Despite rather a lot of things (e.g. wars, the plight of migrants/refugees, the EU being in disarray, the Greek economy, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership problems) I spent the last three days of my life playing in an Association Croquet tournament.   There is no question that in the scheme of things this was an utterly trivial way to spend three days – except that the experience generated a number of lessons that have, as lessons usually do, far broader implications.  Hence this attempt at a listicle.

Even after one short paragraph you may be wondering;

  1. What is a listicle? (I’d never come across this word until last week).
  2. Why only ‘attempt’ a listicle?
  3. What useful lessons could possibly be draw from croquet?

Listicle first (not a misprint for testicle!).  Apparently, a listicle is ‘a series of simple points that are easily understood, appreciated and, as a result, shared widely’.

Why am I claiming merely to ‘attempt’ a listicle?  Well, just look again at the above definition.  At most I can only be held responsible for, say, 20%, the other 80% is up to you.  You will judge whether my points are simple and easy to understand, you will decide whether to appreciate them or not, and you will decide whether to share them more widely.

This is a great relief; all I have to do is make some points and the rest is up to you. So, here goes.

In soccer you have to have possession of the ball in order to have the opportunity to score a goal (I told you the points were going to be simple!).  No matter how great you are at goal scoring, if you never make contact with the ball you can’t score a goal.  In croquet you have to hit your ball so that it makes contact with another ball before you have the opportunity to do anything.  Sometimes the ball you want to hit is close but often it has been put far away by your opponent to make it difficult to ‘hit-in’.  Failing to hit-in as often as your opponent is a serious disadvantage.

In soccer what you and your opponents do with the ball once you/they have possession determines the outcome.  In croquet exactly the same applies.  Once you have possession you can set up a four-ball break and proceed to run hoops (the equivalent of scoring goals).  There is however a snag; you might make a mistake and hand the innings to your opponent – sometimes gifting them a ready-made four-ball break (a dreadful consequence of a mistake!).  Unless you are a top player, the likelihood of making a mistake as you take both your balls through 12 hoops, and touch them against a finishing peg, is high.

It was noticeable in the matches where I lost (too many!), I succeeded in hitting-in less often than my opponents and/or I made a mistake that allowed them to gain the innings.  I, and I alone, am totally responsible for both these aspects.  No matter how much I’d like to have something to blame (very much!), ‘if it’s to be, it’s up to me’.

And that’s the big lesson; we are always responsible for our own performance.  The eventual outcome is not, however, within our control.  This is why it is important to set yourself a performance objective (e.g. your hitting-in ratio, the number of hoops you run before making a mistake) and to appreciate that the result, win or lose, is not something over which you have total control. The same holds in life.  In a competitive world, you are responsible for performing as best as conditions allow. You can never guarantee a successful outcome, only maximise the likelihood of succeeding by taking responsibility for your own performance.

Another fascinating thing about croquet is that the outcome is never certain until it’s certain.  I know of no other game where you can catch up and overtake an opponent who is on the brink of winning. All you have to do is hit-in and, having done so, concentrate like hell and avoid making mistakes.  A tall order, but it happens.  Positive persistence pays off.

End of listicle!


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