Playing the #1 Position
Playing the #1 Position requires the most amount of discipline and diligence of all the positions, yet it’s where most of us got our start. The reasoning behind starting a new person in the #1 position is that he will have three other teammates backing him up should he miss the ball. The disadvantage to this is that the #1 is left defending the #4 of the opposite team, who is usually the most experienced player.
While this can be frustrating at first, the best thing to concentrate on is marking the opposing #4 as closely as possible. It ancient polo, the #1 didn’t even have a mallet and to this day, a good practice that some coaches use is to make a player play a chukker without a mallet. The idea here is that defense is the best offense: if you can neutralize the most experienced player on the opposite team, you are, in essence, earning the number of goals for your team equal to his handicap. The opposing #4 will usually have years of play under his belt and will be able to anticipate the play and will never be far out of position. While it’s not always possible to neutralize a much higher handicapped player, the practice will improve your horsemanship and anticipation immensely.
When your team is on defense, the #1 must remain back, never being too far away from the opposing #4 that you get caught off guard when he suddenly gets the ball, but far enough away that should one of your teammates manage to back the ball, you want to be able to jump on it and take it towards goal.
The second job of the #1 is offense. On offense, you should be far enough forward that should the ball come up to you, you’ll have a good run to goal. Conversely, do not be so far forward that you are out of reach of your #2’s swing. You should always be between your #2 and the goal, and ideally with the opposing #4 on your nearside. With the opponent on your nearside, the only play he will have will be to bump you, but if you’re prepared for this, you will give yourself enough space to be bumped. If your #2 has the ball, but you’re guarded too close by the opposing #4, or your #2 is wide open, your best play here is to block the opposing #4 and let your #2 take the ball to goal. As a general rule, if you are closely guarded, but receive the ball, it is always better to leave it rather than swing wildly and perhaps move the ball enough so that your #2 will not have a play on it.
All players should learn to play the #1 position. It requires discipline, an understanding of team dynamics, excellent riding skills, and extreme flexibility. A few exercises to do to improve your ability as a #1 are:
- Throughout the chukker, try to mentally envision where you should be on offense and on defense.
- Practice taking half swings on goal from many different angles. The opportunity for the #1 to shine and make goals will usually be closely guarded and half swings will be your most effective move.
- Take time dribbling, and maneuvering the ball in and out of obstacles.
- Practice turning the ball from the corners of the field and taking it to goal.
- Without mallets, play tag on horseback with a teammate. This will hone your skills anticipating the movement of an opponent and help you guard better.