I would like to start a fun and friendly discussion of “Aunt Emma.” So, who is this legendary character?

Anyone who has been playing croquet for a while has met her. If you suspect you might be an Aunt Emma, please do not take offence at any of the quotes here. We all know she can win games.

Aunt Emma has been described as: “boring,” “frustrating,” “haunting,” “using cowardly tactics,” “silly” and “excruciatingly dull and can often paralyze the opponent into ineffectiveness resulting in her victory by anaesthesia.” As one coach said “if you apply some of his principles, Aunt Emma will finally be laid to rest.” Another coach, not so fondly said, “She must be stamped out.”

I’m hoping members of this site will share some fond or not so fond memories playing with an Aunt Emma.

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Here are three quotes of this legendary character.

“An overly cautious, uninspired and altogether dull player who aims is to clear not many wickets, but one wicket per turn.”

“ A player who appears more concerned with hindering their opponent rather than trying to progress themselves.”

“The Legendary “Aunt Emma” who may also haunt our lawns in male guise, is noted for ultra-defensive play.”

I might call you an Aunt Emma if you don’t play the game the way I think you should be playing to win. On our court, we have a couple of Aunt Emma’s.

Without a doubt, the most famous AUNT EMMA in American Rules croquet for many, many years was the  Al Dilley, and he was actually fun to play--the game against him became, "How can I beat this guy who is just staying alive and sneaking around the court and waiting for me to get dead?"  Because he would beat you ultimately by keeping you dead--which is the really expert part of being an effective AUNT EMMA.  Usually, when I managed to beat him it was by engineering a dangerous (for me) move towards the end of the game, often in the last rotation, and pulling it off, denying him time to retaliate.   AUNT EMMAS aren't to be feared in Association Croquet.  But they can be deadly in American Rules when they know how to keep you dead once you've fallen into their trap.

I really miss seeing Al on the courts.  He still plays at PGA I believe, where he lives, but only single games, no more tournaments, I've been told.

Aunt/Uncle Emma is perhaps best viewed as someone who is using an optimal playing strategy for the particular skill sets that she/he and the opponent are bringing to the game.  In the USCA 6-wicket game, an aggressive strategy is usually not optimal for someone with a handicap of roughly 7 or higher who is solely interested in maximizing the probability of winning the game.  Thus Aunt Emma can perhaps be lauded as wise, but perhaps short-sighted.  Short-sighted because by limiting the range of shots that are attempted, one is also limiting the possibilities of improving one's skills to the point, sometime in the future, when conservative play becomes mostly a bad strategy.

Bob and George

Thank you very much for starting this fun discussion about the Aunt Emma’s you know.

I did some research and here are some other famous people’s opinions about this legendary character.

“An overly cautious, uninspired and altogether dull player who aims is to clear not many wickets, but one wicket per turn.” Jack R. Osborn. Croquet the Sport

“ A player who appears more concerned with hindering their opponent rather than trying to progress themselves. Generally considered to be a dull way to play the game.” James Hawkins, Complete Croquet.

“ Many players become frustrated by her antics and opponents will end up taking foolish risks or try to play her at her own game which can be a mistake because she is very good at a limited range of shots needed to play the way she does. You must learn to play breaks. Learn to play split-shots. Be patient and always shoot at a ball with confidence so that you are able to make more wickets than she has done. Accept the fact that nothing you can do will guarantee that you will beat her. If she hits every roquet and you play poorly you will to lose to her, but if you go about things as recommended and refuse to allow her tactics to upset you, the odds will be weighted in your favor.” John Riches, Croquet Secrets.

“Croquet is a subtle and tactical sport, but it is possible to play with a mind-numbing lack of enterprise which can literally bore the opponent into losing all will to further participate. This style of play takes the name Aunt Emma, and should be stamped out at any possible inception in a player. Their tactic is to split up the opponent and snatch occasional hoops over many, many turns.” Samir Patel

George beat me to it ... I wonder if a bit of the Aunt Emma style is a natural part of the progression when learning the sport.

Beating dear old Aunt Emma may seem like poor sportsmanship, but in the challenging world of croquet it’s sometimes the best strategy to just beat her. This may sound unkind but if this legendary character can shoot straight, split balls, peel balls through wickets and leave you dead on the court take pride in being called an “Aunt Emma.”

Of the 197 members to this site, I find it hard to believe that some of you don’t have a story to share of an Aunt Emma on your court.

It would be great to hear from you.

Croquet, as we know, can be very competitive, intense and works on our psyche.

On our court, we encourage all our players to play aggressively and frown on Aunt Emma tactics but occasionally they creep into the game. To keep our Aunt Emma at bay, we play with the Classic High Action PRO-BALZ.

When these “speed balls” are used she really falls apart. Her foot shots send the opponent’s ball off the court and her turn ends. She hits her ball too hard missing her wicket and when she clears a wicket the ball is too far on the other side for any chance of a rush shot. When she sees the opponent’s balls together, she panics and goes into defensive mode splitting them up but not using them to her advantage. She forgets about the clock and ends up losing.

We tell our Aunt Emma he should wear a dress to fit the part. His style of play can be a royal pain in the backside. Recently, we agreed that the loser buys coffee and donuts. This has somewhat slowed down our Aunt Emma’s antics.

I just found another opinion about Aunt Emma.

Other tidbits from Lord Tollemache:

"The careful, cautious player [Aunt Emma, though he never uses the term], is the 'cancer and tuberculosis' of croquet. It is an insidious disease, easily caught and difficult to cure."

[Hitting your ball] is "the only difficult thing to do in croquet."

"If you want to be first class, you must be content to lose game after game in the effort to do things the right way."

"The cause of nerves is mostly ignorance."

"Train yourself from the very start to play each separate shot as perfectly as possible."

"However simple a shot, try to make a fine art of it."

"The painstaking player is the man who takes infinite pains to play each shot by exactly the right method with absolute accuracy. . .to produce a perfect shot every time. This is only way to get to the top."

One of my players sent me this email (italics) which I'm sharing here.

Ford,I have noticed since we started playing non-sequence balls we have a real Aunt Emma on the court. Have you noticed? All he wants to do is keep his opponents balls separated and doesn't care if he clears wickets when he has two strokes. He hasn't figured that playing aggressively is better than playing defensively while taking advantage of breaks.Charlie under his breath is calling G - - -  “tick tock” because all the time he wastes killing the clock. Do you have any suggestions what we can do? He's boring.



I DO have a suggestion.  Insist on playing a SHORT game with Aunt Emma, and don't time the game--insist that it goes all the way to the peg.  Obviously, at this level, that will not disadvantage either player, and would relieve your anxiety, Ford, about your opponent forcing you to eat the clock.

Thanks Bob.

A good point, we will give it a try, no time limit.

We time our games to give players a change to play more games rather than one game for a couple of hours.

A timed game encourages player's to play aggressively rather than defensively. Except for an Aunt Emma.


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