ROQUETING: SWINGING IN LINE
One of the hardest things a croquet player has to try to do is swing the mallet in the correct line. It has been pointed out by other authors that the human body is very poorly designed as far as performing such an action is concerned, although one must admit that the design does have certain advantages for various other functions that may need to be performed. It would be far easier if we had one arm about six inches (15 cm) longer than the other and our eyes one above the other instead of side by side. Since we cannot change the design of our bodies, we just have to learn to do the best we can with what we have.
It is obvious that you will give yourself the best chance of roqueting consistently if you can train yourself to swing your mallet straight along the line in which you want the ball to travel, with the mallet head also aligned in this line. Note that similar considerations apply in sports like darts and snooker, but not so much in sports like tennis or table-tennis where you will often do better to swing across the line in order to deliver more power and impart useful spin to the ball.
Two things are important: the mallet should swing straight back and then forward along the correct line; and the mallet head should be pointing along this line before, during and after contact. These two things are very difficult to achieve - so much so that if you watch closely you will see that few players can do it - and require ideally (1) a stance that allows the mallet to swing freely back and forth under the dominant eye, and (2) a grip such that the bottom hand does not tend to "take over" and turn the mallet off line.
It may seem that it would not matter if the mallet head goes off line or loses its straight orientation after contacting the ball, but in fact the follow through seems to be the main thing you should concentrate on, as it makes you get the earlier part of the swing right as well. It is hard to tell where the mallet is pointing during the backswing and early part of the forward swing, but you can more easily tell whether or not the head remains correctly in line after you have hit the ball. The grip not be too tight (or 'tense'), the shoulders should remain still, and the muscles in the wrists, forearms and shoulders should be completely relaxed. Practise getting these things right one at a time, and notice the gradual improvement.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM CRAMP ?
Any coach who takes the trouble to watch the roquet action of players at various levels will soon come to realise that one of the most common problems is that many of them bend over too far and so cramp their swing to the extent that they are unable to swing the mallet freely from the shoulders, and have to swing mainly from the wrists and elbows, providing additional power from the muscles in the forearms instead of making full use of the weight of the mallet. Some are so bent over at the waist that their nose is only an inch or so from the end of the mallet handle, and their elbows are bent outwards so much that they resemble a pelican with its wings outstretched.
Some players manage to play quite well with such a restricted action, but it usually requires considerable strength in the forearms together with excellent judgement and co-ordination.
Most will find it much easier if they stand up straighter - the elbows should be comfortably straight - and keep their elbows in, rather than out to the side. This allows the grip to be more relaxed, the weight of the mallet to be fully utilised so that the same result can be obtained with less muscular effort, and the body to remain steadier during the swing because it is better balanced.
Of course, there will be some shots such as pass rolls and equal rolls which require a bent over stance with one hand down near the head of the mallet in order to accelerate the mallet smoothly through the ball, but most other shots can be played more easily and with greater consistency by standing up straighter and using a longer grip so that you can swing the mallet more freely from the shoulders.
The main time players tend to bend over too far and cramp themselves is when they are tense and lacking in confidence. You may need to recognise the times when tension is most likely to affect you, and train yourself to resist the urge to cramp yourself by consciously standing up straighter, straightening your elbows, and adopting an air of confidence - tell yourself that you will give yourself the best possible chance by using a long, flowing, relaxed swing from the shoulders instead of "huddling" down over the ball and jabbing.
[John Riches is the author of a number of coaching booklets, including "Croquet Technique", "Croquet Coaching: Error Correction", "Croquet: Lessons in Tactics", "Croquet: Next Break Strategy", " Croquet: The Mental Approach", and "Croquet: Finer Points".]
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