The Master and the 3 spots

When Hopper first joined the club, he was like any other beginner. He figured that his goal was to get his boule as close as possible to the jack. So, like most new players, he threw his boules at the jack. This of course meant that his boules hit close to the jack and then rolled beyond it.

One day he happened to draw the Master as his doubles partner. After they had played a few rounds, the Master took him aside and told him the secret of effective pointing. The Master told him about the three spots.

When they are pointing, new players think in terms of only one spot — the spot where the jack is located. But experienced pointers know that there are actually three spots that are important.

  • The first is the spot where the jack is sitting.
  • The second is the spot where you want your boule to come to rest. Following the old maxim of “boule devant, boule d’argent”, this spot is in front of the jack. There is no standard petanque term for this spot, so I call it the “parking spot”.
  • The third is the spot where you want your boule to hit the ground — the landing spot, the donnée. This spot is in front of the parking spot, so the boule can hit the ground and then roll into the parking spot.

So the first rule of pointing is “Don’t aim for the jack”.

Instead — First, locate the jack. Second, decide where — in front of that — you want your parking spot to be. Third, decide where — in front of that — you want your donnée to be. And then aim for the donnée.

Later Hopper learned that the secret of the three spots isn’t much of a secret. It is one of the first things that any master will teach a new player.

After picking the parking spot, pick the landing spot.

After picking the parking spot, pick the landing spot.

Throw your boule to the landing spot - the donnée

Throw your boule to the landing spot – the donnée

... and let it roll to the parking spot.

… and let it roll to the parking spot.

You can watch another master teaching that lesson.

Boule devant, boule d’argent

Some thoughts on the old petanque maxim “Boule devant, boule d’argent”…

The French expression is “Boule devant, boule d’argent”, not “Boule d’avant, boule d’argent”. In the past, the All About Petanque blog has helped to propagate the incorrect version, for which we sincerely apologize.

The French word “argent” can, depending on the context, mean either “silver” or “money”. I agree with Rayond Ager that in this context, it should be translated as “money”. So the whole expression can be translated roughly as “A boule in front is a money ball.” The expression “money ball” isn’t, I think, just a metaphor for “good ball”. I suspect that it means literally that a boule in front is worth money.

In France, where petanque is of course much more popular than in the U.S., it is common to bet on petanque games and to play for money. (America a few years ago produced a movie called “The Hustler” about a pool hustler. In 2013 France produced “Les Invincibles” about a petanque hustler.) So I think that in the expression “Boule devant, boule d’argent”, “money ball” isn’t at all a metaphor. It is referring to real folding money in one’s pocket.

Finally, the old maxim has an unwritten flip-side.

If if you don’t have any boules in front — if you leave the front open and the opposing team still has boules to play — you are leaving your money on the table and asking your opponents to walk off with it.

If the front is open (le jeu est ouvert), you are inviting the opposing team simply to point right down the center and score as many points as they have boules.

So when you’re asking yourself the old question — To point? Or to shoot? — you should always ask yourself whether, if you shoot, sucessfully or not, you will be leaving the front open.

The Master, the pointer, and the shooter

When you play on a triples team (or even a doubles team for that matter) the standard practice is for the team’s pointer to throw first and for the team’s shooter to throw last. Teams like to hold back their shooters — to keep them in reserve, so they will be available in case of an emergency.

This strategy works well, but it can be frustrating for pointers.

I remember a game at my club a few years ago. The Master and I were watching, and Hopper was the pointer for one of the teams. At that time Hopper was exclusively a pointer, and a good one. He did “boule d’avant” better than just about anyone I knew.

In this particular game, Hopper’s team was playing a visiting team that had an exceptionally strong shooter. This gentleman, whose name was Van, had been a championship-level shooter as a young man in Vietnam. Age had not diminished his skill.

At one point in the game, Hopper succeeded in pointing across a really rough patch of terrain to create a beautifully placed boule. The spectators applauded, and the Master congratulated Hopper on the excellence of his throw.

“Yes, yes,” responded Hopper, in a voice of weary frustration. “But no matter how well I point, Van comes next and shoots it away.”

“But that means that you’re doing your job,” said the Master.

“Your job as a pointer is to point so well that you force the opposing shooter to shoot you. Basically, your job is to disarm the opposing team of its shooter. By pointing well, you’re doing just what you’re supposed to be doing.”

At that moment, Hopper was enlightened.

The Master and the geese

At my petanque club, Jules le Maitre is our oldest player. Everyone calls him “Le Maitre”… the Master. This is because of his name, of course, but also because of his age and experience… he is a master of the game, as it were. And because he sometimes assumes the role of maitre (teacher) to other players.

One day Hopper, the club’s newest member, approached the Master and asked “How can I learn to shoot?”.

The Master looked at Hopper. Hopper looked pale and sickly. He had recently pulled a muscle in his lower back. He was bent over and walking with a stick. He saw that the Master had noticed the stick, and said, “This is only temporary. I’ll be all right again in a few days. I’ve had this before. Weak back muscles. I know how it works.”

“You must chase the geese,” said the Master.

“Each morning, get up early. When the day is still new, go to the big grass lawn in the park. Take two boules with you.

When you arrive, throw the first boule a short distance. Shoot at it with the other boule. After you’ve made your throw, walk to the closer boule. Pick it up and shoot at the other boule. Then do it again. Walk to the closer boule, pick it up, and shoot at the other boule. Keep doing this.

When you throw and miss, next time move closer to the target boule and throw from a shorter distance. When you throw and hit, next time stand farther from the target boule and throw from a longer distance.

Pay attention to your form. Listen to your body. Notice what you are feeling. Notice what you are doing with your body when your shots work, and what you are doing when they don’t.

Do this for 30 minutes every morning.”

The next day I left to lead an expedition into the mountains of _____ in search of the Lost _______ and was gone for almost two months. When I returned I looked for Hopper.

I found him on the club’s big piste, deep in a hard-fought doubles game. He looked fit, with a bit of a tan. His morning 30-minute walk-with-boules seemed to agree with him. And his playing had improved. He was attempting to shoot when the situation on the ground called for it, something that I had never seen him do before. At medium distances he was succeeding with a decent percentage of his shots.

Later that afternoon I ran into the Master. I said that I’d seen Hopper, and I’d seen him shooting and doing a good job of it.

“Yes,” said the Master. “And there is also a change that you can’t see. I was talking to Hopper a few days ago, and he told me that he thinks his back is better, too. He thinks that walking around and bending over and picking up boules must have helped to make his back muscles stronger and more flexible.”

“Wax on, wax off?” said I.

“What?” said the Master.

Effortless throwing

You can’t do many accurate low, hard, flat tir au fer shots if you are straining your body and muscles to the limit. Similarly with those high, high lobs that come straight down, drop and stop. One of the most important secrets of effective throwing, therefore, is how to throw powerfully with a minimum of effort.

art_of_petanque_pendulum_swingOne of my favorite posts on this topic is Artem Zuev’s post on Effortless Gameplay, in which he tells you to think of your throwing arm as a pendulum, a ball on a string.

Today, quite by accident, I stumbled across a YouTube video that makes Artem’s advice more concrete and more useful. The video is, of all things, How to Effortlessly Generate Powerful Tennis Serves. It opens, interestingly, with a demo of… ball on a string.

The bottom line is that the secret of both an effortless tennis serve and an effortless petanque throw is momentum — understanding it and learning how to use it. If you read Artem’s post, and then watch this video, you can see that everything that the instructor says about the momentum of a tennis racket translates directly into a lesson about the momentum of an arm holding a boule. What the instructor is doing is inviting you — when you practice — to think about your throw in terms of momentum, and to try to be aware of — to feel — your body as a tool for generating and using momentum.

zen_in_the_art_of_archeryThe video is a bit long and verbose, but it is worth watching all the way to the end. The instructor makes an important point, starting at 7:20 (“One more tip…”). While your brain is learning what it feels like to generate and transfer momentum, don’t try to aim. Just let the ball go… wherever. You don’t want aiming to interfere with your free swing.

This advice reminds me of Zen in the Art of Archery. Herrigel, under the guidance of his Zen master, practiced the motions of drawing the bow and loosing the arrow literally for years before his Master felt he was ready, and they moved on to the next step… aiming at a target.

Putting a spin on the ball

To watch a master in action, watch this video of Marco Foyot giving a class in Zanesfield, Ohio in September 2013.

The basic idea is that the boule will tend to bend in the direction that your palm ends up. So if you are a right-handed thrower—

  • If you want the boule to curve to the left, your hand should finish with the thumb pointing up, into the air.
  • If you want the boule to curve to the right, your hand should finish with the thumb pointing down, to the ground.

As Marco points out, making the boule curve to the right is difficult for a right-handed player, and you can see how awkward his throw looks when he does it.

The art of the high lob

MarcoFoyot_highLob_ZanesfieldAs a new petanque player, interested in improving his throwing form, I have a question.

When do you unwind your cocked wrist?

When you throw a high lob, during your backswing your wrist is really cocked — the hand holding the boule is curled up toward the underside of your forearm. And when you finish your throw, you’ve uncoiled that curled wrist so that your hand is open and your fingers are pointing up and out. Uncoiling that curled wrist is how you get backspin, retro, on the boule.

My question is

When does that cocked wrist get uncoiled?
Does it gradually uncoil as the swing progresses?
Or does it stay coiled during most of the swing, and only uncoil quickly at the end of the swing?

The answer (or at least, one answer) can be found in a YouTube video of a clinic that Marco Foyot taught at Amelia in 2012. In the video Marco demonstrates the motion of throwing a high lob. You have to watch closely. The demo starts at 4m 38s, and it is over in about 3 seconds.

Here are some stills from that video.

For the high lob, Marco doesn’t take a big backswing. (In fact, he doesn’t ever seem to use a big back swing.) He starts with his throwing hand and the boule low. In this picture, he’s just starting to raise his arm — he looks as if he’s going to hit the lady in the background with the back of his wrist.

The swing progresses. Higher. And higher. Note that in picture C, even when his wrist has been raised above his head, Marco’s wrist is still cocked.


Only when his arm at the very top of the swing, does Marco snap his wrist.


So that pretty much answers my question — the wrist uncoils at the end, with a snap.

Studying these pictures, I’ve noticed a couple of other interesting things. One of them is that Marco’s hand is very high — above his head — when he snaps his wrist and releases the boule. Here is a picture from a clinic he taught in Zanesfield, OH in September 2013.

The other is that Marco’s arm doesn’t seem to be moving in a swing or an arc from his shoulder. If you look at pictures A, B, and C, you will see that his hand is moving almost vertically straight up. That means that most of the force of the throw is UP — there is relatively little OUT.

That makes sense, but I’m going to have problems digesting it. I’m a big fan of Artem Zuev’s Art of Petanque blog. His advice to think of your throwing arm as a pendulum (a ball on a string) makes a lot of sense to me, and is a style that I’ve been trying to achieve. But Marco’s definitely not doing “ball on a string” when he throws a high lob.

One of the things that is hard to realize is just exactly how high a REALLY HIGH lob is. On YouTube, there is a nice video of Bruno Leboursicaud demonstrating a fantastically accurate high lob. In the video, you can’t see how high the lob is, but from the time it takes to come down, you know it must have been really high.

Fourtunately for us, Zanesfield Petanque has posted a video on its Facebook page showing Marco demoing a high lob during his clinic there. On his second throw (which you can see in the photo at the beginning of this post ) you can actually see how high his lob is.

Deciding who goes first

When starting a game, tossing_for_the_throw_1how do you decide which team throws the first jack?

Most introductions to the game say that you toss a coin, and the team that wins the toss throws the first jack.

You can do it that way, of course, but that’s not the traditional way.

The tossing_for_the_throw_2 traditional petanque “toss” is to take in hand the jack and a boule from each of the teams, and to toss all three into the air. When everything comes to rest, the team whose boule ends up closest to the jack wins the toss and plays first.

Here’s link to a Russian teaching video. It shows the traditional method starting at 1:03. The instructor says “You can toss a coin, of course, but the traditional method is…”

In the video, the instructor simply tosses the balls in the air in front of him, like you’d toss a coin. I’ve also seen players toss the balls over their shoulder, the way a bride throws the bridal bouquet.

Nails in the ground

The idea of driving a nail into the ground may seem like a strange one. But it is a traditional practice in petanque to drive nails into the ground to hold strings and backboards (boards for wooden surrounds) in place.

fanny_with_nailed_backstopOne of the grand traditions of petanque are pictures and postcards of Fanny. In this one, I’d like to direct your attention to the backboards on the ground. Note that they are being held in place by big nails.

rebar_terrainNow that we’re in the 21st century, rebar (with safety caps) seems to be replacing big nails as the fastener of choice for wooden surrounds.

Here is a video from Spain. Starting at the 1-minute mark, it shows them stringing a piste using red wooden pegs. Perhaps that’s the way they traditionally do it in Spain, but I’d call that a trip hazard. Better to lay out a piste with nails and string.

Shooters vs pointers

shooters_vs_pointersHere is an interesting video of what happens when you pit a team of expert pointers against a team of expert shooters.

I first saw this clip a few weeks ago, and haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. I found it very thought-provoking and just a little bit shocking. It is 8 minutes long, but it is important to watch every second to understand exactly what you are seeing.

I was reminded of it again yesterday when I discovered Colin Stewart’s petanque blog and read his post on Shooting is Fundamental in which he writes “All too often we see players elect to point (because they think it is easier or safer to) when a shoot would make things a lot better.”

And I keep wondering what the Thai team should have done. Thailand never changed its strategy. Every time Madagascar shot the Thai boule, and every time Thailand chose to point again.

The Thai team is an excellent team. They can shoot too. Surely, I think, there must have been something that the Thais could have done to turn the tables on Madagascar’s shooters. But I don’t know what it could have been.

Magnetic jacks

The jack is not permitted to be magnetically active, That is — it must not be possible to pick up the jack with a magnet.

Here’s why.

Many players use magnetic boule lifters to pick up their boules. A boule lifter is basically a magnet attached to the end of a string or a telescoping rod. It enables a player to pick up his boules without bending over or squatting down – very helpful for players with knee or back problems.

Not surprisingly, somebody got what I’m sure seemed like a great idea at the time. “Let’s embed a bit of magnetically active material inside a jack. A little pebble of iron would be enough. It would enable people to use their boule lifters to pick up the jack as well as their boules. It would be a great convenience feature.”

The problem with this idea is that over time players have discovered that boule lifters with telescoping rods can also be used as measuring devices when comparing boule-to-jack distances. (When you do this, you need to be careful of course always to place the magnetic end of the boule lifter against the jack, not the boule.)

So here you are, happily using your telescoping boule lifter as a measuring device. One day you’re taking a measurement. You are in the process of carefully moving the magnetic end of the boule lifter toward the jack when – whoop! – the jack is sucked out of position and on to your boule lifter. Without your knowing it, someone has introduced a magnetically active jack into the game. And as a consequence you have now committed one of the sins of petanque – moving the jack while taking measurements.

So now the FIPJP rules prohibit magnetically active jacks. A few places still offer them for sale, though.

My practice equipment – shooting

Recently I blogged about the equipment that I use to practice. In this post I’d like to talk about my idea for a practical and inexpensive device for practicing shooting.

practice_device_shooting_hangerI love toys, and one of my favorite posts, which I update occasionally, is on training devices. On that post I have a picture of a pretty standard device for shooting practice — a target boule supended from a frame. This device sells for €355 (about $460 — perhaps $500 if you include shipping costs from Europe). That’s a lot of money for a simple and rather clunky device.

Here is my idea for something that I think might be better, and certainly a lot cheaper.

I started with a used softball (about $2.00) and a piece of half-inch dowel. I cut off a piece of dowel about two inches long. Then I drilled a hole through the length of the piece and put a long screw through it, into the softball.
shooting_device_01 shooting_device_02

I got a short length of scrap 2×4 to use as the base of my device. I drilled a half-inch-wide hole into the end of the 2×4 and stuck a moderately long piece of half-inch dowel into the hole. A small finishing nail secured the dowel in the base. I laid the base flat and drilled two holes through it — these holes allow me to nail the base to my practice terrain.

At my local hardware store I bought a 5-foot length of half-inch PEX pipe (or tubing). (PEX tubing is used for plumbing. It is both stiff and flexible.) I cut off a 30-inch length of the PEX pipe and stuck the dowel attached to the softball into one end of the PEX pipe. Here is what it looked like. Note that in this picture the base is already secured to the ground by two nails.

Finally, I inserted the dowel in the base into the other end of the PEX pipe. In short, the PEX pipe is the “connector” that connects the “target” (the softball) to the “base”. The base holds the target in place. The PEX pipe is flexible enough to flex a bit when hit by a boule, but stiff enough not to be knocked very far out of position. Here is what the whole device looks like, assembled, with a few boules around it.


The device is meant to be placed so that boules are thrown directly at the face of the target ball — that is, from the right in this picture. Imagine that the silver ball at the far right of the picture is on its way to hitting the target.

The player should be able to look over the target ball and see, behind it, the connector and the base. Putting the connector and the base behind the target (away from the player) in this way allows all of the forward-looking surfaces of the target, even the top, to be hit with a thrown boule. With this device you can do a casquette. That is something you couldn’t do with the expensive device in the first picture — you’d hit the connector (the suspending cord), not the top of the target.

So that’s my invention. For the record, I hereby name it the “Ferg target” and place the idea for the Ferg target in the public domain.

I started using my prototype Ferg target by standing 6 feet away and throwing a couple of buckets of boules until I could hit the target about 50% of the time. Then I moved back to 8 feet. What a difference! My success rate dropped dramatically. After quite a few more buckets my success rate was up to around 25%. My plan is that when my success rate at 8 feet gets up to around 50% (how many buckets will that take?!) I’ll move back to 10 feet, then to 12 feet, and so on. I suspect that each step away from the target will require more buckets than the previous step. If the number of buckets looks like it is going to approach infinity before I approach, say, 8 meters, then I’ll know that I was born to be a pointer, not a shooter.

At this point, I don’t know how well the Ferg target will work in actual practice, or how well it will hold up to repeated hits by steel boules. So far, it seems to be surviving the hits without any noticeable damage, so I’m optimistic about its durability. I’ve noticed that the front nail holding the base has a tendency to work its way out of the ground, so there is a design refinement that needs to be worked on.

I estimate the total cost of materials for my Ferg target was less than $10, including the used softball, the dowel, the long screw, and the PEX pipe. That sure beats €355.

I chose a softball (to start) because a softball is fairly big. If I can get to the point where I can shoot and hit a softball, I’m thinking of replacing the softball with a baseball. If I get to the point where I can shoot a baseball, who knows… I might replace the baseball with a golf ball. A great way to practice shooting the jack!

My practice equipment

I’m pretty new to petanque. I need to practice so I can hold up my end of the game. This is a short post about the equipment I use to practice.

I have set up a sort of shooting pit at one corner of my back yard in Tucson, and a set of throwing circles at various distances at the opposite corner of the yard.

In the “target corner” I laid down a big piece of scrap carpet on the ground. This is because, if I practiced on bare dirt, the ground would soon be pulverized into dust. So the carpet both protects the ground and to traps the dust. (I got the scrap carpeting for free from a carpet store. I just went in and told the guy what I was looking for, and asked if he might have a piece of scrap that he could let me have. He did.)

On top of the carpet I laid down two 2x4s, each about six feet long, in a V shape. This is the “back stop”. It stops (most of) the boules and keeps them from going all over the place. A simple circle made out of black tubing serves as the target. Here is what the whole setup looks like.

At first I secured the 2x4s in the traditional Provencal fashion, by holding them in place with 6″ nails driven into the ground. practice_pit_02

Later, I decided I wanted something more portable, so I drilled three 1/4″ holes in the 2x4s and used three 9″ nails — through the holes — to secure the boards. The two 2x4s are notched and overlap where they meet at the point of the V, so a single nail holds them together and secures both of them to the ground.

Here is a picture of the whole setup after I’ve thrown a few boules. The blue and green cord in the picture is something that I made — it alternates colors, blue and green, every meter. The cord makes it easy to quickly gauge distances, but assembling it out of two different-colored cords was a lot of work. I think I just should have bought a white 50′ clothes line and used a magic marker to mark off one-meter lengths.

Below is a picture of the opposite corner of the yard, the “throwing corner”. I have placed throwing circles at 6.5, 7.5, 8.5, and 9.5 meters from the target (the traditional distances used in precision throwing contests). I normally use cheap circles made from black tubing, but for the sake of visibility in this photo I used proper red plastic throwing circles.

The white bucket is a sturdy plastic paint buck with a metal handle — you can buy one at any hardware store for around three or four dollars.

Inside the white bucket are 20 generic “leisure” boules. I wanted a fairly large number of practice boules — I wanted to minimize the number of trips to the target area (to retrieve the boules) per boule thrown. This way I can throw 20 boules before having to make a retrieval expedition up to the target area. I chose 20 because it divides nicely into 100 (which makes it easy to calculate percentages, if you feel like it). Also, 20 boules fit nicely into the bucket… and a bucket full of 20 boules is just about as heavy as I can carry.

Under the white bucket is a platform made from two larger grey paint buckets (with blue lids). I bolted the bottom of the upper grey bucket to the lid of the lower grey bucket, so the two buckets form a single unit that I can pick up and carry using the handle of the upper bucket. Together the buckets make a platform that is cheap, light, strong, easy to move… and just the right height.

Here’s how I use this stuff.

I throw the 20 boules at the target, go pick them up from the target corner and put them in the white bucket. I bring the white bucket back to the throwing corner and put it on top of the grey buckets. The grey buckets raise the white bucket to a height where it is easy to reach in and get the next boule — I don’t have to any bending over to pick boules out of the white bucket.

I start by throwing 20 boules from each of the four distances, starting with the shortest distance, working my way up to the longest distance, and then working my way back down to the shortest distance. Or maybe from the longest distance I circle back to the shortest distance… it depends on how I’m feeling that day.

After I get to the point where I can usually put four or five boules out of the twenty in the target circle, I change the routine. I throw until I get one boule in the target circle, then move to a different circle. Again, I throw until I get one boule in the target circle, then move to a different circle. You can see how this is going… you can make up your own routine. Sometimes I devote a bucket of boules to paying attention to my backswing. Another time I’ll focus on what my non-throwing arm is doing, or how the boule is sitting in my hand, or how my wrist is cocked.

There is one problem with this arrangement — you can only practice getting a boule to the donnee. You can’t really practice pointing, where your goal is to throw the boule to the donnee and then have it roll the rest of the way to the desired location. The carpet has more bounce than a regular terrain — what a boule does after it lands on the carpet is nothing like what it would do on a real terrain. To practice pointing, you really have to practice on something similar to a real terrain.

If you liked this post, you might also like the post on equipment for practicing shooting.

Becoming an umpire

This is the story of my beginning efforts to become an umpire. In a sense it is a fable, because like a fable it ends with a moral.

I live in the greater Washington DC area. The first time that I ever threw a petanque boule was when Dave Garrison, the President of my local FPUSA club, the National Capitol Club de Petanque (NCCdP), gave me a brief petanque lesson. After that, I joined the FPUSA and played with the NCCdP whenever I could — which was not as often as I would have liked because I was travelling a lot.

Not long after I started playing petanque, I got the idea of becoming a certified umpire. More precisely: I got the idea of passing the umpire certification exam. I wasn’t interested in actually umpiring games. But I thought that if I could pass the umpire certification exam, that would be a great way to be sure that I had mastered the knowledge that is required to play the game properly, even if I didn’t yet have the skills to play it well.

So I wrote to Gilles Karpowics, the FPUSA Sport Director, asking what the procedures are for becoming an umpire (arbitre). He emailed me back a copy of the rules for becoming an FPUSA umpire. One of the things that I found in the rules was this:

Once a candidate has met all applicable requirements (outlined in Section II above), he/she will receive an official Study Guide which includes the following:

  • a copy of the official rules
  • photos and descriptions of the measuring requirements
  • a copy of the 50 approved questions (without the multiple choice answers).

…The written test for club umpire will consist of 25 multiple-choice questions, drawn from a pool of 50 questions that are approved by the Sport Committee Chairman.

I expected that getting the umpire certification would be something like getting your driver’s license. You would have to pass two exams: a written exam in which you proved that you knew the rules, and a “driving test” — a hands-on exam in which you proved that you had the necessary practical skills. I had no idea what those practical skills might be. I figured that some of them would involve being able accurately to measure boule-to-jack. Perhaps others would involve being able to properly apply rules to actual situations on the ground.

My first problem was that nobody publishes a study guide to the rules. I had been following and asking questions on Mike Pegg’s “Ask the Umpire” Facebook page, and the questions and answers that I saw there made it clear that it is impossible to understand the rules simply by reading them.

So my plan was to get the list of 50 questions from Gilles, and then use them as a study guide to the rules and as a test to verify that I really understood the rules. Then after I wasn’t laughably ignorant about the rules, I would ask Dick Long, a member of NCCdP who is also a certified umpire, for advice and instruction on the hands-on aspects of being an umpire.

Along with the rules for becoming an umpire, Gilles had sent me a note: “As you will see [the procedure for becoming an umpire] starts with being sponsored by your club president who can contact me.”

And Section II.B. of the material that Gilles sent to me, said this.

B. SPECIAL DESIGNATION: Umpire in Training
*(for those with less than three years of membership):*
Any FPUSA member in good standing can become a Umpire in training by meeting the following requirements:

1. Be nominated by his/her club president or by an elected
FPUSA official (FPUSA officials must seek the concurrence of
the candidate’s club president).

2. Be confirmed by a majority of his/her regional counselors.

3. Be approved by the Chairman of the Sport Committee.

4. Take the test. The candidate must pass the measuring test and take the written test. If he/she passes the written test, he/she will become a Club Umpire upon reaching his/her third year of membership requirement automatically. If the written test was not passed, he/she will need to do so before becoming a Club Umpire.

So I sent an email message to Dave Garrison, asking him to contact Gilles on my behalf. I had no idea what the point of that was, other than (I guessed) to verify that I was indeed a member of NCCdP.

Dave wrote back to me:


Before the club nominates you for this role, I think you need to talk with Dick Long, one of our most senior players who is also an umpire of long standing. Dick can give you some sense of what’s involved in being an umpire. My own instinct is that one needs to have a number years of experience under one’s belt before taking on umpire duties.

I’ve only played in three regional tournaments and the umpires there were clearly very good players in their own right and as a result commanded immediate respect from the contestants. That can only come from playing a lot of petanque.

The rulings they were called upon to give were not so much about measurements and more about such things as getting players to stick within the allotted time lines. When tournaments set time limits for games as they often do, it is sometimes in a team’s interest to stall once ahead in hopes of running the clock out. When the umpire has to step into those situations, tensions can be quite high, especially if the game is going to determine who gets to the last rounds in a contest where the money prizes are often considerable.

I was a bit surprized by the importance that Dave attached to the ability of an umpire to command immediate respect from the players. That wasn’t something that I had expected.

In a later email Dave wrote

The application form requires that the President of your club “nominate” you. And once nominated, you can then automatically progress to umpire status once you pass the test and play for three years consecutively. My nomination then has to be approved by other FPUSA and regional reps, presumably on the strength of my nomination, making my sponsorship the equivalent of a recommendation on my part that I think you are ready to be considered for umpire status.

The form sets forth these general criteria, which I take to be the standard for a nomination:

“A good umpire candidate is a person with effective interpersonal skills, a good sense of fairness, and an aptitude for understanding and applying the rules of the game during a competition. A candidate must also have the ability to measure points accurately.”

Given that standard, I’m not yet in a position to make the nomination. I and other club members haven’t had enough experience playing with you to make a judgment on whether, among other things, you show you understand the rules and how to apply them. You may well do so but we’ve not had enough exposure to playing with you to know this.

Now that we know you have this interest, I can enlist a number of the senior, more experienced club members to help assess your level of play and understanding of the rules so they can advise me on whether you meet the criteria for the nomination. Might that work for you?

The requirement for personal familiarity with me surprized me a bit. Remember that at that time I was working with a mental model of umpire certification as being similar to getting a driver’s license. I expected to take a written and “hands-on” exam, and get my license. And nobody down at the Department of Motor Vehicles would be asking for years of familiarity with my driving skills before they would grant me my driver’s license.

On the other hand, Dave was certainly correct. It certainly was true that I had not played petanque long enough to be be even a good petanque player, let alone one with enough experience to command instant respect. And it certainly was also true that I had not played with the NCCdP long enough to allow the senior members to assess my suitability as an umpire candidate.

Later, in face-to-face conversation, Dave expanded on the thoughts that he had expressed in his email messages.

He repeated that he felt that one of the major requirements for a good umpire candidate is effective interpersonal skills. This is basically a matter of personality rather than knowledge of the rules. Dave mentioned that he knew of an umpire candidate in the past who, rather than easing tensions on the terrain, had instead aggravated them over such issues as smoking on the terrain. To deal effectively with conduct issues such as this requires diplomatic skill and a tactful personality, not just knowledge of the rules. It was this fact, he said, that led to the practice of assessing umpires in actual practice over a period of years. You really want to be sure that your candidate has the right personality for the job.

That’s why the driver’s licence model doesn’t apply to umpire certification. That’s why you can’t just study the rules, pick up the technique of using an umpire’s measure, and “test out” of umpire training.

As I said at the beginning of this essay: not long after I started playing petanque, I got the idea that becoming a certified umpire would be a great way to be sure that I had mastered the knowledge required to play the game properly. I think that that is a natural idea, and that many new petanque players come up with the same idea. Perhaps you are one of them.

The reason that I’ve written this little essay is to let you know that — actually — that isn’t such a great idea after all. I sympathize with the impulse, and I’d like to see the publication of study guides and self-tests to help new players master the rules. But mastering the rules — just mastering the rules — is not what the FPUSA umpire certification process is designed for.

Training Games

A training game is a variant of petanque designed to develop a particular playing skill. Basically, a training game is a way to combine practice and fun.

One way that a club can support its members is by organizing training games events. A club can occasionally hold a Training Games Day. On such a day, rather than playing “normal” petanque, the day is devoted to playing various training games. These kinds of events help to improve the skills of the club members… which of course makes the game more enjoyable for everyone.

To help your club to organize a Training Games Day, we have collected descriptions of a number of fun and effective training games. We found several games on the Petanque New Zealand web site. Coin Lob is a refinement of a game described on If you know of a good training game that is not in this collection, please let us know. And if you have experience with organizing Training Game Days that you’d be willing to share with us, please do! Leave us a comment!

TBD (Two Boules Doubles)

Two Boules Doubles is a doubles game that requires teams to perform a mix of pointing and shooting. Each player has two boules and must point with one and shoot with the other. It was developed to provide a quick introduction to the game, and to encourage all players both to shoot and to point.

The team that wins the end gets one point. The winner of the match is the first team to gain 6 points. Games of TBD have a maximum time limit of 25 minutes.

TBD uses the standard rules of petanque with the following modifications:

  • The jack must be thrown between 6 and 8 metres (shorter distances may be used for younger players)
  • A team is allowed two attempts to throw the jack to a legal distance. If it fails, it loses the end (and one point).
  • The jack is dead if it is moved more than 9 metres from the throwing circle.
  • A boule is dead if it ends up more than 10 metres from the throwing circle.
  • Each player has only two boules (in contrast to normal doubles, in which he would have three). During an end, each player must point one boule and shoot one boule. The player is free to choose whether to shoot or to point his first boule. (The only exception to a player shooting is when there are no opponent’s boules on the terrain.)
  • A player may shoot one of his own team’s boules.
  • When a player shoots, the shot is invalid if it both (a) does not hit any other boule, and (b) does not go past the intended target. (That is, a player can’t claim a pointing throw was really a shot.) An invalid shot boule is dead — the opponents may remove it or leave it where it finished.
  • A team which has, at the completion of an end, all four of its boules closer to the jack than the nearest boule of the opposing team scores a quattro and is awarded a bonus point.

Four and Two

The basic idea of Four and Two is similar to TBD, requiring teams to perform a mix of pointing and shooting. But the teams play with six boules rather than four, which means that Four and Two can be played with teams of two or three members. For singles, change “four and two” to “two and one”, with each player playing three boules.

The standard rules of pétanque apply, except —

  • The team that threw the jack to start the end (Team A) must point two boules and shoot four boules.
  • Team B (their opponents) must point four boules and shoot two boules.


Point-Shoot can be played by teams of two or three players. In France it is typically used as a team warm-up exercise.

  • Each player points their first boule and must shoot with their second boule.
  • The player who points the closest boule to the jack gains one point.
  • The player who pointed closest must now shoot the holding boule. If they are successful they gain one point.
  • The player who pointed the next closest boule must shoot the holding boule. If they are successful they gain one point. This is repeated as necessary.
  • The player who pointed closest starts the next end.
  • The game is won by the player who gets to 15 points first.

This game rewards the player who both points and shoots well.


Shanghai is a singles game for three players. The objective for each player is to score either 21 points before your opponents, or to score a Shanghai (that is, have all three of your boules closer to the jack than the closest boule of your opponents).

  • One player draws a circle and throws the jack.
  • The player who threw the jack throws the first boule, the remaining players each throw one boule.
  • The player with their nearest boule furthest from the jack throws the next boule. This continues until all boules have been played.
  • Scoring. The closest boule to the jack is awarded 3 points, the second closest 2 points and the third closest 1 point. If one player has the three closest holding boules that player scores a Shanghai and the game is over.
  • The player who reaches 21 points first wins the game, unless a player scores a Shanghai.
  • The player who finishes the end with the closest boule to the jack (i.e. scores the 3) starts the next end. The player who scored the next highest number of points throws next and then the player who scored the least number of points throws their first boule.


Each player must shoot at least once per end.

Coin Lob
This is a game for two players, for practicing high lobs.

The rules are similar to ordinary petanque, except there is no jack in this game, and all throws must land in a target circle. The goal is for the boule to land in a target circle and to stay close to the target circle — not to roll too far away. This naturally forces players to throw high lobs. TIP: One easy way to draw a nice target circle is to use the inside of a regulation plastic throwing circle as a template.

Decide who plays first. After the first player throws, the two players alternate throwing.

The first player draws a target circle 50cm in diameter (same size as the inside of a throwing circle) and 6m to 10m from the throwing circle. The “coin” (a small, flat, coin-sized piece of paper or cloth) is placed in the center of the circle to represent the official center of the circle. Points are measured from the coin.

Players must lob into the target circle. That is, the donnee, the landing spot, must be inside (or on) the circle. A thrown boule that lands outside the circle is dead — it is removed from the game.

The winner of an end draws a new circle, places the coin, and the game continues.

Game can be to any agreed number of points.

Half and Half

Half and Half is a singles game that requires players to perform a mix of pointing and shooting.

  • The jack must be thrown between 6 and 8 meters. This shorter distance is designed to make shooting a bit easier.
  • Each player has an even number of boules (4 or 6).
  • The players take turns playing.
  • If a player has an even number of boules, he must point. If he has an odd number of boules he must shoot.
  • When shooting, a player must call his shot (i.e. identify his target). A player may attempt to shoot the jack or one of his own boules.
  • If it is a player’s turn to shoot and the opponent has no boules on the terrain, the player may point.
  • When a player shoots, his boule is invalid if hits nothing (boule or jack) and fails to go past the called target. (That is, a player can’t claim a pointing throw was really a shot.) An invalid boule is dead — the opponent may remove it or leave it where it finished.

Half and half can be played with any number of boules or players. Just make sure that each player has an even number of boules and both teams have the same number of boules. Teams play alternately, and players play alternately within their teams.

Three games — first, revenge, then beauty

In club play or friendly neighborhood play, teams often play several games in a row.

In English, we would say that after the “match” comes the “rematch” or “return match”. In petanque, in French, after the first game, the loser may propose la revanche (a revenge game).

If after two games the teams are tied (one game to one game), the teams may decide to go on and play a third “playoff” game, la belle (the beauty).

I don’t know the origin of the term la belle… perhaps a reference to a kind of Beauty and the Beast situation. In any case, the terminology lends itself to petanque humor — gently risqué double entendre.

— “You won (gagné) the first game (la première). We won the second (la seconde). Shall we do the beauty (la belle)?”
— “OK,” he says (throwing away his boule and heading toward his mixed-doubles partner, a very attractive young woman). “I’ll go first.”

Precision shooting


The FIPJP’s precision shooting (tir de precision) competition is a relatively new petanque petanque competition. World’s Championships in precision shooting have been held for men since 2000, and for women since 2002. The rules for the precision shooting contest are available on the Rules of Petanque web site.

The contest specifies five different configurations (ateliers, or figures) of boules and jack in a one-meter circle. For each configuration the contestant throws one boule from each of four throwing circles placed at distances of 6, 7, 8, and 9 meters. So each contestant throws 20 boules (5 figures X 4 distances). It is possible to score up to 5 points per boule thrown, so it is possible for a contestant to score up to 100 points (20 boules x 5 points).
precision_shooting_5_ateliersThe FIPJP organizes Men’s World Championships in even-number years, and Juniors’ and Women’s World Championships in odd-number years. At each of these competitions, a precision-shooting world championship is organized in parallel. The highest recorded Men’s Championship score was 66, scored by Claudy Weibel in 2010, until this was bested in 2011 by Christophe Sévilla with a score of 67.

Here is a nice graphic with the basic rules. Click on it to see the full-sized image.

The following information and graphics courtesy of, a good English-language site — well worth visiting.

You can find videos of precision shooting on YouTube.

Here’s Bruno Le Boursicaud (who was the subject of a 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal) at the 2012 World championships.

And a youth competition in 2011.

At Seville in 2011 the contestants get the red carpet treatment. An official uses a frame or template to position the target boules and jack in the desired figure.
PrecisionShooting_template1 PrecisionShooting_template2

Age classifications

For the purpose of competitions, the official FIPJP age classification are:

Benjamin under 9 years old within the year
Minims 10, 11, 12 years old within the year
Cadets 13, 14, 15 years old within the year
Junior 16, 17 years old within the year
Senior 18 and over within the year
Veteran over 60 within the year