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The Game


by John Riches
Australian Correspondent


Part One:

In a part of the world where coaching is taken seriously, John Riches is expected to soon achieve the highest national certification possible in Australia, as the country's first "level 3" croquet coach. This is the first of a series of short articles sharply focused on various aspects of the croquet stroke. The articles not only attempt to answer the question, "How should this be taught to most novice players?" but also invite comparisons you can draw between Riches' advice to club coaches and your own personal playing style.

In the Australian croquet scene, and I suspect also in other parts of the world, we coaches have a lot of work to do in order to establish credibility. We have to overcome certain long-held prejudices based on the out-moded idea that croquet is, and should remain, a purely amateur sport (for "amateur", read "one that should not be taken too seriously") in which the notion of paying a coach to assist you improve your play is often looked upon as a violation of sacred tradition, and more or less akin to outright cheating.

At times I have been asked by people I coach to show them exactly what they should be doing with their wrists, as they feel that something is wrong with the way they are using them - and there usually is. Most players are told, before they have been playing for very long, that no shot should be played with the wrists. Instead, the mallet should be swung from the shoulders in order to make use of the full weight of the mallet.

The hands should move forward together during the stroke, rather than only the bottom hand pushing the mallet forward while the top hand remains still or even moves backward. This is why a "hands apart" grip is not recommended: the temptation to push with the bottom hand and cause the wrists to work against one another is too great for most players to overcome. However, there is nothing wrong with having your hands apart provided this temptation can be consistently resisted.

The wrist muscles should never be used to push or accelerate the mallet forward in any single-ball shot.

All of this is excellent advice. The wrist muscles should never be used to push or accelerate the mallet forward in any single-ball shot. They should provide no additional force whatever in addition to the natural swing of the mallet moving forward under its own weight.

Players who adopt the Solomon grip with only the two thumbs behind the mallet shaft are especially likely to be tempted to use wrist action (when instead they should be using a higher backswing) to provide the force needed for a long rush or roquet. Unfortunately, by using the wrists they tend to lose direction, as it is difficult to correctly time and co-ordinate the muscles in the two wrists to work together.

Those who use the Irish grip with the palms of both hands behind the mallet shaft will tend more often to use unwanted wrist action in playing hoop shots or short roquets, when the backswing is shorter and insufficient to take the wrists back naturally to a fully "cocked" position.

Some players are so diligent to avoid wrist action that they try to keep the wrists absolutely stiff, and allow no movement at all.

The Standard grip is a compromise between these two extremes, and is the one recommended for most players. Some players, whatever the grip, are so diligent to avoid wrist action that they try to keep the wrists absolutely stiff, and allow no movement at all, particularly for hoop running and short roquets. This is taking things too far in the opposite direction. The wrists should be permitted to be "cocked" backward, offering no resistance to the backward swing of the mallet; but neither should they provide any assistance to the forward swing. They should remain cocked at least until after the mallet has contacted the ball.

Try running hoops by allowing the wrists to gently cock backward as the mallet moves back, then move the hands slowly forward with the mallet so as to maintain the wrist position as the mallet head moves through the ball, before allowing them to uncock during the follow through. In addition to sticking in fewer hoops, it should enable you to run your hoops with better control, instead of going through so far that you risk missing the return roquet.

[Next in the series is Part Two:"Some Points on Hoop Making"]
John Riches will have more to say on various aspects of coaching here in future editions of his column, "The State of the Game."

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