With a dynamic group of members, the Team USPA Program is tailored to provide personalized mentoring and training for each individual while also covering a broad range of topics applicable to all players, instructors and managers in polo. Each player completes a core curriculum in the first year consisting of umpire training, equine welfare and a Polo Business 101 course in addition to mentored playing and training opportunities.
Amanda Snow, Director of Player Development, sat down with the five players who were selected to join Team USPA in January, 2017 to hear about their first year in the Team USPA Program.
A 7-goal player, Santi Torres is undoubtedly talented on the field, but applied to Team USPA looking for off-the-field mentoring and training opportunities. Torres quickly got to work after tryouts searching for a local business to help co-sponsor a team for the 50K 12-goal tournament held at Grand Champions Polo Club in Wellington, Florida. “Playing the 50K with four Team USPA members has been my favorite part of being in the program so far,” said Torres. “Participating in competitive tournaments is the best way to be seen and ultimately get a job. Looking for sponsors and pitching the team was a great learning experience for us. We all really appreciated the support shown to us by County Line Feed and Team USPA.” This summer, Torres served as a mentor for the Young Player Outreach (YPO) program held in Sheridan, Wyoming. “I learned so much from older players helping me when I played junior polo as a kid. I really enjoyed the opportunity to teach and mentor these players,” said Torres. Weekly practices with the YPO group and a National Youth Tournament Series (NYTS) qualifier tournament rounded out his experience in Wyoming. When asked what he is looking forward to in the coming year he eagerly responded, “Organize another Team USPA team for a tournament! I also am excited to help teach more clinics this year in Wellington and hopefully other places as well.”
Marissa Wells came up through the Intercollegiate/Interscholastic Program and is currently a member of the Texas A&M Women’s Intercollegiate team. Of all the new members of Team USPA, Wells has traveled to the most clubs in the past year, playing at Myopia Polo Club (South Hamilton, Massachusetts), Maryland Polo Club (Freeland, Maryland), Virginia International Polo Club (Upperville, Virginia), Houston Polo Club (Houston, Texas), San Diego Surf Polo Club (Del Mar, California), Empire Polo Club (Indio, California), Eldorado Polo Club (Indio, California), Columbine Polo Club (Denver, Colorado), Texas A&M Polo Club (Collge Station, Texas), Santa Barbara Polo Club (Carpinteria, California), Saratoga Polo Club (Saratoga Springs, New York) and Santa Maria Polo Club (Sotogrande, Spain). Even with a busy school schedule, she managed to squeeze in a month-long mentorship with veteran Team USPA member, Felipe Viana, at Myopia Polo Club and participated in umpire intensive training in Aiken, South Carolina. This coming November, Wells will represent Team USPA in the program’s first ever U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship™ team in Houston, Texas.
Juddy Carlton hails from the Bluewater Creek Polo Club in Rogersville, Alabama. With a slight southern drawl, Carlton expressed how the program has exceeded his expectations thus far. “Everyone in the program has been so willing to help, not only the people who work with Team USPA, but the older Team USPA members really go out of their way to lend advice and answer questions. Team USPA immediately helped me get a spot on a team in Houston [Texas] and I had an amazing experience there. I am looking forward to becoming a Certified Polo Instructor (CPI) this year and hopefully mentoring with a higher-rated player.” Carlton will be part of the first group of Team USPA members to complete the CPI certification.
After joining Team USPA, Matias Gonzalez jumped headfirst into completing his umpire requirement, attending a multi-day umpire intensive in Aiken, South Carolina. Becoming a certified umpire is one of the core requirements of the Team USPA program. With many of the players traveling to smaller clubs throughout the summer, being able to jump in and umpire games when needed has proven to be an essential skill for all players in the program.
As a 2-goal player, the future looks bright for Gonzalez, known amongst friends as “Colo” for his fiery red hair. “I loved playing in the NYTS program and now I have the opportunity this coming year to volunteer and give back as a part of Team USPA. I met quite a few older Team USPA members at NYTS events. They were always part of the committees or out on the field umpiring. It’s pretty cool to see how the programs work together.” Gonzalez will participate in the two-week Federation of International Polo (FIP) training program in Wellington, Florida, before heading to Sydney, Australia in search of the elusive XI FIP World Polo Championship title.
Matt Coppola grew up in Wellington, Florida, and has been climbing the ranks as a professional player the past several years. Coppola spent July and August playing with Restoration Hardware under the guidance of mentor Adam Snow in the 16-goal Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club season in Carpinteria, California. “Playing in Santa Barbara was a great experience,” said Coppola. “Having Team USPA support my mentorship and playing with Adam really made a difference for me as a professional. I was able to play in higher-level competitive polo and Adam was there every step of the way coaching the team and me personally.” Coppola also participated in the 12-goal 50K tournament with Torres and will be traveling to Argentina following the Houston, Texas, season to prepare for the winter.
The wide variety of talents, career goals and backgrounds represented by this group of Team USPA members highlights the importance of Team USPA’s new three-track training program. By first completing the core curriculum and working closely with a mentor in the first year, Team USPA is able to help guide each member down a successful career path in polo.
All photos © David Lominska