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TEACHING AND LEARNING CROQUET TECHNIQUES

By: Kevin Brereton

No matter what your coaching or playing style, you need to be aware of what your body is doing. Kevin Brereton's compelling analysis of the bio-mechanics of the sport is the foundation of his teaching.


It is tempting to compare croquet techniques to that of other ball sports. However, two significant factors make croquet a unique challenge for both player and coach.

Firstly, croquet uses a wider range of stroke techniques than most sports. As in other ball games, there are actions using a single ball, but there are also strokes which control the distance and directions of two touching balls. This stroke, the "croquet" stroke, fully exploits the game's potential for complex ball skills. Secondly, the balls and mallets are much heavier than the equipment for other ball sports. This must not be overlooked, because croquet is a sport which not only requires both powerful and gentle strokes, but it is a game that should - and can - be enjoyed and contested on equal terms by both men and women with a very wide range of athletic ability.

Therefore, comparisons made between croquet techniques and the actions used in billiards, baseball, tennis or golf can be misleading. They are only useful in so far as they illustrate common principles of applying forces and control in athletic movement. Let's look at some of the most basic of these.

BALANCE AND BODY MOVEMENT
Swinging a tennis racquet or a golf club, and especially a three-pound croquet mallet, moves a player's center-of-gravity. This "body movement" is necessary to maintain balance. It varies from an almost undetectable transfer of weight from the heel-to-toes to a more noticeable re-positioning of the major body masses depending on the power required and the physique of the player. A golfer employs more "movement" using a driver than using a pitching wedge. Similarly a shorter player with less body-mass will require more movement to achieve the same force as a taller and heavier player. So don't be fooled by someone with a significantly different body-type who offers advice about how much or how little you should "move" your body in croquet strokes!

MOVEMENTS IN THE LINE OF AIM
Another common principle in ball sports is to make sure that all parts of the body that do move do so in the line of the intended aim. Sounds pretty simple and obvious, you say! How many players push their rumps backwards in an effort to get more power forwards? How often does the player relying on a separated grip allow the dominant arm and its hand to push the mallet off-line? A golfer rotating the pelvis without any forward component in the action will produce a marvelous slice or hook. Of course, the croquet player can always blame the lawn!

MUSCLE SEQUENCES
Once the body is posed for action, effective athletic movement depends on contracting larger muscles before smaller muscles. Imagine a pitcher swinging his arm before moving his lower body, or a tennis player serving the ball before the leg and back muscles had done their work! Even gentle croquet strokes requiring little muscle activity will be less efficient if the hand muscles function before the forearm muscles. Depending on how much power is required, the main "firing" order should be: thigh muscles, back muscles, arm muscles, and then hand muscles. Which of these you use and which you omit will depend on your technique, but the correct order is essential. Getting this right may mean breaking old habits. But the result will be better accuracy and better control - and you may even begin to look like a graceful human being, rather than a stiff and inept robot!

WATCHING THE BALL
As in most sports, the croquet player must make sure of correct contact with the ball being played. Imagine the result if the batter in baseball watched the short-stop on his swing rather than the ball! When you throw a ball, your eye is on the destination. But when you strike a ball, you cannot watch the target or destination. Or can you? The trick is to train your memory to retain the last vital look at the target and bring that "image" back to the striking zone so that it is associated with the ball you are hitting. The image doesn't last long, so get on with the stroke as soon as you take that last look.

SWINGING "THROUGH" RATHER THAN HITTING "AT" THE BALL
"Follow-through" actions are essential to most strokes in ball sports, except for a range of special shots that rely on the consequences of NOT doing so - as in a bunt, drop-volley, stab-kick, stun-shot or, in croquet, the stop-shot. For most strokes, however, the club or mallet should feel as if it is accelerating, or gaining speed, throughout the entire swing. This means it must seem to be gaining speed even after the ball is struck. To ensure that this happens, try focusing on the side of the ball opposite the point of impact and regard that point as the object to be "hit."

As we noted earlier, there is a wide range of stroke techniques in croquet. Each body type must be matched with a technique which best allows that player to maintain balance while making the movements necessary to produce the needed force. The variety of strokes and the weight of the equipment increase the potential range of techniques. The greatest challenge for both teacher and player is to find a technique which facilitates the basic requirements of ball play. This will allow the player to enjoy the pursuit of mastery in the unique and fascinating ball skills found only in the sport of croquet.

Have fun out there!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Australia's Kevin Brereton is a full-time coach and the author of video training tapes and coaching books. He has coached a number of champion players, both men and women, and has conducted coaching clinics in several countries, often in partnership with three-time world champion Robert Fulford. He also makes mallets, and his budget-priced hi-tech ADVANTAGE mallet is widely praised and used. For information about his mallets, books, or tapes, contact

Brereton & Dunstone
91 MacArthur Avenue
O'Connor, 2602, Austrlia
phone/fax 06-2474694
E-mail: brereton@netinfo.com.au


 
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