No matter how many seasons of polo you have under your belt, we all have games or even longer periods of time struggling with hitting the ball.
Sarah Wiseman is from the UK and holds a Ladies Handicap of 7 Goals (2 Goals in Mixed Polo). Sarah started playing when she was 12 years old in the Pony Club and has not stopped since. Polo is her full time job, playing professionally in the UK in mixed polo and on the International Women’s circuit. She also created ‘Aspect Polo’ (click to go to ASPECT polo page) a summer and arena polo facility in the UK. ‘Aspect Polo’ offers full polo club facilities for UK and International players with tournaments, lessons and rental of ponies at the stunning Knepp Castle in the summer months, and at the superb All England Polo Club, Hickstead over the winter.
Generally the problems relate to the distance we are able to make the ball travel or the direction the ball ends up going. It’s easy to lose accuracy and get frustrated with not being able to hit the ball as far as we would like and it can become a massive psychological barrier to improving your polo.
I always take my swing back to basics when I’m having a bad game. By simplifying everything about your swing, you can mend all matter of woes.
I have put together a six point check list that will help bring your hitting back in line, and hopefully aid any issues you may have in the future.
You are never going to get a ball to go any further by swinging at it faster. No matter how fast your horse is traveling, the speed of your swing should always be the same.
If you rush your swing, you finish by leading with your hand. In doing this you end up topping the ball and lifting your head. This will cause you to hit the ball with very little power.
Slow it all down!
The head of the mallet should always meet the ball at the same time as your hand. This ensures that the stick is at its longest when connecting with the ball, allowing you to connect under the ball enabling it to travel further.
If your hand is beating the mallet head to it, you are either swinging too fast or forcing your swing. This will result in you tapping the ball with a lack of distance.
A lot of swing issues start with your hand and then the problem travels up your body through tension. Make sure you have a nice, gentle grip. Spread your fingers out on the grip, and cover as much of the handle as possible. This will prevent any tension in your arm and allow the stick to travel naturally through the swing process.
Don’t force the swing through at any stage, let gravity do all the work for you. Height equals more gravity with down force aiding the natural power that your stick can generate and will let the head of the mallet do all the hard work for you.
So get the head of your mallet up as high as you can behind you with a nice, straight arm. A relaxed swing will give you a lovely, clean shot!
A lot of directional issues come from not getting out of the saddle far enough and hitting the ball with square shoulders. If your shoulders are square to the ball you will generally be hitting the ball off to the right as you will be swiping the back of the ball and slicing it at an angle.
Point your left shoulder where you want the ball to go and drop your nose directly on top of the ball. This will allow you to have a nice smooth, clean swing. You will have created a clear channel to hit the ball through and connect cleanly with the ball.
A follow through is the technique which is going to generate the power in your swing AND take the ball where you want it to go. If your follow through does not end where you want the ball to go, the ball will not go there. Likewise if you stop your swing as soon as you connect with the ball, you are not going to connect with it cleanly and the slightest of movements in your hand will cause the ball to adjust it course.
A poor follow through or lack of a follow through at all can cause closing the hand upon connection with the ball (a false swing). This will cause the ball to generally shoot left all the time.
…and Keep your Head down
A lot of swing issues come from you lifting your head too early. When you go out for a stick and ball, count to three after hitting the ball before you lift your head to see where it has gone. I guarantee you will start hitting the ball better.
Timing and Positioning
Where you place the ball in relation to your horse will effect your swing immensely. If you are miss hitting the ball you are probably getting too close to it. This will cause you all sorts of problems. Primarily you will not be able to rotate, you will rush your swing to avoid hitting your pony and lift your head, as you will have to almost be vertical in the saddle to try and connect with the ball.
By over exaggerating your positioning when you practice you can actually fix all matters of swing issues. If you put the ball that little bit further away from you, you have to stretch out further so you have to rotate your body to reach the ball and in doing so you physically can not tense up as you swing through.
Finally, breathe out when you hit the ball. Breathing you think would be an obvious thing for anyone to do, but amazingly in pressure situation you can forget to breathe. Many of us have watched a game of tennis and heard the grunts of players as they hit the ball. This is not to scare the
opposition, it is so they don’t forget to breathe out. Our body is in a relaxed state when we breathe out. If we hold our breath when we swing through the ball, our muscles are tense and it is very hard to rotate and relax.
So breathe and relax!!