It’s fun to swing the mallet at the ball. When you really swing as hard as you can and that little orb flies off exactly where you meant it to go (yes, you did mean to send it into the boards. Of course). It’s a good way to take out some of the stress for all those times you avoided pushing someone over in the office.
But heed and listen, o polo player: think before you swing!
There are instances when swinging with all your might may seem like a good idea – it may even be the best move possible given the circumstance – but having a bit if situational awareness before cocking back your mallet is key.
I have watched and experienced a lot of dumb accidents while playing polo, but the one I see the most often is when a player begins a big swing and ends up catching another player in the face with their mallet. I’ve had this happen to me once (on the receiving end), and that’s the reason I wear a face cage now.
Most recently I watched someone in Asheville during the Throwdown tourney get caught with a follow through to a swing. She ended up with a lovely cut on the bridge of her nose, two black eyes, and a bloody T-shirt.
So who’s fault is it?
Like all statements I make, let me give myself an out by saying it’s 50/50.
The player who is swinging at the ball should be aware of who is around them. There isn’t a right of way rule for swinging at the ball. Being in a cluster and swinging your mallet around like Mel Gibson in Braveheart (back when we all still liked him) isn’t a good way of avoiding the first rule of bike polo.
It doesn’t take much – and if you’re a more experienced player you should already have a predisposition to knowing where people are on the court. Newer players develop this skill with time, so they might want to give a quick glance around if at all possible.
Furthermore, a good shot in polo is one that doesn’t take up a lot of swinging space and is controlled. Lomax has said repeatedly that a good shot is one that is more like a jab in boxing. Watch any video from nationals to understand why he’s a good point of reference on how to swing a mallet.
In making a shot, practice keeping the mallet head on your mallet hand side the whole time you’re going through the motion. Try to limit the distance you raise the mallet head up and how far you swing past after shooting (again – think quick jab: make contact with the ball, then immediately draw your mallet back). Do this and you’ll remove a lot of the danger for other players – plus you’re eliminating many chances that a defender has to stop your shot.
If you’re defending (or simply close to a player who has the ball), you’re equally responsible for getting chopped in the face. You must expect the ball carrier to shoot the ball, and be equally ready for a mallet coming up towards your nose/eye/teeth. If you don’t think you can block/avoid that contact, then don’t put yourself in the position to start with. Besides, if the other player is taking big swings, it’s easy to hold your mallet out to stop the shot when they have it arced behind themselves from a distance.