Nov 22, 2016 2:20 PM

IMF 2016
Instructors-Managers Forum 2016. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Hedley.

The 2016 Polo Development LLC’s Instructors-Managers Forum (IMF) kicked off last weekend November 13 at the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® Final hosted by the Houston Polo Club in Houston, Texas. Following the championship match, Southwestern Circuit Governor, Paul Jornayvaz, and Governor-at-Large, Steve Armour welcomed the 57 polo instructors and managers. Emmalyn Wheaton captivated the crowd with the story of the recent closing and reopening of the Detroit Polo Club (Detroit, Michigan). Wheaton openly shared the story of Detroit, their ups and downs, and how they are now moving forward.

On Monday everyone met at Jeff Hildebrand’s picturesque Tonkawa Farm in Brookshire, Texas, for a full day of presentations beginning with introductions—sharing what each person could bring to the table. USPA CEO Duncan Huyler greeted people as they entered and also said a few words about the Association before getting things started.

USPA CEO Duncan Huyler speaks at the 2016 Instructors-Managers Forum. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Hedley.
USPA CEO Duncan Huyler speaks at the 2016 Instructors-Managers Forum. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Hedley.

The first day of presentations and workshops began with a panel discussion featuring industry professionals offering a wide range of expertise. The panel was comprised of Houston Polo Club’s Mark Prinsloo, responsible for the Step-Up program; Santa Barbara Polo Club's Manager Melanja Jones (Santa Barbara, California); Emmalyn Wheaton of the newly revitalized Detroit Polo Club; David Brooks, owner/operator of Triangle Area Polo Club (Hurdle Mills, North Carolina), the only polo club in North Carolina; Lindsey Chronert, San Diego Polo Club’s event guru (San Diego, California); and Newport Polo Club’s Dan Keating, who has spent the last 24 years breathing life into the historical club in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. With the panel member’s breadth of knowledge about the polo community, participants took home information on promoting a club, growing a polo school, creating a business plan, and received advice on problems facing many polo clubs today.

In the afternoon, Adam Rieck of Addison Law Firm highlighted a few of the key legal challenges encountered at polo clubs. Rieck, who specializes in country club and membership law, is a polo player in Dallas, Texas. His exposure to the many facets of a club combined with his knowledge of polo made him an invaluable resource to participants. This was followed by a presentation from Cristina Fernandez and Summer Keeney, members of the USPA Services Marketing Team. Fernandez and Keeney walked the participants through ways to create and maintain a digital presence for clubs, how to promote an event through digital media and reviewed how the USPA can help market and promote clubs effectively.

After a full day of presentations and a wealth of information, the horses came out for Interactive Teaching. Participants had the opportunity to share polo knowledge with their peers in 15-minute mini lessons that mimic the CPI process. As each instructor taught their lessons they received feedback from their peers, including Certified Polo Instructors, on how to adapt to the format, improve their teaching skills and pointers to help each instructor bring something new home to their polo club.

David Ragland with Devan Groves and Espanta Steppe
Great Plains Circuit Governor David Ragland with Devan Groves and Espanta Steppe of OKC Polo Club in Jones, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Hedley.

Tuesday began with an encore of Dan Keating’s 2015 presentation about the Newport Polo Club, where he shared his experiences with reviving the historical club and how he made the business work for him. Keating hammered home his many points, by being honest about his experiences. He supported his talk by sharing information about I/I, spectator numbers, and general club statistics. Since reviving the club in 1992, Newport has seen nearly 500,000 spectators come through their gates.

After Keating’s speech, the participants were broken up into smaller groups that rotated through breakout sessions including Corporate Sponsorships with Houston’s Tammy Beeson; the Importance of Business Plans with David Brooks; and Structuring the Houston Polo School’s Step-Up model. This smaller scale setting gave participants the opportunity to have a much more hands on approach with each presenter. Beeson gave many examples of how to identify potential sponsors, how to package and pitch sponsorship deals and most importantly how to keep current sponsors happy by maximizing the value of their sponsorship. Rather than a “one size fits all” approach when reaching out to sponsors Beeson stressed the success of Houston’s sponsorship program due to the building of strong individual relationships. Brooks covered the difficult, yet essential, topic of creating a business plan and setting achievable goals for a polo club. In the final rotation, Prinsloo and Megan Flynn explained the successful Step-Up model, and went into depth on each of the steps and how it generates better players.

Instructors-Managers Forum 2016 Wall of Fame David Brooks and Dan Keating. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Hedley.
Instructors-Managers Forum 2016 Wall of Fame Inductees David Brooks and Dan Keating presented by Polo Development, LLC Executive Director Kris Bowman and Great Plains Circuit Governor David Ragland. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Hedley.

After breaking for lunch, Melanja Jones, Polo Manager at Santa Barbara Polo Club, stressed the importance of clear communication and how properly managing club members can lead to the success or shortcoming of a club. Jones also reminded everyone to figure out who you work for—each polo club is structured differently and much more can be accomplished if you first identify your boss. Next up was I/I Tournament Coordinator, Emily Dewey, who led the group through the many programs and opportunities available through Intercollegiate/Interscholastic Polo, citing specific examples in the room of players who had advanced through the program and were now active in the polo world. After another long day, everyone took to the ERG and Isla Carroll arenas for more interactive teaching, before having dinner at ERG during Houston Polo Club’s Interscholastic team practice.

Wednesday morning brought everyone together for some closing words about the process and importance of goal setting before participants rotated breakout sessions. There were four tracks for the breakout sessions: Player Performance Analysis, Club Polo 101, Ask the Expert and Club Marketing. Each track had four sessions, so participants could pick and choose as to which session would be most pertinent to their club. The breakout sessions gave everyone the opportunity to go into depth about their chosen area and allowed for hands-on exercises and questions to guide the conversation.

As Instructors-Managers Forum wrapped up, many participants thanked the Polo Development Team for organizing the event. The combination of enthusiasm from new attendees and IMF regulars was fantastic to see and indicated that everyone took something new and exciting back to their home club. The underlying message from each presentation intertwined the core Polo Development programs (Club Development, Intercollegiate/Interscholastic and Player Development) each offering their assistance to the participants. This year’s Instructors-Managers Forum had the feeling of a club barn. Participants had a chance to sit together and chat about their polo knowledge, learning from those more experienced and sharing with those who needed advice. These relationships along with open communication will strengthen the polo community and grow the sport for all involved.