Observing full-grown adults of the species is not necessary. If you go to the Middle Schools of Palm Beach County, you can see very, very clearly, indeed, the difference between boys and girls--the primates who, for the most part, will survive to adulthood despite their dangerous and illogical behavior as 11-year-olds.
Put the boys and girls together in a game of SuperSize croquet and observe what happens when a doubles team of boys takes on a doubles team of girls in Golf Croquet. The girls quickly and (I will maintain) instinctively operate as a team. Whether they understand the concept or grasp its significance, in practice, in the game, they are functionally a team because they deliberate on what is to be done at critical points, they come to an agreement, and then they do it.
From a distance of, say, 20 feet from the hoop, the girls will decide to approach to position when (for example) the nearest position an 11-year-old boy has is 30-or-so feet from the jaws. But the boys--without consulting each other--will shoot for the hoop, nearly every time, from an unrealistically long position. (YES, sometimes they will score; usually, they will miss and overshoot.)
The boys have little concept of "team," they only want to score, and here's the important part: THEY BELIEVE THEY CAN MAKE THE SHOT, EVERY TIME, AND WILL NOT BE CONVINCED OTHERWISE, EVEN AFTER MANY FAILURES.
The girls, on the other hand, behave as if focused on winning the game as a cooperative team, and enjoying being together.
I have watched this scenario play out countless times in my three years as an After School Consultant with the public schools of Palm Beach County. Any competent anthropologist might observe, with me, the utter consternation of the boys when the girls win the game. It's more than bad luck: it's as if the order of the universe has changed. It's unjust! It's actually unfair--because the boys know they're really good at this game.
With no anthropology credentials whatever, I say the 11-year-old boy is a born hunter and the 11-year-old girl is an instinctive nurturer and communicator, and they reveal those "natural" roles in their play of croquet. This dynamic has been seen in croquet from the beginning. In fact, in the garden parties of England in the 1850's, it was the social aspect of croquet that made it an ideal flirting ground for men and women.
Winning the game of croquet was not important for the players or the host; it was not even the goal of the event. What mattered is whether you scored a future engagement with the attractive and flirty opponent or partner. For the hosts, croquet was an ideal way to take care of eight people (or more, if more than one croquet set was on hand.)
Packaging and selling a recipe for seduction
More than 160 years ago, that's what the shrewd John Jaques did for the hosts of those garden parties of 19th Century England and for their guests. At last the hosts could organize an activity that would bring the the sexes together, and mix well with beverages and cucumber sandwiches. They could flirt at leisure in the garden, over croquet--with no time limit.
As the "pastime" gradually morphed into an organized sport, the character of the game changed, along with the core membership of national organizations, over time. In Australia, croquet was for a time almost the exclusive province of women--an opportunity for them to get out of the house. The bowling game on the adjacent lawn might very well have been exclusively male. New Zealand had a similar pattern of development.
Famously, England alone had a huge proportion of male players in the second half of the 20th Century, deadly serious and dedicated to constant improvement--and the social aspect of the game was neglected until Egypt came into the world federation with Golf Croquet and made it respectable throughout the world.
In every country except the US--including Egypt-- there are separate competitions for men and women. And in every country of the world except the USA, high-level, ranked "mixed doubles" are regularly played. Why is the US alone in this, as in so many other things, in the 21st Century?
Has "political correctness" so inserted itself into social mores that certain things must not be done because of the way things were in Victorian England 150 years ago? Are we not mature enough, finally, and brave enough to organize games for any group we choose--for the sport of it, for the fun of it--without being damned as sexist?
I ask again, respectfully: Why are the women of American denied the pleasure of competing against each other in sanctioned USCA events? And why can't they compete with males as partners in an event designed and programed for "mixed doubles?"
Look at what happens on your club courts
The only change you need to make in this naturally-occurring happenstance is to formalize the experience as a sanctioned tournament called the "Women's Open." And then, you might also organize a competitive event called the "Mixed Doubles Championship" exclusively for male/female competitive teams. If you're brave enough to make this happen at club level, you might expand it to the regional level, and thus prove to your national organization that these formats are wanted and needed.
I hasten to comment that it's not the USCA's fault that such events are not played regularly. Based on my own experience, I'd say it's the fault of the women, themselves, who say that separate events are "stigmatizing" and that "mixed doubles" would likely only pair a strong man with a pliant and relatively weak woman. Really?
To figure out how the Americans continue in this self-defeating folly, I decided to research gender separations and mixed doubles in other countries--the countries where the sport of croquet came to full flower at the beginning of the 20th Century. I started in New Zealand.
Boys and girls differ just as men and women do
As the official Sports Development Officer of Croquet New Zealand, Greg Bryant decided that a bigger investment in local clubs would have the greatest long-term positive impact on the overall health of the sport. When he took on the job of recruiting and training secondary school students in 2014, he was prepared to wait for a pay-off that might not be seen until a Shield contest in the 2020's. As it turned out, he didn't have to wait nearly that long. By the middle of 2018, his teen players--of both genders had already achieved impressive titles in national and world events.
They include WCF U21 gold, silver & bronze medals for Josh Freeth, Felix Webby, and George Coulter; WCF Golf Croquet Worlds bronze bronze for Webby, World Association Croquet team selections for Edmund Fordyce and Webby; Trans-Tasman AC team selection for Freeth, New Zealand Open Golf Croquet Championship for Fordyce; numerous Island Championship titles, mostly in Golf Croquet, and the New Zealand Women's Golf Croquet Championship for Grace Mohi and Ellie Ross). And with senior partners. Fordyce and Webby won medals in the New Zealand's Association Croquet Doubles Championship.
However, Bryant has noticed as a coach that the gender differences between men are women are reflected in the way boys and girls learn and in their different results in competition, and he has incorporated that knowledge in the way he coaches, which he details at the end of this article.
The legendary John Prince, who still competes in croquet, has kindly produced observations and statistics from New Zealand that both confirm the generalities of the difference in performance and deny it by pointing to the exceptions.
The lessons of Kiwi history
Early in the sport's development, according to croquet historian D.M.C. Prichard, Championship Doubles in England were presumed to mean Mixed Doubles. That was not the case in New Zealand, according to Prince, who writes, "Two years after the championship doubles started, two men playing together won the title in 1915 and then two women in 1926. Overall, women have won the doubles as a pairing seven times. However, mixed pairings did seem very popular as up until 1971 a mixed pair took the title 33 times.
"But after 1971, we had to wait until 2005 for another mixed pair to take the title--Bruce and Liz Fleming from Australia did that, and then Jenny and Chris Clarke won it in 2007, 2014 and 2015. So in recent years, it has been mostly male combinations who emerged as winners. I imagine the restriction that "two men may not play together" applied to doubles at a local level as more men started to play, but that is no longer the case.
"However, the gender restriction nearly did happen once when in the mid 1950's," Prince recalls, "at the New Zealand Championships, Arthur Ross and Ashley Heenan entered the doubles as a team, and because they were two of the leading players of the day some thought the pairing unfair and planned to put a proposal to the "player's meeting" held during the Championship that would have prevented two men entering future doubles championships as a partnership, a restriction already applied to many other tournaments.
As for the New Zealand Open Championship, Prince reports, "Only five women have won it, including Rene Watkins who did so four times, but many others were formidable opponents: the runner up in the Open has been a woman 22 times, the last ones being Susan Wiggins in 1983 and Jenny Clarke in 2014.
"Early MacRobertson Shield teams comprised both men and women, but after 1969 Jenny has been the only one, playing in 2010, 2014, and 2017. She was team captain in the latter and in doing so became the only woman to captain a New Zealand MacRob team.
According to Prince, "The New Zealand Men's and Women's and Mixed Doubles Championships continue to be played most seasons but perhaps the quality of the fields in the singles--especially the Men's--is not as strong as it was when the event was played as part of the Open Championship. However, I am delighted to report that Liz McLay and I are the current holders of the New Zealand Mixed Doubles Championship."
Meanwhile, England has been more careful about gender-mixing
According to Prichard, early in the 20th Century, "Gold Medals were altered from Open and Women's to Men's and Women's but owing to an ambiguity in the wording of the conditions it appeared that women could still enter for the men's event. This Miss [Lily] Gower did and won it, a feat that Miss Nina Coote repeated the next year. Women had won the Open Championship and Men's Gold Medal five times in the last eight years and the men had had enough. In 1909 the committee passed an unequivocal resolution 'the women could not enter for the Men's Gold Medal nor men for the Women's."
The President's Cup was started in the 30's as an invitational for Britain's top eight, so there was no gender restriction in it. A youthful Debbie Cornelius was delighted to take her rightful place in it, some 20 years ago. No other woman has done it since Debbie's achievement in 1996.
Meanwhile, in the traditionally very strong British Opens, with an international field (before the advent of the World Croquet Federation, it was the de facto "world championship") I noted that three women entered the qualifying Swiss that precedes knockout event of 2018.
Why can't a woman be more like a man?
She can be, as it turns out, and not just in Shaw's Pygmalion. But while croquet attracts mostly male nerds (as Richard Hilditch has suggested) who actually admire the solitary 25-minute displays they regard as expert play (which women may tend to regard as tedium) it's no wonder that the female of the species wants to devote her thinking to more interesting enterprises.
I usually counsel the couples in novice training to avoid partnering each other when they join the club--because, I tell them as part of my standard schtick, "When you have a huge argument over the strategy that causes your acrimonious divorce, one of you will get the dog and the other the croquet club membership..." The truth is that the difference in style and attitude are usually evident in the novice games. I recommend strongly and seriously against "spousal croquet" but also don't try to pit men against women.
I hasten to point out that there are SPECTACULAR exceptions at novice level, which I am always delighted to point out. I have taught classes two classes this year in which I could honestly tell a female player, "You are in the top two percent of novices I teach on Saturday." They are usually women who play other sports competitively. But here, again, it's dangerous to generalize.
What is wrong with America?
(Yes, of course you're right, but I mean in ADDITION to that.) Although there are "mixed doubles" contests in many parts of the world, any such proposal is instantly aborted on political grounds in the United States. In San Francisco in the 90's, my "Women's Championship Open" was boycotted by all but two women--club members Margaret Chatham and Wanda Lee Smith. Only four people were present: the competitors, Hood Chatham, and myself. We did the event as a best-of-three (which Margaret won), awarded the trophy, and drank the champagne. I widely reported the results. No such event has been tried again, by anyone, to my knowledge.
While there is still a Men's and Womens' Championship in England for Association Croquet, the practice did not immediately carry over to the World Croquet Federation. However, the admission of Egypt into the WCF allowed traditions to be re-invented in step with both the times and Egyptian tradition (which also inspired the "under 21" championships.) There are now regular open world championships in both codes, and world womens championships for both Association Croquet and Golf Croquet.
It turns out that women CAN be just as competitive as men, in the office as well as on the croquet court. So I have to ask once more as strongly as I possibly can: What is wrong with America? Why must we continue to deny women the pleasure--and the sport!--of competing against each other in formal tournaments?
Wouldn't American women benefit by joining the rest of the world and enjoying competing against each other for titles and trophies--not just in pickup games on the club courts? Will they insist on having their daughters grow up with chips on their shoulder because of attitudes on protecting the rights of women that seem quite dated in the western world of 2018?
Mixed doubles is a special joy when you have a man and a woman as partners in a competitive game. Of course there are such mixed partnership in sanctioned "open" play, but why aren't there competitions and awards and trophies and titles for mixed doubles as regular events--at club level, in the regionals, and at the national championship level as well? Compromising the killer instincts of the guy with the instinctive nurturing impulses of the girl can be enlivening--even in a game of a croquet.
Why is America so resolutely backward in this respect? Couldn't the Americans emulate the other croquet countries in this regard, finally: for the pleasure of the competition, and for the sport of it?
Here's my final word on this issue: Men and women are unequal in physical and mental aptitudes and totally equal in their human rights. Croquet is a famously egalitarian sport. Could not our sanctioned events and championships be organized to celebrate both our gender differences and our equal rights?
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