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Sweep Shots

John Riches gives a description of how to execute sweep shots

The "sweep" shot, in which the mallet is used with the shaft horizontal rather than vertical, has increased in popularity during the past 20 or so years and is now quite common.  It can be used in many situations to hit a ball which could not be legally roqueted any other way, and may well make the difference between winning and losing a game by enabling the striker to continue a break which would otherwise have had to be aborted.

The questions to which a coach needs answers are:

  1. What is the most effective way to play the sweep shot  -  i.e. position of feet, body, hands, and type of swing?
  2. Are there other ways which may be better for different players or in slightly different situations?
  3. How should one go about teaching a player to play effective sweep shots with confidence?

Some tentative ideas are as follows: Assume that you have just made hoop 1 and have finished six inches (about 15 cm) directly behind the left-hand (western) hoopleg.  You need to roquet a ball which is a further 2 yards (just under 2m) behind the hoop.  The centres of the two balls are exactly in line with the centre of the hoopleg.  In such a position, and over such a distance, a legal hammer shot is virtually impossible, but the roquet should be makeable most times with a properly played sweep shot.  Note that over a distance of 2 yards direction becomes an important factor in the shot, as well as getting enough force into the severely hampered shot to make your ball reach the ball you want to roquet.

1. How to Play the Sweep

There are various ways possible, and explaining in words without demonstration or illustration will leave a lot to be desired, but the best, for those who can manage it, seems to be: Walk in from the front of hoop 1 along the line in which you want to hit your ball.  Keep your body square to this line at all times, with your dominant (sighting) eye directly in line with the hoopleg and the centres of the two balls.  Hold the mallet horizontally, with your right hand near the head of the mallet (fingers under the shaft) and your left hand toward the end of the shaft (fingers on top of the shaft). Keeping the shaft horizontal, move both arms and the whole mallet to the left until the head of the mallet is in front of your body and in line with your sighting eye, so that you can look straight down the bottom of the mallet head.  For some players this will be a rather uncomfortable position of the arms, especially the right wrist which is required to bend at a considerable angle, but most players can do it if they are shown what to do.  The shaft can be held with the fingers of the right hand  -  it is not necessary to have the palm of the hand flat against the shaft. Kneel down on one knee (preferably your right knee) in front of hoop 1, looking over the hoop with your sighting eye directly over the hampering hoopleg. Check that the mallet is exactly horizontal, and place the mallet head against the outside of the hoopleg, with the centre of the end face at half-ball height.  The bottom of the mallet head should be flat against the hoopleg. Adjust the mallet so that when you move it forward to contact the ball the edge of the hitting area on the mallet face will just fractionally overlap the centre of the ball. Keep your body still, and when hitting the ball use a deliberate forward "pushing" action with follow through, not a jerk or a jab.  In the forward 'swing' both hands should move forward at almost the same speed, so that the whole mallet moves forward, with the shaft remaining parallel to the ground and also parallel to the south boundary. After practising it for some time you should be able to learn to not only catch the ball with the very edge of the mallet face just overlapping the centre of the ball, but also slightly drag the ball to the left, and even make it miss the target ball on the left-hand side (or hit a ball in that position which looks even more impossible).  This requires exact timing, since it involves an additional movement of the mallet which must not begin until the mallet is virtually in contact with the ball.  It is best achieved not by stopping the left hand in its forward movement and rotating the mallet around the end of the shaft, but by moving the whole mallet to the left.  That is, the whole mallet moves directly forward until it contacts the ball (or just before), then changes direction and moves toward the second corner. Don't forget the follow-through which helps achieve accuracy of direction.

To facilitate sweep shots the mallet should have a firm place near the head where it can be gripped. A thin metal shaft makes things harder.  It is also better if there is as little bevel as possible and the bottom of the head is smooth and flat, rather than curved,  -  this is a definite disadvantage of the new NZ mallets which have a curved bottom. With a good sweep action distances considerably greater than 2 yards are possible, but obviously direction becomes less reliable as the distance increases. A player who sights with his left eye will find this particular sweep shot more difficult than one who sights with his right eye, but he will find it easier to play the mirror-image sweep shot with the balls directly behind the right-hand (eastern) leg of hoop 1.  Players should learn to play the shot on either side of the hoop, swapping hands and knees over as necessary.  Unfortunately the sighting eye cannot be swapped (at least, not for most players), so they will usually find one side easier than the other.

2. Other Ways

Some players position the body quite differently, e.g. by kneeling on either one or both knees with the body at right-angles to the direction in which the ball will be hit.  That is, they kneel down alongside hoop 1 with the body facing hoop 4. Others also face hoop 4, but remain standing and bend over, which makes if rather difficult to get the hands low enough for the shaft to be properly horizontal so as to achieve maximum effect (which of course will not always be needed). In either of these two methods the hands will be placed with the fingers of both hands under the shaft, and it is important in either case to stand well forward so that your eyes are again directly in line with the centres of the balls. Most players who use these 'sideways' methods have a "scooping" action in which the end of the shaft moves only slightly relative to the head.  This requires that the swing (which is more or less a rotation of the head achieved by moving the right hand toward hoop 2 while keeping the laft hand stationary) must start with the left hand well forward toward hoop 2  -  at least level with the ball you are hitting, as otherwise the edge of the hitting face is not likely to overlap the centre of the ball. In all cases you should hit forward through the ball; do not jab down on it.

3.  How Best to Teach it

This is a question that I cannot answer satisfactorily at present. Although it takes a lot of explaining in words, the shot is not so hard to play in practice  -  apart from getting the timing correct when maximum effect is required  -  provided the coach can demonstrate it correctly. It is a question that coaches (and coaching committees) should be addressing if they have not already done so; but first they would be advised to try the different methods and satisfy themselves as to which one they should teach.  It is also important to decide whether particular types of player (as regards stature, flexibility of muscles and limbs, coordination of eye and limb, etc.) may require different methods, and at what stage of a player's development such a shot should be taught.  One player asked me "Why didn't you teach me this when I was in bottom division and was getting into these positions all the time?  -  now I run hoops better and rarely need to use it."  I think there are other more important things to teach players at that level, but perhaps his point is worthy of some consideration.

I would welcome any other ideas or suggestions or corrections along the lines that I have attempted to explain above  -  even from those who believe that coaching is an unnecessary waste of time.


Author: John Riches
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Updated 28.i.16
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