Maui Croquet ClubCROQUET COACHING:  Five Keys to Consistency

This article is about golf, but I think that it applies equally well to croquet.
I have edited out the golf specific things, and replaced golf words with croquet words.

Good fundamentals will make your mis-hits more like your good shots -- the secret to [higher] scores.

March 2002
Golf Digest
by Peter Kostis

It seems like every student who comes to me for a lesson wants to be "more consistent".  A noble aim.  But what is consistency in [croquet] terms?

Years ago, Ben Hogan used to say that on a good day he would be happy with the way he hit maybe only three or four shots.  That means he hit ten times that many less than perfectly!  On the face of it, that isn't very consistent.  Yet, as we know, Hogan was on of the greatest ball-strikers of all time.  In fact, players paired with Hogan would swear he never missed a single shot!  Is consistency, then, in the eye of the beholder?  Perhaps.

Hogan's mis-hits were so close to his perfect shots that only he knew when it was a miss.  And that's my main point:  Consistency is all about getting the quality of your mis-hits as close as possible to the quality of your good shots.  The key to that kind of consistency is in your fundamentals.  You have to improve them to be able to hit enough good shots and to improve your mis-hits so you achieve a higher degree of consistency.

The five most important fundamentals that lead to consistency are:  (1) your grip, (2) your ball position, (3) your alignment, (4) your tension level, and (5) your balance from address to the end of the follow-through.
1.  Have a Consistent Grip

You have to hold the [mallet] so you can [flex] your wrists properly, maintain a square [mallet] face, and keep the [mallet] from flying out of your fingers -- but not so firmly that any tension goes past your elbows.  ...  A [Salomon] grip allows you to generate a lot more power.  And the more power you have, the less you have to use, so any tension in your grip can safely be reduced.  A [Solomon] grip does more good things than bad.  An [Irish] grip does more bad things than good.

2.  Find Consistent Ball Position

High-handicap players don't always understand that you have to hit [through the ball].  [They place the ball too close to their feet.]  Practice on the [court] to find the ball position that allows you to do this.  ...

3.  Aim and Align Consistently

When it comes to aim and alignment, most people don't even know what to aim!  They aim their body at the target, then align the [mallet] head to the body.  That's backward.  You should aim the [mallet] face, then position your body to the [mallet].  ...  If you're misaimed, you'll instinctively change your swing in an attempt to hit the target.

4.  Maintain Consistent Tension

Physical tension is not necessarily bad.  For example, you want to have a sense of lively tension in your feet and legs at address.  But -- and here is the key -- you don't want that tension spreading into your hips.  You also want some tension in your arms and fingers.  But, again, you don't want that tension to get past your elbows.  And that's the problem:  Too many [croquet players] have tension in their necks, chest, and shoulders.  They can't swing their arms.

It is important to get your tension level correct at address.  Too much at the start will cause it to "evaporate" during your swing.  Too little and you'll seize up at some point in the swing.  What you want is an even flow to your tension.  You want it to be relatively constant from beginning to end.

5.  Keep Consistent Balance

You can tell a decent [croquet player] from a distance just by the way the player stays balanced throughout the swing.  Good balance will definitely make your mis-hits more consistent.

To check your balance at address, get a friend to push you in the chest or in the back.  If you are properly balanced, you'll be able to maintain your posture.

Balance at the end of your swing is just as important.  Try this:  Hit your shot, then hold your finish position until the ball [stops rolling].  If you can consistently do that, then you are well balanced.

The Mental Keys to Consistency

1.  Fear

When you're afraid, your big muscles freeze and your small muscles speed up.  Step in front of a truck and your legs seize up while your arms fly in the air.  It's the same in [croquet].

Fear can come from a number of sources:  [a tight hoop, a long roquet, an important hit-in, a difficult split shot].  To handle any of that, you need a game plan -- a consistent routine and technique for each shot.

A lot of [croquet players] get fearful when they sense a queasiness in their stomachs.  It is just adrenaline -- your body's way of giving you extra ammunition to fight the battle.  Great players want that feeling!  It gets them pumped up and ready to be successful.  You should be too.  Try to enjoy that queasy feeling.

2.  Doubt

You want to be free of doubt in your swing.  Even if you think you might [be taking the wrong shot], you still need to make a good swing.  Let the shot come up short or long.  That's better than making the wrong swing.  Whatever your choice of shot, stay 100% committed to it.

3.  Mental Tension

[Croquet] is not like, say, ice hockey, where a player having a bad game simply tries harder.  The harder you try in [croquet], the worse you get.

Trying too hard often stems from battling ... your opponent's great shot.  But the reality is, you hit your best shots when you're not too tense.  In [croquet], you have to try hard to not try hard.  Extra effort is usually counter productive.

4.  Bad Thinking

Few players have a game plan -- how they will play each [break], how they will approach each shot.  As a result, they lack focus.  ...

To avoid this, you need a game plan for each [break], and a preshot routine for each shot that includes a quick analysis of key factors like distance and lie.  You want every shot to feel like a familiar situation rather than one full of fear and uncertainty.

Two Key Suggestions

The reason consistency is so difficult to achieve is that it is not something in and of itself that you can work on.  It is, rather, a testimony to the quality of the fundamentals in your swing.  So while you may think that practicing your grip or perfecting your setup aren't terribly important, they, along with the other fundamentals in this article, are the true building blocks for consistency.

Most people feel that they are more consistent in [practice] than in [play].  If that's you, then you should pay particular attention to these two suggestions.

1.  Practice Perfect, Play Comfortable

Consistent shots come from a consistent swing, which is a result of a consistent setup and good fundamentals.  Always perfect your fundamentals with practice that is as perfect as you can make it.  But when you [get in a game], play with what's comfortable and trust your fundamentals.

2.  Have a Preshot Routine

A fundamentally sound routine will consistently get your mind and body prepared to hit the shot.  Setup, aim, grip, balance, ball position, and tension should all be controlled in your preshot routine.  Once you get that consistent, you'll be well on your way to the all-round consistency you're looking for.