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THE MENTAL GAME - PT1: DON’T LET TRAGEDY DERAIL YOUR GAME

PoloChannel Staff | 02/23/19

Personal problems can have a way of creeping onto the polo field and into your head, but professionals routinely whack those troubles over the sideboards and carry on. Even so, some emotional jolts are just too much for almost anyone to cope with and continue playing effectively. For example, your favorite pony suffers a catastrophic injury; or during halftime you find a frantic text that there is an emergency at home; or your team’s best player has a bad fall and is rushed to the emergency room.

 

 

You may remember the horrible fall Facundo Pieres took in the 2017 Hurlingham Open final, when he lay motionless on the ground for what felt to anyone who saw it a frighteningly long time. The game was stopped while medics got him off the field and to the hospital. 

 

Can you imagine the emotional angst that must have swallowed his Ellerstina teammate Polito Pieres, who now had to “be Facundo” for the rest of that game, not knowing if his cousin would recover? Polito held it together despite being deeply distraught. With his team down 9-8, he took over as the scoring machine, promptly making five consecutive goals and ending the day with 11 goals. Ellerstina won the final 16-14.

 

 

Not everyone can get through an emotional wallop like Polito did, but sports psychologists say you have to try to eliminate the distraction. When something upsetting happens, says Miranda Banks, a sports psychologist who has worked with polo players. It is essential for a player to refocus on playing, or else he becomes the next possible tragedy. A player without focus in a game like polo is a danger to himself and to anyone else on the field.” 

 

Banks says refocusing is the key to getting back into the play. She has found these methods effective for polo players of all levels.

 

 

ADVICE FROM MIRANDA BANKS

 

  • When a player is struggling to focus, the first point I recommend is sending your brain to your horse. Get back to riding; connect with your pony; feel the rhythm of the gait underneath you. There’s nothing you can do to change things now, anyway. Each time you feel negative emotions creeping in, come back to riding.

 

  • Take a moment to allow the tension that has likely built up to dissipate (drop your shoulders, exhale, etc). 

 

  • When your mind strays to an injured player, acknowledge the anxiety but box it and tell yourself you will return to it at the end of the game. There is a time to grieve and that is important to the process of recovery, but it is best to be done quietly and away from the babble of the game.

 

  • If you lose one of your best horses, your confidence is definitely going to be an issue. But look at it the same as any other horse change as far as this game is concerned. Ride your other horses for their own characteristics – know the strengths and weaknesses of each horse, and play the game accordingly. Work with what you have; do your job. Otherwise, after the game you’ll have another thing to deal with emotionally: your performance.

 

 

ABOUT THE EXPERT: Miranda Banks is a performance psychologist who has worked for many years in professional and elite amateur sport. Her clientele includes high-goal polo teams and individual polo players. She is based now in the UK, but continues to work extensively with sports and corporate clients around the world. www.mirandabanks.com

 

 

Photography: Horseplay Productions