By John Solomon
President of the Croquet Association
I am delighted to have been asked to contribute some thoughts to SWAN and have been given a wide brief. During the winter months some stalwarts continued to play if their clubs still had a court or two open, but many have hung up their mallets and perhaps just merely reflected upon their successes or otherwise during the past season. Probably otherwise, I suspect, since we tend to recall the stupidities that lost us games we felt we should have won. If we know why we lost, we are at least halfway to not doing the same again. I suppose the reason we lose games is either that we played the wrong tactics or we played some bad shots. Tactics are very difficult to deal with in print - the combinations of ball and peg positions are legion and there are also more difficult factors such as the ability of each player, how many bisques are being given or received, the weather, what we had for breakfast, wouldn't a gin and tonic go down well, etc. etc. Technique is a different thing altogether. It is easier to demonstrate on the court but not impossible to describe in print.
I am addressing this particularly to longer bisquers who are struggling to acquire the ability to play many of the shots that have to be played - and played with confidence. I have always found it surprising that so many people, particularly if they are not so young, after two or three years of playing are still unable to rush a ball from one end of the court to the other. I have done a lot of coaching, in this country, South Africa and the U.S. and the first thing I ask my pupils is whether they can rush a ball from one end to the other. Only a few honest people will say they have a problem. The rest attempt to show me and more often than not donít get the object ball more than halfway. I then get them to hit a single ball to the other end and it is surprising how many cannot even do that. So we come down to the swing, and I am rude enough to tell them, though I hope very politely, that until they can rush to the other end of the court I am not going to waste my time, or theirs, on anything else.
Beginners usually have a problem getting power into their strokes because they don't SWING. They bring the mallet back to an angle of perhaps 45 degrees and try to force it forward using their wrists. This is bad technique and tiring. You have to get the mallet to do the work, and to do this you must bring the mallet back so it is at least horizontal. Then the weight of the mallet head will do the work for you. There is a bit more to it than that, because you have to get the right movement of the hands going forward, pulling the head after them, not using the wrists to give the forward movement but just pushing the arms forward, which will make the mallet head follow. You can do this with one hand, playing side stance, and even rush a ball like that to the other end. Earlier last year I was coaching in Florida and at one club had about 20 people lined up at the end of the court. As I went along the line I came to a lady wearing a skirt (or dress) down to her ankles, and fairly tight at that. Having established that she didn't want to play side-stance, I said "Youíll either have to roll it up or take it off". She elected to do the former!
Another matter I would suggest you consider is practice. I have always maintained that friendly games are virtually no practice at all. You will inevitably do some bad shots but in a game you canít play them again, so you donít find out what you did wrong. I would urge you not to play friendlies but to go on the court on your own and practise. When your split, your roll or rush, doesnít go right - play it again, and again, and again until you get it right 3 times running. One hourís practice is worth more than half a dozen friendlies. This of course would make croquet very anti-social if there were 6 to 8 people on the courts (you can easily get two or three people on each court) studiously ignoring each other. But I would urge you to agree with your opponent that you each practise for 30 minutes before you play your game.
An interesting form of practice, even for long bisquers, is to try a
two-ball break. Give yourself a rush to the first hoop from the yard-line
in front of it. You need to rush the ball to about a yard, or even four
feet short of the hoop, and slightly to the side, that is, not dead in
front. The reason for this is that you must approach with a stopshot so
as to send the croqueted ball 4 or 5 yards past the hoop, and it needs
to be directly on the line of the 1st and 2nd hoops,
which you canít do if you are dead in front to start with. Now you must
run the hoop to get a rush to the second. If you run past the other ball
just give up and start again, because the odds on getting position for
the 2nd from so far are very long. If you get a reasonable rush
(something remotely in the right direction) rush it down and approach the
2nd hoop. I would guess that anyone with a handicap in double
figures will need many attempts to make the second hoop but it will give
you good practice at rushing, cut-rushing, and approaching from every different
angle and distance. And remember when approaching the 2nd to
get the croqueted ball on the right side of the hoop so that you might
get a rush to the third. Itís difficult to but itís a challenge and different
and it certainly wonít do you any harm. And each time you get as far as
the 3rd or the 4th or whatever it will be a challenge
for you next time to get further.