A bad year – What happened to my croquet?

Just a quick recap, this is my croquet story so far:

  • Year 1 – I joined a croquet club, didn’t play much croquet, handicap started at 18 (the highest/ worst being 24), lost a bunch of games and ended up handicap 20.
  • Year 2 – Mortified by worsening of handicap in year 1, practiced as much as life would allow, won a high handicap tournament and gain0--------------ed most improved UK female player 2015. End of year handicap being 5.
  • Year 3 – A challenge to get to scratch, or zero in handicap terms. I fought well and eventually managed to end the season on 0 handicap, but the year was really about learning to fight and learning to lose.  Playing 18 games in the Open Championship and only winning 3 provided me with the ‘off the lawn’ coaching I much needed, patience, determination and drive!
  • Year 4 – wait for it……

So, here we are in my forth season (third full season) of playing croquet.  And what a season it has been too.  In the winter running up to April 2017 I played indoor croquet and partnered my Dad.  Not only was this fun, it was also a lesson in how to be a doubles partner.  The indoor croquet is played on a short lawn, which is actually a carpet.  It’s odd to think about this now, bearing in mind the title of this blog article, but this indoor croquet experience boosted my confidence to the point where I knew in my head and my heart I could hit any ball from anywhere.  Not only could I hit everything from miles away, I was accurate, really accurate!  There is a term in croquet which is ‘touch’… I had ‘touch’.  But then, the season began.  And all I can really say (or shout really) is ‘Where the ******* ******* **** did my croquet go???’.

This year I have managed to achieve the following, in no particular order:

  • Handicap increase from 0 to 0.5 (That’s the wrong way for those who are not familiar)
  • Miss hit a ball so badly it went to the opposite corner of where I was aiming
  • Perfectly cut rush my opponents peg ball onto the peg…. When I really, really didn’t want to!
  • Jump over a ball two feet away because I didn’t notice the huge dent in the lawn in front of my ball (******* crows!)
  • Miss a lift shot by so much that I almost hit the manager in his tent

Without going into too much details, let me just say, this year has been a disaster.  I have actually found myself crying in the middle of a lawn because absolutely nothing would go right.  Last year, okay I lost lots of games against amazing players, but at least I played well.  I played to a good standard, a better standard than each of the days that had passed before.  This year, I feel I have been going completely backwards.

Now here is the interesting thing... I have actually been warned about this whole scenario by other croquet players.  Here are some of my favourite popular phrases which I have heard in the past, I have added my own comments below which may help someone else in the future.

“You may plateau”

An incredible understatement meaning that you are a fast improver and have probably been called ‘a natural’, only to find that when you have mastered the 4 ball break croquet is actually really difficult, verging on sodding impossible!

“One day you will only want to run hoops from 6 inches away, straight in front”

In the beginning I could run a damn hoop from the opposite end of the lawn, so what this really means is that over time, the lawn gets bigger, the hoops get smaller and the peg becomes somewhat non-existent at the end of a game… unless you are six inches away, and straight in front!

“You will start to lose games, but don’t worry, it will all come with experience”

What this really means is that croquet is hard, you will be playing against someone who has played for the last 30 years, no matter how good or bad their shots are, they are going to have the 30 years’ experience to deal with it, fact!

The emotions I have felt through this year, going through this process of ‘being bad at croquet’ have been incredible, from tears of frustration to aches of anger.  I have however finally come to an agreement with myself, I must learn to have fun again.  Croquet is competitive, but it is also a fabulous and fun sport, and I think I have forgotten to have fun in my mission to be a great croquet player.

Roll on Year 5, time to enjoy croquet for the amazingly competitive, strategic and fun sport it really is.  Whilst winning of course!

Mission to scratch

It is now the middle of November and the 2016 croquet season is now officially over.  At the beginning of the season I set out a few goals, one of which was to improve so much that my handicap would become ‘scratch’, this being zero.

Being ‘scratch’ means that a player can be considered an ‘A-Class’ player, and although I don’t currently see myself as an A-Class player, it’s an achievement none the less.  There is no real fame or fortune linked with being an ‘A-Class Player’, I’m not about to be on a Z-listed reality TV programme, nor will I be recognised in a supermarket.  What I do get with this title is a sense of achievement, satisfaction and above all else pride.  I know that I have also made my family, friends, coached and sponsors proud, which in turn seems to bring a sense of community to my own little croquet world.

Perhaps I should take a moment to clarify what I mean by; ‘I don’t currently see myself as an A-Class Player’.  I am immensely proud of what I have achieved in the three years of playing croquet and yes I have won some important games against some very good ‘A-Class’ players, but this does not by any means put me in the same class as these players.  They have worked for years to achieve consistency, I have merely worked out that if I don’t make a mistake, I might get to win.  Some of my opponents had played for over 25 years, played for their county and some for their country.  Although I was lucky enough to play for my county this year, I am a long way away from playing for my country and have no illusions about how much I will need to practice, compete and challenge myself over the next few years to get there.  I’m not entirely sure what I need to do for myself to be able to comfortably give myself the ‘A-Class’ title, but I’ll tell you when I get there.

In the meantime, there were a few people who said ‘You won’t get there’.  I place no blame on those who didn’t have the faith that I would complete my mission to scratch, there really is no fault to place as they possibly had no idea of my internal dedication and commitment to achieving my goal.  So this isn’t about proving anyone wrong, this is about practice, patience and persistence.

Next year, my goals as a player will continue to be placed far high enough to be out of reach, but low enough to jump and grab hold of tight.  But I think I would like to win a match… ‘Mission to win a match’… watch this space.

It’s a whole new adventure…

The Association Croquet Inter-County Championship 2016 *Counties for short*

I had the privilege of playing for Somerset in the Counties.  With over 160 croquet players over two locations, 22 counties were represented and I’ve never seen so much white clothing in my entire life all in one place.  I’m pleased to report that despite me being on the team for the first time, we were not relegated to the second division… phew!  We didn’t however win, but there is always next year.

The most interesting thing about this event is that it really is a team event.  The support for team members throughout all of the teams, which could be witnessed on and off the lawn, was for me a real heart-warming experience.  Knowing that I would struggle to win games against some of the other players, who also happened to be not just the top in the UK, but some being the highest ranked in the world, my own team were happy to accept me as one of them and encouraged me to use the event as a learning experience.  All games are doubles games, so over the four days of play I had three different doubles partners, all of which helped me win a game on each day.  From literally pointing at the blade of grass I needed to put my ball, to calling me a ‘donut’ (okay, that’s the child friendly version) when I needed to step up my game, I felt like part of the team.  A real team!

Playing alongside and against the highest ranked players in the country was just the beginning of what an extraordinary year this has become.  I have learnt many things, but the first lesson to learn was this, Lesson 1; Don’t apologise, just play better!

Men’s & Women’s Championships 2016

Having survived, just, the counties, I ventured towards my first appearance at the Men’s & Women’s Championships, and what an experience it was too.  It started with holiday time for my Mum and I, ice creams on the pebbled beach in Budleigh Salterton and a few games of scrabble to set us in the competitive mood.

The last time I played in a tournament at Budleigh was just over a year ago, with a handicap of 20.  So being able to play in the Men’s and Women’s was such a great privilege and dare I say achievement.  So I had it in my mind that no matter what the score was, I was still proud of myself for being there.

The games began on the Wednesday, where the lovely Rob Wilkinson partnered me in the Mixed Doubles event.  Although we only won 1 of our games, it was an honour to play with him and once again, against some of the top ranked ladies and gentlemen in the country.  We hadn’t partnered each other before, but being practice partners I think we were well matched and managed to keep up each other’s spirits throughout the miss hits and oops moments.

Thursday and Friday brought us more sunshine, which also brought out a little bit of the best of me.  Managing to win 3 out of 5 of my games against the other Ladies, I was pretty much on cloud nine.  Louise Bradforth sailed around the court leaving me speechless whilst watching her outstanding play.  And well done Louise for winning the event, very well deserved with a fabulous result of 3 triple peels in a row through the final.  This brings me on to her opponent in the final, the lovely Gabrielle Higgins.  I must admit, I didn’t think she was quite so lovely having pegged one of my balls out and testing my ‘not so amazing’ tactical ability.  Gabrielle won our game quite rightly with amazing tactics, stroke play and above all, patience.  Something I am still trying to learn.  But I can only say a huge thank you for an amazing game, her advice after the tournament and encouragement for my future.

I guess this brings me to lesson 2; Patience, Patience, Patience!

The Coles Championship

Firstly… Holy Moly… I was allowed to play!  I will start at the end of this tournament with the winner Reg Bamford.  Naturally I didn’t actually play him myself, but I did play in the same tournament!  Again… Holy Moly!  Reg is currently number three in the World Rankings, he stormed through each of his games peeling balls left, right and centre.  I had at this point never seen in action a ‘Sextuple Peel’ (sending your other ball through six hoops whilst navigating the playing ball through the rest).  It is definitely something spectacular to watch, but having eagerly gone back to my home lawns to attempt just the first of the triple peel, I am still completely in awe of the achievement.  My own games were not exactly as successful, but I did manage to win a couple of games which helped my ranking and handicap.  Phew!

I had one particularly poor day, which I think actually brought a tear to my eye.  My own frustration at my pathetic attempts to even hit another ball two feet away and missing, not to mention the hoops appearing to leap three feet to the left each time I tried to run one, was not easy to control… And I hate to admit it, but a little girly temper tantrum loomed.

Lesson 3 is a tough one; Keep calm and carry on, forget the last poor shot and make sure the next one is perfect.

The British Open Championships

Yep, you heard it right… I actually played in the British Opens.  Determined now to put everything I had learned into practice, I went into the tournament with open eyes and understood that I could lose every single game.  But I also knew that another great lesson would come my way.

Over 30 people played in this event from 6 different countries, I played 18 singes games and won… wait for it… 3!  You have no idea how much I enjoyed myself, even the loosing.  Incredible!  The competition was held over 9 days and by the end of it, I was exhausted.  But… I do have some good news… I had a doubles partner.

The amazing Dave Kibble, not only partnered me knowing that I was the lowest ranked person at the event, but also it was likely we would come 2nd… a lot, managed to drag me and my mallet around the croquet lawn and win some games.  Can you believe it… we got to the Semi-Finals of the British Open Doubles event.  All I can really say is Dave Kibble… you are my hero!

So, with far fewer tantrums (there may have been one or two), a lot of patience and the will to play better shots… I honestly feel I played the best I could at this point in my croquet journey.  But of course there is always another lesson to learn.  Lesson 4; Listen and learn.

The real highlights of the opens for me came at the end of the days play.  Not just getting to know my fellow croquet players better off the lawns, but also being able to accept their willing coaching and advice.  I can’t thank my opponents at this competition enough for their support and encouragement, willing me to become the better player I strive to be.

So that’s the 2016 story thus far, my handicap is now 16 and I am currently ranked 434 in the World.  The next events are the Barlow Bowl, Northern Championships, Selectors Weekend and the Southern Championships.  Oh, and before all of that, a day’s coaching with Dad J

Most improved lady croquet player 2015

On Monday 7th December 2015, at precisely 13:44 in the afternoon, I received an e-mail giving me the most exciting news of my entire croquet career.  I had been awarded the Steel Memorial Bowl by the Croquet Association, which is presented to the most improved lady player of the year.

I was aware that I had been nominated by my own club and, although I was extremely grateful and proud that they thought I deserved it, I suppose I didn’t think I would really get the award.  I mean seriously, we are talking about ALL of the lady croquet players in the whole of the UK.

Well, having heard the news I must admit it was difficult not to tell the entire world sooner.  But, I thought I would share my ‘what happened next’ with you all…

  • Bounce around my office like a lunatic until my husband reminded me I was still at work… naturally after giving many congratulations
  • Call Dad (Cliff Jones, the one and only)
  • Call Kriss Chambers (The coach who put up with me)
  • Call my mum, my sister and my three croquet buddies (Neil, Brian & David)
  • Call my club’s; Handicap Chairman (Peter Dyke)
  • and Chairman (Andrew Wimshurst)

And so, having listed these amazing people, I am wondering who in fact deserves the ‘Memorial Bowl’ more, me or the following who are the real contestants:


Cliff Jones, my Dad

Dad’s year is always very busy with coaching, playing and organising tournaments, but this year it’s been that little bit more busy than usual.  With my endless phone calls about angles and rules, not to mention having to put up with an argumentative daughter whilst delivering a beginners course- I am wondering whether the lack of hair could be something to do with me.

Kriss Chambers, the coach

I can only try to imagine what it is like to be an A-Class player, being at the top of your game and having the pressure of being one of the best.  But what about if you are and A-Class player, with a one year old, full time job and … a relentless newcomer to the sport who won’t stop badgering you for private tuition.  Poor Kriss not only gave several evenings to me, but also endless, Facebook messages, e-mails about strategy, openings and my dreaded ‘defensive play’.

Lydia Jones & Sam Orchard, my mum and sister

As with many families, we are all busy doing our own things and living our own lives.  But every time I called Mum and Sam to tell them the next exciting development in my croquet career, they have encouraged, supported, cheered and commiserated, in the full knowledge that yes… we really are talking about a sport called ‘croquet’.

Neil Devine, Brian McCausland, David Hunt, my three best buddies