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Dr Ian Plummer

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Beginners' Coaching Notes 2

1 The Start of the Game
  1.1 The Standard Opening
  1.2 After the First Four Turns
2 The Rush Line
3 The Four-Ball Break (4BB)
  3.1 The Standard 4BB Ball Positions
  3.2 Playing the 4BB

4 Leaves
  4.1 Guarding the Boundary
  4.2 Joining Wide
  4.3 Cross Wiring
  4.4 Playing to a Boundary
5 Golf "Croquet"

1 The Start of the Game

So far components of the game have been studied and we have yet to discuss how the game is played.

lawn layout and hoop positions
The Croquet Court indicating the route and naming of the hoops etc.

The red and yellow balls always play against blue and black. The game starts with the tossing of a coin. Whoever wins the toss has the choice of either who starts or which colour balls they play with. The opponent then has the choice of the remaining option. Hence if you choose to play second the opponent then has choice of colours.

The first four turns consist of playing the balls on to the lawn. Each side plays a ball on to the lawn from what are known as the baulk lines. The baulk lines are imaginary lines a yard in from the boundary. They lie on the half boundaries in front of hoops one and three. (See the diagram above). The order of play of the colours for each side is unimportant. As soon as a ball is played on to the lawn it can roquet other balls and run hoops.

1.1 The Standard Opening

It surprises beginners that croquet players do not start the game by shooting at hoop one. The hoops are very narrow and the chances of running one from 6 yards away are small. If the ball does not run the hoop and bounces off it remaining nearby, then the next player has a ball by their hoop which they can attempt to roquet, then croquet themselves in front of the hoop and possibly start a break.

The aim at the start of the games is to consolidate your forces (balls) in positions where should they be hit, making hoop one from them will be difficult, but conversely you give yourself a the chance of making the hoop if the opponent fails.

In the standard opening the first player plays from the centre of the south boundary at the end of A-baulk and hits their ball off the lawn by hoop four.

opening strokes of a game
The strokes at the start of a Standard Opening

The second player could shoot at this ball but would be left with a long full roll across the width of the lawn to get in front of hoop one. The second player normally replies by playing a ball from the boundary in front of hoop one to the west boundary between hoops one and five.

If the first player aims at this and hits they will drive this ball further from hoop 1, making a subsequent hoop approach difficult. It is however a viable shot to aim from corner one at this ball, hit it, croquet it to the centre of the lawn and then join up with the partner ball.

The first player in the third turn normally aims at his partner ball on the east boundary from the end of A-baulk. If the ball is hit the balls are croqueted to leave a perfect rush (for the next turn) to hoop one hidden from the A-baulk by hoop four.

The second player plays the final ball on to the lawn. He has the choice of shooting at the opposition's balls either from the end of A-baulk or corner three (on B-baulk), or shooting at his partner ball from just outside corner one. If they miss this shot they do not want their balls to end up close together when the opponent has their balls together as it makes the hoop approach to hoop one too easy. (Yellow roquets red, takes off near blue and black, roquets one and a short take-off to the other ball gives a straight rush into hoop on). Consequently if they shoot at the partner ball, the intention is that the balls would end up between 5 and 10 foot apart if the roquet is missed.

1.2 After the First Four Turns

Once the four balls have been played on to the lawn the players alternate turns. A turn consist of a single stroke unless a ball is roqueted or a hoop run in the correct order and direction. At the start of a side's turn they can chose to play with either of their balls, but must continue playing their entire turn with that ball. Each turn the other three balls on the lawn can be roqueted once, unless a hoop is correctly run, in which case they may all be roqueted again.

A major rule of croquet is that neither ball can leave the lawn in the croquet stroke (the stroke when the balls are placed in contact and the striker's ball struck). In all other cases, such as roqueting, rushing or hoop running the balls can leave the lawn without penalty. They are brought back on to the lawn a yard in (on the imaginary yard line) closest to the point at which they left the lawn and the turn continues.

A ball is off the court when any part of it could be touched by a straight edge raised from the inside edge of the white line marking the boundary.

Another essential rule is that at the end of every stroke all balls which lie within a yard of the boundary (the yard line area), except the striker's ball, are brought back on to the lawn on to the yard line. At the end of a turn, if the striker's ball is within the yard line area, it is brought on to the yard line.

It is a point of etiquette that when replacing a ball on to the yard line you should face off court. This means that you cannot see where the other balls are on the lawn and potentially adjust the position of the ball you are replacing to your advantage.

When a ball runs the last hoop - the rover hoop, it becomes known as a rover ball and can then be struck against the peg (pegged out) to complete its circuit. It is then removed from the game. Only another rover ball can peg out a rover by causing it to hit the peg, say in a croquet stroke.

2 The Rush Line

Before launching into describing the four ball break we introduce a very important idea. The concept of the rush line is crucial to making the game easier to play. Simply, the rush line is an imaginary line extending in both directions through the ball to be rushed to its target position. If you can place the striker's ball on the rush line behind the ball to be rushed you will have a straight rush. Straight rushes are much simpler than any form of cut rush and hence will be successful more often. This is a simple idea but the hard part is getting the striker's ball on to that rush line.

If you have to attempt to get the striker's ball to stop on a rush line it is obvious that you will be more successful if your ball is approaching down the rush line rather than across it. In one case 12" too short in that shot leaves a long straight rush but when approaching across the rush line it will leave an impossible cut rush. It is therefore always desirable to approach a ball to be rushed along its rush line.

This presupposes that you know what you are going to be doing in your following croquet strokes. Once some play and tactics are explained you will be able to plan a stroke or two in advance. The more you play the further ahead you will start to plan.

3 The Four-Ball Break (4BB)

The four-ball break (4BB) is the basic mechanism for making many hoops in one turn. As you may gather there are also three-ball and two-ball breaks. Although the two-ball break is the simplest in principle to understand, it is the hardest to play. The 4BB is the easiest to play.

Unlike a game such as snooker or pool, the breaks in croquet are ideally the same each time you play them. The balls are in standard positions. In a 4BB the aim is to send balls ahead of your route to act as 'stepping stones' to assist you through the next hoop. Once you have used a ball it is sent ahead to be used later.

Demonstration: A text book 4BB is played from in front of hoop one through to after hoop two. Indicate that the configuration of the balls when you start in front of hoop one is structurally identical to that when you come to run hoop two. Avoid rushing the pivot about - the break must be standard.

The recipe for the 4BB is set out below. Some new jargon needs to be introduced.

3.1 The Standard 4BB Ball Positions

standard four ball break positions
The standard ball arrangement for a four ball break. Red is a pioneer on hoop one, black a pioneer on hoop 2 and blue is the pivot.

For a 4BB you have a ball waiting at the hoop you next want to make and one waiting by the hoop after that. These balls waiting at hoops are known as pioneers. The third ball is in the middle of the lawn by the peg and is known as the pivot. Assume that we have a ball by hoops 1 and 2 and a ball by the peg. To make the demonstration easy we will place the striker's ball on the rush line of the hoop one pioneer about a foot from it.

3.2 Playing the 4BB

The striker rushes the pioneer by hoop one close up to the hoop. Having roqueted this ball they can now carry the striker's ball to the roqueted ball and place it in contact for the croquet stroke.

playing the four ball break
A. following the roquet the balls are placed for the croquet stroke. In the croquet stroke the red is sent as a reception ball to the far side of the hoop, whilst yellow achieves hoop running position. B. The continuation stroke is used to run the hoop earning the striker a further continuation stroke.

In the croquet stroke the primary aim is to croquet the striker's ball into a hoop running position. A secondary target is to get the croqueted ball to the far side of the hoop to act as a reception ball which is waiting to be roqueted after the hoop is run.

The first hoop is run on the continuation stroke, earning a further continuation stroke for running the hoop. Because the hoop has been run all of the balls on the court can now be roqueted again.

four ball break continued
A. Red is roqueted on the continuation stroke gained from running the hoop. B. The red is sent to hoop three as a pioneer and the striker's ball is sent near the pivot in the following croquet stroke.

The reception ball is now roqueted and the balls placed for the ensuing croquet stroke. The reception ball cannot be roqueted again until you have run hoop two. You already have a pioneer by hoop two (black) hence you can usefully send this reception ball to hoop three as a pioneer on your next hoop but one.

For this croquet stroke the forward ball is aimed at hoop three and a drive is played so as to send the striker's ball to the centre of the lawn somewhere around the pivot and the forward ball to hoop three.

A question should be raised here; why when sending a ball to hoop three was the striker's ball not sent to the pioneer at hoop two? This is in fact what has to be done in a three-ball break where there is no pivot. As discussed above we always want to approach a ball along its rush line so that we can rush it in a useful direction. We would dearly like to be able to rush the pioneer by hoop two closer to the hoop to make the following hoop approach shot simpler.

The hope of getting on to that rush line when playing a full roll nearly over the diagonal of the lawn is small. This is where the pivot comes in. When sending the old reception ball to hoop three in the croquet stroke the striker's ball can end up anywhere in a large circle (e.g. 10-foot diameter) around the pivot and you will still be able to roquet the pivot on your continuation shot. This roquet is the next shot.

playing a four ball break A&B
A. The pivot is gently roqueted. B. A take-off croquet stroke is played to move the striker's ball into a position near to the pioneer on hoop 2.

You roquet the pivot and place your ball for a take-off croquet stroke towards the pioneer at hoop two. Your intention is of course to land on the rush line of that pioneer into the hoop. The croquet shot is played and (hopefully) the striker's ball stops close to the hoop two pioneer ready for you to play the continuation stroke.

We have now completed the cycle - the balls are now in the equivalent positions to when we started at hoop one. We are by the pioneer at hoop two, there is a pioneer at hoop three and the pivot is still in the middle. That is the 4BB.

Practice: It is recommended that half-sized or small lawns are used at this stage as people need to learn the route and not be required to play precise shots. Groups should play a couple of hoops each in a 4BB with balls being replayed or kicked into place if strokes go wrong. If there is a high ratio of coaches to pupils then a pupil and coach can take alternate strokes. This allows the coach to tidy up the break between strokes.

4 Leaves

A leave is the placing of balls to your subsequent advantage at the end of a turn. More often than not when starting to play croquet you will break down and have no control over where the balls come to rest. Experienced players finish their turns when they want to and leave the opponent with very few shots. In a good leave most shots would be suicidal - giving the game away, and even if a ball is roqueted very little can be made from the situation. Below are a few basic ideas about leave strategies.

4.1 Guarding the Boundary

If you finish your turn with your balls on the yard line then should the opponent shoot at your balls and miss, their ball will be replaced on the yard line by your ball and you will then have an easy roquet. This is called guarding the boundary.

Conversely do not join up with your partner ball in the middle of the lawn if it can be helped. Your opponent can shoot at your balls and should they miss they sail away to the boundary remote from you. If they hit it is easier for them to set up a break with the balls in the middle of the lawn.

4.2 Joining Wide

If your opponent has the innings (i.e. they have their balls paired up and yours are separated), then a wide join is a way of forcing them to take action which is difficult. A wide join consists of playing one of your balls to its partner ball on the boundary, but separated by five or more feet. Given that your opponent has the innings if you were to aim at your partner ball and miss you would leave two balls close together which gives them a strong advantage. If you however leave your balls within likely roqueting distance for yourself the opponent has to come and move your balls, or lose the innings if you hit. Because your balls are not close together it is more difficult for them to make anything out of this leave.

4.3 Cross Wiring

You can leave an opponent either side of a hoop which you require, but so that they cannot hit each other, this is one type of wiring. Whatever they do you should be left with a pioneer on that hoop after they have played. You of course retire with your balls to a distant part of the lawn. There is a rule concerning wiring however (Law 13) in that you must not place an opponent's ball in such a position that it cannot hit all of at least one ball. If this occurs they can pick up that wired ball and play it from the baulk lines.

4.4 Playing to a Boundary

When you can take no safe shot at any ball, nor join up, then you need to put your ball away so that it is difficult for your opponent to use. This is the case if you shoot into a corner or at a boundary behind your opponent's break, e.g. if they are for hoops 2 and 3 shoot into corner 1 not four.

5 Hoopball (aka Golf "Croquet")

Contest: If there is time players can finish with a game of Hoopball.

Explain that this is a trivial game used to practice roqueting and hoop running. It is perverse that some people call this 'golf croquet' as at no time is croquet ever taken! The balls are played sequentially in the colour order as on the peg and each player only has a single stroke per turn. The purpose is to play 'golf' around the usual 12 hoop route. For Hoopball only you have to start from the Corner 4 and once one person has run the next hoop on the route everyone aims at the next one. The person running the hoop gets one point. You are not allowed to position yourself ahead of the route in the expectation that someone will run a hoop. The final difference is that you do not go to the peg after rover, you have to run hoop three again. The full rules are available on the Croquet Association website.

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Updated 28.i.16
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