Polo

What Polo Shirt Numbers Mean (It’s Not What You Think)


With the recent feather-ruffling over whether or not wearing a clean-cut, form fitting polo shirt is appropriate for your Grand Prix, let’s delve deeper into what those numbers actually mean.

In polo, player positions are only going to be 1 through 4. You’ll never see a player with the number 5 or higher on any jerseys. Those numbers are manufactured specifically for fashion, and don’t have anything to do with playing the sport.

Most popular retail polo shirts bought at designer clothing stores are likely going to stick to manufacturing shirts with the number 3 on them, either on the breast pocket, mid-arm sleeve, or a large number on the back, because position 3 is typically the team captain, the star, the pro, the big shot to watch during the match.  (Usually, not always.)

The numbers on the shirts are not simply to distinguish each player from the other on the field like in more popular and highly televised professional sports.  Usually, why a player wears a particular number indicates what position they’re playing on the field and what their jobs are while playing offense or defense. Whether you play outdoor polo on a huge, ten-acre grass field with four people on each team, or in an indoor/arena with three people on each team, each player wears a shirt with a number that corresponds to the position they are playing, and that position comes with particular assignments and skill sets when played at the professional level.

Let’s see if the number on the back of your current polo shirt correlates with your personality.

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Photo Credit: Jim Bremner

 

Number 1: Must be good at accepting passes and scoring.

Mostly offense and a front runner. Positions themselves between other players and the goal to accept an oncoming ball from their passing teammate, and hopefully, to score.  On defense, though, this guy better be skilled enough to defend the other team’s best offensive player. Team A’s Player 1 sticks with Team B’s Player 4—the defender.  When at the front during offense, Position 1 is at the front, but if someone hits a backshot and the play makes a U-turn, Position 1 becomes the fill in Position 4 temporarily, and must race to an opponent to maintain defense.  Fast, front-running, likes to score, stays out of the fray to be open for the pass to goal.

Photo Credit: Jim Bremner www.polozone.com Number 1’s offense is being guarded by defense’s #4, proper pairing up for strategic play in polo.
Photo Credit: Jim Bremner 
Number 1’s offense is being guarded by defense’s #4, proper pairing up for strategic play in polo.

 

Number 2: Mid-field guy—must be ready to back up Position 1, and be next in line for the ball if your teammate loses the ball.

Must guard the opposing team’s captain, typically the highest-rated player on their team. Number two has a set position when each member of the team is a fully professional team not making concessions for shortfalls in skill, but otherwise #2 can be anyone at any time on the field. This position needs to choose not to be in front, and protect the front runner, and shouldn’t be in the very back, so that whoever is playing in the back has someone to pass to when they see a strategic play unfolding in front of them. Most versatile position, fluid and alway changing. Must be flexible and adapt instantly to the new play. Must have field awareness, Spiderman-like reflexes, and listen to the captain on where to go to change the play.

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Tarzan passes the ball to a teammate while playing Position 2 at Empire Polo Club. Photo by Jim Bremner.

 

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Photo Credit: Jim Bremner

Orange Team: #3 passes the ball to #1, and 2 is ready for backup for player 1, and 4 stays behind to strategize and defend, should the play turn around. If play *does* turn, Orange 4 plays the front, guards the ball, plays keep-away from Green until his teammates can position themselves forward for a play or pass. Orange 1 becomes the defender if they end up in the back and must protect the goal.

Number 3:  The Team Captain.  Most Experienced.

Tends to be the highest-rated handicap on the team, very aggressive, most accurate hitter, and therefore best passer to his teammates. Teammates may opt to part the seas so the #3 can run through with the ball, by taking an opponent and pushing him off the path of the play to clear for #3.  Number 3, being the most experienced and often valuable member player on the team, shouts out orders to teammates to improve the team’s chance at scoring. Aggressive, skilled, competitive. Organized, strategic, and must be a team leader.

 

Photo Courtesy of San Diego Polo’s Facebook page. Both Number 3s battling it out for the ball near the goal. White #3 is our HorseNetwork Polo Celebrity, Tarzan.
Photo Courtesy of San Diego Polo’s Facebook page.
Both Number 3s battling it out for the ball near the goal. White #3 is our HorseNetwork Polo Celebrity, Tarzan.

 

Blue #1 is ready to attack Red #3 to prevent him from keeping the ball. “A shot foiled is as good as a shot taken” - Parker Scott, Poway, CA. If Blue #1 can spoil Red #3’s shot, she’s done her job. It’s ok if you don’t end up with it, as long as your opponent didn’t end up with the ball either.
Blue #1 is ready to attack Red #3 to prevent him from keeping the ball. “A shot foiled is as good as a shot taken.” – Parker Scott, Poway, CA. If Blue #1 can spoil Red #3’s shot, she’s done her job. It’s ok if you don’t end up with it, as long as your opponent didn’t end up with the ball either. Photo Credit: Jim Bremner

 

Photo By: CJ DeWolf Trust me, with a forearm like that, with semi-pro football experience and decades of polo experience, you’re not getting through this defender. Best just clear a path for him. You’ve been warned.
Photo By: CJ DeWolf
Trust me, with a forearm like that, semi-pro football experience, and decades of polo experience, you’re not getting through this defender. Best just clear a path for him. You’ve been warned.

 

Number 4:  Brick wall. Defender.  

Protects the ball and goal, passes to waiting teammates. Ideally, your defender stays at the back of plays, to pass the ball forward, to defend your own goal from the opponent’s scoring.  At the same time, if his team were to gain possession of the ball and his #3 needs to pass to someone, he’ll pass to #4, and take off running. Number 1 and 2 will run to the front, and #4 will survey the scene, and take a calculated, strategic guess as to who to pass to, based on his team’s positions.  He’ll run to meet an opponent running at the front of the pack trying to score, and therefore, is interchangeable with Position #1, because he can go from the back of a play to the front of a turned play in an instant. Observer, strategic, communicative. Doesn’t need credit for the goal, but wants to set up the play to end in a goal.

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Photo Credit: Jim Bremner

So if accuracy and details matter to you, stick with numbers 1 through 4.  If you identify with any of those positions, you’re pretty much a bad ass anyway.  Good on ya.  =)

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Bonus: Take the rider’s seat in this mesmerizing polo video: