10 Mar 2006
General background: How to play Pétanque
Throwing the boules
There are probably at least as many ways of throwing the boules as there are people playing the game, and in the end you have to work out a way that feels comfortable and "works" for you. These are just some tips that might help you, at the start, to build a reliable technique. They come under the headings of How to stand, How to hold the boule , Pointing , and Shooting . Once you have found a comfortable and reliable throwing style, you need to spend a great deal of time practicing it, until it becomes so much "second nature" that you don't consciously think about it. If you are standing in the circle worrying about how you will throw your boule, the chances are you won't throw it where you want to!
The only "rule" in all of this is the one in point 3. of the Playing page, that both feet must be on the ground within the circle throughout each throw, and nothing must be touching the ground outside the circle. Apart from that, you can squat down, stand with your legs bent or straight, feet apart or together, and beside each other or one behind the other (subject to both being entirely within the circle), as you choose. The important thing to achieve is a "stable platform" for throwing - which generally suggests that you should have your weight evenly distributed between your feet in such a way that your balance should be secure throughout each throw. You generally won't throw the boule where you want to if you lose your balance during any part of the throw, so start by standing in a way that helps to prevent this.
There are many excellent players who do not hold the boule in the "accepted" way, but its generally easier to get good results faster if you do. Cup your hand with your fingers more or less together, with the boule resting within the "cup" of your palm and fingers, but not gripped any more tightly than you need to avoid dropping it! If your thumb is touching the boule at all, it should only be resting very lightly on it.
For either pointing or shooting, its best to throw the boules using your arm more or less like a pendulum, keeping it straight, with the back of the hand holding the boule facing the direction that you want to throw. Start your throw with your wrist "cocked" backwards in a straight line with your arm. Allow your wrist to "release" and your fingers to uncurl naturally as you throw the boule (sounds more complicated than it is, in practice!). The effect of this is to produce "natural" backspin (and no sidespin) on the boule in the air, which helps to keep it going straight once it lands, and also helps it to stop rolling sooner. It generally gives a lot more control of the throw. A "natural" backspin can also produce a magical effect when you are shooting! If you allow the boule to come out of the side of your hand, it is likely to have a sidespin that will be exaggerated by whatever it hits after it has bounced, and if it comes out of the front, it will be very difficult to direct your throw accurately and to stop the boule rolling at the point where you want it to stop.
But, in the end, if either of these feel comfortable to you, don't worry, as there are plenty of people around who have made this work for them!
Anything between more or less rolling the boule, or lobbing it very high in the air so that it drops more or less vertically near where you want it to stop, can be made to work. Generally the better players have mastered various trajectories to suit the different types of terrain surface and playing situations you come across. The essential point is that the terrain is almost invariably uneven and sloping, and will probably have loose stones or gravel on it, so when you are pointing you have to try as far as possible to eliminate the problems that these variations will cause.
The most important way to achieve this is to decide where you want the boule to first land on the terrain once you have thrown it, and imagine the path that it will take from there to where you want it to finish up. Make sure that this path is not obstructed by stones or other boules, and try to work out the effect any slope will have on the path, remembering that the slope can be uphill or downhill, as well as the more obvious side to side. When you have this "map" of the path you want your boule to follow, and the distance you need to throw it, firmly in your head, concentrate only on the point on the terrain where you want your boule to land first, and then try to throw your boule, with the right weight and trajectory, to land there.
Practice doing just this - landing your boule on the spot you want to hit - without initially worrying about what happens after that (but not in competitions!). Obviously, don't pick a "landing spot" where there is a stone or another boule - you would not believe the number of players who think it is "bad luck" when they pitch their boule directly on to a large and highly visible stone and it bounces off sideways! Even with the best planning of your throw, this may happen because of the irregularity of the surface, but you can and should minimise the risk!
The big mistake that nearly everyone (including me!) makes when they shoot is to try to throw the boule too hard. A 700 gramme boule thrown about 8 metres and landing directly onto another one does not have to be thrown hard to move the "target boule" a long way! The problem introduced by trying to throw the boule hard is that almost invariably your shoulder and arm will "pull" your hand in an arc out of the vertical, which means that the timing of the release of the boule from your hand has to be perfect, or else your boule is certain to be off-line.
In principle, shooting is just a specialised version of pointing - all you are trying to do is to pick a landing spot for your boule that happens to be occupied by the boule you want to hit. If you do this perfectly, with "natural" backspin, you will achieve a "carreau" - the magical high point of pétanque - when your boule, with an absolutely gorgeous "thunk", precisely replaces your opponent's boule and sends it flying out of the "head". The best way to throw the boule "gently" over the distances you need for shooting is to generate the necessary power from your legs. Start with them slightly bent and straighten them as much as necessary as your arm swings, pendulum-fashion, from your shoulder. This helps to keep your arm straight and in the same "plane" as the target boule, which makes hitting it much more likely.
Practice by shooting at a boule about 30 - 50 centimetres behind another one or a group of other boules, trying to avoid hitting the front one(s). This forces you to lob the boule in the higher and more gentle trajectory which is generally more effective, and also makes you concentrate on hitting the spot on the terrain that you are aiming for - the key to success in pétanque!