Many of you will be planning a winter break to somewhere warm that will include playing polo. Although you are away on holiday you shouldn’t forget about your preparation for a game. Here’s a reminder of what you should and shouldn’t be doing.
Don’t underestimate the power of sleep. It is while we are asleep that our bodies recover and regain their strength. Sleep is so important to us both mentally and physically and stinting on your forty winks can have a seriously detrimental effect on your polo. Lack of sleep will slow down reaction speeds and in such an explosive and dynamic game this can make the difference between scoring that key goal, getting that hook, getting on to the man or snoozing quietly at the back unable to quite keep up with the game around you. Sleep also allows our muscles to repair themselves after a tough day and is vital in making sure that we are in fine physical form the next day. Try to sleep at least 8 hours before any match or competition in order to give your body the best chance possible of recovering and performing at your best.
Don’t over exert yourself. In the lead up to a match or tournament it is very important to pay particular attention to the amount of activity that you are doing. Whether this is riding, stick and balling, playing practices or other sports, gym workouts or running, it is vital that you don’t tire out your body before the key day or days. That is not to say do nothing, it is important to keep active and allow your body time to prepare for the physical exertion that is to come, but pay attention to the timing and the intensity of any physical stresses so as not to arrive at a match tired, aching or worn out.
Do eat well. Although it may be tempting to give your meal a miss before a game your body is going to need the correct fuel in order for you to perform at your highest level. It’s important to plan out what you’re going to eat the morning of the big day – something that will keep you fuelled and also go down easily. While everyone is different, I would recommend, as a general rule, a high-carbohydrate meal the night before competition and throughout game day. High quality carbs for breakfast and lunch plus maybe a snack (depending on game times), are always good options to fill up our energy stores. However it’s not a great idea to eat too much less than 2 hours before throw in.
Do hydrate effectively. Hydration often goes overlooked, thought about only with hindsight when parched halfway through a match or feeling dizzy or lightheaded afterwards. Even a 2% decrease of body water levels can have a hugely detrimental effect on performance so drinking sufficient (and correct) liquids before-during-after a match is a very simple way of improving performance. The best option is always water, but any carbohydrate based sports drink is also ok. One good tip is to drink 500ml of water 1 hour before the game to make sure your hydration levels are up to the challenge. Between chukkas is very important to stay hydrated even though you are not thirsty. Thirst is basically a signal from our bodies telling us that something is wrong, try not to get to that point.
Don’t stint on the warm up. Your body needs to warm up so that blood flow increases, the nervous system wakes up, and the body starts to use muscles, energy and oxygen more efficiently. Not only is a good warm up vital for your body but it also has a very positive psychological effect, helping to prepare you mentally for the challenge ahead. Start with some running and joint mobility to raise your body temperature, followed by polo specific drills and active flexibility and stretching exercises.
Do take time to relax and prepare mentally. It is often the case that we turn up to matches flustered, in a hurry and thinking about everything in the world (horses, tack, traffic etc.) other than the competition ahead. This means that it often takes up to an entire chukka to refocus our attention on to the challenge at hand just at a time when we cannot afford to be thinking about anything else. Polo is a mental game as much as a physical one and we must therefore prepare ourselves mentally as well. Try to take at least 5-10 minutes to focus your mind before a game. Fix your goals in your mind and concentrate on what you are there to achieve. This will mean you go on to the field ready and prepared and you won’t be wasting a single, precious minute.
And don’t forget: failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
Training advice from Martin Perez (source: PoloLine).