Croquet is a sport which is enjoyed by many people with various disabilities. It is hoped to show the factors which clubs should consider when making design changes to their premises or courts, some of the possible adaptions to standard equipment, and to illustrate some success stories. Many granting bodies put provision for disabled users as a condition of their funding – another good reason for thinking about making your club accessible to all.
Croquet is an excellent sport for anyone who has an impairment to try. Jonathan Toye wrote in an article1 on disabled players in 2006:
One of the all-time great champion croquet players is Montague Spencer-Ell who continued to win national championships despite losing his arms in the First World War. He is credited with significantly advancing sport for disabled people and developing sports at Stoke Mandeville.
Whilst it is more obvious to consider solutions for people with physical disabilities there have been highly successful players who have had severe cognitive problems (see box below).
Within the UK there are around 10 million disabled people and legislation (The Equality Act 2010) encourages a fair treatment for them. In a questionnaire circulated by the Croquet Association (UK) to its members in 2002 there were questions about disability: "Of the 689 (97%) who answered, 10% had a cardio-vascular disease, 15% currently have other disabilities and 3% have a Blue Badge3." Hence approximately 1 in 7 croquet players has disabilities of one sort or another.
Most clubs should consider the needs of disabled users when modifying or upgrading their premises. The lack of accessible facilities may hinder the ability to qualify for certain grants. Improvements to accessibility can often benefit able-bodied people as well as those with an impairment and grants are available from a number of sources. See Funding below
The following are desirable:
Things which should be avoided:
There may be social members or visitors to the club to consider as well as the people using the courts.
A very good source of grants towards creating accessible facilities is the National Lottery’s "Awards For All" scheme. This is the simplest form to fill in. It is appropriate for funding up to £10,000. Also try your local Community Foundation, the Croquet Association and the Sports Council.
The local council may have some funds available. It is also worth checking with them on their Grant Finder database whether there are any specific funders in the locality. For larger grants for changes to premises try WREN4 (you have to be within a certain distance from a waste recycling centre).
Everyone is different and each person needs equipment suitable for their circumstances. It is difficult to give generalities, e.g. "mallets need to be shorter than usual", because someone with a back problem may need to stand upright and possibly swing side-style. Here a selection of adapted equipment is shown which may give inspiration.
As the size and shape of an adapted mallet changes, its weight will need to be adjusted. Shorter mallets need to be heavier to give the same impulse to the ball.
A frequent modification is to make the diameter of the shaft where it is gripped much wider. This assists players with grip problems, e.g. through arthritis. Another shaft modification it to have the top of the shaft gently curled towards the player. This is intended to relieve the strain on the wrists. Such modifications are sanctioned in the Laws of Association Croquet:
Crutch Type Mallets
Jane Eckert gives the following example: "The mallets we use have been devised by my husband from a continental-type crutch. These have a handle already on the shaft and proved to be very comfortable for people to use.
The handle is adjustable so can be cut down to suit either a chair or a standing person (see photographs below).
We have used these mallets with a lot of success over the past 8 years and were encouraged to work on them because to see a group of students enjoying themselves, and their mate sitting in his chair very upset because he couldn't join in was heart-breaking.
It took some time, with lots of errors to come up with what we now have. A splint maker from the Rehabilitation Section of our Public Hospital encouraged and suggested the mallets and so we thought we would try that way and it worked. They are aluminium and plastic so are extremely light."
Shortened Standard Mallets
Mallets with a shortened shaft may be used at the side of a wheelchair or buggy (see picture above). If the extra weight can be accommodated, shortened mallets will generally need to be heavier to allow balls to be struck easily.
Flat Iron Type
These were introduced at the Swindon Croquet Club to assist disabled members in wheelchairs. "The wheelchair player finds the standard mallet very difficult to use either from the side or in front of the wheelchair. The mallet design is a grip handle that slides up and down on a spine, the lower spine having cheeks attached to form the mallet head and the sliding grip provided with a clamp to lock it in the favoured position" says John Airey5.
Wide hoops are practical for the visually impaired and other players. Cast iron hoops do not have much latitude for adjustment yet can be made ~1/4" wider than the balls. Unfortunately the hoops then have to be re-adjusted for standard play. The adjustable "Omega hoops", whose gape can be adjusted with a spanner, may be another solution. Wire hoops are easy to adjust. Hoops with fat uprights can also assist the partially sighted. Mention has been made of using "fishing line on the ground, which is invisible to a sighted player, but can be used as a tactile guide for blind players to orient themselves."
Wheel chairs are best if they are lightweight and easily dissembled if necessary. Janet Eckert writes "The types used by other wheelchair athletes are the best. Narrow or medium tyres don't seem to damage the turf as the wheels are not spun around at great speeds. Wide tyres and heavy chair are not suitable. We don't allow chairs on the turf after rain!!"
Others however have found that Bradshaw Bowls Buggies are valuable (one is in use in the picture with the shortened standard mallet above). The wide tyres spread the weight over a larger area.
These have been developed for bowls players but have been successfully trialled at Downham Croquet Club in Norfolk. You tend to use a one handed stroke on one side or the other so it is better to have a shorter mallet. Some people of course will not necessarily need to play in a seated position. They may wish to use the chair for frequent rests between play. Users of mobility scooters can do the same thing, parking the scooter around the edge of the court.
Jonathan Toye writes:"The over-riding factor, as with any other coaching, is to make sure that it is fun!
Don’t apply previous patterns of behaviour and technique willy-nilly. Listen to the people you’re coaching and go with the flow. They will soon let you know what works and what doesn’t. A little bit of common sense goes a long way. For instance, when talking to someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, don’t shout. Just make sure that you are facing the person when giving instructions. Someone who is visually impaired may appreciate a buddy for guidance around the court. Someone with a learning difficulty will not appreciate complicated instruction – actions speak louder. Anyone with any mobility impairment may well take longer to do things – give them time – we’re not coaching against the clock."
Certainly as an introduction, the single stroke types of games, e.g. 'golf ', Aussie8 or Ricochet, have the advantage of simplicity and no need to bend down or get two balls into contact. Players do need to be aware of the possible outcomes of shots since many people are unable to get out of the way of a fast moving ball quickly.
Moving up to games which involve a true croquet stroke, kiwi croquet has 3 hoops and a peg and involves the same skills as for standard croquet. There is no reason why disabled players should shy away from Association Croquet. This has a very effective handicapping scheme whereby the weaker play gets extra turns against the stronger player. There are a number of disabled players who succeed in Level and Advanced Play and are frequently seen at tournaments.
Following a brain abscess, Ian Rick, suffered speech difficulties and paralysis of his right leg. He writes:
"After spending several months in hospital and rehabilitation, with continuing intensive physiotherapy and outpatient rehabilitation, I slowly fought my way back to health as I was determined that this disability would not affect my quality of living.
By chance, I read an article in the Local Newspaper written by a member of the Murray Bridge Croquet Club [Australia]. I had been an athlete all my childhood and adult life and the prospect of spending my life and time reading or watching Television just did not appeal. Here, I thought, was a chance to try out a sport that had I had heard very little about let alone played. I remember going down the local Murray Bridge Croquet Club on my mobility scooter, where I met the late Gwen Mitchell, the Captain, who explained the rudiments of the game to me.
My first attempts were woeful! I had balance problems, and could only hold and attempt to play a stroke side style, a feat in itself. It took all my time to concentrate on the swing, hit the ball and try to stop from falling over!
I persevered, and after about four weeks I was having some degree of mastering the game. When I arrived at the Club one day for my lessons, Gwen came over to me and told me that she had a surprise for me. She showed me a modified mallet made by Glen Eckert from the Broadview Club (who now himself, unfortunately, is recovering from a stroke). Glen had made the mallet out of an arm crutch, fashioning a wooden mallet head on the end of it. I was able to play croquet side style with my left arm and support myself with a walking stick with my right.
From then on nothing was going to stop me from playing this game. I joined the Murray Bridge Croquet Club on the 7th September, 2006. I attended the gym three times a week and gained strength in my arms and legs and more importantly, better balance, so much so that within 12 months of playing with the modified mallet I was able to switch over to centre style with a normal mallet.
In December 2007, at the International year for Disabled Persons ceremony, the Local Council presented me with a certificate for the ‘2007 Individual Recognition Award for personal achievement, enthusiasm and hard work’, of which I am justly proud.
I have competed in several tournaments since mastering the sport. Without fear of contradiction I can say that Croquet has played a very important part in my recovery. Without this game and the support of fellow Croquet players I feel that my future would have been very bleak indeed."
I am most grateful for assistance from Janet Eckert and Jonathan Toye. Janet is the Junior Sports Officer of Croquet South Australia and has written an article "SA School and Disabled Croquet". Jonathan has great experience in helping disabled players and works in the field of Disability Rights.
The jargon for referring to disabled people changes in different regions; in some places special needs is preferred over disabled.
1. The Croquet Gazette: Issue 301 February 2006, p12.
2. The Croquet Gazette: Issue 328 December 2010, p9.
3. The Blue Badge scheme is for people with severe mobility problems. It allows Blue Badge holders to park close to where they need to go. The scheme operates throughout the UK and is managed by local authorities.
4. WREN is a not-for-profit business that helps benefit the lives of people who live close to landfill sites by awarding grants for community, conservation and heritage projects.
5.The Croquet Gazette: Issue 328 December 2010, p5.
6. Kiwi Croquet is a simplified version of croquet using 3 hoops designed particularly for children. The basic skills are the same but the equipment is smaller, safer and much cheaper. More details here: http://www.croquet.org.nz/index.php?id=57 (Broken link).
7. Puck Croquet: the 'balls' are flat disks which slide on carpet. Indoor hoops and the peg are on bases which can be temporarily taped to the carpet. Sets can be purchased from Croquet Orangewood, Australia.
8. Aussie rules is like 'golf' except you get an extra stroke (non-croquet) if you hit any of the other three balls on the lawn. You can hit them once per turn unless you go through a hoop.
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