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Technical
Stop Shots with Heavy Mallets

John Riches supplies the following summary of responses from the Nottingham Croquet maillist.

Earlier this year I invited readers of this forum to help the South Australian Coaching Committee by suggesting ideas about the best way to play and teach stop-shots with heavy mallets. The response was very gratifying. The suggestions were many and varied, and it has taken us quite some time to work through them all, as we meet only once each month and have many other things on our agenda. We now are ready to share the results of our investigations with anyone who is interested. Please note that we claim no authority or infallibility, and our ideas may well change over time. The account below comes from the committee, not from me personally.

JR.

Recently the Coaching Committee has been asked to consider the best way of playing and teaching stop-shots with heavy mallets. During the past 10 years or so there has been a trend toward using mallets weighing well over three and a half pounds, whereas twenty years ago most mallets weighed less than three pounds.

Be that as it may, a number of players who have changed to using the heavier mallets have found that they can no longer play good stop-shots. In particular, they can no longer play a stop-shot from the yard-line in front of hoop 1 to load hoop 2 within 2m and hold position to run hoop 1. This is a shot which can occasionally provide the only good way to establish a break, so it is desirable that a way be found to play it acceptably if at all possible

After gathering information from top players all around the world, and members of our committee spending many hours experimenting out on the lawn, we are ready to pass on to coaches our conclusions regarding the way we recommend this shot should be approached.

It must be recognised that this type of stop-shot requires exact timing, especially if the mallet has a flexible handle; and the percentage of desirable results will be lower than with a lighter mallet. This has to be accepted as part of the price you pay for using a heavier mallet which if used properly has advantages in other ways -  for rushes, long rolls and long roquets.

Method

  1. Stand a little further back from the ball than in (say) a take-off.  This should mean that the mallet shaft is tilted very slightly backward as the mallet contacts the ball, or in other words, the front of the mallet-head is slightly raised.
  1. Use a fairly firm grip, but not too tight.
  1. Throughout the stroke keep your shoulders still and your eyes fixed on the back of the ball. This is even more important than in other shots, as you need to stop the forward movement immediately after the mallet contacts the ball, so you have to be aware of exactly where in the swing that point will be reached.
  1. Draw the mallet back very slowly. It may help to picture an archer slowly drawing back the bow-string before letting go to send the arrow on its way. The action here should be very deliberate, until the mallet has swung back the distance which is necessary for the particular length of stop-shot you are playing. The length of back-swing must be learnt by practising stop-shots of different lengths until you get the “feel” of the amount of backswing needed.
  1. The forward swing should be a type of ‘flick”. You could think of it as similar to cracking a whip or flicking someone with a wet towel. You should feel as if you are “flicking” the striker’s ball with the mallet-head. This is the most vital thing to get right in order to achieve a maximum-ratio stop-shot when you are using a heavy mallet.
  1. Immediately as it contacts the ball, the mallet’s forward motion must be stopped. This can be achieved either by withdrawing the mallet (as with the wet towel), or by grounding the mallet which is assisted by the slight backward tilt of the shaft.
  1. For an angled stop-shot, e.g. from the 1st corner to load hoop 2 and hold position in front of hoop 1, you will need to establish the direction of swing by finding an aiming point halway between the points where you expect the two balls to finish. Do not “halve the angle”, and do not swing toward hoop 1 where you want the striker’s ball to go, as both of these actions would reduce the ratio of the stop-shot.

CONCLUSIONS

The key points are: “very slow backswing” and “flick it”. (One player was even heard saying these words to himself as he played the stroke. At least, that is what it sounded like, but he had mis-hit the stroke badly).

We also tried different grips and stances, but they did not seem to make much difference.

Players with heavy mallets need to learn the ratios they are capable of achieving for long or short, straight or angled stop-shots. They will also learn to avoid, where possible, using high-ratio stop-shots in order to set up and play breaks. In particular, avoid using a sharp stop-shot to load the next-but-one hoop when you need to get a rush on a ball to your current hoop, as the difficulty of timing the stop-shot exactly will mean that you have less chance of achieving exact control over the finishing position of the striker’s ball than in most other croquet strokes such as flat-mallet drives or stab-rolls or half-rolls.

It may take some time to teach a player to achieve the timing needed for the “flick” as described above. If you find a good way of teaching it (apart from telling the player to imagine he is drawing back a bow-string or flicking a wet towel), or an alternative method of playing stop-shots effectively with heavy mallets, please let us know.

Author: John Riches
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Updated 28.i.16
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