Petanque best practices for playing with Covid-19

A list of best practices for playing during the pandemic, gathered from various sources.

Current research indicates that Covid-19 is spread primarily by water droplets and aerosolized virus particles exhaled by persons who don’t (yet) realize that they have contracted the disease. We have two tools to stop this mode of transmission— social distancing and mask-wearing. Touching objects or surfaces does not appear to be a significant mode of transmission, although objects should be handled with care and hand-washing after handling objects is recommended.

On the basis of this information, petanque groups have developed some best practices for playing petanque during the Covid-19 pandemic.

  1. Always wear a mask.
  2. Practice social distancing. The recommended minimum social distance is 6 feet (2 meters), but make it more if you can.
    • Remember to maintain social distancing while boules are being measured. Don’t congregate around the jack while boules are being measured.
    • Remember to maintain social distancing while boules are being picked up. Don’t congregate around the jack. Kick boules away from the head, and/or take turns picking up the boules.
  3. Don’t share objects or pass them hand-to-hand. This includes hand sanitizer, boules, the jack, the circle, and the tape measure.
    • Each game should have its own circle, and there should be a single player who acts as the designated circle-handler. Only he/she should pick up and place and mark the circle. Alternatively, the game may be played without a plastic circle; players draw circles on the ground in the traditional way.
    • Each game should have its own tape measure, and there should be a single player who acts as the designated measurement-maker.
    • Each team should have its own jack, and there should be a single player who acts as its designated jack-handler. Only he/she should pick up the team’s jack at the end of a mène, and only he/she should throw the team’s jack at the beginning of a mène.
  4. Physically space out games, so that there is as much distance as possible between games. If you are playing in a boulodrome with marked lanes, leave at least one unused lane between lanes that are being used.
  5. Do not use handshakes (or if you’re French, hugs and kisses) to greet or congratulate each other at the beginning and end of games. Suggested alternatives are verbal greetings, elbow-bumps, or namasté.

Petanque in the time of Covid-19

Petanque in the time of Covid-19
Some petanque clubs are reopening with Covid-19 guidelines in place. If your club is playing or reopening, here are some thoughts.

  • Current research indicates that Covid-19 is spread primarily by close person-to-person contact. A person who appears to be healthy may unwittingly be blasting virus-laden water droplets into the air every time that he/she exhales or speaks. That’s how the virus spreads. The water droplets typically don’t travel more than about 6 feet (2 meters); that’s why social distancing— maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others— is one of our most effective ways to slow the spread of the virus.
  • You wear a mask to protect other people from you, not to protect yourself from other people. The purpose of a mask is to contain your exhaled water droplets inside your mask, so that they don’t escape into the surrounding environment where they can infect someone else. Wearing a mask is a moral responsibility, not a matter of self-defense. It is what you do to protect your friends and neighbors, not yourself. That’s why— paradoxically— the younger, healthier, and stronger you are, the more important it is for you to wear a mask. You can appear to be healthy while in fact you have the virus and are unknowingly spreading it to everyone you meet.
  • Touching objects or surfaces does not appear to be a significant mode of coronavirus transmission. Although you can and should take sensible precautions (hand-washing, etc.), you are unlikely to contract the virus by touching your snail mail or Amazon delivery box, your pet, or items in the grocery store when you go shopping. When you go grocery shopping, the time for maximum caution is not when you are filling your shopping cart; it is when you’re in the checkout line, close to the cashier and other shoppers.
  • If you are playing petanque, the time for maximum caution is not when you are picking up the jack which was thrown earlier by another player; it is when you are simply standing around and talking or watching the game. IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THIS— The closer you stand to your friends and fellow-players, the more you may unknowingly be putting them in danger.

Petanque players know that the most dangerous conditions are in crowded enclosed spaces. Out in the open air they feel safe— or at least safe enough to play while wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Some groups feel safe enough to require only social distancing, and don’t mandate the use of masks. The FFPJP guidelines for playing during Covid-19 recommend but do not require mask-use.

Feeling safe enough in the open air to go maskless is understandable, but it also means that you are placing all of your eggs in one basket. It means that your only tool for preventing the spread of the virus is social distancing. You should therefore absolutely observe social distancing practices religiously. You must treat everyone you meet— and yourself— as a potential carrier. In light of the seriousness of this issue, if your petanque group is active and playing—

  • Try to observe a greater social distance than is normally recommended. Make the minimum social distance 10 feet rather than 6 feet— 3 meters rather than 2 meters.
  • Players naturally congregate around the jack while measuring or while boules are being picked up. Be aware of that tendency. Resist that tendency.
  • Physically space out your games, so that there is as much space as possible between active terrains.
  • Pay attention to the wind. Even a light breeze will disperse exhaled water droplets, but it will also increase the distance that a droplet can travel in the air. Throw the jack across the wind-direction rather than upwind or downwind. Watch where you are standing; try not to stand upwind or downwind from another player. Don’t be the group in the upper diagram; be the group in the lower diagram.

Move over, plastic throwing circle; here comes the petanque mat

There is a new product on the market— the “petanque mat” (tapis de pétanque or tapis de lancement). It is a 50cm circular piece of vinyl polymer (rubber). It is 3mm thick. You place it on the ground like a plastic circle, and when you throw, you stand ON it rather than IN it.

It is manufactured by a Franch company, Tapis de Pétanque ( Their web site says that these petanque mats were approved by the FIPJP in 2019, and they put a stamp on the mats to prove it. (I haven’t found anything on the FIPJP website that documents or announces this approval… but then the FIPJP said nothing a few years ago when it approved OBUT’s paramagnetic “black jack”.)

The mat comes in a plain black “classic” design (above) for about €20 and a slightly thicker (4mm) “luxe” version. The luxe version comes in a variety of preprinted designs for about €70, and you can have one printed with a custom design for around €140.

The touted benefits of the mat are that it can be rolled up, making it more portable than a plastic circle; it is comfortable to stand on; you can’t trip on the edge when stepping off of it; a player standing on it cannot move it; and it causes no disturbance of the ground that needs to be repaired at the end of the mène. I think we have to take those claims with a few grains of salt. It’s still possible, of course, to trip on the edge when stepping ON to the mat. And it is possible to kick and move the mat when you aren’t actually standing on it, so you still must mark it.

I think it is a neat idea, but for manufactures and vendors of petanque equipment, not for players. Basically, it is just another platform for advertising. In the future we may start to see mats with OBUT logos in televised championships, but for everyday grass-roots games nobody is going to spend €140, or €70, or even €20 on a mat when they can get a perfectly serviceable plastic circle from Decathlon for $7.

One consequence of these mats— assuming that the FIPJP now really does recognize/approve the use of mats as well as plastic circles — might be that grassroots players will begin cutting 50cm circles out of pieces of carpet tile, scrap rubber or carpet, to make their own home-made mats. Personally, the idea of lugging around a dirty old piece of carpet doesn’t appeal to me— I’d rather just draw a circle on the ground, in the traditional way. Or I could raid my grand-daughter’s college savings fund and purchase one of these tapis de pétanque— after all, they are washable.

Playing with a larger jack

Last week I tried to watch a petanque video on Youtube, but it was hopeless. You just couldn’t see the jack. It was a low-resolution video, the terrain was light-colored, and the black-colored jack was completely lost among shadows caused by irregularities in the terrain. Eventually I gave up.

Later I wondered what could have been done to make the jack more visible. Perhaps a different color. Or… perhaps… a larger jack!

There is no reason why the jack has to be the size that it is— 30mm ±1mm, as currently specified by the FIPJP rules. The size isn’t written in stone. Before 2008, the official size of the jack was 25mm to 35mm in diameter, which allowed for quite a lot of variability.

What if we played with a larger jack? For one thing, it would make televised matches easier to follow. And there would be another benefit— it would make the game easier for vision-impaired players. Last year one of our senior players began to experience the effects of age-related macular degeneration. Fortunately she was able to continue to play if we used our brightest-colored jack. But it occurs to me that we could help her even more by playing with a larger jack. Why not?

If you make your own jacks, it is easy to make a larger jack. Normally you would start with a wooden ball 1-1/4″ (30mm) in diameter. Instead, start with a wooden ball 1-3/4″ in diameter. The 1-3/4″ wooden balls that I ordered from arrived in a package marked 1.7in | 44mm. The size seems good to me: bigger, but not too big. Here is a picture of the two sizes of wooden balls along with a 75mm boule.

I’m not saying that the FIPJP should change its rules about the size of the jack. (Although it would be sensible to provide competition organizers with a “large jack” option for televised games or games with a large stadium audience.) But I think that for friendly games with vision-impaired players, it would be quite reasonable to consider making and using larger jacks.

Shoot the 30 – a Facebook precision shooting competition

In this Year Of The Coronavirus, petanque players are finding ways to compete while maintaining social distancing. Shoot the 30 is a Facebook group where players can participate in a grass-roots version of the FIPJP precision shooting competition. The idea apparently originated in Europe and was brought to America by Wolfgang Kurz (Valley of the Moon Petanque Club) and René van Kesteren (Salt Lake City Petanque Club).

You can find one entry HERE.

The rules that I’ve found on Facebook are a bit sketchy, so I’ve filled in the gaps based on the rules of the FIPJP precision shooting (tir de precision) competition.

1. Draw a target circle, 1 meter in diameter, on the ground.
2. Place a target boule in the center of the target circle.
3. There are three shooting distances: 7/8/9 meters.
4. Throw 10 boules from each distance: 30 boules in all. Shoot the 30.
5. Each throw scores from zero to five points.
6. A perfect score is 150 points (30 boules x 5 points).

A thrown boule is a hit if the first thing that it hits is the target boule, or if it hits the ground inside the target circle and then hits the target boule.
A thrown boule is a miss if it doesn’t hit the target boule or the first thing that it hits is the ground outside the target circle or the edge of the target circle.

Points are earned in the following ways.

  • carreau – 5 points
    The target boule is knocked completely out of the circle and the thrown boule stays inside the circle.
  • réussi (success) – 3 points
    The target boule is knocked out of the circle, but then the thrown boule also goes out of the circle.
  • touché (touch) – 1 point
    The target boule is hit (touché) but is not knocked completely out of the circle.
  • miss – 0 points

The easiest way to do this is with two people. One person throws and the other stands near the target circle, keeps score, resets the target area between throws, and tosses the thrown boules back to the thrower.


For a long time I’ve been interested in finding a simple method for measuring (assigning a numeric value to) a player’s skill level. If we had such a method, then a player looking for a partner for a competition could use that numeric value to help find a partner with a similar skill level. I proposed one idea HERE, but using a player’s “Shoot the 30” score would probably be easier….
I’m looking for a partner for the upcoming Amelia Island Open. I’m mostly a pointer but I can shoot in a pinch. My “Shoot the 30” score is typically ____.


La Circulaire – a lesser-known pétanque tradition

Almost from the day that petanque was invented in 1910, petanque players have experimented with tools and methods for drawing a throwing circle on the ground. Using a foot to swipe a curve (courbe) in the dirt was crude. Drawing a cicle with a finger left you with dirty hands. Using a stick worked well, but suitable sticks weren’t always readily available. Players began to experiment with specialized tools for drawing circles, and in the process they created one of the lesser-known pétanque traditions— that of l’outil pour faire le cercle or simply la circulaire.

The most popular type of circulaire was made from the tip of the horn of the Alpine Ibex. Some were simply polished, but there was also a tradition of elaborately carving the horns. Possibly because many of the carved circulaires were created by sailors (who played petanque while in port and carved scrimshaw while at sea), one of the most popular designs was of a mermaid holding up two boules. In 1971, the founders of Starbucks Coffee adapted that design to create the first version of their company logo. The design was altered so that the mermaid’s tails cover the boules in her hands, but you can still see the boules in the band surrounding the image.

Carved circulaires were never widely used, partly because only a few of them were ever created, partly because they were expensive, and partly because the Alpine Ibex had been hunted almost to extinction. Some players improvised circulaires from old screwdrivers and, more recently, old ballpoint pens. Some players opted for a manufactured “petanque marker”, a version of which is still available from

Although these designs were functional and effective, I’ve always felt that they were a bit clunky. Recently I found a new, streamlined design that I actually prefer. It is long enough to provide a good grip and good freedom of motion for the wrist. There is a nice rubber cushion on the handle. A graphite core keeps the weight down, and its slim design allows it eaily to be tucked away in a pocket. It is available for €16 at

[Originally published 2020-04-01.  Reposted with permission.]

Comparing online translators

Online translators can be tremendously useful for those of us who are not bilingual (or at least not fluently). This year I wanted to translate a simple sentence from English into French. I ran it through four different free online translation sites. Here is how those sites compare.

  • English: “Father Christmas says that Christmas may be late this year.”
  • Desired French: “Le Père Noël dit que Noël pourrait être en retard cette année.”



There are a number of criteria that we can use to evaluate a translation site.

  • Is the translation correct? Are there any typographic or spelling or grammar or vocabulary errors?
  • How good is the translation?  Is it idomatic?  Does it make good or poor vocabulary choices?
  • Is the user interface user-friendly?  Can you easily switch the FROM and TO languages?
  • Are there limits on the length of the text that can be translated?
  • In addition to translation, does the site offer any other useful tools?

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Google can translate only short passages.  Its translation had one capitalization error.  The SWITCH LANGUAGES feature is primitive.  User interface is not user-friendly.


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The user interface is good.  A major CON is that the translation had the most errors (3) of any of the sites.   On the other hand, it was the only site where you could hear the translated text in good native-speaker French. It can translate up to 5000 characters.


Click to open a larger image.The user interface is good.  It is possible to hear the translation, but the spoken French is terrible – it was what you’d hear from an American who doesn’t know any French and is phonetically sounding out the written text.  It can translate up to 5000 characters.

Systran seems to be the most full-featured of all of the sites.  It provides a lot of vocabulary tips and offers alternate translations based on different “models”. 
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DeepL has a good user interface and produced the best translation of any of the sites.  The real strength of DeepL is that you can upload a long document in .docx format and DeepL will translate it for you.  This is the only site that offers that feature.


DeepL is our winner.  It produced the best translation (zero errors), has a simple and friendly user interface, and can translate uploaded documents.

Systran is a strong runner-up.  It did a good job at translation and offers a lot of useful extras.

Our obvious losers are Google and Bing (Microsoft).  Google Translate has an extremely crude user interface that is actually unpleasant to use.  Bing‘s translation was the worst of all of the sites, with 3 outright errors.  However, it gets an honorable mention for its good user interface and its ability to produce good spoken French.

An open letter to that third boule

Lee Harris, Portland Petanque Club, Portland, Oregon, USA (August 29, 2019)

If I could be judged solely on the merits of you, my third boule, then I would be likened to the greatest players in petanque.

But I must be honest with myself. Your greatness is no reflection on me. You are ever flawless in execution and I marvel at thee.

Contrary to the first and second boule to leave my hand this end, you plot your own course, and refuse to follow in the ruts that your predecessors did.

You are unlike your two fellows, who went where I threw them and not where I desired that they should go. You threw off conformity to mark your own path, casually rolling past the barricade of boules, to nudge your boxwood compatriot. I pump my arm in salute to you. Bob, I believe I shall call you, Bob.
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Where to aim when you’re shooting

My friends and I are aspiring shooters, and one question that we toss around is— “Where should you aim when you’re shooting?”  We’ve come up with a variety of answers. Here is the answer that I like best, because it is the one that works best for me.

Aim for the spot on the ground immediately in front of the target boule.

Go to the target boule and put your boule on the ground directly in front of it, so the two boules are touching. That’s where you should aim; that’s where you want your thown boule to hit the ground. Here is a view from above; the target boule is on the left; the ghostly circle on the right is where you want your boule to come down.

Here is a side view. You can see the thrown boule coming down from the right at approximately a 45 degree angle.

There a a number of reasons why I think this strategy works. Continue reading

The box tree moth and the future of the jack

All of the wooden jacks produced in France (about a million each year) are manufactured by one small company, Monneret, which sells its jacks to large distributors such as Obut. Now Monneret is reporting that caterpillars (larvae) of the box tree moth (la pyrale du buis, which was first introduced to Europe from East Asia around 2007) are attacking and killing the trees from which wood is harvested to produce the jacks. Monneret’s company head predicts that in 5 to 7 years, all of the box trees in France will be gone. The company is attempting to stockpile box tree wood, and says that in the future it hopes to be able to import wood from other countries.
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Why is a terrible place to buy your first set of petanque boules

There are ladies and gentlemen out there who haven’t yet played petanque but are interested in learning it. Perhaps they saw it being played while they were on vacation in France, or they saw it in the movie A Year In Provence, and it looked fun. They’d like to buy some petanque boules and try it out.

If you are one of these wonderful people, I have two things to say to you. (1) It really is fun! (2) Be be warned about shopping on What you will find on will almost certainly NOT be what you want.

If you search for “petanque boules”, the first thing that will be offered to you will almost certainly be something like this. Click to see larger image.
The set will be described as “bocce/petanque” balls or boules. The cloth bag will be emblazoned with the word “bocce” or “boules”. The set will contain 8 metal balls— pairs of balls with 4 different groove patterns— single narrow, single wide, double, and triple.

The problem with such sets is that they contain NEITHER petanque boules NOR bocce balls. I’ve seen such sets so often that I’ve become hardened to the sight. Rather that screaming “stupid crap!” at my computer screen, I now give the product ONE star, and leave a review which I hope is both objective and helpful. It goes like this.
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✋ Tip: the physics of petanque shooting

Are you a petanque player who is interested in learning how to shoot, or in learning how to shoot better? The WIRED web site has a new video that you will find interesting. The video is about “shooting” a basketball (making free throws), but the considerations involved are basically the same as those in petanque shooting. In both cases you are trying to launch a ball toward a very small target with consistency and accuracy. The video is HERE. It is full of stimulating ideas that you can apply to your own shooting practice.

I’ve been interested in techniques for learning to throw for some time. In particular, I’ve identified consistency and the height of the throw as especially important for practicing shooting, so it was interesting for me to see the video confirm (and improve) my crude insights.

If you’re interested in more information about some of the people in the video, here are a few useful links.

Steve Nash’s HOMECOURT AI is an Apple (iPad and iPhone) app. Its web site is I wish there was something similar for petanque shooting!

Larry M Silverberg is a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University. You can find a podcast interview HERE. His article (“Optimal release conditions for the free throw in men’s basketball”) is available HERE, but it is very technical and I doubt that it has any practical usefulness for petanque players.

You can easily find a lot of information about Bob Fisher, the free-throw wizard, on the Web. Just google “Bob Fisher basketball“. His book is Straight Shooter: A game-changing new approach to basketball shooting. His web site is

✋Throw like a girl

A lot of women players struggle to throw boules to longer distances, so when I saw this photo on the Facebook page of Celia Crittenden, I just had to re-post it.

Good form is the key to gettting distance on a thrown boule. And in this photo Celia, one of the top U.S. women players, shows how to do it. Aside from the fact that she is squat pointing, note the full backswing of the throwing arm, which supports a strong throw. Note also the full backswing of the non-throwing arm, which keeps her balanced as she throws.

The magic yellow line comes to televised petanque

If you watch American football on television, you’re familiar with the magic yellow line. Incredibly powerful computer technology now makes it possible to superimpose computer-generated graphics onto the moving images of the game in such a way that the graphics appear to be physically painted onto the playing field. This technology was first used to display the first-and-ten line as a yellow line on the field (hence the name “magic yellow line”) but now it has advanced to the point where many other graphical elements can also be inserted onto the screen.

This technology has finally made its way to televised petanque. I’ve been wishing for it for a long time, and now it’s here. You can see it at a few scattered places in the 2017 Eurocup Finale on Youtube.

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The technology isn’t yet perfect— the 10m10 distance shown in the first image was wrong. (The umpires measured it at 9m73, so the jack was good.) But of course it will get better.

A new logo for the FFPJP

In case you missed it… in April 2017 the FFPJP (the French national petanque federation) adopted a new logo.

The evolution of this logo reflects the ambition of the FFPJP for the coming years. Its style, both more dynamic and refined, brings to the Federation the image of a strong brand, in full development. The logo of the French Federation of Pétanque and Jeu Provençal affirms its visual identity.

The rooster (le coq gaulois) is an unofficial national symbol of France. Its association with France dates back to the Middle Ages and is due to a pun (in Latin) on Gallus (an inhabitant of Gaul) and gallus (a rooster or cockerel). For a lot of fascinating information about le coq gaulois (including its connection to weather vanes) see the Wikipedia article on the Gallic rooster..

✋ Where should I look when I lob?

Players who are working to improve their game sometimes wonder: Where should I be looking when I throw a lob? Should I concentrate on the donnée, the spot where I want my boule to hit the ground? Or should my eyes follow the boule through its high trajectory in the air? Instructional books and videos say that your attention should be on the donnee. But if you watch Youtube videos of world-class lobbers, you can see that their eyes are following the boule through the air. Which is right? What should I be doing?
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Decathlon comes to the USA and starts selling Geologic boules

[originally published 2018-02-23; revised 2020-03-10]

Decathlon (technically, the Decathlon Group) is a world-wide chain of sporting-goods stores. It is, in fact, the largest sporting goods retailer in the world. It was founded in France in 1976. In the mid-1980s it started to expand into other European countries. In 2003 it started to expand into China, India, and Southeast Asia. Today, it has more than 1,100 stores (many of which are large superstores that stock a wide range of sporting goods) in 38 countries. There are about 40 stores in the UK, and one in Mexico. For petanque players, the interesting thing about Decathlon stores is that they stock petanque boules and other petanque equipment.
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