only 2-3 big women’s tournaments a year, but acknowledge that women are often not picked for big tournament teams. The conversations more or less said the same thing that has been said before – its good to have women’s tournaments, but people want to keep the sport co-ed. For now, I think that the sport isn’t really big enough to support a separate women’s tournament schedule, and since people often have to travel far for tournaments, it’s better to keep local tournaments open to all players.
All in all it was a blast, and I’m really glad that it worked out to be in Berlin for the Mallet Dolorosa Tournament. It certainly got my head churning with ideas of organizing a women’s shuffle tournament state-side. A huge thank you to Angie, Gitti, and Anou for organizing a great tournament!