Making the Most of the Least: Working With Bad Players

kid on bike

Yes, I’m talking about myself. Let’s just work off that premise for awhile.

This may come as a shock to some of you, but not every player you play with is A+. Yes, I know, just let that sink in a moment.

But the worst thing I’ve seen – worse than the worst-est player ever, is a good player who basically shuts down because they just knoowww that there’s no point to really trying. So instead of a half decent game you get:

  • A under-performing player who feels guilty/frustrated
  • A good player who keeps shaking their head and looking out at the other team like “well, I’m sorry, just make it quick”
  • A typical player (the third on the team) who is trying to remember what all the songs in The Little Mermaid were

and that’s just not good enough, friends.

So you’ve got someone on your team who has, at best, a love of the sport (and not much else). Chances are you aren’t in a tourney with this person, you’re in pickup. Let that be your first lesson: This game doesn’t matter in any way, shape, or form. You are playing for the joy of playing – and that’s what your under-performing player has in spades. So just stop thinking that you have to put the pressure on.

Also consider this: everybody, no-matter how you think of them, as at least one inherent ability on the court. Maybe it’s disrupting plays or maybe it’s calling out positions of other players – hell, maybe it’s just hitting the ball out of play. Find the player’s strength and let them use it. This boosts their confidence and also their ability to help you out. 

But, dear reader, don’t let them only do that one ability all day long. You eventually want this player to grow (making your club grow, and your potential tourney presence grow, and their own enjoyment of the game grow) , so try to put them in positions where they are forced to learn or explore the game. Let them joust every once and a while – get them to cover goal. Play with them like they were a stronger player, and eventually they will become stronger. 

Or, you know, they won’t–but they will recognize that you didn’t treat them horribly, and that’s a damned important, good thing to do for another polo player.

Also, and this is something I love doing (even though I’m in no way a star player), when it’s apparent that your team is out-gunned, just go bonkers. Mock the other team, over congratulate good plays on your side – make cat noises and make jokes every-time you get a goal against you. Make the point of that game to have spectacular fun.

another kid on bikeFinally, open yourself up to questions and explanations. If your guy is stoked to be playing but isn’t very good at it, chances are they are wide open to listen to suggestions and advice. Give it to them. Take some time on the sideline to explain how you developed as a player and things they can do to practice and get better. Even more awesome: take a day to train with them. Horse did this when I first started playing at I can say without a doubt that in a few hours of direct drills and practice I learned more about the basics than I did in 2 months of play.

So the next time you’re on a team with a, let’s face it, bad player (or players), see it as an opportunity to inject some self confidence and skillfulness. The only thing you’re gonna lose is one pickup game at worst, and at best you’ll expand the “good player” count in your club.

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