It is easy to say, “I can’t do this or that” or “I don’t have much time to ride or stick and ball”. Being away from this sport for too long can be detrimental at all levels. Whether you are a pro or an amateur, a big pause or break in your polo, can affect your coordination.
I am writing this article for the vast population of amateur polo players, who want to get rid of bad habits that they pick up from not playing consistently or those who are stuck with the wrong technique. One of the most common habits that denotes someone who has not played for a while, or is not playing regularly, is the overuse of arm power when hitting the ball. This is also the easiest habit to spot for an outsider and is easy to correct. Over the years I’ve written many articles about the use of the core to generate power in you swing and not getting stuck in the habit of just swinging the arm. The best way to stop yourself from doing this when you get back into the saddle after time out of it is to train and strengthen your core and practicing the right way to do it, even when you are not playing regularly. This means that you will return stronger and not fall into the amateur trap.
Another thing that often plagues newcomers to the sport or people returning to it, is finding the rhythm again and using the legs to rise with the canter. This is easily trained and maintained off the horse through use of a yoga ball to imitate the motion of the horse by following the rhythm of a song you like. This will not only keep your legs moving in the same way as riding a horse, but will also help you pick the rhythm back up quicker when you do ride.
Ball chasing is another bad habit. There is a lot more than hitting the ball in polo such as positioning, defence, attacking and marking. Watching your own games, as well as footage from the high goalers is a great way to understand all these different moves. If you happen to be part of a high goal team, and you get to play with a higher ranked player, it is always good to listen to what they say and pay attention to how they play.
It is important to practice anticipation. In any ball game, the ball will be going faster than you are so you have to anticipate it. In a sport like this, when you are 25% of your team, unlike many other team sports where there are a lot more members of your team to correct your mistake, your speed of thought and anticipation are vital. You need to be aware of what every other person on the field is doing and intending to do. This changes second by second, so you need to update your information and game plan by looking around the field all the time, and sometimes throwing away the old plan and make a new one. In order to anticipate what is going to happen later on, you have to use the power of your brain to visualize all these things. Before a game, practice or training session, picture yourself doing all the things that the high goalers do. Imagine hitting a great backhand, blocking a man, winning the throw-in, hooking, passing the ball, scoring goals and of course, winning. This will mean you don’t get caught in the trap of becoming so engrossed in your own game that you don’t see the bigger picture.
Although it is hard for those players who do not get the chance to play, ride and stick and ball regularly, there are plenty of things you can do and train between time in the saddle to stop yourself from falling into bad habits when you do get the chance to play. This means you can make the most of your time playing and not waste the first two chukkas of a game getting back into the swing of things (if you’ll pardon the pun!)