James Beim ()James Beim () © Copyright

James Beim: How to be a Number Three

James Beim is captain of the England polo team and plays in a position simply called number three. Polo is played on horses, in teams of three or four and each player has a long wooden mallet to hit the ball and attempt to score a goal. We speak to Beim in Argentina, where the game is hugely popular, about what it takes to takes to be a great number three.

Pass master

"I liken the number three to the fly-half in rugby. He’s the guy that controls the game, passes the ball around and plays with a bit more time. He should have a good brain and be able to spread possession and stay calm. The captain will normally be in the number three position."

Physical attributes

"Being slightly smaller and compact usually helps in all the positions. You also need to be quite strong to manoeuvre the horse. You’ll get an advantage by being a certain size but it’s not the be-all and end-all."

"The number one will be a bit lighter and very quick. Number two is a slightly stronger guy. He’s the crazy one that crashes around and makes holes for the other players. Number three’s size doesn’t matter too much but he’s the guy that controls the game and is the brain of the team. Number four plays at the back and tries to shut the door on the opposition. He’s normally a bit bigger, can hit the ball a long way and could be a bit slower."

Tactical awareness

"As number three and captain, I need to stay calm at all times and be tactically smart. I also need to keep everyone else under control and make sure we’re all on the same page. Team spirit and communication is vital. On the England team we’re all equals but sometimes there can be big personalities in there and you have to keep everyone together. It’s a big playing field so we all have to be vocal and help each other out."

Clingy number two

"If the opposing number two is very good and is always rushing you and putting you under pressure it makes life a lot harder. I’d liken it to rugby again. If the fly-half is playing with a lot of time and spraying the ball around, he’s having a great day. But if the flankers are on him every time he gets the ball, it’s a nightmare. That’s the job of the number two, to really get in that guy’s face. If the number two is disrupting the opposing number three’s game, the ball’s not moving and the whole team’s probably not going in the direction it should be."

Be prepared

We have video sessions a day or two before our games where we watch ourselves from previous games. And we’ll also try and get as much video footage as we can of our next opponent. See which horses they play in which chukkas [periods of play] and try and get as much of an advantage as we can.

Gym work

"You’re riding every day so you try not to tire yourself out when you’re playing two or three games every week. It’s more of a maintenance thing than killing yourself in the gym every day. The kind of gym work I do is core strength, hip flexes and upper-body work on the shoulders. But it’s mainly based around core strength which you engage all the time you are riding."


James Beim ()


Pricey equipment

"You can own your own horses, so you’re your own keeper. It’s expensive but you’ll need your own horse if a team gets rid of you. At the top level, teams have their own team horses so they just bring you in and you play using their horses."

Four-legged training

"Training the horses is like managing players in a football team. You’ve got their fitness to worry about, so you do daily round-the track stuff. You keep on top of them every two days with schooling, which is sharpening up their stop and their turning. And then there are practice matches. And then I work with a horse to concentrate on my own training and skills, rather than focusing on the horse."

Goggle vision

"We wear polo boots, kneepads, helmet and elbow pads. Then you’ve got a stick, a whip and gloves. Your stick might vary a little bit depending on position. You ride with your left hand and have your whip in the left hand and stick in the right hand. You have to swing and hit the ball on your right-hand side."

"Almost every player wears goggles now but I don’t. I’ve tried many times and I know it’s very silly not to, but it affects my vision when I’m playing. If I’m having a bad game I blame it on the goggles and they go very quickly. But I should wear them and I would advise everyone to because they protect you from the ball and from sticks flying around in close contact play."

Horse power

"The top players will get picked up by the top teams and they’ll be the ones with the best horses. Anyone selling horses will go to the top players or teams first because they know they’ll get more money for them. It’s a bit like Formula One, where the best driver is always in the best car, so it’s hard to compete."

Old heads on horses’ shoulders

"Polo’s great as a professional sport for the longevity of the players. You start professionally in adult polo around 16 or 17, if you’re doing well, and if you look after yourself you can play at the top level into your forties. It’s a long career if done properly. As you get older you need to take care of your body to prolong your career as much as you can. I should do more on the nutrition side of things and a lot of the guys do but I’m not as strict on that as I should be."

Not so posh

"A common misconception is that polo isn’t very accessible to the public. It’s linked with the royals but it’s not that difficult to get into and you don’t have to have a massive amount of money if you’re prepared to do the work and put in the hard yards. It’s a sport that anyone can have a go at."


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