© 1998 Francis J. Wolfe
78 Little York Road
Warwick, NY 10990
Polocrosse is a team sport. This is something that should be obvious to everyone but too often it is apparent that the only teamwork involved coordinating the color of shirts that is worn. What teamwork means to me is that each player on the field is equally important to the success or failure of the group. Too often the work of a player who is no where near the ball will go unnoticed because everyone is watching the "action". When you watch a successful team, pay attention to all the players. You should see the number two or number three riding off someone on the opposing team. Once all of the players are aware of the duties of the other members of the team and how to use them to the best advantage of the team, you will find that the team is more successful.
Polocrosse is an offensive, possession game. If a player can not pick up a ball then they will not have it to pass to another player or to score a goal. This is the most essential part of the game. The most common flaw that players make in picking up the ball is letting the opponent have a shot at it too. This usually means neither gets the ball and it is up to those following to do something about it. A thinking player will first deal with their opponent and secondly with the ball. It is much easier to get possession of the ball if you ride-off your opponent since nobody will be swinging their stick in your face while you are doing it.
Another common mistake is that new players stay seated in the saddle or get out of the saddle at the last second while trying to pick up the ball. This makes it next to impossible to pick up the ball. What you are doing is changing your body position in relation to the ball, which means that your arm position must adjust in order to put the net over the ball. Now we have a moving object (player) on another moving object (horse) trying to pick up an object that may also be moving (the ball). Pretty hard job for your eye-hand coordination. You should be out of the saddle well before arriving at the ball. This way your view-point (i.e.., your head) is not changing in relation to the ball. You should also have your eyes on the ball during the approach and pick up.
The same principle behind a pick up holds true for catching a pass. You should keep your eyes on the ball the entire time, regardless of whatever else is occurring on the field. The person receiving the pass should hold their racquet up to make a target for the passer. The ideal spot is slightly ahead of the rider and at eye level. This gives you the largest area to work with in case the pass is not accurate. The receiver should "grab" the ball out of the air. Holding the stick upwards, move the net towards the ball as it approaches in the air. Once the ball has entered the net, turn the net around and pull it back towards you.
Simply put, the line up is where polocrosse games are won and lost. In the "average" match, the team that gets the ball in the line up will be the team that scores the goal. The tendency is to ignore the line up while practicing. Read the rule book concerning the line up so you know what to expect. The most common problem in the line up is a horse that anticipates the ball coming in and does not stay still long enough or a horse that does not line up straight or close enough to be of any use to the team. The players should get out of the saddle during a line up so that they may have the maximum amount of mobility should they have a chance at the ball. Ideally your stick will be lower than your opponent's so that when the ball is thrown in you may swing upward, knock the opponent's stick out of the way and be in a position to catch the ball. Remember not to touch the opponent's stick before the umpire throws the ball (APA Rules Sec. 17A). You must be ready to spin around to the outside of the line up or to get a ball that has been deflected into the center of the line up. If you anticipate either way, you will be at a disadvantage should the ball end up in the opposite location. Watch a video tape of your last match and count who gets the ball out of the line-up. Typically the ball will go to the ones 25% of the time, the twos 25% of the time, the threes 25% of the time and out the back of the lineup 25% of the time (of course these are very rough percentages).
Each player should have several plans in their head during the line up. They should have an idea of where to go if they get the ball, if another member of their team gets the ball and if the opponent gets the ball. Of course it is difficult to keep all of these things in mind when new to the game but that is why you should practice and scrimmage before participating in a competition. The day of the competition is no time to make vast changes or learn new strategies.
Each position has its duties on the field. While some might appear to be more important than others, it will be the team that has well rounded that will have a more consistent performance. It is important for all players to understand the roll of each position so they know how to use their own players and how the opponents may react to situations which may occur on the field.
The number one has to have good stick skills. Ultimately they are the person who will have the ball whether they picked up themselves or caught a pass. They must be proficient in all stick skills and have quick reflexes. The number one does not have to have the fastest horse on the field since they are the player who controls the speed and flow of their team's offense.
If the number one gets the ball in the line up they have to choice between turning to the outside and taking the long route towards the goal (which gives their teammates time to take out the opposing number three) or to try and quickly get by the front of the opposing one (it is more likely that they will be stopped or pushed out of bounds but it will keep the other team guessing and works if the number one is fast).
As a number one a typical approach towards the goal scoring area would have one of your teammates marking the three and the other protecting your stick side. If you are alone and have confidence in your horses ability to not be ridden off, use the sideline to protect your stick side. Remember not to rush, many number ones miss the bounce into the box because they are going too fast.
If another member of the team gets the ball it is their job to head towards the number one. It is the responsibility of the number one to rate the speed so that they do not end up too far ahead of the other player. The number one should protect the stick side of the player with the ball. Just before the line the ball carrier should let the number one ahead slightly or move slightly away from the one so there is enough room between them to pass the ball. By passing the ball at the line you have only one chance to lose the ball. If you pass to the number one in mid-field and they have to subsequently bounce it, then there are two chances of having a mistake which could cost you possession of the ball.
Whether it is bounced or passed to the number one, they should immediately head for the goal once they are in the box. This will put the opposing three to work immediately. Hopefully, they have had to work hard enough to get here that you will not have much of a problem. The number three will be making an adjustment from being marked in mid-field by your team, to having to mark you in the box. Make the most of this adjustment. It is perfectly acceptable to wait if you do not have a clear shot. When this happens keep moving, using the entire box including riding through the semi-circle in front of the goal. A right handed player should circle the box counter-clockwise. This way their stick side is on the outside of the circle and protected from the number three. The number three has no choice but to stay on the inside of the circle since if they aren't there you would have a clear shot. As soon as you get half a horse length ahead of the number three turn towards the goal and shoot. You should practice enough so that you can shoot from any angle and from any place within the box. It will only take a split second to get a shot off so be ready for the opportunity.
Defensive play for a number one is rather simple. If the other team gets the ball the number one should either mark the opposing team's number one until their own number three can take over or go after the opponent with the ball. It all depends upon whether the other team get the ball in the line up or else where on the field. Whatever action is decided upon, the number one must pay attention to the ball so that they are not caught off guard should their team get possession.
The most misunderstood position and the one requiring the most thought. The best person to play number two will be someone who does not have any problem thinking and reacting quickly. Right from the line up on the number two has decisions to make. Since the other positions are either offensive or defensive, a number of decisions are already made for the players. The number two has no such luxury.
If their team gets the ball the number two should probably mark the opposing number three even a second or two delay can give the number one time to score. The number two might also decide to protect the number one or the number three (if they have the ball). If the opponent gets the ball the number two has to decide whether they should go after the person with the ball (most likely) or slow down the opposing number one. These decisions have to be made instantly and then carried out.
The number two's success is measured by absences. That is the absence of the opposing number three when your number one enters the box, the absence of the opposing number one when their team has the ball or the absence of a pass by an opponent to their number one because they have been held up in mid-field. It is something that is not readily apparent to spectators but the players on the field know when there is a good number two present.
The basic strategy of a number two can be put in two categories. The first type of number two is a little flashier, has good stick skills and has no problem moving around the field at will. This number two will go after the ball where ever it is so that their teammates are free to do their jobs. They will often break the averages for the line up and be the player who brings up the ball for their team. The other type of number two does the job the old fashioned way: hard work behind the scenes. This type of number two will let their presence be known by riding off key members of the opposing team. Whoever is handy at the moment is fair game. Members of the other team will be calling each other for help when this type of number two is on the field.
The number three has a tough job since generally speaking the number one will score once they are in the box with the ball. Once the number three realizes this, the pressure should be off them but instead it usually increases. Anytime the number three can stop or even delay the number one in their attempt to score, they have achieved a small victory in the contest that is occurring. The number three has to be ready to go anywhere the number one goes which means having a horse that is a fast and as quick at turning as any other horse on the field. The number three's job is to react to whatever the opposing number one does.
The work begins in the line up. It is strange that the key defensive player begins by being on offense, since about half the time, it will be the number three that gets the ball. When the number three gets the ball they have to find their number one, who will probably be behind them and proceed on offense. When the other team's number three gets the ball, it is imperative that the number three pull back and find the opposing teams one. This is difficult because one's tendency is to stay with the ball, but the number three has to have confidence that their teammates will mark the ball sufficiently.
If the number three does not get the ball, their sole function is to stay glued to the side of the opposing number one. If other members of your own team are already on the number one then call them off, they can not follow the number one into the box, you can. This is where reflexes are important. The opposing number one knows where they are headed but the number three does not. They can not let that number one have a second's peace.
If the opposing number one has the ball then the number three had better be at their side. If you can not get on the stick side then ride off the number one. Remember the number one is most vulnerable when they are crossing the penalty whether they bounce the ball or receive a pass. A good aggressive bump on the line will often be enough to cause a loose ball. If the number one is in the box and awaiting a pass, you should be between them and the penalty line. Watch the number one's eyes for an indication that the ball has been thrown. Your teammates should also let you know when the ball is in the air. At this point give wood, the number one will not be able to catch the ball, it will land on the ground and you have a fifty-fifty shot at it. Those odds are as good as a sure thing for a number three.
If the number one has possession of the ball in the box you should be between them and the goal and pushing them away from the goal at all times. It may not force them out but the farther the distance, the more difficult any shots will be. Keep in mind that a number one will want to keep moving and try to stop them. This will mean that they have to first get moving and second try to position themselves for a shot on goal. Two things are more difficult to do and take longer than one. The longer you delay the number one, the more impatient they will get and the more likely they are to make a mistake. The most important thing that the number three can accomplish is to cause to number one to concentrate on getting free rather than concentrate on the goal. This will prevent the number one from capitalizing on any opportunities that they get.
The number three must be proficient at the overhand and underhand bounce. The underhand bounce will probably be used more often since the number three primarily gets the ball after a missed shot at goal (sec. 5A). If there are players in your way when coming out of the box, do not be afraid to go right through them since they are in your line, it will be they who draw the penalty.
It is my hope that the readers of this guide get a feeling for the possibilities
for strategy in a polocrosse match rather than a memorization of absolutes.
If you are thinking about what to try the next time you are playing then
I have achieved my goal. The only idea contained here that should be set
in concrete is that polocrosse is a team sport and should be played as such.
A group of individuals with weaker skills that plays as a unit will have
a more consistent performance, and probably get more enjoyment out of playing
polocrosse. Since, this is one of the few group activities for riders it
serves as a social vehicle in addition to being a sport. The main thing
is to have fun and to play safely.