Jan 30, 2018 7:39 PM

Image of polo umpire on horse.

I had the pleasure of participating in the USPA Umpires LLC, Umpire Boot Camp, held at the Eldorado Polo Club in Indio, California, from January 18-21. This boot camp is a concentrated training program with the goal of honing the skills of USPA umpires certified C and above. The training takes place in several modes: classroom rules review, discussion of participants’ umpiring experiences, field-side commentary by professional umpires at actual matches and mounted umpiring. Graciously, the USPA covers all expenses associated with the clinic except travel to and from the clinic location.

At Eldorado Polo Club, there was no shortage of matches to umpire. Located on a desert plane at the foot of snowcapped mountains, this club boasts 10 beautifully groomed polo fields and stabling for 500 horses. During my stay it appeared as if there were near-constant 8 and 4-goal games scheduled.

In attendance at this clinic were Ricardo Marcos Bignoli, Peter Blake, Dirk Gould, Dan Juarez, Ted Oakie, John Westley and myself. The polo experience of these individuals ranged from several years to several decades, with some player handicaps reaching the high mark of 6-goals, along with USPA Umpires Fergus Gould, Darrell Schwetz and Ka’aina DeCoite.

The first two days of this Umpire Boot Camp were class-intensive. We were already familiar with the 2017 USPA rules, so we jumped right into the changes for 2018.

We also reviewed video clips from past games. First we watched the video at normal (real-time) speed. Steve then asked us if we saw a foul, by whom, and worthy of what penalty and ball placement. After we had committed ourselves, we replayed the video to determine what actually happened. This second time we watched it in slow motion. Better yet, we were sometimes able to see the same play from different camera angles. This sometimes-humbling experience helped clarify our interpretation of the rules, and it underscored the importance of proper umpire positioning on the field. More subtly, it also demonstrated the nature of ideal vision for an umpire. Rather than concentrate exclusively on a developing play, the experienced umpire takes in a broader perspective. The experienced umpire also notes who is in the vicinity, where they are headed, and how they might affect the play.

On the second day, after our classwork, we observed how the pros did it. We huddled with Steve on the sideline as two USPA Umpire, LLC members officiated an 8-goal match. Steve commented on the developing plays as well as on the appropriate umpire response. Following the game, we debriefed the pros to learn their perspective on the various calls, and non-calls.

The third and fourth days of this clinic were spent umpiring on the field. We were assigned games and paired with Umpires LLC Professional Umpires. An invaluable perk in this experience for us non-pros is the radio headset these pros provide. We communicated in a normal speaking voice 75 yards apart, galloping down the field. When appropriate, the pros might coach us on our positioning, or confirm a prospective call. Ball placement after a whistle could also be quickly resolved. I can’t speak highly enough of Umpires LLC, Professional Umpires. They were incredibly supportive.

All of us who took the Umpire Boot Camp clinic did it to become better. For me, personally, because I have fewer years of experience than many of my colleagues, the Umpire Boot Camp was extremely helpful. But, while there, I could see in my colleagues’ eyes that what I’m about to say also applies to them.

With the right opportunity and a lot of practice, every one of us can become an expert. For one person, it might be to play at catcher in the major league. For another, it might be to earn a 9-goal handicap. But hidden danger lurks in expertise. We might forget that expertise is not necessarily transferrable. A catcher may not be any good at pitching, and even worse as manager. Just because you’re a 9-goal player, that doesn’t mean you know how to umpire. It requires humility, commitment and determination for an expert to step back into the shoes of a student. That is one thing all of us students at the Umpire Polo Boot Camp shared. We went there to become better umpires. For each of us, in some way, we learned that the ballpark is much larger than the infield.

Ricardo Barros is a professional photographer with a USPA umpire rating of C. His website is