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Dr Ian Plummer

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Intermediate Coaching Notes 1

Section 1. The Four-Ball Break

The four-ball break is the basic mechanism for making hoops with the minimum of fuss. The essence of playing successful four-ball breaks is to avoid difficult strokes, e.g. wide split rolls and long hoop runs! Using no new shots you can design the break so that difficult shots are avoided and you will increase your success. The principal elements of the method are:

  • to use rushes to reduce the length of subsequent croquet strokes,
  • to use stop shots which allow you to accurately place the back ball in the croquet shot and most important of all,
  • to approach all balls along the direction that you wish to rush them.

1.1. In general the priorities of any turn in croquet are

  1. make the next hoop,
  2. maintain the break, and
  3. try fancy manoeuvres.

It is pointless positioning balls beautifully ahead of your break if you then fail to make the next hoop.

1.2. The stop shot is one of the most accurate croquet strokes available. It is a very precise way of positioning the back ball in the croquet stroke. The energy of the stroke is split roughly in proportion to the relative distances travelled by the balls. Say you achieve a 10:1 stop shot but over-hit the stroke by 30%. The approximate error in the energy received by the back ball is only 3% (1/10th of 30%). Needless to say the front ball still has too much energy.

There is an animation of a 4-ball break on the Virtual Lawn: Virtual Lawn

1.3. The general recipe for a four-ball break is as follows:

pioneer positions for a four ball break
Figure 1.4. Pioneer position for a four ball break.
  1. Rush pioneers on to the centre lines of the hoops.
  2. Croquet the old pioneer as a reception ball on the far side of the hoop to give yourself a rush towards the pivot after you have run the hoop.
  3. After that rush, from close to the pivot, stop shot the old reception ball to your next-but-one hoop whilst getting a rush on the pivot to your next pioneer's rush line into the hoop.
  4. Rush the pivot on to that rush line.
  5. Take off along the rush line and rush the pioneer into the hoop.

The basis of this recipe is given below.

1.4. Four-ball break pioneers should be between the peg and the hoop, say 1 yard or less from the hoop (figure 1.4) regardless as whether you are on the first or second circuit of the hoops. You will always be moving out radially from the pivot near the middl of the lawn and hence you do not want to have to pass your pioneer and then rush it back to the hoop. You might collide with the hoop or roquet your pioneer further from the hoop.

1.5. ALWAYS get on the rush line linking the pioneer and the hoop. This is crucial to making the four-ball break easy. It means that you are approaching the pioneer in the direction that you wish to rush it. A variation in length of your take-off from the pivot to the pioneer of say one foot will still mean that you have a forward rush. If you approach the pioneer across its rush line then the same variation will lead to a difficult cut rush or a long roll into the hoop (figure 1.5).

rush line do's and don'ts
Figure 1.5 Distance error approaching along a rush line into a hoop gives a straight hoop run, whilst across a rush line gives a difficult hoop

1.6. You always want to take off from the pivot along the rush line to the next pioneer. If the pioneer is not ideally placed, you must still plan to rush the pivot on to the pioneer's rush line. This should be done even if the pivot has to be rushed completely out of the middle of the lawn to the boundary. As stated at the start, a pivot beautifully placed in the middle of the lawn is no good if you fail to get your next hoop!

1.7. Rushing the pivot to the boundary behind a 'deep' pioneer is valuable. You stop shot the pivot back to the centre of the court and still approach the misplaced pioneer along its rush line.

1.8. It is bad practice to keep your pivot nailed to the peg. You should always consider moving it towards a pioneer to give yourself a shorter and hence easier take-off. If the pivot is close to the peg then the peg hinders you from hitting the pivot if you approach from some directions.

1.9. Aim to rush the pioneer to the playing side of the hoop. From the playing side of the hoop a simple roll allows you to place the reception ball for a rush in any direction once you have run the hoop. If your rush on the pioneer lands it on the far side of the hoop you will generally have to take-off to get to hoop running position. This denies you the option of setting the rush.

1.10. Aim to rush the pioneer on to the centre line of the hoop, even if it may be a little further from the hoop. It removes the need of getting precision length in the hoop approach croquet stroke, which in turn guarantees a straight hoop run. If a forward rush is needed after the hoop then rush the pioneer slightly off the centre line of the hoop to allow you to croquet a ball beyond the hoop.

1.11. If your rush sends the pioneer to the side of the hoop then you will have to obtain the hoop running position from across the centre line of the hoop. If you approach too closely to the hoop, an error of a few inches in the length that your ball travels will leave a difficult angled hoop. It is preferable to have a long straight hoop run than a short impossibly angled one. Consequently you should aim to achieve a hoop running position at least a foot or so away from the hoop (figure 1.11)

approaching a hoop
Figure 1.11 Avoid approaching too close to a hoop when you roll from the side. In A a small error in placement means the hoop is impossible. By placing your ball further away, B, the hoop is still runnable.

1.12. Avoid having your reception ball too close to the hoop. You should plan to have them say 2ft. or more beyond the hoop. If you have to trickle exactly 2.37" through the hoop you may well stick in the hoop, or be hoop-bound if you do run it.

1.13. The precise position you want to rush your reception ball to is one where you can get a rush on the pivot to send it on to the rush line of your next pioneer (see above), and be able to stop the old reception ball to your next but one hoop.

1.14. You want to choose the position from where you can take the subsequent croquet stroke to minimise the angle of divergence between the balls in the stroke. Wide croquet strokes are more difficult to play than narrow ones. You will generally have to compromise though between the narrowest croquet stroke and a short approach to get good position on the pivot.

1.15. Given the opportunity, make the pivot an enemy ball. This is not essential. If you break down you are likely to be in a stronger position - only every other hoop has to be made off an enemy ball and they are left in the centre of the lawn. (c.f. Section 3: Changing Pivot). A ball in the centre of the lawn is in a weak position as you can subsequently take a 'free shot' through it and not give the a break away should you miss.

1.16. You should plan to make your last hoop off an enemy ball, again this is not essential. This allows you to position it, the other enemy ball and finally have control over where you pair up with your partner. If you have to position your partner ball first you have to get the other balls into their intended positions.

1.17. During a four-ball break it can happen that the pivot is so close to your reception ball, after running your hoop, that you do not have the space to play a stop shot to send the reception ball across the lawn without losing a valuable rush on the pivot. In this case you should play the manoeuvre described in Section 3: Changing Pivot. After the next hoop or next-but-one you can always change the pivot again to restore an appropriate colour order.

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Updated 28.i.16
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