If you’d have told me 40 years ago when I was a penniless, prospect-less, hot-headed semi-hooligan, discarded by my teachers because of attitude problems and ‘learning difficulties’ (now recognised as ADHD and dyslexia) that I would fall in love with the game of polo – yes, the sport in which society’s ‘elite’ rampage across a field on their thoroughbred horses in order to make varying degrees of contact between a wooden mallet and a small white ball – I’d probably have accused you of twisting my melon man.
At that time of my life, the only ‘chukka’ I’d ever heard of was Khan (there’s one for the old skool funksters out there!).
Come to think of it, if you’d have told me 5 years ago, I’d probably still have struggled to take you seriously. But here we are, the UK polo season is underway and I’m completely hooked…and booked.
I now have the professional privilege and sheer joy, through my RAISE Polo brand, (www.raisepolo.com) of being the mindset coach to a number of the finest polo teams and players in the UK. My next few months are pretty much wholly dedicated to coaching a sport that has been compared to ‘a very fast paced chess game whilst jousting’.
So, what are the parallels I can draw between coaching a high-performance polo team and a similarly expectant business? Given that many polo patrons can afford to bankroll their teams (see, all types of polo are ‘minted’) due to their pedigree and personal success in international business, there’s plenty of cross-over evidence.
The most significant parallel is the need for speedy, critical thinking, all within a team environment. Like many team sports, there’s enough space for moments of individual expression, but personal accountability is jointly and severally linked to team performance.
This was best described by Sir Clive Woodward, England Rugby’s only (so far) World Cup winning manager as ‘T-CUP’ – Thinking Correctly Under Pressure.
One polo team patron/player I coach plays across 3 continents. “When I first started playing polo, I was a busy fool, chasing the ball, always seeking the big play,” he says. “Rather like when I first started in banking. In both cases, I soon learned the art of anticipation. Anticipate where the ball will be. Anticipate where the markets are heading, don’t just charge headlong into where your recent success has been or where other players are piling in.”
Another patron/player I work alongside describes how the principles and power of team play serve him well in his business and his sporting pursuits;
“In polo, the team dynamic is finely balanced by different skill sets,” he explains, “each position has a unique set of skills and a specific job to do. As a polo player and a business leader, I’m always learning to appreciate the strengths of others and the value they bring to the team. Many of the best plays in polo are the support plays, where teamwork is paramount.”
In a sport where the strengths and weaknesses of any player can be strengthened or undermined by the horse they ride – horses differ in what they’re good at, at what speed they do it and the levels of energy they have – it’s a neat reminder of the positive, trustful and empathetic mindset required by outstanding polo and business leaders. A blame mentality serves no purpose and can quickly alienate your team.
Which brings me on to the power of making mistakes. Polo is a game of strategy, accuracy and very fine margins, in which mistakes are readily made. Not only have I witnessed some of the finest players fluffing a penalty shot and struggling to recover from it, but I’ve also seen them scolded by their team-mates for doing so.
I’ve also witnessed entire business cultures playing it safe and not empowering their teams to grow an entrepreneurial spirit in case they make mistakes along the way. “You must allow players, especially up and coming players, to make mistakes, to learn from them and get on to the next play without losing stride. You might lose or make mistakes, but you have not lost everything if you learn”, says David Morley, ex-England Polo Manager. Now there’s a goal to aim for in polo and in business.
I look forward to reporting many more insights between my worlds of polo and business, but let’s finish by qualifying the word ‘elite’ which I used tongue in cheek at the beginning of this piece.
Polo players are indeed elite – elite sportspeople, regardless of their background. With one hand you have to control a thoroughbred animal below you, in the other you have to control a 4-foot bamboo mallet with absolute precision and a very calm swing – multitasking with such perfect body control at almost 40mph. The risk factors and complexities are unique. Come watch it, you too will be hooked.
To find out more about world of RAISE Polo coaching, visit (www.raisepolo.com) where you can arrange a free chemistry call with Stalkie.