PoloChannel Staff | 05/19/18

“Polo is a game of extremes,” says Bill Cole, a leading authority on sports psychology, peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, who has worked with many polo pros. “One moment you’re slowly tapping the ball downfield, and then suddenly you’re at full-speed chasing the guy who just stole the ball from you. Unless you’re good at staying calm, this back-and-forth frenetic pace can take its toll.”


It’s a toll no player can afford: decreased performance on the field. In the short term that can mean losing games and the confidence of your teammates. If it persists the consequences may impact your career and income, given today’s shrinking job market.


Cole, who is CEO of William B. Cole Consultants in Silicon Valley, California, and founder and president of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, has taught players how to keep their nerves in check while remaining energized. It is a state he has branded as “relaxed intensity.”


Reaching that state, however, is easier said than done without developing effective ways of controlling the jitters. It is true even for the top players in the world. How do you think 10-goaler Sapo Caset feels when he approaches the penalty line to take the shot that will win or lose the game for his team? To control his nerves he concentrates intently on his breathing, a calming and centering tool Cole recommends as a means to access “the zone” of top performance.


Cole describes the zone as a “strange mix of being mentally calm and clear, yet being full of bodily energy, all at the same time.” He says, “The zone is not about how confident or competitive-minded you feel. It's more of an internal sense of how ready you feel to compete: how excited and eager you are, how much energy you have and how mentally alert you are.”


Here are some tools Cole has given players to achieve a state of relaxed intensity:


  • Focus on your breath. Close your eyes and take three or four deep, slow breaths. Feel the tension leaving your muscles. Feel the calmness coming over you. Continue to breath deeply and evenly. “This feeling you have created is the calmness you need to perform at your optimum, particularly in a pressure-cooker situation,” he says.


  • Adjust your perception. If you perceive a situation as  “the big moment” or event, you will feel more pressure. Consistent top performers choose not to see penalty shots, for example, as “must win” or “do or die.” They view them as an exciting challenge and then use tools to ensure they are not too wound up.


  • Make a recipe for “hot sauce.” If the opponent is weak, a player's intensity level can be perilously low because he now sees the contest as a bore or routine. The trick is to set interesting sub-goals, such as higher-than-usual possession time, steals, shots on goal and actual higher-than-usual scores to make the event challenging. (As Cole says, “We always need some hot sauce on our food!”)


Click here for a free, easy-to-take 65-item sport psychology assessment tool that gives you a snapshot of the strengths and weaknesses in your mental game. 


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Article by Darlene Ricker

Photography: Snoopy