Should Polocrosse Go Pro?
Should the APA take polocrosse pro? I’m sure this strikes a chord with many out there reading this. One’s initial reaction might be: “Never! We must keep this sport pure from the evils of money. This sport is not polo and could never be. It needs to be accessible to the masses.” Others out there might say: “I could see the benefits of that.”
The landscape of the APA goes as follows and I know because I’m 36, I’ve been playing polocrosse since I was 9, I was a VP, Board at Large Member, Player Development Chair, Chief Umpire and World Cup Team Member. The honorable Board of the APA gets together once a year and hashes over the challenges we face and comes up with great ideas to bring them to fruition. This Board of caring people with vested interest in seeing the sport grow are all volunteers with busy home lives. These members either play polocrosse or take a leadership role in a club. They really want this sport to be all that it can be. But, nonetheless, when it comes to follow through on major change, it always falls short. For instance, the Nationals site is rarely determined outside of a year. Also, our playing population has remained stagnant. Zero to downward trends. Less and less do we see new players. More and more players are falling off because of things we never provided them.
The biggest challenge the APA faces in my opinion involves umpiring. Let me begin this paragraph by stating that Daniel Johnson is doing a phenomenal job and is more active at training umpires than I’ve seen in the past. Without solid umpiring, the sport suffers and creates an environment for dangerous and unfair play. With dangerous and unfair play, horses and players are injured and we aren’t teaching the rules properly to allow beginners to safely move up the ranks. Bad habits are formed and resentment abounds. Our tournament umpires do the best they can placing the most qualified people out there. What inevitably happens is that the better umpires take care of the higher-level games. It makes sense, because those players are moving faster and things can become much more dangerous for the horse and rider. The lower levels are umpired by dedicated people, but not necessarily highly qualified umpires.
I start this discussion with umpiring because I needed this example of a challenge the APA faces by not being more professional in some way. Polo has the Umpires, LLC, which is an independent company that dispenses its umpires to tournaments. These umpires get paid professionally and take the game very seriously. Fair and safe play abounds.
Let’s speak more about polo, just to get you even more riled up. The money they earn from their clothing line not only pays professionals to run their organization, it pays umpires and funds youth development programs and writes drill books and conducts coaching certification programs. It also pays for the marketing of the sport. It provides a horse welfare committee and even created a body conditioning scoresheet which helps identify fit and unfit/unhealthy horses. It also provides money for its Team USPA players to play at the international level. Without my parents, financial support and hundreds of tournament fundraising dinners, I couldn’t have participated on three World Cup teams. I’ve seen my compadres struggle to balance home life with the financial strain of paying for their trip to the World Cup. Would the APA be sending its best team if there was more funding out there for their representative team? I believe in trickle down play. Our young players need top players to look up to. Those we send out into the world will come back and contribute to our growth. With a professional sport with an industry and money, it could employ some of us passionate lifers to do polocrosse full time. It could trickle into colleges and allow a great outlet for hard working students. So many things come from having more money.
A very good friend of mine told me that in polo, the event is in the tent. People aren’t necessarily there to watch it, but want the experience of being field side with a cocktail and conversation. They want to be on these pristine grounds with majestic horses and taking selfies. Corporate sponsors spend a lot of money to be a part of this and in return they get the name brand recognition as well as a place to host their clients. If there’s a model for the APA where we can attract similar corporate sponsors, we could begin some movement towards having more money. The Zim Open is a great example of such an event, with the likes of Land Rover sponsoring. The best players in the world are paid to play at this event. Even the top players are bid on by sponsors at an auction. Could the APA start to show our sport off at a professional level in some small way by attempting such an event? Could the APA find a great venue in a highly enough populated area to have a several months season of tournaments that players could come to from around the country or an extended period just like polo? How about the summer time when a lot of our youth are free from school? Could we invite and host foreign players to be part of such a scene?
The part of polo that we may want to avoid, at least for now, is the pro-am aspect where the wealthy low grade amateur players pay to play with the professionals. That expense is a major part of what makes polo out of reach for many players, not to mention the number of horses required for polo. I believe that we can move into a more professional sphere without taking this polo aspect with us. Without patrons footing the bill, we’d have to rely more heavily on corporate sponsors. Hey, and polo can keep it’s draw reins as well.
Now, you might say: “Well, look at Australia. They’ve kept it purely amateur and look at them.” Australia has thousands of players, with saturated playing populations. Another major key is that they receive government support. There’s an Institute of Sport which pays for players to attend boot camps and learn psychology of the sport, for example. This Institute helps write their coaching manuals. We cannot compare ourselves to Australia at our current state. Are any countries growing in player population? Are any countries our size besides Australia growing?
Let me sum it up by saying that at its core, the APA is surviving and providing an environment for polocrosse to exist. But, are we simply hand and mouth, struggling to get by? Are we losing some of our players to dangerous playing conditions? Are we losing potential players to a scene that appears rough, unprofessional and unappealing? Maybe you’re content in your thriving area. Maybe you’re in a hot bed of polocrosse and your world is fine, but what about other regions of the country which are struggling. They have zero growth and there isn’t a club within 8 hours? Zero growth of the sport does no one anyone good. Less players equals less competition and that creates, stagnant, sloppy polocrosse. In my experience, I had to start travelling internationally to be challenged and forged into a better player. I was a big fish in a little of pond. So, maybe there were 6 of us big fish, but we rarely could compete against each other.
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