Are you fit enough to play Croquet?
Yes, it’s a serious question. Croquet is the chosen sport of Diana Wilson who says it can be an excellent, yet gentle way, to improve your fitness levels. However, ensuring you are fit enough to play at Championship level, requires a whole extra level of dedication and the benefits are evident to anyone who plays. Read more below about how Diana prepared for this year’s Women’s World Golf Croquet Championship.
In March 2023, Diana says, “I was lucky enough to be selected to play in the Women’s World Golf Croquet Championships which are being held in Brighton this August. I immediately started to think “how can I prepare my body” to be “match fit” enough to play in this prestigious event?
There were obvious aspects of croquet technique that I needed to improve on but I wondered what could I do specifically, to strengthen any weak areas and to ensure I had enough stamina on the day? Just as with many croquet players, I suffer from arthritis. I’ve also had both ankles fused (which means, I no longer have any movement in either of my ankles). This has proved something of a challenge but having a keen interest in the sport and a clear objective has helped me to find ways to improve my fitness levels in spite of it. I would encourage anyone who might be looking to “get fitter” at any age, to find an activity that is both sociable and truly engages you. A steady increase in your fitness levels won’t seem such hard work and like me, you will surely feel a great sense of personal achievement – which in turn does wonders for confidence and ability in other areas of your life.
It occurred to me, when I first started training, that croquet players don’t regard themselves as athletes, but I believe they should. There are many aspects to general fitness, including flexibility, muscular strength, aerobic fitness, having a strong, firm ‘core’, balance, co-ordination and stamina to name but a few. Most sports players nowadays work on all these aspects of fitness to improve their overall performance in their chosen sport, so why not croquet players?
Know your own body
As I have arthritis, I know it’s especially important for me to strengthen the muscles around my leg joints, so that those joints are better supported when I’m active. For anyone currently managing arthritis, it’s also key to try and maintain a healthy weight ratio to your height if you can. Any additional weight through the arthritic joints is not going to help your pain levels when playing.
In order to improve my swing, I’ve devised a strengthening programme for my shoulders to give me more power in the stroke. I’m also going to aqua classes which are exceptional at improving core body strength and aerobic fitness in general, particularly if you go into the deep end of the pool and wear a flotation belt, as I recently did. Many local swimming pools run these classes and they are perfect for anyone with hip, knee or ankle arthritis as they can ensure you experience a thorough work out, without having to take weight through your arthritic joints. Pilates classes are also excellent for developing a strong core (ie. the central part of your body which includes the pelvis, lower back, hips and stomach or abs.)
Before setting out for a match, and after my morning shower, I do specific exercises for any problem areas I may have at the time (we all have a few niggles, especially as we age). Being aware of how to mitigate these can be enormously helpful. For example, for my lower or upper back, knees or hips – I take those joints through a full range of movement, to loosen any stiffness. And don’t forget to (gently) stretch any tight muscles you might usually suffer from. Don’t bounce in the stretch, just hold for a maximum of 15-30 seconds and repeat approximately 2 to 4 times each. Those with a sedentary job, such as an office worker, often have tight hip flexors and pectoral (chest) muscles so focus on these areas as well as the lower leg.
Pre-match warm up
I’ve noticed that many croquet players seem to rarely warm up or prepare in any way for their matches. If your muscles are warmed up shortly before the match, then they will function more efficiently and you are far less likely to pull a muscle while playing. For example, a brisk walk to your club or cycling there, rather than driving, is a good way to warm up even if it’s only for part of the way. This can be followed by a few, simple exercises once you arrive, to loosen up your shoulders, neck and upper back followed by practice swings of your mallet – before you even touch a ball.
These principles can be applied to a whole variety of different sporting activity. None of the above steps are complicated but you’d be surprised to see how much difference they could make to improving your overall performance which after all, is what we all want – don’t we? The Championships in August are fast approaching and I’m feeling much more confident that I’m going to be fully prepared to play my best after the last few months of training.”
Diana Wilson is the proprietor and lead clinician at Physio on the River in Barnes, London. She has previously written about how she went from novice player to competing in Championships in just a little over two years and extolls the benefits of playing croquet, to both body and mind. Read her blog “Club Croquet: A surprising way to exercise both body & mind” to learn more.
The 2023 Women’s Golf Croquet World Championship will be held at Sussex County Croquet Club in West Sussex, England between Monday 7th August to Monday 14th August 2023.
An earlier version of this article was published in The Croquet Gazette, a member’s only magazine published by Croquet England, which is the charitable arm of the The Croquet Association. To read more about any of these organisations or how to begin playing croquet, in your area at any level, please click on the links.