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The Mental Game Of Polo

Build An Unstoppable Competitive Mindset

Bill Cole, MS, MA

I've been the mental game coach to professional polo players who compete at the local, state, regional, national and international levels. It's been a true pleasure to help them improve their mental skills and the mental toughness required to win under pressure. The horse-rider relationship is an amazing connection. When it is right, the horse and rider act as one, and perform to their full potential. The mental game of the rider is often the determining factor to this athletic formula.

How about you? Is your mental game of polo a sound one?

Here are four mental strategies you can use that will help your mental game reach a level of excellence.

  1. Think Correctly: Parse and correct this sentence. "Big, fast and strong opponents make me nervous." What would you think if I told you that this sentence is 100% false? It is actually false. It could never be true, under any circumstances. What makes it false? YOU make yourself nervous, not any outside thing. I encourage you to observe your language, and to correct yourself when you use the construction "this or that makes me nervous." Instead, take ownership of your thoughts and feelings and realize that what you think is what makes you feel a certain way. So think happy, positive, aggressive, winning thoughts!

  2. Learn To Stay Calm Yet Energized: Polo is a game of extremes. One moment you are calmly moving the ball downfield and suddenly you are racing to chase the player who just stole your ball. This back and forth, frenetic pace can take its toll, unless you are good at staying calm, under all these conditions. You want your body and mental energy high, yet to also be calm, both emotionally and physically. This is quite a trick, but it's what knowing how the zone operates is all about. I teach the elements of the zone, and one way to access that mental state is to learn how to meditate. Meditation teaches you how to keep yourself calm and centered. Close your eyes and take three or four deep, slow breaths. Feel the tension leaving your muscles. Feel the calmness coming over you. Sit quietly for a few minutes, doing nothing. Continue to breath deeply and evenly. This feeling you have created is the calmness you need when you compete.

  3. Handle The Dead Times As Well As The Live: Dead time is when the action is not taking place. You need to be adept at handling the down time in a match as well as when the action is underway. One way to do this is to allow your mind to relax a bit when the action first stops. Don't stay on edge and all wired up. You'll just tire yourself out. There is no such thing as "non-stop concentration" in a contest. You must give your mind a break from time to time. Second, you must have solid rituals that will bring your focus back into the action. Test these rituals in practice so you will have solid trust in them in a match. Finally, stick to your rituals. They are there for a reason.

  4. Believe That You Belong: Some polo players think they don't really match up to the other competitors. They think they are interlopers who don't really belong in that contest. Maybe they are a younger player playing with seasoned veterans, or with famous stars. Regardless, if you do not think you are welcome there, your play will suffer. So here's a mental strategy you can use. Remind yourself that the expectations for success are actually on the veteran players, not you. If you lose, everyone thinks, "Of course he lost, he's not that experienced yet.", and if you win, they'll think, "Wow, he's really good—I didn't expect that!". Either way, no one is looking to you to dominate, or to win. You're not supposed to win—yet! So enjoy your match, with the pressure reduced!

Now you know more about the mental game of polo, and how to manage what's in your mind. Remember that what you think and feel comes from you, not the outside, and to stay calm, yet energized, and ways to handle the dead time as well as the action, and to believe you belong (with a way to reduce pressure on yourself). May you enjoy and win all your polo matches!

Copyright © 2014 Bill Cole, MS, MA. All rights reserved.

This article covers only one small part of the mental game. A complete mental training program includes motivation and goal-setting, pre-event mental preparation, post-event review and analysis, mental strengthening, self-regulation training, breath control training, motor skill training, mental rehearsal, concentration training, pressure-proofing, communication training, confidence-building, breaking through mental barriers, slump prevention, mental toughness training, flow training, relaxation training, momentum training, psych-out proofing and media training.

For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you need an assessment instrument that identifies your complete mental strengths and weaknesses. For a free, easy-to-take 65-item sport psychology assessment tool you can score right on the spot, visit This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths and weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a guide in creating your own mental training program, or as the basis for a program you undertake with Bill Cole, MS, MA to improve your mental game. This assessment would be an excellent first step to help you get the big picture about your mental game.

Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, Bill is also founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps organizations and professionals achieve more success in business, life and sports. He is a multiple Hall of Fame honoree, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published book author and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For a free, extensive article archive, or for questions and comments visit him at

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