Prepare Your Mental Game
Anyone who's ever missed an "easy" two-foot roquet in a tournament knows that croquet is a mind game. Successful players have developed strategies to deal with the nerves and distractions that are a part of tournament play. Without developing similar tools, you may be losing games before you even step on the lawn.
Apply "Controlled Stress" in Practice
"In practice, you've got to try and get to a situation where you're feeling like you do in a game. And so you can try and make your practice something where you might get a bit nervous rather than just 'play' practice when you don't really have anything at stake."
"I play pickup games that could be considered practice, but I take them very seriously. I want to win those games as much as a tournament game which can make me just as nervous. Dealing with the nervousness is good practice."Establish a Pre-Shot Routine
A pre-shot routine is a great technique to help you settle down and focus. While mentally checking off each item of a pre-shot routine you focus on those details rather than any internal or external distractions. The shot, then, becomes routine. The details of the routine are up to you.
"I think back to when I played basketball that when I would take a shot, especially a free throw, the shot would begin with my toes, and would come up through my body and go out through my hands. I do the same thing with croquet. When I am stalking a ball, I have a whole routine I go through. Stalking the ball, taking my stance, starting from my feet going up through my body and out, finally, into my hands, and then I concentrate on the swing and just let the mallet do the work and not move my body at all."
Be Kind to Yourself
You've just missed a vital hit-in or banged off of hoop #1. Don't beat yourself up, your opponent will do that. If you make a bad shot, forgive yourself, put it behind you, and concentrate on the next shot.
"I used to play with a terrific amount of intensity. I felt like I needed to have tremendous intensity to play well. Now I try to keep that concentration a little more under control. I try to stay focused but not with that kind of emotional and physical upheaval. I'm a great believer in Zen kind of stuff. Wanting it without wanting it. Doing it without trying."
You may think you don't have time to practice. But take fifteen minutes before pick-up games to work on one or two weak parts of your game. Your game will improve.
"Croquet yields to practice."
Be Honest About Your Game
In practice and in play, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Be honest with yourself about both. Practice to correct weaknesses and reinforce strengths.
"I find it instructive to analyse why I break down, but you need to be honest with yourself. It is rarely the last shot you played - the reason you clanged the hoop is because you approached it from a poor position, which you got into by being on the wrong side of the pivot, and so on. The point to really concentrate is when a nice tidy break is starting to getting ragged - get it back under control before it collapses completely."
"Be honest. For example someone once told me they were 95% likely to successfully roquet a boundary ball when taking off to get it from halfway across the lawn or greater. They failed to do just that twice in a game against me, but they still believed that they were 95% likely to succeed.
Take Practice Seriously
Practice for precision and know when to quit.
"Practice with intensity. Always try to put the balls to specific spots. Don't get sloppy because it's 'just practice'. Concentrate the whole time. But if I practice too long, I get to a point where it's no longer on any value. I think you need to limit your practice to the point where you realize your concentration and intensity are fading. Then quit, because you can just frustrate yourself."
"Don't just go out there and hit balls. Have some sort of plan, what you want to practice. There's a lot of times I might go out and just hit balls and I'm not getting any better. But when I play seriously and I put pressure on myself to practice something, then that's when I get better."
Set Achievable Goals
As your skills improve what you practice will change, but be realistic. Have a plan. Challenge yourself. But don't practice a sextuple if you can't run a three ball break.
"You are rarely going to get much out of a practice session if you just mess around. I normally practice one of three things: shooting, approaching hoops from corners (e.g. 1 from corner I with roll or stop shot, 2 from corner II with roll or stop shot, etc) or just general break play to avoid getting rusty (mostly triples from standard positions).
"You've got to practice with a particular motive in mind. Practice particular shots. Break things down. Practice parts of a triple, so that you practice doing the last two peels, or practice the four back peel and do the few shots that lead up to that. And practice that again and again four or five times rather than practice the whole triple.
American Rules players should play International Rules
The American Rules game is much more a game of strategy than the Association (International) Rules game. Some players love American rules. Others hate it. The concept of "deadness," absent from the Association game, can render a side totally helpless, forcing it to retreat into the corners turn after turn. With such a penalty, many American rules players never risk the aggressiveness needed to build and run breaks.
>From the Croquet World Online interview with Robert Fulford:
"One of the most important pieces of information I think some people in American don't get is...basically, just to tell them to try and play breaks.
The Association Game is a game of shots and breaks. Hiding is not an option. You learn to rush, to build breaks, and to attack. All things that will make you a stronger American Rules player.
"Play more Association Rules. You get to play more of the game. You get to run breaks. You don't get dead and go hide. You learn how to make all the shots work, how to play them."
"Play the association game more because you have a chance to develop all your skills without any problems if you don't succeed, without any deadness."
[Next: A few more words on practice.]
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