Managing and Motivating....el Profesor
It was probably inevitable that Christopher Kiesel would take up polo. Born in Jos, Nigeria, in a mission hospital that bordered directly onto a polo field and spending a childhood of long sunny afternoons at the Kaduna Polo Club, the game was seeping into his system, from the onset. As he says, "I didn't stand a chance". At 10 years of age he realised he had instructor qualities when he introduced bicycle polo to his German boarding school, teaching both staff and students and taking over the basketball court for some rather enthusiastic games.
However, nothing can beat field polo and Chris was able to play and improve his handicap @bavaria.polo.club and later at the club established by his family, @poloclublandsberg-ammersee. He discovered he really enjoyed helping others into the game, and so took a leap, traveling to the UK to get his HPA instructor's qualification @beaufortpoloclub. With instructors including well-known players such as Claire Tomlinson and David Morely, the course covered all the usual topics: riding, swing, rules, tactics etc, but what fascinated Chris was the psychology behind the coaching. He explains, "First being able to see a student's problem or difficulty, and then to find the solution". This is his challenge, and this is his focus.
There was an opportunity to stay on at Beaufort but Chris chose to take off for a season in New Zealand working for and playing with a high-goal player there.
Back in Germany a call came from Thomas Winter with an offer of a position as instructor at @win_poloschule, a large polo school in Hamburg. Arriving in Hamburg with sun-bleached dreadlocks and the remnants of a South Pacific suntan, it was clear that Chris would attract the young budding players. In fact, he remembers a highlight of his Hamburg time was taking a team of teenagers to the German Low Goal Championships in Berlin 2010 and getting into the finals. "It took the experienced opposition into an extra 5th chukker to work out our game plan and counter it with the golden goal", says Chris, with a wry smile. "The kids were devastated, but really they had done so well". It's encouraging for him to see that these kids are now among Germany's best players.
In 2011, Chris moved back south and to Switzerland where he took on the position of manager-trainer at Polo Bern. The club was wanting to expand and move from its temporary location and Chris was to help set this in motion. The move took much longer than expected, but he was building up a strong base of players and establishing the club's reputation for enjoyable, well-organised low goal tournaments. 2019 saw the big move of horses, equipment and staff to the new facilities. Chris is thrilled with the way this has worked out. "The field is a good size, with room for plenty of pony lines, has great turf quality and a breathtaking backdrop of the Swiss Alps. I just love the arena", he says, referring to the expertly-built riding arena. "It's a huge highlight and makes sure we can always work the horses. The stables are light and airy so that on really hot days they remain cool. We finally have a cosy club house, and the terrace is a great spot to watch the sun go down and take part in the usual after-chukker chat". This is all part of the master-plan, establishing a club with a friendly, sport-orientated atmosphere. So too are the 3 fun tournaments Polo Bern offers during the season. "A chance for our new players to get a taste of tournament excitement; a motivating first step before entering more competitive polo", explains Chris, and adds with a grin, "It's also a great reason to put on an asado". For 2021, Covid permitting, Polo Bern is to provide a Ladies Tournament for the first time. The Berner Polo Trophy, which has been in the SPA calendar since 2007, will also be played for as the Swiss Low Goal Championship.
All polo players have a stack of special moments and memories. Chris enjoys looking back with pride to playing on Field One in Palermo, Buenos Aires, two years in a row. "It was thrilling to see my name up on the scoreboard", he laughs. "But I was really nervous before the first game and wondered into the opposition's tent. They were not too pleased or very welcoming". A very special memory was when, at 17, he traveled with his Dad back to Nigeria to visit Kaduna and play in a tournament in Jos. The argument as to whether he would be handicapped as a foreign player was settled by an emotional statement from Major Ibraham Abdulaihi, "What are you all arguing about? Chris was born here! He's a son of the soil". Chris says he still tears up when he looks at the silver cup presented to him with its inscription: "Welcome back home, Christopher". Does he have any memories of special horses? "Masses", he answers, from a favourite Nigerian pony, Danda, on which he learned to ride, to a pony of classic perfection lent to him in Palermo. Sugar Babe, bought at 2 from the racetrack, was the best horse he 'made' himself. At present his star is Minette, a Moroccan-bred mare, a favourite, with whom he cosily spent his lockdown Christmas Eve 2020 (see photo below).
"Plans for the future, Chris?", I ask. The immediate future will be determined by the pandemic, but he's had a few requests for various tournaments both in Germany and Switzerland. However, the fascination for polo instruction hasn't faded. He's given courses in Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Argentina and Largovia Polo Club in Switzerland, as well as his regular courses in Bern. Now, he wants to take these lessons to the next level, working with video analysis. He has invested in a video tracking system to give a more professional feedback for players, both experienced or beginner, who want more detail about their swing or riding. "It can be used for field tactics too, an aide in managing and motivating a team."
Thanks, Chris for this chat. Tell me, if you're not on the polo field, where would I find you?
"On the water, riding those waves"
Ah yes, of course...... I should have known.