Greg Bryant, one of the nation’s most decorated croquet exponents, was in town recently to lend his expertise to a sport that has seen considerable growth in recent times.
The multiple NZ title-holder and part of MacRobertson Shield world championship-winning combination in 2014, is the national head coach and sport development officer. He came to Marlborough to hold a two-day workshop, focusing on upskilling the region’s coaches.
“Croquet in Marlborough is growing … both at the Blenheim and Brooklyn bases,” said Greg.
“We are seeing that nationally, particularly in golf croquet across all the regions.”
He puts the rise down to croquet becoming “more visible in the last decade”.
“There is more direct interaction with the croquet community and the national body. We have also established more community-based development initiatives, based around coaching coaches and our secondary schools programme.”
Previously viewed as something of a pastime for older competitors, croquet is becoming increasingly more youth-focused.
Underlining this trend is the fact that when the New Zealand team won the World Golf Croquet championships in Nelson this year the average age of the Kiwi side was 23. All of the Kiwi team had been previous under-21 world champions who had come out of the secondary schools programme.
Greg says NZ Croquet have been working hard on introducing the sport at school level over the past decade.
“Croquet traditionally has been known as a sport for elderly, retired folk but there was a real call from the [croquet] community to change that image.
In fact, all our test teams now are made up of young people, but they are not seen locally.”
Greg said COVID had stalled the secondary schools programme this year but the national organization planned to re-boot it, with the help of the regional sports trusts.
“Annually, the local croquet bodies host regional competitions in March to find qualifiers for the national secondary schools event in September … from there we are providing pathways into youth development programmes. So there are plenty of opportunities for kids to participate in the organized game and there are well-defined pathways right to the top of the sport.”
The sport is played in two forms – association croquet and golf croquet.
“There are different sets of rules but the coaching content is around techniques that are applicable to both codes,” explained Greg.
Golf croquet is the focus of the schools programme, being easy and quick to learn.
“But it’s a very challenging game to master,” suggested Greg.
“That’s the challenge with kids. They can pick up the game and be playing it in 10 minutes but they quickly realise that there is a lot of physical skill involved. The game is quick and very interactive, going shot-for-shot, plus it’s non-gender specific at school age and the youngsters like that interaction.
“And it’s something different … it’s stationary ball targets and most of the time school sport focusses on moving ball targets. It gives them their opportunity to expand their skill sets.
“It also provides a chance for non-participants in traditional games and sport to be involved.
“There are always kids who don’t want to take part in the mainstream sports but want to be involved in something and a lot of them are finding that avenue through golf croquet, it’s quite cool,” he added.