From our coach, Pixie Jones (see 'Documents' for an easy-to-print PDF version)
Preparation Having watched some wonderful Wimbleton tennis recently, reinforced to me the similarities between croquet and other sports that make use of a racket, stick, club and ball. In fact even netball has its’ similarities. If you watch the Silver Ferns goal shooters, you will notice that they are balanced, their feet, hips and shoulders are all in line with the target (the goal ring), and they follow through on the line of the travelling ball, with their arms and wrists.
In tennis, the players are hitting the ball while on the move but must still get their bodies in line correctly with their target, watch the ball being hit by the raquet and again follow through on the line the ball is travelling. A “slow mo” of a good tennis player gives a perfect picture of “keeping eyes on ball” as the raquet comes into contact with it. In cricket, if you take your eye off the ball as the bat makes contact, the next thing you’ll see is the stumps flying through the air!
Static games, like croquet, allow plenty of time to line the body up correctly. Once the feet, hips, shoulders are in line, it is all about the eyes, the swing and the follow through. Many players complain that they cannot roquet consistently. Are you one of those croquet players who has trouble hitting a good roquet? Have you watched any of the players who are better at roqueting than you are, and wondered why they can do it while you can’t? Mostly, the answer is in “stalking the ball”. These players are not necessarily any better at the game than you are but they have learned the art of stalking and consistently try to do so. Stalking, usually from a metre or two back, will put your feet, hips and shoulders in line with the target.
The swing both back and forward, should be smooth and low without trying to put too much effort or forced strength into the forward movement, which can cause jerking of the mallet. The follow through should finish with the arms outstretched and the head should still be down. Only then the eyes come up to see where the ball has gone!! Do you consistently make hoops or roquets without seeing them happen? You should do if your head/ eyes are down! There is a short distance in which you will see what is happening with your peripheral vision, but on the whole, you should hear the ball make contact with its’ target before you see it happen, if you have kept your head/eyes down until you have finished your follow through.
Try putting a marker under the strikers’ ball and be looking at that marker as you finish your follow through with your head still down. Once the marker is sighted, replace your mallet on ground, then lift your head. This should force you to keep your head/eyes down. It will feel like an age before you are allowed to look up! You could be in for a surprise. Having been quite confident that “I never lift my head”, you suddenly realise that this is what most of the problem has been about.
I often hear “I twisted my mallet” when the ball is not hit cleanly. The problem is not about the mallet twisting, but rather the fact that the head/eyes came up causing the shoulders to come up which then causes ball contact with the side or corner of the mallet face.
If your preparation is done correctly, everything else should fall into place. Just like those great tennis, netball, cricket, golf players we see on TV!
Grip, stalk, stance, swing, follow through, replace mallet on the ground, then and only then, lift head/eyes.