This is Leila Chang (The Yale Polo women's team captain on leadership and balancing life as a student athlete)
We are extremely proud to outfit the talented men and women of Yale Polo. We met the women's team at a recent match in Cambridge, Massachusetts and chatted with team captain, Leila Chang, about being a leader and balancing life as a student athlete.
Rowing Blazers: How many years have you been playing polo? Did any of your family members play polo?
Leila Chang: I started playing polo at Yale as a freshman, so I've been playing for almost four years now. Though I'd grown up riding, it was a new sport for me and for my family; none of them were polo-players or riders!
RB: Do you plan on continuing your polo career after college?
LC: I do! I'm moving to D.C. for work after graduation; I really hoped I'd end up there, because I knew it meant I'd be able to continue playing. There's a lovely club about an hour out of the city called Seneca Polo, and I'm excited to spend my weekends there.
RB: What are your hobbies and interests outside of polo?
LC: I enjoy hiking and collecting old books. More recently I've been getting into cooking, which is probably good because I won't be able to eat at a dining hall after I graduate this spring!
RB: What is the best piece of advice you have received?
LC: "Think fast, swing slow." I try to remember this whenever we're in a particularly intense game. It reminds me that it's important to compartmentalize my actions: some things can be rushed, but others can't.
RB: Do you have any advice for college athletes like yourself who may be struggling to balance athletics, academics, and a social life?
LC: Sometimes you just can't do it all, and need to prioritize certain things over others - and that's okay! The key is to communicate with the people who depend on you - your teammates, your professors, and your friends - so that they understand what's going on, and can adjust accordingly.
RB: Do you have a particular match that you remember or that stands out to you?
LC: The women's team won both of its matches at prelims a few weeks ago, qualifying to go to Regionals this March. This hasn't happened in a long time (moving on from prelims), and it was so, so special to do it with three seniors on the team - all of whom starting playing polo their first year at Yale.
RB: What is your greatest accomplishment in your polo career?
LC: Probably Yale's win against Cambridge at Atlantic Cup last year. We were playing outdoor at Myopia, which put us at a disadvantage; unlike Cambridge, we play arena polo during the school year. With just a minute left in the game and a 1-goal lead, everyone was on edge - I could really tell how bad we wanted the win. That game is also special because I played Little Bit, one of my favorite ponies in our string. She's tiny, and was dwarfed by the other horses. But she gave me everything for two full chukkers - it was like riding a speedy little Vespa, weaving in and out of the fray.
RB: Do you have any pre-match rituals?
LC: The women's team travels quite a bit during the playing season; we've become pretty close thanks to these road-trips! About ten minutes out from the match site, we usually start listening to Tove Lo (the one artist we all like) and get into our game-time mindset.
RB: Tell us about being a captain. How do you display your leadership? How do you think this will help you outside of polo?
LC: One of the things I've been taught is that communication is everything: a good team that communicates can beat a great team that doesn't. This is especially true when you have six horses and riders in the arena - sometimes it's hard to just keep track of where the ball is! I remind myself to talk constantly on the field, and encourage my teammates to do the same.
RB: Describe the relationship between the polo player and the horse. Is there a certain bond between the athlete and the animal? Is it ever difficult to place your trust in the horse?
LC: The team spends a lot of time riding, grooming, and feeding the Yale ponies; I think it's fair to say that we understand each horse as an individual. MiChica's a prima donna, Spike is goofy and good-hearted - so on and so forth. Because we know so much about them, it's easy to trust them. We know their quirks, so we know what to anticipate. Riding other teams' horses requires a leap of faith, but we usually trust that other teams won't ask us to ride anything unsafe.
RB: Is there any specific quote or piece of advice you give your teammates as captain? Do you have a team slogan or motto?
LC: During our pre-match huddle, we remind ourselves to play the first chukker like it's the last - in other words, to go into the start of the game with as much energy and momentum as we have at the end. Scoring a couple of quick goals in the first few minutes can decide the game - this is how we made it out of prelims!
Photos by Abhi Chandra