As a new player or fan to the sport of polo yourself, you may be wondering if left-handed players really are banned from the sport. We can tell you conclusively that while left-handed players are not disqualified from being able to play, they are disqualified from using their left hand to hold the mallet (with some exceptions).
Even though the sport of polo can trace its history all the way back to Persia in the sixth century and has existed in some form or another for centuries it’s never been quite as popular as it is today.
This newfound popularity has been held in large part by the democratization of the sport, something that really wasn’t true of polo up until a relatively short while ago. After all, there’s a reason why this has been called The Sport of Kings”.
Never really available or accessible to people that didn’t have a mountain of money and their own horses until more modern times, today more and more young people (men and women) are getting into the sport than maybe ever before.
With so many new players it’s easy to see how so many are surprised and sometimes confused about the roles of this sport, particularly when it comes to the out and out banning of players that want to use their left-hand to hold the mallet.
Let’s take a little deeper into whether or not you can actually play polo if you are left-handed.
Myths and Misconceptions About Polo
To kick things off, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the sport of polo out there right now and we are going to try and dispel a number of them – the most important of which is whether or not left-handed people can play the sport they’ve come to love and appreciate.
As we highlighted earlier, the sport of polo has a pretty long history and tradition of being enjoyed by the true upper-class of the world – folks that owned their own horses, owned plenty of land to compete in the game, and folks that had the time to dedicate to this sport as well.
Up until a few decades ago the overwhelming majority of players were men in their 50s for the most part, folks that had a little more time to invest in the game as well as plenty of money to buy horses, to care for horses, and to own the land necessary for these types of competitions.
Today though, the United States Polo Association reports that more younger people are playing this sport than ever before – and 40% of this association’s membership are women. Younger players are getting into the sport at a never before seen pace in the sport is becoming more accessible on a day-to-day basis, too.
Other common myths surrounding this sport is that there is some sort of ideal body type (nothing could be further from the truth), that you must own your own horses to play (that’s no longer true, either), and that you have to spend months if not years practicing to get any good.
We can conclusively debunk all of those for you. They just aren’t true.
Do You Have to Play Polo Right Handed?
As far as left-handers being banned from the sport we can tell you that this is only half true.
There are a lot of left-handed individuals that play and are passionate about the sport of polo, but all of those individuals (with a handful of exceptions we will explain in just a moment) have to play right-handed.
Prince William of the United Kingdom is one of the most famous left-handed individuals that loves the sport of polo, but even he has to hold the mallet in his right hand.
History of the Ban
The initial rule requiring that all polo players hold their mallet in the right hand was established during the 1930s as this sport really started to catch fire around the world and people started to build a lot of polo associations and polo grounds.
The trouble with allowing ambidextrous players or left-handed players to hold their mallet in any hand that they wanted to was that it immediately became a safety issue.
You have players riding horses at high speed towards and around one another and the ability to flip from one side of the horse to the other on-the-fly, or to use the mallet with either hand – switching back and forth – posed significant risks not only to players but the horses themselves.
This ban was temporarily suspended in the 1940s during World War II as an effort to get more people playing the game, but it was reinstated in 1974 and really codified around the world in large part because of efforts put forward by the United States Polo Association.
Today every player (aside from those that registered with the USPA prior to January 1, 1974) is required to hold the polo mallet in their right hand. Those players that were registered prior to January 1 in 1974 are the only exceptions whatsoever, and are the only players that are allowed to continue to swing left-handed – though they aren’t allowed to switch hands back and forth during competition.
The Hurlingham Polo Association (HPA) instituted a similar rule in the 1970s to govern polo play in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and a number of other countries around the world and today it’s almost impossible to find players – particularly on the competitive circuit – that are using their left-hand to strike with the mallet.
At the same time, this does not mean that left-handed people are not able to play the sport.
As we made mention of above, Prince William is a tremendously effective polo player that is left-handed – though he adheres to the rules and holds the mallet in his right hand when he is playing. A number of fantastic Brazilian players, including Rafael Villela Rosa, are also left-handed that play using their right hands.
If you are left-handed it may take a little bit of time to adjust to using your right hand for such an athletic movement. But if you’re serious about playing polo it’s an adjustment that you’ll have to make – and it’s one with just a bit of practice and training that becomes second nature rather easily.
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Playing Water Polo? Go Lefty All You Want!
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Very quickly, it’s important to differentiate the sport of polo with water polo – particularly when it comes to using your left hand.
While the overwhelming majority of water polo players are (just like traditional polo athletes) right-handed, there’s absolutely zero rule or regulation whatsoever in the world of water polo that stops left-handed individuals from using their left-hand.
In fact, there’s no rule that stops anyone from using their left-hand!
Believe it or not, top-tier water polo teams (particularly those competing for world titles, like Olympic teams) are always on the search for at least a couple of left-handed water polo players.
Some legendary coaches have even called left-handers “gold dust” simply because of the way that they change the strategies and the attacking tactics that teams can use (and that defenders have to use against them).
Of course, you don’t have to worry about hanging off the side of a horse while swinging a mallet while you are playing water polo!