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?

There may be no definitive answers to these questions, but (for what they’re worth) here are some of my own thoughts on this subject.

I think it is helpful to distinguish three related but different questions. (When I speak of “attention” I mean both where the player is looking with his physical eyes and where he is looking with his “inner eye”: where his mental focus lies.)

  1. Where should my attention be when I’m practicing?
  2. Where should my attention be when I’m playing?
  3. When world-class players lob, where are they looking?

Where should my attention be when I’m practicing?
It depends on what you’re practicing. In the most effective kind of practice, called deliberate practice, the player is strongly focussed on a specific goal. When I practice lobbing, I focus on one of two goals: accuracy, or height. I don’t work on both of them at the same time; I work on one or the other.

  • If I’m working on accuracy, my attention is concentrated on the donnee from the time the boule leaves my hand until the time it hits the ground. I never look up at the boule in the air; my goal is to hit the donnee. It is important to see the boule as it hits the ground and consciouly to note where it landed in relation to the donnee. This is the feedback that you need in order to correct your throw and to improve your accuracy.
  • If I’m working on height, I start by looking at the donnee to get a rough idea of its location, but after that I pay no attention to it. My goal is to lob the boule in a nice high arc. My attention is concentrated on the boule from the time the boule leaves my hand until the time it lands. It is important to watch the boule in the air, to note its height and the shape of the arc. This is the feedback that you need in order to learn how to control the height and distance of your lob/throw.

To help me estimate the height of the throw, I have installed a ribbon above my practice area. When practicing lobbing, I try to get the boule into the bucket and to clear the ribbon by a specific distance— one or two meters.

Where should my attention be when I’m playing?
The simple answer is that your attention should be on the donnee. This is the petanque equivalent of baseball’s “Keep your eye on the ball.” But there is more to be said.

zen_in_the_art_of_archeryDuring practice it is good to be self-conscious about what you’re doing, but during play you want just to play. During training you consciously repeated good form and smooth motions until they became natural and unconscious for you. Now, while playing, relax and let them work for you. During play, if you consciously try to control what you’re doing, you’ll probably screw up. Don’t over-think things. If this was a class in Zen petanque I’d say— Just look at the donnee and wait. When it is ready, the ball will throw itself. That gets across the basic idea and sounds deep and portentous. 🙂

There is one exception to the “when you’re playing, just play” rule. It happens when you notice that you are playing really badly. The good form and smooth motions that you practiced until they became natural and unconscious are suddenly not working. Something has gone wrong; somewhere there is a short-circuit. You need to locate and fix that short-circuit. This is when you need to switch back into practice mode and to become deliberately self-conscious about your form. Look for what’s going wrong. Are your feet placed properly? Are you holding the boule properly? Are you doing a proper backswing? Where’s your left arm when you throw? Are you keeping your elbow straight? And so on. When you find the problem, correct it and carry on.

When world-class players lob, where are they looking?
If you watch Youtube videos of world-class lobbers, you can see that after they release the boule their eyes follow the trajectory of the boule high in the air. In order to see exactly what they are doing, I did a frame-by-frame examination of videos of Bruno Boursicaud and Marco Foyot lobbing. (See our post How to throw a high lob. A useful tool for doing frame-by-frame analysis of Youtube videos is VLC.) What I saw was this: The player’s attention is focussed on the donnee right up to the point where the boule leaves the player’s hand (at this point his arm is extended nearly horizontally). After that point the player’s attention shifts to the boule in the air. The switch is so quick and so smooth that it is almost impossible to see, but it is real.

This seems like very natural behavior (I’m sure a Zen master would approve) and it seems reasonable for ordinary players to do the same thing. But, as I say, only while playing… not while practicing.


Re-creating a nailed boule

Experimental archaeology is an activity in which archaeologists try to re-create or re-enact past technologies or cultures in order to help understand them. In that spirit I decided to try to re-create a nailed boule, a boule cloutée.

You can read the full story HERE.

Another exploding boule

We have another entry in our continuing annals of exploding boules.

Today Paris Match reported that a family was having a cookout early this afternoon in Boulou, a small village near Perpignan. The barbecue grill had been set up in the garden and a 31-year-old man was doing the cooking. Unknown to him, a petanque boule had been left inside the grill and forgotten. The heat of the fire caused the boule to explode. Fragments of the exploding boule struck the man in the head— he was dead by the time a doctor arrived on the scene.

No information about the boule was reported (although we do have one photograph), but I will nevertheless speculate that it was a cheap leisure boule similar to the boule that killed a Thai player in 2017 when it was heated. In any event, it is becoming increasingly clear that boules and heat do not mix. So, for you folks out there who play during wintry weather and heat your boules, the moral of this story is— Be aware that what you’re doing can be very dangerous, and please be extremely careful.

L’Independent has published a photo of the remaining part of the boule.

An English-language story by “Peter Allen” that appeared on various web sites, including the website of the Daily Star asserted that “There are no other known examples of anyone being killed by an exploding petanque ball.” That is incorrect. In September 2017 a player in Thailand was killed when a boule exploded while he was heating it on a stove. Allen’s story also asserts that in July 2017 a petanque ball left in a fire pit on an unidentified beach exploded, injuring a teenager. I cannot verify that story, and I wonder if it might be a garbled account of the incident in Thailand.

Geologic boules and Decathlon’s arrival in the USA

[originally published 2018-02-23; revised 2018-08-04]
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.

Decathlon has multiple research and development facilities in France dedicated to developing new designs for sporting equipment, and, since 1986, it designs and manufactures its own lines of sporting goods. There are now over 20 “Passion” brands, each dedicated to a single sport (or to one type of sport) for 70 different sports. The “Passion Geologic” brand, or simply Geologic, was created in 2008. It is dedicated to “target sports” such as darts, archery, pool, and petanque.

Early in 2018, Decathlon opened its first store in the United States, in San Francisco, California. The business plan is to become able to ship to out-of-state addresses (achieved in August 2018), then to open stores in other states in the USA, and then (in a year or two?) to expand into Canada. Their website says that their goal is to make every Decathlon product available throughout the USA.

The Decathlon store is located at 735 Market Street, San Francisco 94103 (between 3rd and 4th)— close to the Powell BART Station.

The Facebook page for Decathlon’s San Francisco store is www.facebook.com/ DecathlonUSA, and the store’s web page is www.decathlon.com. At the bottom of that page you can subscribe to a newsfeed that will notify you when a new store opens in the USA. It is possible to order petanque boules and petanque equipment (throwing circles, magnetic pickups, etc.) via the store’s petanque page. (The web page for Decathlon France is www.decathlon.fr.)

About Geologic boules

Geologic boules have a reputation for being relatively high-quality at a relatively reasonable price. Decathlon can do this by offering a very limited range of only the most popular patterns, weights, and sizes. The highest-end line of Geologic boules offers a slightly (but not very much) larger range of choices.

Geologic offers three general types of boules: cheap leisure boules, a middle-of-the-range line of leisure boules called “Discovery 300” boules, and competition boules.

Geologic’s entry-level line of leisure boules seems to me to be seriously misguided. They are 70mm in diameter and weigh 560g. This makes them too light-weight to be acceptable for adult players, and too large for younger kids (junior competition boules are typically 65mm). Like other leisure boules, these boules are filled with sand. A set of eight boules (4 pairs of 2 boules each; a stupid configuration) costs around $26.

“Discovery” is a line of moderately-priced ($41) hollow chrome-plated carbon-steel leisure boules. They are 73mm in diameter and weigh 660g, which is the same size and weight as Obut’s new stainless steel leisure boules. They cost twice as much as Chinese-made leisure boules, but less than Obut’s line of stainless steel leisure boules. Three designs are available: “classic” (single groove), “jester”, and “baseball”. I don’t know how they compare in quality or durability with Chinese leisure boules or Obut’s leisure boules.

Geologic offers three models of FIPJP-certified competition boules. Read more about the hardness of boules HERE.

  • Alpha – an inexpensive ($53) medium-hard (42HRC, >130 kg/mm²) chrome-plated carbon steel boule. Available in
    - 72 mm 690 g striations
    - 72 mm 690 g smooth
    - 74 mm 690 g striations
    - 74 mm 690 g smooth
  • Delta – a moderately priced ($75) relatively soft (39HRC, >126 kg/mm²) chrome-plated carbon steel boule. Available in:
    - 72 mm 680 g smooth
    - 73 mm 690 g smooth
    - 74 mm 690 g smooth
    - 75 mm 690 g smooth
    - 76 mm 690 g smooth
  • Polyvalent – a relatively expensive ($110) stainless steel medium-hard boule (42HRC, >130 kg/mm²). Available in:
    - 71 mm 690 g smooth
    - 72 mm 690 g smooth
    - 73 mm 680 g smooth
    - 73 mm 700 g smooth
    - 74 mm 680 g smooth
    - 74 mm 700 g smooth
    - 75 mm 680 g smooth
    - 75 mm 700 g smooth
    - 76 mm 700 g smooth

The real winner in this line-up is the Alpha, whose price should make it attractive to beginning players looking for a first set of competition boules at a reasonable price. (The downside is that you have no choice about weight and only two choices of size— 72mm or 74mm.) The Delta line doesn’t seem to offer a significantly wider range of choices than the Alpha. The Polyvalent line compares poorly with Obut’s MATCH line, which offers a wider range of choices at a lower price (as of summer 2018, at Petanque America).

Will this affect Petanque America?

When I first heard about the arrival in America of Decathlon stores, I was disturbed. I was afraid that we’d see in the boules market what we’ve seen in, for example, the books market. A giant chain store moves into a market and drives out small independent vendors by offering a limited set of the most popular items at much lower prices. Customers gain by getting lower prices on the most popular items, but they lose their small local independent vendors, and with them they lose a lot of the options that they once had. Petanque America (and its counterpart in Canada, Marcod) is not something that we want to lose. Petanque America has been a reliable supporter of petanque in the USA for many years, as well as a consistently reliable source of high-quality boules and equipment. Without Petanque America and the Petanque America Open Petanque Amelia Island Open, American petanque would be a pale shadow of its present self.

Now, however, after a closer study of the Geologic boules, I am less worried. Geologic’s low-end leisure boules are suitable for neither adult nor junior players. Discovery leisure boules cost twice as much as Chinese leisure boules and offer no significant advantages over them. Discovery boules cost less than Obut’s leisure boules, but they don’t have Obut’s reputation for quality and they aren’t stainless steel (see Are your boules toxic?). When it comes to competition boules, Obut’s MATCH line is better and cheaper than Geologic’s Polyvalent line. The only really attractive Geologic model is the Alpha; as the cheapest competition boule on the market, it is attractive to players buying their first set of competition boules. LW Cheah reports (see comment, below) that Decathlon is planning to introduce another Alpha option of 70.5mm and 670g. For players who prefer a smaller boule, that would certainly be good news; it would make discarding their old 73mm leisure boules and moving to a 70.5mm Alpha a no-brainer. But it seems to me that even if that happens the Alpha options will still be so limited that nobody is likely to buy Alphas except as their first set of competition boules.

The bottom line is that I don’t find the Geologic boules especially compelling, and I don’t see Geologic boules posing a serious threat to Petanque America’s customer base of both casual and serious players. Humans can be an unpredictable lot, of course, and I may be wrong, but that’s the way things look to me right now.

The Ten Commandments of Petanque (postcards)

Paul Ordner had a long and successful career (starting in 1923) as a commercial artist, creating illustrations for advertisments, magazine covers, and posters (especially for sports-related magazines and events) as well as humorous and political cartoons. Around 1960 he began creating humorous drawings and cartoons for postcard publisher Éditions Photochrome à Toulouse. Eventually he designed almost 300 cards. He died in 1969 at age 68. A book of his art, Paul Ordner: 40 ans de dessin sportif, humoristique et politique, was published in 2014.

His series of postcards called “The Ten Commandments of Petanque” (Les Dix Commandements de la Pétanque) is popular with Petanque players.

01: You may tell your wife to go to hell, but thou shalt finish the game first.

02: The next time, thou shalt write down the points.

03: When measuring, thou shalt not cheat.

04: Thou shalt not bother your partner.

05: Despite the presence of your mother-in-law, thou shalt throw only at the boules.

06: As you promised your wife, thou shalt play only at boules.

07: In boules, thou shalt think only of the terrain.

08: When throwing toward the open ocean, thou shalt avoid throwing too hard.

09: While an obstacle is going through, thou shalt wait patiently.

10: When you get a good thrashing, thou shalt kiss Fanny willingly.

What killed the Mondial de Millau

For 34 years, starting in 1981, Le Mondial de Millau was one of the most important petanque competitions (perhaps THE most important competition) in France and in the world, attracting the world’s top pétanque players. Unlike Le Mondial la Marseillaise à Pétanque which is only a triples event, Millau held open singles, doubles, and triples competitions for both men and women, as well as a mixed triples competition. It was a 5-day pétanque festival that attracted 15,000 spectators (or 50,000, depending on who you ask) and 5,000 players. It was supported by an army of 400-500 volunteers. While it was being played in mid-August, it was impossible to find an un-booked hotel room within 80 kilometers of Millau.

The event was hugely profitable for the city— the Millau tourist office estimated the economic benefits to the city at around €2.5 million. But the size of the event also caused disruptions to the lives of residents. Traffic became a problem, and cars and huge motor homes were parked everywhere, in spots both legal and illegal. (In 2015 the local police department issued over 500 parking tickets to vistors to the event.) Residents living near La Victoire Park, the location of the event, couldn’t find parking close to their own homes.

Matters came to a boil after the 34th Mondial, on August 26, 2015. There was a meeting at the sub-prefecture office, attended by the competition sponsor, Millau Pétanque Promotion (MPP) (represented by its four co-presidents— Claude Lacan, Claude Bonneviale, Bernard Rouquayrol and Jean-Pierre Mas), the mayor of Millau (Christophe Saint-Pierre), the sub-prefect of Millau (Bernard Breyton) and the police commander.

The mayor noted the complaints by residents. He noted the cost to the city of supporting the event: about €100,000 out of an annual budget of €600,000. And he requested that the MPP start taking responsibility for managing the parking and traffic issues associated with the event.

That theme was continued by the sub-prefect, who asked the MPP to be aware of the problems that the event was causing for local resident, and to comply with the local parking and traffic ordinances. The MPP co-chairs admitted that they had never read the municipal ordinances governing such subjects. The sub-prefect expressed the opinion that the event organizers clearly hadn’t given much thought to these issues, that that was damaging for the city of Millau, and was not acceptable. (On September 19 the prefecture of Aveyron issed an official position statement, supporting the city and noting that the “anarchic” parking of vehicles around the event hindered access of security personnel and emergency response vehicles trying to get to La Victoire Park.)

The mayor then went on to outline specific proposals for dealing with the issues that had been raised. The city, he said, appreciated the importance of the work done by the many volunteers, and the need for the volunteers to be able to park their vehicles near La Victoire Park. He proposed that during the event volunteers could park at the Crés school and that the city could also allocate to the volunteers all or part of the parking lot of la Menuiserie. On the delicate question of motorhomes (specifically for travelers who settle everywhere, particularly along the Boulevard Jean Gabriac, a site where family gardens had been vandalized) the mayor proposed using the parking at la Sernam as a supplemental reception area. “I also asked the neighborhoods (collectivités) to make an inventory of potentially usable reception areas on the outskirts of the city to organize the competitors parking.” He proposed that MPP should be in charge of shuttles running between La Victoire Park and the parking areas on the outskirts of the city, and also installation of signs (created by the city) directing motorists to the event parking locations. And he proposed that MPP organize pre-registrations for the event on their website. “By having early contact with the players, MPP could inform and direct them to a particular parking area. They already do this at Espalion and the Marseillaise. I don’t see why we can’t do it at the Mondial. In other big local events, it already works like that.” [See the mayor’s position paper.] In closing, the mayor promised to work with the MPP and the various municipal services to refine these proposals, with the goal of working out an arrangement that would be comfortable for both the competition and the residents. And he specifically noted that the city was committed to continuing support for the Mondial in the future.

The mayor and the sub-prefect may or may not have been very tactful in stating their concerns and proposals. In any event the MPP co-chairs came away from the meeting angry, feeling that they had been verbally assaulted (“We were even accused of not being able to read”), and with a strong feeling that the mayor, the sub-prefect and the police commander were all hostile to the Mondial.

On Wednesday, September 9, 2015, the four co-presidents of the MPP announced that they had decided that there would be no 35th Mondial de Millau. They had decided to kill the Mondial de Millau. The spokesman for the group, Jean-Pierre Mas (son of the event’s original founder, Damien Mas) said Nous sommes dans l’incapacité de poursuivre l’organisation du Mondial car les conditions ne sont plus réunies pour cela… (“We are unable to continue organization of the Mondial because we can no longer meet the conditions for it.”) “The positions of the sub-prefect and especially the police commander are incompatible with pursuing the Mondial. We will never be able to comply with what the sub-prefect asks us. Traffic and flow of visitors outside La Victoire Park must not be our responsibility.” Later he was quoted as saying L’ordre public ne relève pas de notre compétence. (“Public order is not our business.”)

Social media immediately erupted with a firestorm of criticism of the mayor for killing the Mondial.

In response the mayor pointed out that it was the MPP, not he, who had decided to kill the Mondial, and he characterized the MPP’s decision as “regrettable”, “hasty” and “disproportionate”. “I never questioned the competition as such. What I said was that because of the success of the event, there were elements of the way that participants are welcomed that needed to be managed, especially around La Victoire Park, to ensure normal living conditions for the residents. There was no attack on my part [on the Mondial]. On the contrary, I am defending it … but I also have the right to say what is wrong.”

The four co-chairs of the MPP remained committed to their decision. The Mondial was dead. End of story.

A few months after the Mondial was cancelled, a new group was organized to create a replacement for it. The Association de Gestion Sportive Millavoise (AGSM) was created in order to host a Festival International de Pétanque Évenement de Millau (FIPEM)(www.petanquemillau.com). In 2016, only 500 players participated in the festival. The festival acquired new organizers, who managed to recruit more volunteers and to partner with a local petanque club, Pétanque Club Joyeuse Millau. When the second Festival was held in August 2017, most of the competitions were limited to 512 teams, which (for triples) means a total participation of about 1500 players. (I don’t have the actual participation numbers.)

The new festival has adopted the city’s proposals for traffic and parking management. “Free shuttles will run between La Victoire Park and the free car parks which will be at your disposal a few minutes from La Victoire Park. No parking will be tolerated near the entrance of the Park.”

✋Working on your form: torso torque

A throwing form that allows you to throw effectively is something that you can work on. In this post we look at one aspect of effective form— torso torque. The expression refers to the way a shooter twists his torso while throwing. (See Byron Putman: Pétanque: The Greatest Game You Never Heard Of (pp. 82-85)— highly recommended.)

When you watch world-class shooters you will often see this…

  • Before the player starts his backswing, he is basically standing upright, with shoulders level and chest facing forward toward the target.
  • As the player begins his backswing, he leans forward slightly— this allows for a higher backswing. His throwing shoulder drops a little and moves backward, causing his torso to twist backward slightly. At the same time, his non-throwing arm starts to move backward so that at the height of the backswing both arms are raised behind his back, balancing each other.
  • The player begins his throw. During the throw, his throwing shoulder dips slightly, so that during the throw it moves forward gracefully in a shallow U-shaped dip. At the same time, his torso starts to untwist, so that at the end of the follow-through his throwing shoulder is in front of his body. At this point his posture is “open”— an observer standing to his non-throwing side can see the front of his chest, as in this photo of Marco Foyot. (For more pictures, see How to throw a boule.)

Here is a sequence of clips from the Youtube video of Ledantec shooting during the final of the Masters de Petanque 2004.


Start of backswing.

Continuing backswing. Player leans forward slightly. Non-throwing arm starts to swing back.

Approaching full backswing. Non-throwing arm is as high a throwing arm.

At the height of the backswing and just beginning the swing. The throwing shoulder is just starting to drop lower than the non-throwing shoulder.

Throwing shoulder approaches bottom of U-shaped dip. Note the angled slope of the shoulders. Torso has started to untwist. Note that the non-throwing arm has continued to move backward, balancing the throw.

Almost ready to release the boule. Torso is almost fully untwisted as throwing shoulder moves forward.

Release of the boule. Throwing shoulder is starting to rise after the lowest point of the U-shaped dip. Note that the non-throwing arm remains behind the back, counter-balancing the throwing arm which is now in front of the body.

After release. Torso is fully untwisted. Throwing shoulder is almost finished rising at the end of the U-shaped dip.

Here is the whole sequence as a slideshow.

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Almost all of the great shooters (to a greater or lesser degree) demonstrate this ideal form of torso torque. And you will see it (again, to a greater or lesser degree) in pointers as well as in shooters.

Why do players move this way when they throw? Byron Putman calls it “torso torque” because he thinks it is a way for a player to use torso rotation to add power to his throw. Personally, I find that the motion of my body is more natural, and my accuracy is greater, when I twist my torso and bring my throwing arm forward while throwing. I suspect that shoulder anatomy is coming into play here, but I don’t know enough anatomy to be able to say exactly what is happening.

Note that when referring to a player (of unspecified gender), I use “he” and “his” as abbreviations for “he or she” and “his or her”.