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« USCA AC Nationals Player Journal #2 | Main | Morning Coffee: National Croquet Calendar Closes »
Monday
Feb062012

USCA AC Nationals Player Journal #1

PROLOGUE

The AC Nationals begin next week in Rancho Mirage. It's the first time I will play in the AC Nationals. In fact, this is only the second sanctioned AC tournament I have ever played. This is my story ...
 
One of the hardest decisions for a player is when to take the leap and jump into the Championship flight. There are two totally different schools of thought on this decision: 1) play your way up through the minor leagues, from second flight, to first flight, and progress up to Championship flight after several victories and when you are at the point that nobody wants to play you anymore and you get dragged upstairs kicking and screaming; or 2) leap into the Championship flight at the very first opportunity and never look back.
 
For years I have always stuck to plan #1, and have always advised others to use plan #1. Why rush? If you plan to play croquet for many years, there's no hurry. It takes so long to move from the bottom of the heap to the top, why not enjoy the view from the top of second flight and then first flight when you finally get there. Even worse, once you make the Championship flight, you are playing the very best players in your area, state, district, region, country and the world. Winning those events gets really hard. Some championship flight players never win, and they longingly look back at the bygone days when they won regularly in the lower flights.
 
My story is a bit more complicated. AC can be a complicated game, especially when you start. I sought out advice from the best players I could find. One group of mentors preach plan #1, don't rush it. The other group preaches plan #2. According to plan #2, if you aim to play at the top level, the quicker you get there, the quicker you learn. You learn best by doing, and you do best by doing against the best. We all improve, no matter what flight we play in. Why not start at the bottom of the C flight and work your way up?
 
I got conflicting advice from my mentors. For weeks I struggled over which plan to adopt. Both mentor groups were right and both have served me well in the past. But in the final analysis, I decided to go for plan #2, go for the top as soon as I could. It didn't help matters when my wife, Caren, sided with plan #1. When I used to play American Rules croquet, I made the finals of the Second Flight in 2009 and lost, meaning I was the runner-up. Same when I played in the first flight in the Golf Croquet Nationals in 2010. According to plan #1, I would have stuck around until I won. That may have slowed my progress. Last year, I played in the Championship flight in the GC Nationals and placed tied for third in singles and doubles. The feeling of accomplishment with third place in the C flight was ten times better than being a runner-up in the lower flights.
 
So, right or wrong, do or die, I took the leap and will play in the Championship flight. Against the very best AC players in North America. Gulp. This is the first tournament I have played in many years where I know I have absolutely no chance of winning. But it's not about the chance to win in 2012. It's about the chance to win in 2014, when the AC Nationals return to SoCal again. Maybe then I'll be ready to give these guys a run for their money. So it's back to the bottom of the heap for me. There's always the plate for me to battle for (more on that later). A few more years of trying to scramble to the top of the heap. This is the last one for me. If I make it, hopefully I won't be at the bottom of any more heaps. But then again, in life, there's always another heap to fall under and then overcome, isn't there?
 
And if anyone reading this ever decides to follow plan #2, I'll break your mallet and then your arms. Do what I say, not what I do!
 
Play begins Monday morning. The first disaster report will be Monday evening, unless the fog of depression from getting plastered to the clubhouse wall is too much to handle. Until then, cheers.

--Eric Sawyer | Pasadena Croquet Club | www.pasadenacroquetclub.org

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