THE REMARKABLE GROWTH OF POLO FOR KIDS
In-depth interview with Jennifer McLeavy, Assistant Executive Director at the PTF
The polo for teens and kids has grown hugely over the last 15 years. More tournaments, more categories and, of course, more players each season. The Santa Paula Cup, the Potrillos and the Avendaño Memorial are just some of the highlights comprising the international kids´ calendar.
The Polo Training Foundation (PTF) has been working untiringly for many years, focusing on the development and fun of the youngest ones. Jennifer McLeavy, Assistant Executive Director at the PTF, spoke with PoloLine about the present situation and goals for the upcoming years
What can you tell me about the current kids polo season?
Overall, we have had a great PTF Florida season. Competition is getting better at all levels and the participation has gone up in the older games for the 16-21 year olds. On top of our normal schedule, we also held two International events this year: the PTF International Cup in February and the PTF International Day in April, both at Grand Champions Polo Club.
And regarding polo for kids, she highlights: “The Junior Polo has been in Wellington since the inception of the Avendano by Carlos Avendano in 1982. There have been strong years with lots of players and supporters, and a few weaker years where there was less interest and support. The growth of the events in the past few years are the result of volunteers, parents, and the PTF Board of Directors working together in support of our future generation. If you create a well organized and fun event, the players will come”.
How long have you been involved with kids polo?
Actually, my sisters and I would fly down to Wellington to play the Major Collin and the Avendano when we were kids, but it wasn’t until 2008 that I got involved in the organization. I only ran the Florida Junior Polo for that one season as I then gave birth to my son William in 2009 and my daughter Samantha in 2010. In 2013 I got a call from a longtime friend, Haley Bryan, asking me to help her with the Junior Program. I became a full time PTF employee in July of 2013 and have been focusing on our Junior Players ever since.
“Actually, the PTF co-sponsors the Eldorado Junior Program at the Eldorado Polo Club in California during the winter as well as the Florida Junior Polo here in Wellington. Violeta Escapite does an amazing job of managing the junior program in Eldorado with 3 tournaments and practices weekly on Saturdays and Sunday mornings. Here in Florida, most of our events are hosted by Grand Champions and the International Polo Club and this year Lechuza Caracas graciously hosted two of our main events. Grand Champions Polo Club and the Polo School at Grand Champions are the strongest supporters of the Florida Junior program, as they help not only at the events at their club but also at every event regardless of the location”, says Jennifer.
What should be the main aspect for a kid when playing polo?
Fun should always be the most important aspect of the game, especially with regards to the kids. Polo is unique as it is a family sport, a tradition, carried down from generation to generation; a game that can be enjoyed together with family as well as friends. Avendano and Potrillos. Both tournaments are internationally known, and draw players from around the world. They are very differently formatted tournaments but with the same goals: continuing the tradition of the sport and having fun.
To conclude, Jennifer leaves the following thought: “Practice, practice, practice. The more these kids play, the better they will get. The goal is to create as many opportunities for these young players to play as possible. Our plan for next year is to run all the programs we had this year, plus expand our international exchange programs. I would like to encourage every player, whether they are a parent or not, to get involved with the next generation of polo players; be a role model, a coach, a mentor or teammate. These kids are the future of the sport, we need to give them a strong foundation”.