If balls could talk ...

If your croquet ball could talk, and had the opportunity to explain just one thing to you …

Thank you for this opportunity. Before I begin may I say, on behalf of all the croquet balls in this club that – although you think we are hard, even dense – we are aware of the unkind things that are said about (and to) us. This is all the more hurtful because whatever we are accused of doing, or not doing, is never, ever our fault. I trust that I have made myself understood. I will not name names, but you know who you are, and I have faith in you to do the needful.

Turning now to the main topic. The most important thing I would like you to know has to do with the hit (we actually prefer the term ‘stroke’ as being far less brutal, but then – frankly – some of you might be called …)
This will be about making a straightforward stoke, and complicated matters such as angled shots, stop shots and so on will be left to another occasion. I will explain this by referring to the circumference of the ball, its diameter and the tangent, the last two being perpendicular to each other.

Now don’t go all, “I don’t do big words” on me; and take that ridiculous eyes-glazing-over expression off your face – the wind might change. This is so straightforward that even a school principal can follow along.
When you take your stance and look straight down you should see my outline as a perfect circle. Even the slightest deviation will alter that. 

Just so that you know, the line that makes a circle is called a circumference. Now, you may wonder why a round line is called both a ‘circle’ and also its ‘circumference’. ‘Circle’ refers to the whole bag of tricks, just as ‘engine’ refers to all the bits and pieces that go to make up that thing. Each feature has its own name; in the case of an engine, there are pistons, gaskets, heads, sumps and other things I know not what of.
So it is that the line that goes from the centre of a circle to the outside is called the radius; the straight line that goes from one side to the other without passing through the centre is called a chord; and the line that makes the circle’s shape is called the circumference. 

But I digress. Balls, after all, do tend to roll away. 

It will be helpful here for you to have an imaginary picture of a circle showing these lines, or even to draw it now on paper and follow along (pretend to be a school principal; you will find the sensation strangely disappointing).

When you stalk your target you should be drawing a line directly from your target (another ball, the mouth of the hoop, an opponent’s ankle, etc.) to your ball. That line extends directly over the ball and runs from one side to the other, passing through the centre.
In case you have forgotten (or never bothered to learn it in the first place), let me remind you that the straight line that is drawn from one point on the circumference, through the centre of the circle and on to the opposite point on the circumference is called the diameter.

Look carefully for the point on the circle where that stalking line (the diameter) reaches the circumference on the side closest to you. This is where the mallet will hit me. You must find exactly that point. The slightest deviation will send your shot awry.

Go back to your imaginary picture of a circle, and now draw a line at right angles to the diameter at the point that the diameter touches the circumference. Lines at right angles to each other are called perpendicular lines.
This line which is at right angles to the diameter is called the tangent. This is very important. Stop wandering – that expression is not attractive – and come back to this.

The head of the mallet should be exactly on the line that is the tangent. The slightest deviation will send your shot awry.

The hit must be on that point and made with the centre of the mallet’s face. You may have heard players speaking about hitting the ball ‘square on’? Same, same.

Furthermore, the shaft of the mallet must be perpendicular (i.e. straight up and down, at right angles) to the ground.

The follow through must be along the line of that diameter. The slightest deviation will send your shot – yes, you guessed correctly – awry. 

You may have stalked correctly and lined up correctly, but if your swing is just the tiniest bit off – your shot will go ... (I am aware that ‘awry’ is not a commonly used word but balls do have a tendency to go round and round. In addition, some people need to be told more than once. And it is a much nicer word than some which we blush to hear.)

Let’s say that you are 5 metres away from your target. Your mallet face is a mere 5° off the tangent line. You will miss your target by almost 18 centimetres. That’s 7 inches in the old money. Other players will laugh at you.

Now, we will try a closer position: say, just 3 metres away from your target. Your mallet face is better aligned; now it is just 1° off the tangent line. You will still miss your target, this time by a bit more than 5 centimetres. Your opponents will smirk and make comments that you cannot hear.

Even at one metre, a deviation of one degree will put me 1 ¾ cm (more than half an inch) away from where you want me to be. This is why, when you aim for the mouth of the hoop, your ball hits the leg instead. It is the reason, when you want to promote your partner’s ball they both zoom off at angles to each other instead of moving forward. You will feel exasperated and say things like, “What is the Hellenistic exhortation?” and “I should take up darts” and your partner may suggest you take up underwater knitting or might even say, “Good try.”

Just one degree makes a big difference. If you can find an old fashioned protractor and use it to draw an angle of only one degree it looks very, very small; but when you draw the line out to only the ruler’s length of you will see that the difference – over that very short distance – is half a centimetre. You will have played enough croquet (whether you are a beginner or an expert) to know that half a centimetre can make a considerable difference to the outcome.

I trust that you will now understand why we balls appreciate your care and accuracy. We know that the difficulty for you is in being both accurate and consistent; we simply sit there on the lawn awaiting your direction. 

Now, if nothing else, you will be able to enjoy a game of croquet well equipped with excuses for and reasons as to why your shot was not what was intended, and with some big words to say so.

If you had received this information from a coach or read it in a text book, the conclusion would be something along the lines of, ‘now you know what to do’ but our representative croquet ball has politely refrained from rubbing your noses in it. 

Say ‘thank you’ to the nice ball.