LPC: What is Polo? : Tactics
Some Tactics of Polo
"Speed is Life" from the Fighter Pilots Creed
The rules of polo are loose enough to allow a very broad spectrum
of style and tactics. One of the beauties of the sport is that
there is no technique that is generally appropriate. Here we have
assembled a few rules of thumb that sometimes help your game. There
is no order or organization (yet) to these tid bits.
- 1. "the man, the line, the ball" - priorities to
keep you out of trouble
- 2. "close the back door" - the 'back door open'
means the back faced off the opposition's forward, and failed
- 3."anticipate"- knowing where every player is and where the ball is
not enough, where they are going to be is critical
- 4."I'll take the shot, you take the miss"- a pretty reliable double
team tactic where one teammate positions behind the opponent
for a possible miss or check, the other manuevers to intercept
the opponents hit.
- 5."Tap Tap Tap"- a style where one slows down, dribles
the ball, takes control, and guarentees the shot(s).
- 6."maintain the line"- control the mount and the ball direction to
make it clear to everyone, especially the umpire, that this
is your line and all other players have the burden (see #22. below)
- 7. "front!"- in the heat of engagment, where physical and mental
fatigue and confusion are taking over, it is understood that
this simply means 'the ball is in front of you, go for it!'.
- 8. "leave it and go!"- short for:
'I've got a clear shot, don't slow
for the hit, break ahead for a pass'.
- 9. "I'm in!"-
when teammates have equal chances for the same play one
tells the other to hold off, same as 'I've got it!' in baseball
- 10."I'm out!"- when teammates appear to
have equal chances for the same
play one tells the other to move in and engage.
- 11."stall!"- short for: slow down
I'm engaging the hitter, pick up the miss.
- 12."ride-off"- a means of 'taking out'
an opponent by pushing his
horse so as to prevent a shot or an advantageous position. Never mind
that your knee finds itself between two half ton horses, and that
this engagement most certainly won't be breif. Rules allow the angle of
impact to reach 45 deg, to be safe this angle reduces sharply with speed.
- 13."hook!"- teammate encourages another to
make a hook play where
the defenders mallet is used to deflect or grab the shooters mallet.
- 14."take the man!"- teammate encourages another to forget the ball,
just ride-off or hook the opponent.
- 15."one hard stop costs more than a dozen slow turns"
- 16."look before you turn" it is much easier for the player
to turn his neck, than a mount to change direction.
- 17."neck shot" a player hits the ball by reaching under
his mounts neck, extremely effective 'sacrifice' play to break up
a dominating offense or defense. Called a sacrifice since the hitter
has difficulty maintaining the line after the neck shot is made.
- 18."tail shot" a player hits the ball by reaching behind
his mounts tail, the most difficult shot in a polo player's arsenal.
- 19."near side shot" a player hits the ball
on the left side of the horse (the side a horse is dis/mounted on)
- 20."off side shot" a player hits the ball
on the right side of the horse, the side a player
might fall off, after he got on the near side :-) . A player
will attempt to position the ball, his mount and the play such as
to maintain the line on the off side, in this position all
opponents are at burden, i.e. he who maintains the line on the
off side has the right-of-way, several exceptions are: a) in the
arena game where the hitter has the ball and the boards
on his near side; b) when the ball is hit past an opponents knee,
whos speed and direction allows the right-of-way to transfer, c)
when it is not safe for horse(s) or player(s).
- 21."back shot" a player hits the ball
in a direction opposite to the forward motion of the mount.
This shot is definitly more difficult than the forward shot, especially
when the mount is at a gallop. A good back shot maker is essential to
a teams defense since it virtually shuts down an offensive blitz.
Typically, in outdoor the 'back' or No. 4 has the most powerful back
shot and is responsible for shutting the back door (see #2).
- 22."The Line" is the line produced by the moving ball,
it extends both ahead of the ball and behind the ball's travel. Both
arena and outdoor use this 'rule' or definition as a basis to define
the 'right of way'. During the 'play' the objective is for a player to
clearly (to the umpire and other players) establish their right of way
on the line. Once established on the line all other players have the
burden of respecting that players line. By far violation of the right
of way is the most commonly called foul. (see #6. above)
- 23."Foul" By definition a foul is a violation of the rules,
tactically there are some 13 USPA outdoor rules
(9 USPA arena rules) that are most important. Officially there are
some 36 USPA rules in outdoor
(19 USPA arena rules)
but most are not 'tactical'.
At the discression of the umpire a team may be penalized for a
foul. An enduring player will accept the fact that not all fouls
are seen or called. Forgiveness is a supressed but essential virtue
of an effective player, retaliation is also known as suicide in polo.
Like any sport, on field debate regarding rules seems unavoidable,
dispite that appealing or arguing is itself a foul (under the USPA).
- 24."Penalties" When an umpire descides to call a foul
an appropriate penalty must be applied. The USPA provide a
rule for selection of penalties. Selection is based on location,
outcome, frequency, severity and others. For this reason fouling
in polo is never deliberate (like in basket ball, where fouling is
used tactically). One exception might be a deliberate 'safety',
if your carefull (see #25.) A penalty shot is awarded to the team
that was fouled. Both arena and outdoor have a graduated
set of penalties, most commonly applied are the penalty shots,
5 shots in USPA outdoor, and 4 shots in USPA arena. The shots differ
in distance from goal and how the penalized team is allowed to
defend, see the rules section for details.
- 25. "Safety" A saftey is called when a team defending
their goal deliberately or inadvertantly hits the ball over the
- 26. "Talk" With 8 human brains and 8 horse brains
sometimes doing 16 different things, talking can glue your game
together. Talking, by rule (see outdoor #30, #33) should be
limited to teammates, and be constructive, save the crits for the
club house after the game.. Often just a narrative of the game
can help your teammates know whats going on, or supposed to be
- 27. "Make a play" Typically, if there is a spread of
experience on a team, the player with the most experience takes
the back position and the least experience is position as forward..
unfortunately when a team is trying to reverse a defensive situation,
the back is often making a back shot with a poor vantage from which
to make the best pass.. It is up to the forward teammates to
'make or create the play' by calling for the best pass from the
back.. This should be something simple like "short tail to the
boards" or "straight back", or any other appropriate call..
This is truely a trial-by-fire for the beginner, it is very
intimidating for a green player to tell the experienced back
where to hit the ball.. non-the-less it can make or break a game...
- 28. "Slice or Away Shot" Opposite of the "tail shot",
see tactic #18, instead of the ball being delivered across the
tail of the mount it is backed with a slice to send it away from
- 29. "Clear!" A player calls to a teammate to clear,
give up your effort.. Another teammate has a more advantagous
play, or you are about to be called for fowling, spare us the
whistle, try agian the next play...