Polo Players Edition

NOV 2011

Polo Players' Edition is the official publication of the U.S. Polo Association. Dedicated to the sport of polo, it features player profiles, game strategy, horse care, playing tips, polo club news and tournament results.

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HU M A N P E RF O RM A N BY MARK BROWNLEE C E PERFECT PRACTICE Define your practice goals and simulate competition L ong ago I learned it is easy to play a sport with the intention of practicing, and accomplish nothing toward improving your skills. I'm sure many of you had, or still have, similar experiences. In truth you can perform much practice that is detrimental to your improvement, a polite way of saying you don't know what you are doing, and practicing is making you worse. Since the tournament season will soon be in full swing in some areas of the country, it is a good time to discuss the when, how and why of practicing. For many, the when of practice is when you have a bit of free time from the obligation of work and family. If practice time is limited, have no worries. Applying the principles of good practice will accomplish a lot in short periods. In fact you can accomplish much more than someone spending more time without a structured improvement plan. Even with unlimited practice time, you must follow sound principles to receive any significant benefit. This discussion is premised on the idea that you truly desire to improve. If playing is the means to just fun outings with friends, that is fantastic. Polo is a great recreation and I hope you enjoy your playing time to the utmost. But, if you also enjoy the extra challenge of striving to improve then other factors must be considered. The how of practice involves applying the principles of motor learning (how you learn and perform physical skills) to your polo experience. This can be a problem because the principles are not widely known in the world of most sport instruction, and even those that are must be creatively applied to the individual, and specifically to polo. Space does not allow discussing all aspects of motor learning but the following are essential to effective practice and 44 POLO PLAYERS EDITION improvement. Training following the whole-part-whole principle involves developing and understanding the goal of movement skill, and how it should look and feel to perform the movement in its entirety. Thus, the immediate concerns in the beginning are how do you know what you are trying to achieve; where do you learn what the movement should be; what is efficient and what is inefficient; what movement patterns are essential; and in what sequence must they be performed? Once the whole movement is understood, then the parts must be identified, isolated and practiced separately for skill mastery to occur. Ultimately the goal is to develop the skills needed to meet the demands of the game. You will struggle to learn and improve with the attitude of trying to do it "your way," whatever that means. Competency and high performance will develop faster if you discover what skills the game requires, then devote your efforts to their acquisition. Using correct instruction language is your polo skill necessary for positive learning. I specifically stress positive learning because negative learning very definitely occurs despite good intentions. Verbal instruction must be clear, concise and always communicating the desired goal—what to do, rather than what not to do. Eliminate the words don't, can't, shouldn't and difficult from instruction vocabulary. Correct language is essential for positive learning because of the literal nature of the unconscious mind, and violating this principle interferes with positive learning. To maximize learning, correct language is also combined with appropriate physical cues and mental associations with verbal instruction and the desired muscle sensations. There are three basic ways to practice: devote the entire practice to only one specific During practice, limit what you work on to just a couple of objectives, like the nearside and back shots. part of a skill; include several playing and riding skills in the same practice session; and simulate competition in practice chukkers. Which type of practice should predominate is dependent on skill level and experience. There are also two basic formats to guide practice sessions, distributed and massed, each based on skill level. Distributed practice is characterized by only a few repetitions of a movement followed by regular rest periods during the session. Place the emphasis on quality of movement, not quantity. Beginning, novice and intermediate players should focus on distributed practice. Massed practice is the repetition of a well learned skill many times without significant rest periods. Massed practices should not be conducted until the skill is well learned and can be done reliably with few errors. Massed ALEX PACHECO

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