Line of the Ball
The number one rule in polo is the “Line of the Ball” – the right of way.
Viewed from the virtual sidelines, tactic and technique become obvious. After a few moments of observation, it becomes clear that a successful strike is only possible with a “safe” ball. Otherwise, the next teammate is better placed to play the ball as a spectacular top-speed-attack could only end up in a fruitless race to nowhere. Polo is therefore always played “in line” from no. 4 at the back to no. 1 in front of the opponent’s goal and vice versa. No.3 is the captain and usually the team’s best player. He coordinates the game, no.1 concentrates on the area around the opponent’s goal, and no.2 takes care of matters mid-field, while no. 4 takes charge of defence. This set-up is consistent throughout the game.
A game will turn out to be good and exciting if the opponents are equally matched and cover each other closely. The line of the ball and the ensuing right-of-way are the deciding and most cited arguments that govern the game and what constitutes a foul. An opponent’s hit can be foiled by way of a “hook” or a “ride off”, which very unlike the “block” in football (soccer), is similar to the body check in ice hockey.
A game has four to eight periods of play called chukkas. One chukka is seven and a half minutes long with the clock being stopped every time there is any interruption. In Germany there are usually four chukkas a game. The breaks between each chukka are about three to five minutes long and this is when players have to change ponies. Sides are changed every time a goal is scored – which can be rather confusing for first-time polo spectators. The game is not stopped if a player falls off his horse but is not injured. However, play is stopped if a horse injures itself, the bridle gets entangled, or a horse’s bandage comes undone.
A penalty shot (a hit taken at a specified distance from a manned or unmanned goal) is awarded to the team of the fouled player. Most high-goal players, just like basketball players, manage to convert almost all their awarded penalties. Today, technical directors or coaches, who observe and coordinate the game, are just about the most important people on the sidelines. Before a game, the coach gets together with the players to plan the game to the minutest detail. All players, including those on the opponent’s team, are rated in regard to their abilities, horses played, position, strengths, and weaknesses.
Right and Wrong
Quick reaction and a near-reflex assessment of situations are of the essence of tactical play and safety. The next two examples highlight the right, and the wrong reactions in a given situation.
Situation 1 (left half of the field).
A player doesn’t hit the ball hard enough and tries to hit it again by slowing down, or abruptly changing directions. Another player is directly behind the first player in playing position.
A player hits the ball wrong and gives it a second try by slowing down or abruptly changing direction. There are other players right behind him in position to hit the ball.
A player, having messed up a hit, should carry on at the same speed without attempting a second hit. He should let a teammate take the next hit or, time allowing, go round and approach from the back of the field to attempt another hit.
In an attempt to hit the ball back in an offside-back-shot a player gets into the way of an opponent who is in possession of the ball on his offside.
The defender infringes on the opponent’s right-of-way in a manner that is not only dangerous but also unsportsmanlike. He has crossed the opponent’s line leaving too little space between them and therefore puts himself and the other player in danger.
In order to cover his opponent correctly and effectively, the defender must wait until he can overtake his opponent and hit the ball in the opposite direction of play.
As in other ball games there are a variety of penalties for fouls in polo. It is important to understand these so as to better follow a game. Polo+10 explain the different foul-situations according to the official rules of the German Polo Association.
It is important to bear in mind the following: ROW – Right-of-Way and LOB – Line of the Ball are not identical or interchangeable. A player on the line of the ball always has the right-of-way.
The following are forbidden and constitute a foul:
- Playing at an angle that could be a danger to the pony and player.
- Playing at a higher speed than the opponent is riding.
- Riding into the opponent’s horse from behind the saddle. Opponents may only play as high as the pony’s shoulders.
- Riding criss-cross in the way of a galloping player in an attempt to force him to reduce speed.
- Sideways parrying, pulling the opponent’s horse, or other similar acts that put the pony at risk of tumbling.
- Infringement of the right-of-way.
- Galloping head-on towards an opponent so as to intimidate him or force him into parrying or missing the ball even without fouling or crossing the line of the ball.
- Creating the so called “sandwich” whereby two teammates force a player of the opponent’s team into the middle.
- Intentionally riding into the opponents backhand or forward hit.
- Riding outside the sidelines or goal demarcation lines. Riding in a manner that could harm the referee.
Penalties and free hits are taken at a distance of 30, 40, and 60 yards.