On Improvement

Posted 16 December 2004 to Technique, The Game by Jeff Soo

by Jeff Soo

Problem: I’d like to be a better player, but I just don’t have time to practice.

Suggestion: Don’t worry about it. Croquet is fun at any level, so just enjoy the game as you are playing it now. Maybe in the future you’ll have more time to devote to practice.

Improvement is fun, indeed for many players it’s the most addictive aspect of the game, but there are more important things in life than lowering your croquet handicap.

Problem: Practice is so boring!

Suggestion: Some players enjoy practice more than play. You’re not one of them. But if you want to improve, you’ll have to practice. If you are really determined to improve, then you will find ways to make your practice sessions more enjoyable.

Don’t approach practice as though it were work. Think of it as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Problem: I practice regularly, but I’m not getting any better.

Suggestion: The more you practice, the more you’ll improve. True, but only to a point. For a beginner, this works well enough, but many players eventually find that they have reached a plateau, and that no amount of practice seems to help.
First of all, you may be improving more than you think. Improvement is a slow process.

But maybe you really are on a plateau. That’s because you aren’t practicing the right things. “But how can that be,” you wonder, “I’m practicing the same things I’ve always practiced.” Well, exactly. Your practice routine helped you improve from, say, beginner to intermediate, but that same routine is no longer effective now that you’re trying to move from intermediate to advanced.

Most players learn the game without much formal instruction. As a result, many players develop serious technical flaws without realizing it. Maybe now would be a good time to engage in a series of lessons, to help you analyze your technique. Or you can try this on your own, or with the help of other players.
In either case, you need to re-think how you practice. Find your weak areas and work on improving them. Be honest with yourself about this. Most of us are poor at this kind of self-analysis.

Vary your routine. Don’t practice mindlessly. Give your full concentration to every stroke. It’s better to practice correctly for twenty minutes than to spend two hours just knocking the balls around. It’s better to focus on one thing for that twenty minutes than to try to do a little bit of everything.

Problem: I don’t want to change my swing. My current swing feels comfortable and if I try to change, I always play worse instead of better!

Suggestion: Well, a lot of players have lousy swings. Your swing might be comfortable, but that doesn’t mean it’s effective. If you want to improve, you’ll have to accept that change can be hard. Sometimes you have to take a step backwards before you can move forwards.

Problem: I think I’ve reached my limit. I’m just not talented enough (or athletic enough, or smart enough, or young enough) to move to the next level.

Suggestion: Maybe this is the biggest challenge of all. If you believe that you can’t get better, you’ll prove yourself right every time. You have to believe that you will continue to improve. Then you have to commit to doing what it takes to get better. You may have to change your swing/stance/grip. You will almost certainly have to practice more, and more effectively. But you have to see yourself playing better before it can happen.

You may also need to change your approach to tournament play. Many players change their strategy in a tournament game, playing more conservatively, particularly in the later stages of a tournament. This may win you a few games in the short term, but it will only set you back in your long-term goal of improving. If you want to be a Championship Flight player, then you have to learn to attack and make breaks. You have to be willing to try this in tournament games, and to accept that you will fail spectacularly some of the time.

This article was originally published in the USCA Croquet News. Copyright by the author.