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Coaching Hoop Running

John Riches writes:

I was recently asked privately to suggest how a coach could go about helping a player who habitually "jabs" at hoops to break the habit.

This was my reply (with some minor amendments). I have decided to post it here in order to help give at least a partial understanding of what is involved in coaching and coach training to those who still appear to hold the opinion that any capable player, without further training, should be able to coach players who want to improve.

I have agreed that such a coach may well be able to pass on valuable tactical ideas, though even in that area I believe that coach training can (or at least should) result in better coaching.

But here I am dealing with coaching in technique - or one small aspect of it - for which the coach does not need a top player, but desirably does need to have been properly trained and accredited.

Dear ******************,

I will make some suggestions, but it can depend on the particular way in which the player is "jabbing"; e.g. whether he is cramping his hoop-running action by using a weird grip (perhaps with one or both hands down near the head of the mallet), or bending too far forward, or using jerky body movements (knees or trunk). These may need to be corrected, and that could be a longer process.

First, place a ball on the yard-line in front of hoop 1, and another ball 2-3 yards in-lawn from it. Tell him to play the in-lawn ball and roquet the yard-line ball. He will probably not jab on this stroke, but whether or not he does, ask him to do it again, but keep both balls on the court. That is, neither ball must cross the boundary, so he will have to swing more slowly (or gently).

He will now probably use very little back-swing, so ask him to do the same, but use a full swing, taking the mallet well back and following well through. This he may find difficult for a start, and there may be body movement that needs controlling or eliminating.

Eventually (it may take 3-4 such practice sessions on different days) he should be able to use a long, slow, smooth swing to roquet the yard-line ball without either ball going out.

This is the type of swing you want him to use (at least initially) in hoop running, but if you put his ball a yard in front of hoop 1 and ask him to run it with the same long, slow swing, he will not be able to do it. He is almost certain to jab again, even though he is not playing a game and has no reason to be nervous. The jabbing is largely a nervous reaction, but it has become habitual as well as involuntary.

The next stage could be to remove the hoop from the ground and place a ball 2 yards behind the holes. Lie your mallet on the ground a further yard from the hoop-holes, then place his ball about a yard in front of the hoop-holes and ask him to hit his ball between the holes and roquet the other ball so that neither ball reaches your mallet.

When he can do this, replace the hoop and see whether he can now run the hoop using the same long, slow, smooth swing.

Next, he must start to set reasonable and achievable goals for himself when he plays a game. For example, his main aim in the next game could be to run the first hoop using the practised action - forget about whether or not he makes the hoop, and count it as a great success if on this occasion he uses the desired action without jabbing, even though he may fail to make the hoop. There may need to be further sessions with the coach who will want feed-back from the player about what happens when the coach is not there watching, and will probably need to work with the player on the things he should be thinking about during a game as he prepares to run a hoop; and also, importantly, how best to use the hit-up time to re-inforce the action he has been practising.

Running sidey hoops is likely to present another challenge which may need further explanation and practice regarding what to look at, what to think about, and the setting of revised goals. Ideally, there should be available to coaches a book of "case studies" on the various coaching methods used by experienced coaches to overcome particular problems, with all the details of what they did, how long they spent on each aspect, the psychology used, and an assessment of the effectiveness. Perhaps some day this will become a reality. A top-level accredited coach should have been required to build up a set of such "case studies" as part of his training, although one would expect it to cover only a few of the main problems he has tried to deal with.

If, as with most jabbers, there is body movement causing problems, then you will need to find similar ways of eliminating it, though not all body movement is necessarily bad. One useful trick here is to get the player to imagine that he is a mechanical robot, able to move only his arms which are hinged at the shoulders. Nothing else (i.e. no other joint) can move, including his elbows and wrists, except that the elbows can extend slightly to keep the mallet-head moving low along the ground during the follow-through, rather than lifting it upward.

There are many other ideas, coaching techniques and practice routines that a good coach should be aware of and which may work for particular players with their own peculiar types of jabbing and jerking, but this should give you an idea of how much there is to know and what can be involved - and this is only one possible problem in one type of stroke!

Perhaps you can understand now why I say that someone who does not know such things, and has only ever thought deeply about his own game (and may not even have done that), even if he is a world champion, is not likely to prove effective as a coach. All he will be able to do is say to the player, "You are jabbing at your hoops; you will never be able to run them consistently that way". The player knows this already - he is fully aware that he is jabbing and that he cannot run hoops consistently. Such "advice" is worse than useless unless you can show him how to overcome the problem and help him do it. Or a good player may advise him to take a shorter (or longer) back-swing, neither of which alone will make much difference.

Unfortunately, there are some very good players who imagine themselves to be capable coaches, although they have had no training, and who fail to recognise that that well-trained and accredited coaches are a necessity, even for the top players themselves, but especially for those further down the order who are keen to improve and willing to spend time working on their game. It is essential to get the best advice so as to ensure that in practising you are not simply re-inforcing bad habits.

This is also why every country or state should have a well-organised coach training and accreditation programme.

John Riches




Author: John Riches
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Updated 28.i.16
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