The most important shot in croquet is the one where a round ball proceeds through a very narrow rectangular hoop. If this shot succeeds, life is rosy and fun, but if our ball shutters to a stop in the jaws or clangs off the stanchion, skies turn grey and emotions plunge southward. Deadness has never seemed so tangible.
Some days we have it, and other days we don't. Whether we are currently playing croquet at the beginner, intermediate or scratch level, our confidence level as we approach hoop shots varies. If we are having a good day, we are the master of short or long shots, straight on or angled.
After watching many of the world's players, I have concluded that employing a consistent rhythm greatly increases the chances of scoring points. The basic components of stalking, good stance and balance, a slow and non-waggling back swing, and a smooth forward stroke with follow-through combine to produce a good wicket stroke. And no matter how easy or hard the attempt appears, most scratch players employ a consistent rhythm. Comparing this to beginning and intermediate players, a clear message is received. After stalking and assuming their stance, most players begin their stroke within a few seconds when the shot is relatively short and straight on. Any shifting of feet, readjustment of hands and fingers on the mallet, fidgeting, second and third and fourth looks at the wicket, and other extraneous preparations just increase the stress level and the chance for failure. Too, the hoops seems to get narrower...
This coach strongly recommends that no matter what the distance or angle, use basically the same preparation and stroke for all wicket attempts. Go back about ten feet, get a good sight line, stalk/approach the ball, assume your stance, take a deep breath, and within four or five seconds, commence your back swing. Trying to "control the wicket shot" is an invitation to disaster. Unless it is absolutely necessary to get a great rush on another ball after scoring the hoop, swing with enough force to move your ball eight or ten feet past the hoop if the ball does not touch the stanchions. This will produce a smooth, firm stroking motion with enough topspin (if you follow-through).
Use the rhythm method for scoring hoops. Your wins will increase, your deadness will decrease, and you will breathe new life into your game.
- Ross Robinson