When I first arrived in Melbourne to settle down for a bit and play some polo the idea of newbie polo was not really a thing. Not to say new players weren’t welcome, but the newbie polo regimen was just folded into regular pickup on Sundays. One court would occasionally be set aside for a “slow game” or two so newer players could feel comfortable to throw in. Although this system is still inclusive, I did see an issue with it from the start.
Firstly, we all know it takes a special kind of individual to just rock up on a regular pickup day and just ask to be included or even inquire about the sport. Especially to a bunch of tattooed ladies and dudes that they don’t know who may be drinking, smoking and trading sometimes vicious heckles. So to create a forum in which all individuals would feel accepted and free to fall on their faces, I thought we should give a newbie specific night a whirl.
Going from practically zero to one hundred on the social media front helped us a lot, and now I think it is more difficult to get new players out once you have already built a newbie night. But I set up a specific group for newbies to relay new player specific information to prospective players and set up weekly events attached to the Facebook group. Once this was set up, initially I invited everyone I knew inside and outside the club and told them to invite their friends.
Another major victory for us in Melbourne was the interest and commitment shown by the regulars within the club. For the summer, every Wednesday the regulars would show up with their bikes, spare bikes, and additional mallets to help out, watch and show these new players that we are a passionate group of people that love polo.
The result of the commitment of the regulars and the social media storm insured we had about 15-20 new players out the first few weeks, some of which didn’t like it. That’s cool, knitting isn’t for me so I don’t show up to that weekly either. But it was a great success because the new players were playing games that were entirely made up of new players, no regulars just newbies learning to fly.
Each week we employed the goal to give each new player at least 2 games to find their balance, comfort, and ball handling. This was key as a lot of players rock up and play one game, suck at it, and then say it’s not for them. But give them that second game, perhaps with a shorter mallet, or a proper sized bike, or on a team with a different dynamic, and you can see that the learning curve is pretty damn steep. This is where the regulars come in handy as well, we can see when a seat is to low, or the mallet is Thor’s hammer, or that they need to play using their other hand…
It is still a learning curve and newbie nights have been going strong all winter long. We have even hosted a 6v6 new player bench game where it was all about our young blood. Lets hope we can keep it going and find some more birdies in the spring to shove out of the nest and onto a polo bike.
Words by Wes Bartlett
Pictures by Claire Wilson, Jordan Head, and Jack Schallmeiner