“If you are healthy, you can play 10 or 15 years at the top level. I want to enjoy them, to feel good while playing. Even if I have won a few tournaments already, I feel like I can always improve, play better, do better. I want to be more positive and a better teammate.” – Facundo Pieres
Currently ranked as the number one player in the world in the wake of his stellar performance in the USPA Gold Cup and U.S. Open Polo Championship, most would assume that Facundo Pieres is bubbling with pride as a result of this massive success. Yet, Pieres has remained extremely humble, attributing many of his recent accomplishments to big life and attitude changes he’s made over the past year and a half.
CLICKPOLOUSA sat down with Pieres to understand the epiphany he had to make important life changes as well as what his new mindset is moving forward to make sure he enjoys every moment out on the field.
How does it feel to find success in the U.S. again?
“Sporting wise, I am happy that we won. Personally, this was very important, as I have worked very hard and had to find a way to feel good with my performance. I worked hard, and was comfortable with the team, with Matias Torres Zavaleta and Mackenzie Weisz, as I already knew Curtis Pilot. I enjoyed it, as we played well and the team worked out. We got along, and our goals aligned. We wanted to do well and to win, and to do anything necessary. When you go through that, you have a good time, and good results help.”
You said you felt good with your performance. You’re Facundo Pieres… a top player. How can you not feel satisfied with your performance?
“I felt that I could do a lot better than I was, that I needed to change something. I wasn’t very comfortable the last year and a half. I knew I could play better, both in Argentina and overseas. My confidence was low, and that hurts your skill. Bad results don’t help either.”
Pieres led all GAUNTLET competitors with 112 total goals across three 22-goal tournaments.
What did you change about yourself or your mindset?
“I looked deeply at myself, knowing that I wasn’t comfortable and needed to change many things. I had to change my point of view and my mindset towards tournaments, teams and teammates. Once I realized I wasn’t doing well, I was able to start over and work it out with some help from psychologists and coaching as well as talking a lot with friends and family. People who know me and could tell me more about what they thought. It was a mental block. I wasn’t depressed, but I did feel that I wasn’t at my best. That if I didn’t do anything in the next 15 years, I would not be content after my retirement. It doesn’t mean I’m done, but I have started the process of changing and am trying to remain conscious of those things. I know that there are a lot of things to change and improve. I hope it can help me stay at a good level in the next 10 years.”
Were the goals of these changes to win more, or to feel better with yourself?
“The goal was to enjoy things more and win. You always have a better time when you win. You need to have a strong mindset and enjoy the game to win. If you don’t enjoy the game, it’s more difficult to win. Everything plays into it. Essentially, I needed to gain my confidence back to enjoy the sport more and to feel like myself and that I can be the best and win tournaments. I know that I have, hopefully, 10 more years of play. If you are healthy, you can play 10 or 15 years at the top level. I want to enjoy them, to feel good while playing. Even if I have won a few tournaments already, I feel like I can always improve, play better, do better. I want to be more positive and a better teammate. I try to keep pushing forward. This year we had a good season, good teammates and we won. We played well and our horses were good. Everything worked out.”
“On the day of the U.S. Open’s final, outside of Curtis Pilot, I was the oldest man on the field. I don’t think that had ever happened to me before, ever.” – Facundo Pieres
You hadn’t won outside of Argentina in a couple years, so you were clearly happy to win again. Were you ever afraid of not winning?
“I did think that if things stayed the same, everything would be more difficult. Knowing that the Castagnolas, Poroto Cambiaso, Luckitas Criado, Juan Monteverde, Vizcacha MacDonough, Rufino Bensadon and others are coming up… there are a lot of under-20 kids who are amazing, the future of polo. I always felt that I was ‘the young one’ on the team, but I’m already 35 years old. On the day of the U.S. Open’s final, outside of Curtis Pilot, I was the oldest man on the field. I don’t think that had ever happened to me before, ever. I thought it was time to let my experience play its part. However, if I didn’t make a change, I might still have won some tournaments, but it would have been more difficult and I would not have enjoyed any of it. Some 20-year-olds are amazing, so if we who are older don’t work hard, they’ll absolutely outshine us.”
Can you name any specific changes you have made?
“I haven’t really changed, I’m in the process of changing. We won, we enjoyed the games and the team did well. I had a good time with my teammates, they were great people and amazing players…that helped a lot. Curtis and I have an amazing relationship, having worked together for years. It all helps, but I did want to be a better teammate. I saw that I wasn’t enjoying the game as much, and I didn’t realize I was spending more time in a bad mood than in a good mood. You can tell on the field, you get mad at everything, and every little thing annoys you. You get bad results and scoff at your teammates. Some conversations I’ve had, with close friends and confidants, helped me realize that the problem could start with me, and it was better to work on oneself. The rest doesn’t matter. That’s the most important, trying to make sure your teammates find you in a good mood, happy, enjoying the game and doing well. You help the team. It always happens to us, too, being the captain or the reference. It is important that your teammates have a good time playing with you.”
Do you think that horses are the most important factor in polo? Or are there other things you think factor into finding success on the field?
“Everything plays a part. Horses are essential, but everything else also matters. It is a team sport, we have four players on every field. It’s a lot more difficult to get results if all four players aren’t doing well, especially in Argentina. I’d say horses are about 70% of the sport. Pilot did well because we had great horses. I worked hard to have great mares, including Open Candy Kiss, Open Azarenka, Mega Espia… all mares I didn’t have here last year and that helped me win this year.”
Currently competing in the Justerini & Brooks Prince of Wales Trophy in England, Pieres hopes to continue his success into the 2022 Argentine season.
It is impossible not to talk about the Argentine season. Could these changes mean a better Ellerstina this year?
“If all players are feeling good, confident and have good motivation, the team works. I feel that Ellerstina will always be fighting for the top, due to our organization and the team we have. We have details to polish and to work on to make a perfect team. Ellerstina was almost perfect in 2020, and we want to feel like that again. Last year was very odd, Hilario was injured, then Nico was injured. We only played six chukkers together, so that makes it harder. And even then, we still won the Tortugas Open.”
How would a game between the 2020 Ellerstina team and the 2021 La Natividad team go?
“It’d be very close… La Natividad, especially after the Hurlingham semis and into Palermo, had a great tournament, but Ellerstina was at that level in 2020. We always trust our horses a lot. Being able to make it that far, playing at that level…with the horses we have, that’s our goal. Getting to the Palermo semifinals and finals with our best horses, and playing well. I have faith, the team is strong. Hilario had an amazing season in the U.S. Nico has been recovering. This season will be a close one, very close. However, doing things properly, organizing ourselves and making sure our horses are fit and proper, I think Ellerstina has a strong chance.”
Pieres sporting a patch on his helmet through the GAUNTLET competition to show support for Corchito Zavaleta’s recovery.
How did Corchito Zavaleta’s accident play into your season?
“It was something else that happened in the middle of the season that was quite tough to deal with. We’ve been close friends since we were young. Seeing what happened, the first few days especially when we didn’t know how long it’d last, it was horrible. On the other hand, we tried to remain positive, knowing that he’s 35 years old and that his body can do it. That is happening now. The first 10 days were awful, we visited him every day and nothing was changing, but we slowly started to see improvement. The last week and a half, he’s been a lot better, improving. And we are certain that he’s got the best care possible.”
Are you happy with the changes you’ve made in your mindset?
“I don’t think it’s over yet. I felt good this season, comfortable on and off the field, and I think I played at a high level again. But most importantly, I felt good on the field again and confident that I could beat anyone. I hadn’t been having that feeling. I need to keep working on it, to keep improving, working hard, getting horses and many other things. Even then, I may or may not win. I will keep trying as hard as I can to keep performing for hopefully 15 years.”
All photos courtesy of ©David Lominska.