Let me begin by addressing some issues that will justify my recommendations when it comes to fitness and training in polo.
Firstly, aspiring players often take up polo when they can afford it—which generally suggests that they are adults. The problem with adults is their approach to the ball. They totally want to hit that object like it is their worst enemy! As a result, they will purposely aim the mallet head at the ball—worse still is applying a controlling adult strength manipulates the ball’s course and direction.
Secondly, the vast majority of women spend many years developing the perfect equestrian position in the saddle. And here lies the problem—the disastrous art of using a riding position and technique borrowed from a different horse discipline and attempting to apply it to polo.
Here’s how to address these two problems.
The art of hitting a ball successfully in the direction you want and achieving the distance you require all depends on the technique used. Majority of the clients that come to me for a ‘rebuild’ arrive with a completely different way of swinging the mallet than that of how a pro swings it.
Amateur players will almost always use their arm to swing the mallet to achieve distance, whereas pros use a pelvic rotation together with their bodies. To the untrained eye, both techniques look remarkably similar. However, the difference is in intention. A pro will intend to create elasticity and energy and use a technique with the body to send the stored power down the shaft to transfer it to the ball.
An amateur, however, will instinctively try to hit it harder and faster to achieve distance. The consequence is that the ball will only travel based on how strong the human is, and in the case of a slightly framed lady, the desired result is rarely achieved.
And finally, the problem with the ladies’ choice of mallet. Women choose something lighter to have better control of it—or so they thought. It’s the biggest crime of all! There are two consequences of this: One, they simulated that the mallet is like a heavy weight on a piece of rope and they swing it from their shoulder, thus never having the ability to interfere with course or direction, and; Two, due to the sheer weight of it, they have no choice but to use all the might of their bodies to swing and pull away from the created force, consequently sending the energy down the shaft of the stick.
Now that we’ve tackled these problems, we can conclude that strength isn’t the only thing you need. To be more correct, we are not talking about big, bulging muscles—we are talking about core strength. It allows you to create elasticity, which results in more energy and power. Picture a catapult being pulled back—stretching the elastic to its extreme will project the object further than a catapult that’s only pulled back in a weak manner.
When it comes to polo, anyone reaching for the big, long shot should aspire for a similar feeling of stretching the whole body and releasing the energy down the shaft to the ball. A weak core will not produce much elasticity, and as a result, the player instinctively will just try and hit harder, consequently absorbing most of his energy.
Coupled with core work, trying pilates could work wonders for your body. I have seen miraculous changes in a player’s ability when they have conformed to a regular Pilates session—it really is the way forward!
Here at the Academy, we took things one step further and developed core trainer mats. Each mat has the image of a horse of perfect size and proportions to present special awareness. They also come with electronic foot plates that sound an alarm with excessive leaning or when the energy from the stick is going ‘with’ the ball instead of being transferred ‘to’ the ball.
After only 10 minutes on these mats with a ball between the legs swinging a specific nearside and offside routine, you can really feel the benefits and accurately pinpoint the exact muscle groups you would need to continue to work on to improve core strength and overall stability.
Finally, as a coach and trainer, I purposely do not ever train women differently than men. As far as I am concerned, there is no difference.
The only difference, in my opinion, is the mental state. Women are so much more strategic, capable, observant, and distinctly less reckless than most aspiring male players. So step up to the plate, girls, and bring it on!