Instrumental in the formation of the Southern Methodist University (SMU) Polo Club in Flower Mound, Texas, esteemed Intercollegiate/Interscholastic (I/I) coach and USPA Certified Polo Instructor and umpire, Tom Goodspeed has spent over four decades investing in the future of arena polo. Proud to receive the honor bearing his friend’s name, Goodspeed was presented with the Russ Sheldon Award during the USPA/Polo Training Foundation (PTF) awards ceremony at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. Presented to Rodney Fragodt in 2017, this national award is given by the USPA to a member who has made an outstanding contribution to arena polo.

Picking up a polo mallet for the first time at 11-years-old, Goodspeed delivered the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper to finance his lessons at Joy Farm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Owner of the farm, Donald “Mac” McCarroll, also owned a school bus company and twice every Saturday sent a bus around the city to pick up and drop off riders of any age. “The bus was free and he charged $2/hour to ride a horse and $4 for two arena chukkers,” Goodspeed said. “None of us realized back then at that age the incredible gift of horses we were being given. I certainly do now.”

Tom Goodspeed receives Russ Sheldon award
Tom Goodspeed was presented with the Russ Sheldon Award for Outstanding Contribution to Arena Polo at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. Pictured with USPA CEO Robert Puetz. ©Alex Pacheco

Competing on UConn’s polo team while attending the University of Connecticut, Goodspeed claimed two national championship titles, ultimately achieving one of the highest arena handicaps at 9-goals and rated 5-goals outdoor at the height of his career. In 1985 he moved to manage the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank, California, and had the unique opportunity to captain the L.A. Colts and Stars on the Pro Arena Polo League for 11 seasons. Located close to California’s famed studios, the league games quickly became part of Hollywood’s social calendar, attracting celebrities such as Sylvester Stallone, William Shatner and even Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. While in L.A., Goodspeed was instrumental in launching a highly successful polo school. Seeing him play in the L.A. arena games, Russ Sheldon enlisted Goodspeed’s guidance and instructional program at the L.A. Equestrian Center to help him make the transition from cowboy polo to arena. Involved in numerous facets of the polo industry, Goodspeed also managed San Diego Polo Club (renamed San Diego Surf Polo Club) in Del Mar, California, for 15 years and then Mashomack Polo Club in Pine Plains, New York, for six summer seasons.

Formerly coaching at Culver Academies in Culver, Indiana, and currently the coach of the SMU Polo Club since its inception in 2009, Goodspeed has consistently produced many impressive teams, his men’s teams qualifying for the National Intercollegiate Championship (NIC) Finals in 2017 and 2018. Having the opportunity to play under the same coach while attending both institutions, graduate August Scherer is one of many players who Goodspeed has shaped both on and off the arena. “It’s an honor to have played under Tom’s leadership for nearly eight years, and there is no doubt he is one of the best arena coaches out there,” Scherer praised. “His love for the sport and dedication to developing polo talent drives him to connect deeply with his players’ skill sets, ambitions and challenges, both on and off the field. He is fiercely competitive yet possesses the patience and tolerance required to attract and develop players across all skill levels.”

Tom Goodspeed speaking. ©Elizabeth Hedley.
Tom Goodspeed speaking. ©Elizabeth Hedley.

“At the team level, Tom takes a strategic and organized approach in evaluating horse strings, fine tuning tack and equipment, analyzing game tapes, and maintaining field awareness with his players to positively modify the strategy throughout a game. He routinely develops challenging drills to improve horsemanship and mallet skills. We are lucky to have him and deeply value his contribution to the sport.”  – August Scherer

A lifelong learner, Goodspeed applies an important idea impressed upon him at the barn as a kid years ago to his coaching approach: never the horse, always the rider. Challenged to learn to ride by playing various horses, he learned to adjust to their individual personalities to be able to get the most out of each one. “What I learned as a coach was the same principal, that every kid is different. Some need to see it, some need to feel it, and some need to read about it,” Goodspeed explained. “There are different learning types so that has really helped me to understand and reach each rider and help them improve.” Attuned to the needs of each of his I/I players, Goodspeed is careful to structure his drills to end on a positive note, starting advanced drills at a high degree of difficulty and working backwards to finish on an easier level. “You want to help them progress, but you don’t want to deflate them. You want to always keep them inspired.”

Regarded across the polo community as an authority on polo training and horse care since the 1980s, Goodspeed developed the passion to pass along and disseminate beneficial information because there was such a limited amount available when he was young. Producing a Polo Basics DVD series as well as numerous other instructional videos and published articles, Goodspeed believes the best way to learn to play polo is by breaking it up into its individual components. “I’ve gotten pretty good at seeing what my players’ weaknesses are so I already have a library of drills to draw from in my head to focus on those weaknesses,” Goodspeed revealed. “I can pinpoint the specific issue and do it in a lot less chukkers.”

Zone 3 NYTS with coach Tom Goodspeed
NYTS Zone 3 celebrates their win with Luis Escobar and Coach Tom Goodspeed (right). ©Elizabeth Hedley

Credited with molding countless young players over the years, Goodspeed has cycled back in the spirit of giving what was given to him. In addition to SMU, he participates in therapeutic riding programs for children with autism and terminal illnesses, noting that it’s a gift to be able to work with them. Sharing his wealth of polo knowledge wherever he travels, Goodspeed not only instills great horsemanship practices but brings out the best in those he impacts.

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