PoloChannel Staff | 06/04/18

The English season is in full swing, and so is the demand for sports psychologists to  help players prepare mentally for the game. Compared to other professional sports, they say, polo players face a ratcheted-up swarm of pre-game distractions that can affect what happens on the field.


British performance psychologist Miranda Banks has worked with a high-goal polo team for many years and has coached teams and individuals in rugby, triathlon, netball, cricket, golf, cycling, hockey, marathon running, surf lifesaving, speed skating and rowing. She says polo could learn from professional sports like rugby, which segregates pros from public contact.


“In rugby there is no dropping in before the game to wish a team well,” says Banks. “But in polo every man and his dog turns up at the tent. It doesn’t help a player get into the bubble when he’s surrounded by well-wishers, even though they mean well.”


Polo players tend to put up distractions by fans for the sake of professionalism. “They shrug their shoulders and tell themselves they have to do it,” says Banks. “But intrusions can affect their performance.”


The tent, she said, should remain sacred space until the game is over, a concept that is well understood at the Argentine Open. (Good luck trying to penetrate the wall of security at the palenques and pony lines before, during and after a game in Palermo.) By contrast, in England a pro who had no relation to a team was seen walking into their tent at halftime to offer unsolicited advice.


What can players do to protect their space? Everyone reacts individually to distractions and annoyances, so Banks does a series of mental prep sessions with each player on a team. That happens for the entire week before a game, a couple days before, the night before, the morning of the game and post-game.


The key, she says, is to identify distractions you can anticipate and make them pat of your pre-game plan. Here are some tools she has found effective before a game:


  • When you see someone heading toward the tent, tilt your head down. Don’t make eye contact. Do something to make yourself look busy: Rummage through your gear bag, pick up a mallet, or stand up and talk to a teammate or your groom.


  • Put headphones on, even if you’re not listening to music. People are less likely to approach you if you’re wearing headphones—and the bigger, the better.


  • Be assertive before you start to feel angry. If you can’t get away from a well-wisher, say something like, “Thanks for dropping by. It will be great to see you after the game.”


  • When all else fails, go get on a horse. “I like to integrate the distraction with the movement of riding. Feeling the rhythm of the horse is the easiest way to take out what is in your mind,” says Banks. Sometimes players balk at the suggestion, saying their anxiety will make the horse nervous. Banks’s reaction: “Good. Keeping the horse calm will give you something else to focus on.”


More information: mirandabanks.com