Tournament software for PCs

Recently I played (for the first time) in a couple of tournaments. For both tournaments, the tournament organization (deciding which team plays which team, on which piste, for each round of the tournament — and then deciding who the winners were) was done using printed paper forms.

My impression was that using paper forms to organize a tournament can be quite easy, or quite difficult, depending on what kind of tournament system is being used, and how many teams and pistes are in play. And as a computer programmer I could see that such tournament organization tasks are ideal candidates for automation. The rules are clearly defined. The calculations can sometimes be challenging for a human, but a computer can do them quickly and without mistake. And in our Web-connected age, electronic data exchange would be possible and easy, if that might be something that one wanted.

So I began wondering what kinds of software might be available for organizing petanque tournaments. I went to Google and started looking.

screenshot_SPORT_tournament_softwareThe bottom line is that there is only one really high-quality commercial product. It is called SPORT and is available from a German firm. Their URL (web page) is SPORT is designed to handle tournaments in different formats (round robin, single elimination, double elimination, Swiss system, etc.) and in several different sports. It supports several different languages, including French and English.

As of July 2014, the list price is 80€. The interesting thing is that the FIPJP itself uses SPORT for the World Championships, and has negotiated an arrangement with the vendor for a 50% price discount.  40€ is quite a reasonable price. According to the FIPJP web site, the way to get the discount is to place the order for SPORT through a national federation, which for American clubs of course means ordering it through the FPUSA. I think that means ordering it through the FPUSA National Sport Director — currently Ernesto Santos.

The software is written in Microsoft Visual C++ and runs on Windows. That means that SPORT should be able to run on any laptop running Windows. So it should be easy to bring a laptop running SPORT down to the tournament location.

Updated July 19, 2014

After my original post, I began thinking. The more I thought, the more it seemed to me that there must be other good tournament organization packages available, besides SPORT. So I Googled “tournament organization software” and got a lot of hits. Here are the ones that I thought looked most interesting.

  1. TioPro (free)
  2. Tournament Planner (€150)
  3. Tournament Time ($180 annual license)

Of the three, TioPro most impressed me. It seems to be genuinely free, not just a free trial. It has a good, clean, easy-to-use user interface. It has a LOT of features — I think it probably has all of the features that anyone would want for a petanque tournament. It seems to be actively maintained and developed, with good support via an online Linux-style forum. And there is a very impressive list of video tutorials that are hosted on YouTube — I watched THIS and THIS.

One thing that impressed me was that TioPro correctly handles the organization of the consolante in a double-elimination tournament. Here is a screenshot from one of the YouTube tutorials. I’ve added a red arrow to the screenshot to show how TioPro automatically (and correctly) moves losers from the concours to the consolante. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)
Click to see larger image

In a very helpful comment (see below) Uzero Metreize pointed out that, if you’re going to be running a tournament from a laptop, you really need an AC electrical outlet. That’s true.

Uzero also suggested that even with a laptop, you still need a printer, so all of the players can follow the progress of the tournament. “Imagine,” he says, “running a tournament like the Amelia Island Open, with 128 teams gathered around the computer.” Clearly, that wouldn’t work.

But still, there might be a non-paper alternative.

The last time I was at Amelia, people gathered around a big paper chart pinned to a bulletin board. The paper chart wasn’t much bigger than a medium-sized flat-screen TV. So…

Suppose we connected a large flat-screen TV to the laptop (easy to do). All you would need would be the TV (not that expensive, really) and an HDMI cable. And suppose we took the paper chart down from the bulletin board, and replaced it with the TV screen displaying the chart.

Even better would be to completely bypass the bulletin board and the TV. If the laptop running the tournament software had internet connectivity, updated tournament information could be constantly uploaded to the tournament web site in real time. On the tournament web site, intermediate results could be viewed by anybody with a smartphone. TioPro in fact already does this. It has built-in Twitter support, making it easy to tweet tournament results as they come in.

Imagine. You don’t even need to go anywhere near the bulletin board. You can go back to your hotel after your last game of the day, have a nice dinner, and then before going to bed check the web site to see who you’ll be playing the next day!

I’ve never been to Marseilles or to the World Championships. But they surely must have some kind of set-up like this. With such big tournaments, there is no way that they’re going to be constantly distributing paper copies of updated results and standings throughout the tournament.

The Master considers offense and defense

One evening, after a hard-fought tournament, the pastis was flowing and conversation turned to the topic of pointing vs. shooting. We debated “Which is more important – pointing or shooting?” and “Which is more difficult?” and so on.

Eventually we talked ourselves out. The Master, who had said nothing during the debate, spoke slowly and thoughtfully…

I’m surprised that no one brought up the most fundamental fact about pointing and shooting. Namely, that one is offense and the other is defense.

In soccer, the striker is offense. The goalie is defense. In petanque, the shooter seems (like the striker) to be violent and aggressive. But in petanque, the shooter is not the offense. The shooter is the defense.

The job of the pointer is to go on the offensive, to gain the point. The job of the shooter is to defend the point by shooting boules that threaten the point.

A good pointer puts the opposing team on the defensive. By pointing well, a pointer forces the opposition to expend all of their boules trying to out-point him, or forces the opposition shooter to expend boules trying to shoot him. If the opposing team succeeds in shooting the pointer’s boule, they haven’t gained anything. They have merely averted a threat. As soon as the pointer points his next boule, the opposition is back on the defensive.

The one exception is the carreau. It is only when you understand pointing and shooting as offense and defense that you understand the significance of a carreau. A carreau is both defense and offense. It removes an opposition threat and simultaneously creates a new threat of its own. In a carreau, the thrown boule is two boules in one. A carreau is like giving a team an extra boule.

A team cannot win if it cannot shoot and defend itself from opposition points. And it cannot win if it cannot point well enought to score its own points. To win, it needs both offense and defense. It must point AND shoot. Neither can be more important than the other. Both are NECESSARY.

Still … I sometimes think that pointers don’t get the respect that they deserve. Perhaps it is because even the newest beginner can point. ANYBODY CAN POINT, people think. LET THE NEW PLAYER PLAY FIRST, they think, AND THEN OUR SHOOTER WILL CLEAN UP AFTER HIM. I wonder if people would think that way if they saw the pointer as he really is — the tip of the spear, the point of the battering ram, the points-scoring machine for their team. Their offensive line.

I remember playing a team of pointers once. They would point really well. And we’d shoot them, most of the time successfully. But they would always come back with another excellent pointing throw. Eventually, despite our shooting, they simply out-pointed us. It was rather an un-nerving experience…

The ice tinkled faintly in his glass as he drained the last of his pastis.

The Master limits the damage

Before I could write “The Master limits the damage”, I discovered that the Harrogate Montpellier Petanque Club had already written it, and done a great job. So here is my (lightly edited for American readers) copy of their basic tactics page.

First boule of the end


Always try to put your first boule in front of the jack. About 30-50 cm is a good distance, but even a meter in front is better than 10cm behind (see Backstops below).  The French have a saying, “Une boule devant, c’est une boule d’argent” – A boule in front, that’s a money boule.

The ‘boule devant’ has two advantages:

  1. your opponent cannot roll their boule directly to the jack but must aim to the side of your boule.
  2. If their aim is a little off (or they get a deflection from an uneven terrain) and they hit your boule, the chances are that they’ll push your boule closer to the jack.


petanque_strategy_use_opponents_boule_as_backstopA boule just behind the jack is a gift to the pointer.

It’s much easier to stop a boule against a backstop than it is to stop it without.  Just throw slightly harder than you think you need to and let the backstop do its job.  A boule resting against a backstop is also harder to knock away because of the extra weight behind it.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop the opposition from now using your boule as a backstop — but that’s all part of the game.

Promoting your boules

petanque_strategy_push_your_own_bouleAs mentioned above, boules in front of the jack can be promoted by running your boule into them and knocking them forward.  [Americans usually call this "pushing" your own boule.] There’s often an additional benefit in that the second ball remains close to the point of impact, forming a blocker.

Be careful if there’s an opposition boule close to the one you wish to promote. You can push an opponent’s boule as easily as one of your own, so take into account how accurately you can throw.

Limiting the damage

A common scenario for beginners starts when the opposition get a boule very close to the jack early in the end.  You can’t really point closer so you try to shoot it away.  Your team’s throws keep getting closer and you’re sure the next one will do it but you suddenly realize that your team have used up all of your boules!  Your missed shots have probably all gone sailing off well past the jack, allowing the opposition to rack up a big score with their remaining boules.

To reduce the odds of getting thrashed like this, you need to point one or two boules that, although not closest to the jack, are close enough to make it difficult for the opposition to score lots of points.  Better for them to score a couple of points than five or six. 

Ideally, try to make your boule snuggle up to the opposition’s closest boule so that they’ll think twice about trying to shoot yours away.

When limiting the damage won’t work

Of course in a situation where the opposition team needs only a single point to win the game, limiting the damage to only one point won’t help.  Strategies to consider in this situation are:

  1. Shoot the jack out of bounds, but only if they have thrown all of their boules.  This is a skillful shot but it stops the opposition scoring.
  2. Point slightly hard towards the jack and try to knock it towards some of your boules.
  3. Point and hope to beat the opposition boule.
  4. Shoot the opposition boule and hope that that will leave you closest.

None of these strategies are an easy option but you don’t have a lot of choice.

The Master and the three 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.

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 devant” 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.

Measuring via a smartphone app

This is an excerpt from our longer post on Measuring boule to jack. More and more people are carrying smart phones these days, so it seemed appropriate to revisit the topic in a post of its own.

I haven’t yet had an opportunity to try these apps. If you have, please leave a comment and tell us about your experiences. What app are you using (or did you try)? How well is it working for you?

There are three primary issues with any measuring technology.

  1. How quickly can a measurement be made? How easy is it to use?
  2. How likely are you to accidentally move a boule or jack when using it?
  3. How precise is it?

Smart-phone apps are a technology that, at least in theory, should score high on all counts. They should be quick and easy to use. They involve ZERO risk of touching and moving boules or jack. And they should be precise.

There are a number of smart-phone apps, available on both iPhone and Android platforms.

For older players, a smart-phone app has both pros and cons. Regardless of your age, a smartphone (and a data plan) can be prohibitively expensive. And older players can sometimes be technology-averse. I know a few older players who refuse to touch a computer or a smartphone.

On the other hand, for those with knee, back, eyesight, or stability issues, a smartphone can be a great tool. You can measure without squatting or getting down on your knees. And without having to get back up!

But of course there are other tools for dealing with such flexibility issues. One that I’ve found works quite well is… a younger team-mate. :)

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.

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.