How to Play Backyard Croquet

Croquet is a great vintage game to introduce to your family and friends. Not only is it fun to play, but it is a great outdoor activity that can involve the entire family.

A game using mallets, stakes, wickets and brightly colored balls, croquet is a great old fashioned game that is making its way back into the backyards of America. Although there are different versions and set ups of this family friendly game, rules and playing areas can be easily tailored to fit almost any situation.

Six different colored croquet mallets with matching croquet balls

Although not as old as games like bocce, croquet has been a staple game attracting notable characters such as the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland , Martin Landau in North by Northwest, and Steven Hawkin’s in The Theory of Everything.

Yes, even the genius Steven Hawkin’s played croquet.

What is Croquet

Croquet is a game where players hit a ball through little hoops in a particular order until one reaches the last stake.

The Croquet Foundation of America describes croquet as originated in France around the thirteenth century.

Back in the days before video games and professional sports, peasants constructed rough hewn mallets and made wickets out of willow branches.

Croquet as we know it now made it into English society circles in 1853 and was soon found throughout the British Empire and the United States by the 1870’s.

During World War I and II, people ditched the mallets and took up lawn tennis.

However, because of the great spirit of capitalism toy manufactures resurrected the sport in the 1970s and croquet has been a staple of backyards ever since.

How to Play Croquet

Playing croquet isn’t difficult, but there are somethings you need to take into consideration.

Here is what you need according to the United States Croquet Association:

Croquet Equipment

In order to play croquet you need the following equipment:

  • Grass lawn
  • 9 wickets
  • 2 stakes
  • One colored ball for each player
  • One mallet for each player

Croquet Set Up

Setting up a game of croquet is very easy, all you need is a lawn and a croquet set.

The standardized court for croquet usually measures 50 wide and 100 feet long.

Fortunately for those with small yards, you can make the court any size that fits your yard.

To set up the course:

  1. Place one stake at each side of the course.
  2. A little ways from the stakes, place two wickets facing the exact center of the course.
  3. Place one wicket in the exact middle of the course.
  4. With the remaining four wickets, make a double diamond shape or a sideways 8 shape, two on top and two on bottom. (see graphic below)

How Many Players Can Play Croquet

Most croquet sets are made for games of 2 to 6 people.

Each player chooses a ball.

The player will use that one ball for the entire game.

Players will follow the order that is shown on the stakes (each stake has a series of color bands on top of each of them).

The person with the same ball as the top color on the stake goes first.

Rules of Croquet

The rules of croquet are fairly simple.

The first player places their ball halfway between the first stake and the first wicket.

Using the mallet, they hit the ball through the first wicket.

If the ball passes completely through the wicket, they get to take another shot.

If they swing their mallet but miss the ball, it is counted as their turn and the next player is up.

Players must go through wickets in order (see diagram below).

Bonus Shots in Croquet

Bonus shots are awarded in the following situations:

  • When a players ball passes through a wicket
  • A player hits another players ball, in which case two bonus shots are awarded
  • The ball hits the stake

When You Hit Another Players Ball

When you hit another players ball you are awarded two bonus shots.

These bonus shots allow you to have the following options:

  • Hit the ball where it lays and then take another shot.
  • Place your ball one mallet’s head length away from other player’s ball (counts as one shot), and then take the other shot.
  • If your ball is touching another player’s ball, place your foot on your ball and hold it still while hitting your ball. This transfers the force causing the other players ball roll away.
  • Place your ball where it was before it hit the other ball and take your two shots.

You can only get bonus shots for hitting another person’s ball once a turn, unless you go through a wicket.

When Wickets Don’t Count

Wickets only count if the ball goes through entirely, and in the correct direction.

If a ball hits another ball before it goes through the wicket, the ball doesn’t count, but you still get your two bonus shots.

However, it does count if the player’s ball hits the other ball after it passes through the wicket.

Out of Bounds

When setting up your game of croquet, you can choose whether or not to set up boundries.

If a ball goes out of bounds, place it one mallets length inside the court from where it went past the boundry.

Winning Croquet

The first person who passes through all of the wickets in order and hits the starting stake at the end wins the game.

Playing With Teams in Croquet

The great thing about croquet is you can play individually or in teams.

When playing in teams, you can divide into teams of two or three.

Team rules are the same as when you play individually.

However, the team who wins is the first team whose members balls make it through all of the wickets and hits the starting stake first.

Two croquet mallets with four croquet balls on green grass

DIY Croquet Sets

You can purchase your own croquet sets from several online retailers.

However, if you are in the mood to be crafty, there are several different ways to make your own fun version of croquet sets.

Making Croquet Wickets

  • If you have willow branches or other bendable sticks, they can be used for wickets just like the original inventors of the game used.
  • If the ground is soft, you can bend together craft pipe cleaners and put them into the ground.
  • Go to your local hardware store and buy wire such as baling wire or other wire that is easy to cut with wire cutters and bend, but holds its shape.
  • Cut cardboard boxes tops and bottoms off, making a tunnel for the ball to go through.

Making Croquet Mallets

Making croquet mallets might seem daunting, but in essence, all you need is a stick attached to something solid that can hit the ball.

Here are some ideas for making an improvised croquet mallet:

  • Attaching a PVC pipe to a section of a pool noodle
  • Attaching a broom handle to a piece of Styrofoam
  • Get a long wrapping paper tube and attach it to an empty tissue box
  • Attach a PVC pipe or wrapping paper tube to an empty liter size soda pop bottle

Have your kids save recyclable materials and have them make their own customized mallets.

Croquet Balls

Several different types of balls can be used in croquet, as long as they can pass under the wickets.

If you would like to make your own croquet balls or need some alternate ball ideas, here are some suggestions:

  • Make tin/aluminum foil balls and wrap them in masking tape. Have the players decorate their own balls.
  • Styrofoam balls can be used with mallets that don’t hit very hard.
  • Balloons
  • Golf balls

Alternate Versions of Croquet

Croquet doesn’t necessarily have to be played with balls and mallets.

There are several different versions of croquet that you and your family can try.

Frisbee Croquet

Frisbee croquet is a team version of croquet which is great to play if you have lots of space.

The course has the same set up as traditional croquet, except instead of wickets and stakes, you have x’s marked where the wicket and stakes should be.

Each team has two players, a thrower and a catcher (roles which can be reversed with each turn).

To play, have team’s one catcher situate themselves between the thrower and the first wicket space.

Team one’s thrower tosses the frisbee to their teammate.

The catcher may only take one step from their original spot to catch the frisbee, if they fail to catch it they don’t move forward.

However, if the catcher catches the frisbee, the thrower advances to where the catcher stands and the catcher can move forward to the wicket.

If the catcher catches the frisbee at the wicket spot, they get an additional throw.

Teams take turns until the first team makes it back to the starting stake position and catches the frisbee in that spot.

Soccer Croquet

If finding mallets prove to be a challenge, you can always play croquet with a soccerball.

Make sure that whatever version of your wickets are wide enough to allow a soccer ball to pass through.

If you can’t find wickets large enough, mark the wicket spots on the court with tape or chalk.

Take turns kicking the balls through the wickets in the correct order, being careful not to overshoot.

This is great dribbling practice for soccer players.

Balloon Croquet

This is another fun version if you are unable to find mallets.

To play balloon croquet, each person gets their own ballon filled with air.

The player must either kick or blow a balloon through the wickets in the proper sequence in order to win.

The person whose balloon makes it through the entire course in order and reaches the ending stake is the winner.

Croquet Fun For All Ages

Croquet is a great game and is the perfect backyard activity for people of all ages .

It is also a great way to teach children the importance of good sportsmanship so they don’t end up yelling ‘Off with their heads’, like the Queen of Hearts did whenever they lose.

Not only is it a fun sport, but it can also be a creative opportunity for children and adults to put their own personal touch by making their very own croquet mallet and balls.

So, if you are looking for a fun activity that will keep the kids and adults busy all the day long, go and create your very own version of croquet.

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