Beginners' Coaching Notes 1
A brief outline of the game and some simplified rules can be found in the document An introduction to Association Croquet.
Croquet is a race between two sides each of whom has a pair of balls. The course consists of six hoops (see figure below) through which each ball must pass in each direction along a predefined route starting at hoop 1. At the end of the route is the peg and a ball finishes its circuit when it is finally knocked against the peg. The first side to peg-out both its balls is the winner.
The turns, which alternate between the two sides, consist initially of a single stroke. If however the player is successful in hitting their ball through its next hoop in the correct direction or hitting another ball on the court they are entitled to extra strokes. During a turn consisting of a number of strokes the striker can only strike the ball with which they started the turn (the striker's ball).
If a player hits their ball through their next hoop (runs a hoop) in the correct direction, they become entitled to play a continuation stroke after the hoop. With this continuation stroke they could possibly run their next hoop or hit another ball. If a player strikes their ball so that it hits another ball on the court (roquets a ball) the player gains two extra stokes; the first is called the croquet stroke where the striker's ball is carried to where the ball it struck came to rest and placed in contact. The striker's ball is struck again with the balls in contact and both balls displaced. Following the croquet stroke a continuation stroke is played on the striker's ball from where it came to rest. A player may roquet the other three balls on the court once every turn, unless they run their next hoop in order, in which case they can roquet the other balls once again.
The sequence is Roquet - Croquet - Continuation
By playing a succession of roquets, croquet strokes and hoop runs a skilful player makes a break and can take one ball all the way around the course in a single turn. A turn could consist of up to 91 consecutive strokes. During a turn however the striker must only strike the ball with which they started the turn.
When a player fails to roquet or run their next hoop their turn finishes and it is the opponent's turn.
The layout of the lawn is shown below.
The progress of the balls is indicated by coloured clips placed on the hoops to indicate which colour ball is for that hoop. The clip is placed on the horizontal of the hoop if the ball is on its first circuit or on the upright for the second circuit.
These notes start by introducing the components of the game and then how a game is played and techniques for making many hoops in a single turn.
Single ball strokes are used for running hoops and roqueting balls.
It is strongly recommended that beginners are deliberately given a mallet and some balls and told to knock them around without any initial demonstration whatsoever. If a demonstration is given the students will emulate the grip and stance of the 'expert' which may be uncomfortable and give poor results. The emphasis is that 'what comes naturally' is probably the best grip.
General points to be noted early on however are that the grip on the mallet should be one such that if it is tightened the mallet should not rotate. Secondly the players should adopt a stance with good balance; there should be no undue leaning forward. The position of the feet should be checked to ensure that the mallet can be drawn fully back without hitting an ankle or foot. If the player adopts a stance with one foot back and one forward, the foot at the back should be on the same side as the lower hand on the mallet shaft. If it is otherwise the hand hits the thigh of the forward leg limiting the swing.
There is no correct grip other than the one that is chosen should be comfortable and the mallet should not twist if the grip is tightened. The basic families of grips are described below. People have their own variants such as having a thumb over the end of the shaft and also there is a preference for different lengths of mallet shafts and head weights. The height at which the mallet is gripped differs with the type of stroke and personal preference.
These notes are written for right handed people.
Stalking is the act of walking up to the ball to be struck along the line in which you wish to hit it. Stalking is ESSENTIAL. Its purpose is to get the feet correctly positioned and the body aligned with the direction of the stroke every single time. The shoulders and hips should be perpendicular to the direction of the aim. The only way to hit consistently is to always start a stroke with your body in the same position.
Stalking should commence about six foot behind the ball giving a few paces so that you can arrange to come to position with the ball approximately 1/2"-1" in front of your mallet and your nose approximately above the back of the ball.
Once you have adopted the stance you can lift your head to check the line of the shot, check that the mallet head is precisely aligned along the direction of aim and then the head is lowered and you concentrate on the swing and hitting the ball right in its centre.
During the swing you must keep your head down and not lift it until after the ball has been struck. It is one of the most frequent reasons for missing a roquet - the head comes up too early, moving the shoulders and spoiling the shot.
The mallet is swung mainly from the shoulders, not the wrists, giving you a long pendulum. This is important. It maximises the energy which can be put into a stroke and means that the wrists do not move excessively. Since the wrists are solely supporting the mallet the mallet can be held gently, preventing it from being twisted. The mallet should not be swung using the lower hand to waft the mallet forwards, or worse, swung by pushing one hand forward and the other back. Keep the body almost still and draw the mallet back. The body should be relaxed with the legs not locked - the body needs to move to keep your balance. Keeping your eye on the back of the ball allow the mallet to come forward mainly at its own speed but gently accelerating it to get the strength of the shot. If you attempt to force the mallet forward or jerk it, your grip will tighten and the shot will be spoilt.
Your intent is to swing the mallet through the back of the ball, hitting it at the lowest part of the swing, and then follow through with the mallet. After the instant of hitting and during the follow through, the mallet no longer wants to swing in an arc but should travel parallel to the ground for a foot or so. Think of it as following the ball.
The whole swing should be smooth and graceful.
Demonstration: Hold a mallet with one hand and demonstrate that a ball can be hit (very) hard if the mallet is swung from the shoulder. The energy of the stroke is due to the length of the pendulum.
Practice: Partners knocking balls at each other's mallets. Identify and assist those with co-ordination problems. Watch out for people who hold the top of the mallet in one stationary hand and waft the head using the lower hand - they will not get enough power on a heavy lawn. Also discourage people from lunging or jerking their bodies at the moment of impact.
A rush is a roquet where the striker's ball hits another ball with the intention of driving that ball a distance. In a game a rush is used to move the 'scene of the action' from where the roquet takes place to a more useful position where the subsequent croquet stroke is played. This could well be at the other end of the lawn following a good rush. (Remember the sequence is roquet - croquet - continuation stroke).
For a rush the target ball should be not more than a couple of feet from the striker's ball for any accuracy.
Demonstration: Rush from the boundary in front of hoop 1 and indicate that the striker's ball would be picked up and a croquet stroke played at the destination.
Demonstration: Demonstrate a good and a bad straight rush. In a bad straight rush the back ball continues to move once it has hit the forward one, stealing energy from the stroke. (To force a bad rush hit down on the back ball).
To achieve a good rush the striker's ball must be hit sharply, or 'stunned'. The recipe is the same as for the croquet stop shot discussed later.
The mallet is held near the top of the shaft, the striker stands a little further back than normal (1"-2") but still presents the mallet 1/2"-1" from the back of the ball. This causes the toe of the mallet to be slightly lifted and the heel resting on the ground.
The stroke is a stun - the mallet is brought smartly to the striker's ball and arrested in its motion as soon as the ball is struck. There is no follow through. Some people ground the mallet after the hit; others stop the mallet with their wrists. The idea is to give a punch to the striker's ball causing it to skid, not roll, over the grass and hit the target ball. You do not want the back ball to pick up any top spin before it hits the target ball. In a good stop shot the back ball comes to a halt as soon as it hits the forward ball rather like those in a Newton's Cradle.
Practice: Partners rush ball to each other's mallets standing 6 foot apart. Encourage them to play soft stop shots or time will be wasted collecting balls. If people have problems with the balls jumping on collision this is normally caused by the person hitting down on the striker's ball. They either stand too far forward or rock forward during the stroke.
The cut rush is where the target ball is struck deliberately off centre to drive it to the left or right. To get the correct aiming line use a third (phantom) croquet ball in contact with the target ball with both their centres lying along the desired rush line. The striker's ball must be aimed at the centre of the phantom ball to get the correct direction.
Demonstration: Line up a cut rush with a phantom ball in place, remove the phantom ball and play the stroke. Point out that only practice will let them discover the strength needed for different cut angles and distances.
Practice: Partners playing cut rushes in the direction of some fixed item such as a hoop.
Contest: Starting with a ball on the corner one spot see who can use the least number of consecutive rushes to drive a target ball into contact with hoop one (takes about 10-15 minutes with four people).
The hoops in croquet are 1/8" wider than the balls, i.e. 1/16" clearance on either side of the ball. Consequently a hoop stroke needs to be accurate. Stalking is ESSENTIAL for a hoop stroke. There is only a very narrow cone of acceptance (~13°) in which a ball can approach a hoop and pass through it without colliding with the uprights of the hoop. The secret to running hoops from all angles is to give the striker's ball plenty of top spin and not hit it too hard. Even if the ball encounters an upright and is briefly arrested its spin will pull the ball through the hoop.
From the discussion on rushing above we do NOT want to stun or punch the ball at a hoop, this will make it skid rather than roll. It needs to be played with a smooth stroke where the mallet keeps a constant velocity throughout the hitting and 'licks' the ball through the hoop. Follow-through is essential and it is useful to continue swinging the mallet through to almost hit the crown of the hoop - this gives plenty of top spin.
A smooth steady stroke with plenty of follow through is needed for successful hoop running.
A hoop is run when the front of the ball can be touched by a straight edge raised vertically against the non-playing side of the hoop. A ball completes the running of a hoop where the back of the ball cannot be touched by a straight edge raised vertically against the playing side of the hoop. The diagram below illustrates this.
The playing side of a hoop is the side that the ball enters the hoop. To have run a hoop no part of the ball must project outside the plane defined by the uprights on the playing side of the hoop.
Demonstration: Running hoops from angles. Show that a hard shot will fail whilst a gentle shot will work more often.
Practice: Pairs either side of a hoop, running it straight on.
Discourage people from playing the stroke from more than 2 foot away from the hoop. Avoid them practising on hoop one - everyone chooses this hoop and it suffers. Do not breathe a word about jump shots at this stage! If some people find hoop running very easy, challenge them to run the hoop to the same distance behind the hoop as they started the stroke from, whilst you sort out people with problems.
Running a hoop from an angle requires lots to top spin and very careful aiming. You must aim such that the outside edge of the ball just misses the inside edge of the first hoop upright it encounters. Consider a ball lying to the right of a hoop it wants to run. The right hand edge of the ball must just miss the inside edge of the right hand upright.
Practice: Arrange balls in a clock face around a hoop between 1-2 feet from the hoop. Players try to run the hoop from different angles and distances.
In a croquet stroke the striker's ball is placed in contact with the roqueted ball, then the striker's ball is struck again. The roqueted ball, now known as the croqueted ball, must at least move or shake during the croquet stroke.
The relative distances that the striker's and croqueted balls move are determined by the type of croquet stroke. This is controlled by holding the mallet at different positions down the shaft, the amount of follow through and the angle at which the mallet hits the ball relative to the ground.
Demonstration: Set up 5 pairs of balls and demonstrate the stop, drive, roll, pass-roll and take-off strokes to show the ratios the balls travel.
The mallet is held as for a single ball shot. The balls are placed in contact in line and the rear ball is struck along the lines of the centres. The balls will generally travel in a distance ratio of 3:1 to 5:1.
Practice: Gentle croquet strokes are tried and the ratio noted. Hard strokes waste time as the balls have to be recovered.
In the stop shot the croqueted ball travels a relatively long way and the striker's ball a short distance. Ratios of 7:1 to 10:1 can be achieved. The stop shot gives a great deal of control over the position of the back ball. Note that you are NOT allowed to put your foot on a ball in croquet stroke.
The recipe for a stop shot is the same as for a rush: Stand back - mallet face elevated - no follow through:
Demonstration: A short stop shop
Practice: Pairs standing 6 foot apart stop a ball to each other's mallet. Discourage long stop shots as they waste time and are more difficult to play.
The roll shot is where both balls in the croquet stroke travel approximately the same distance. Indeed it is possible to make the back ball travel farther than the front, a pass roll, provided that they are travelling along different paths! There are three actions which cause the back ball to catch up with the forward ball:
By implementing all of these you will get a pass roll, by relaxing one or two you will get a full roll.
The recipe for a roll shot is the complete inverse of that for a stop shot. Holding the mallet can pose a problem - the following is a suggestion. (The description is for right handed people. People who have difficulty crouching can play the stroke in other ways).
Stand with both palms upward and your thumbs pointing out with the mallet shaft lying across your palms; your right hand should be very close to the mallet head. Grip the shaft with your right hand and drop your right hand so that the mallet face is behind the striker's ball (see photo). Your left hand can be anywhere comfortable between your ear and the grass and does not have to grip the shaft. The left hand just stops the shaft knocking your spectacles off! The shaft does not have to be vertical. All the work in the shot is done by the right hand. You stand or crouch over the balls, hit down on the striker's ball at an angle of around 45° and follow through strongly. The stroke can be played centre style or side style as is comfortable.
Demonstration: Show a one-handed pass roll where the mallet is held right by the head and the striker's ball is punched sharply at an angle of 45° into the ground. (Lean the shaft on the elbow of the left arm). State that this is only a demonstration as this (punch) method of doing a roll shot gives no control. Demonstrate a roll and pass roll. Emphasise a crisp clean stroke without pushing or pulling.
Practice: Pairs roll balls to each other - again only over short distances. Many people need individual tuition for this stroke. They normally need encouraging to stand well forward over the balls for the stroke.
In the take-off the roqueted ball barely moves and the striker's ball travels a large distance. The balls are placed in contact with the lines of their centres perpendicular to the direction in which the striker's ball is required to travel. The striker's ball is hit nearly along the required direction by aiming about 5°- 10° into the croqueted ball. This ball must move otherwise a fault is committed. The take-off is one of the simplest croquet strokes to play accurately since only one ball is being moved and gauging the strength of the shot is straightforward.
Demonstration: A thick and a thin take-off. Hitting between 5° to 10° makes little difference in the trajectory of the striker's ball.
Practice: A few take-offs towards a target are tried. Players should be encouraged to do thick take-offs such that there is no dispute that the croqueted ball has moved.
In a croquet stroke the croqueted ball (front ball) will always travel along the line defined by the line passing through the centres of the striker's and croqueted ball.
Demonstration: Accurately line up two balls in contact say 3 foot from a hoop so that the forward ball will run the hoop. One-handed casually, but sharply, tap the striker's ball.
Set up two aiming targets about 6-8 feet apart. These can be balls, handkerchiefs, keys, etc. Place two balls for a roll shot at a position which is 6-8 feet from both aiming targets and ask how the shot would be set up to get the balls in the croquet stroke to travel to the separate targets?
The answer is that the croqueted ball's track is set solely by the placing of the croqueted ball and striker's ball so that their centres lie on a line passing through one on the targets - the same as in the previous demonstration. The path followed by the striker's ball is determined by the angle at which the striker's ball is hit. The aiming line for the mallet is towards the point which lies exactly halfway between the aiming targets (final positions of the balls in the croquet stroke).
Demonstration: Place a marker (coin) at the midway point indicating the aiming line and play the roll stroke.
Emphasise that you do NOT halve the angle between the ball directions. Leave the targets and marker in place and set up for a stop shot croquet stroke about 2 foot from one target and 7 foot from the other (as in diagram below). The half angle aiming line is now clearly different from the aiming line to the marker.
Demonstration: Play the stop shot to send balls to the targets using the aiming mark.
The aiming mark does NOT change irrespective of where the croquet stroke is played from. You do not halve the angle.
To get the correct result in a croquet stroke two things have to work together. You must aim at the point midway between where you want the balls to end up and play the correct croquet stroke to send the balls those correct distances. If you do not get the croquet stroke correct then the aiming mark cannot be the correct one. This needs plenty of practice.
Practice: Players practice sending balls to targets in various croquet strokes. Set up a clock face of balls around a hoop and get the players to play the appropriate croquet strokes from each ball to get the striker's ball in front of the hoop and the other behind it.
[See Aiming in Croquet Strokes - Not Half the Angle! for a fuller description]
The basic mechanism in croquet is to roquet a ball, take croquet to move the balls to your advantage then achieve either a hoop run or a further roquet with the continuation stroke.
Demonstration: Set up a straight rush to hoop one from the boundary. Rush close to the hoop and pick up the striker's ball and carry it to the roqueted ball - this prevents confusion. Point out that an easy croquet shot will now allow you to place the striker's ball in front of the hoop. If you had not used the rush but had gently roqueted the ball initially you would have a difficult croquet stroke to get your ball in front of the hoop. Play the croquet stroke to get in hoop running position, ideally placing the croqueted ball beyond the hoop. Play the continuation stroke to run the hoop. Remind the players that although you are only allowed to roquet the other three balls once per turn, you can re-roquet them if you run your next hoop. Point out how advantageous this is now as you have earned a continuation stroke for running the hoop and have a ball waiting which you can roquet.
Practice: Players reproduce the exercise above.
Male models in photographs: M Gooding and S Romeril
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