Play commences after every goal, every out of bounds, and even after some fouls with both teams lining up, generally in numerical order, at the “T” at the center of the field. Each team lines up on the same side of the center line as the goal they’re defending. This creates a tunnel through which the umpire bowls the ball after all players are in order. The bowl should be underhand, hard, and no player should come within 5 yards of the umpire. If the umpire accidently bowls in the ball before all players are in position, the responsibility lays on him and there will be no do-over.
As soon as the ball is bowled in, both lines attack, fighting for possession of the ball, while pushing their opposing team member out of the play. It is a unique way to start a play: any player on the field has the chance of coming out the other end of a throw-in with possession of the ball. It can often result in the kind of “pig sticking” that we try to avoid on the polo field, but with practice, it’s less hectic.
The #1s should keep their mallets low, trying to intercept the ball and take it to goal. Should it slipped past the #1s, they should fight to push past each other and try to see which team has won control of the ball. If no clear winner is evident, the #1s should ride three or four strides out, open for a pass, and hope the ball is fed up to them. If it is, they should have a clear run to the goal. If your team does not win the ball, the #1 should track up with the opposing #4.
The #4s (#3s in the arena), being the “barn doors” of the throw-in, should stay way back to avoid the ball slipping past them and having to spin around to chase it. They should also sit just slightly more to the outside and at a 45 degree angle to defensively set up against any fast breaks.
Generally speaking, the players will line up in numerical order unless they’ve discussed it earlier and find a tactical advantage to swapping positions.
Some teams want their #1s to not even swing at the ball but concentrate on taking out the opposing #1. Others just want the number one to break out for a pass. Others will line up their number one directly against the opposite #4. It’s unorthodox, but can confuse players for the first few times. But if you think of polo in the more traditional sense of the number one and two players breaking out of the throw-in and the opposing Number three and four players jumping out to pick them up, the line up makes sense.
Near-Side vs Off-Side
Depending on what side of the line you are on, the ball with either roll down your near-side or your off-side. If you’re lucky enough that it’s on your off side, your next decision to make is your angle to the line of the ball. Many people line up exactly parallel to the line, sit and wait for the ball to come to them. Others will face the line at an angle and reach for it. This allows them to nudge their horse on when the umpire brings his arm back and pick up some momentum for the swing. The biggest problem you’re going to find with this is your horse can quickly become head-shy, as his head is likely going to cross the line of the ball and where everyone else is swinging their mallets. Horses that don’t like the throw-in will be another post for another day.
If the ball is coming down your near-side you have the options of keeping your mallet on the near-side and trying to swing at it, or angling your horse outwards a bit more, keeping the mallet on the off-side and under the horse’s neck. The only way to decide which is the best strategy for you is to try it out and see which one gives you the most success.
In the throw-in not only is it challenging to position yourself correctly, statistics indicate that about 20% of fouls in a game occur either in the throw-in or just getting out of a throw-in. With the line of the ball changing quickly as it bounces off of horses and mallets and most of the players out of position and in close proximity it is very easy for that line to get crossed or the right of way to be neglected. Another point to keep in mind is that during a throw-in, the line of the ball is perpendicular to the line you want it to go in, meaning someone will have to delicately turn the ball while fighting off opponents or make an awkward angled shot to get it out in the open in the right direction.
General words of wisdom about throw-ins:
- NO FULL SWINGS. If everyone is in close quarters, there is absolutely no reason to perform a full swing. Even if you connected, the ball would certainly bounce off of a horse or a player.
- Always canter back to a throw-in or knock-in. The play clock does not stop during this time.
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