Recently a friend asked me for suggestions about how to learn to shoot. Here are some thoughts on that subject. I’m not an expert, and I can speak only from my own experience.
Personally, I find it helpful to practice shooting with three different goals in mind. I devote one practice session to one of the goals, another session to another of the goals, and so on. I call the goals form, accuracy, and consistency.
On the grounds that no one will ever be able to throw well if his/her form is bad, my first goal is to get my form right. This means
- (a) learning what good form looks like, and then
- (b) learning the moves. That is, learning how to throw with that form.
(a) is a process of learning what experts do with their bodies when they shoot. A good way to do this is to watch Youtube videos of world-class shooters.
As you watch, ignore the game and pay attention to the shooters’ form as they throw. What are they doing with their feet? Their knees, their shoulders? Their backswing, their follow-through, their non-throwing arm? No two players have exactly the same form, but there are a number of things that most world-class shooters do. Watch for those things, and create a mental image of your ideal throwing form. Better yet, if you find certain players whose form looks good to you, watch them a lot. They will give you a concrete picture of what you want to imitate.
(b) is the process of learning how to imitate that form… learning how to do with your body what you see the experts doing with their bodies. To do this, you need feedback on your efforts. Ideally you’d have a coach to watch you and give you useful feedback. Unfortunately, petanque coaches are as rare as hen’s teeth. Lacking a coach, try to enlist a friend to watch you and provide feedback. If you can, get your friend to use his/her cell phone or tablet to take a 2-minute video of you while you’re practicing. Then you and your friend can watch the video while discussing the strengths and weaknesses of your form.
When you are practicing your form, don’t worry about how close you get to the target. Hit or miss, it makes no difference. Pay attention to how you’re moving your body. That’s what it means to practice your form.
Once your form is workable, your second goal is accuracy… hitting the target. This is where you just throw, trusting in your form practice to make your form good even when you’re not thinking about it, and paying attention only to where your thrown boule lands and how close it comes to the target boule. For this, the only plan is throw, throw, throw, and watch, watch, watch.
Sometimes it is helpful to stand at a fixed distance and just throw and throw until you get the distance down. But don’t do that all of the time. Periodically, practice throwing in rotation. Throw a few boules from one distance, and then move to a new position and throw from a different distance. During real play you will need to shoot from a variety of distances, and practicing this way will help prepare you for that.
This was how I began practicing how to shoot. Sometimes I would practice for form, and sometimes I would practice for accuracy.
As I practiced for accuracy, I noticed something. Even though my form seemed to be OK, and even though I sometimes hit the target boule, I realized that my throws were wildly inconsistent. Some were low, some were high. Some were short, some were long. Clearly I wasn’t being consistent about when I was releasing the boule (early release=low throw, late release=high throw) and I wasn’t being consistent about the force (the speed) with which I was throwing (slow swing=short throw, fast swing=long throw).
I began to change the way that I thought about consistency. Instead of thinking of it as consistency in hitting the target (accuracy), I began to think of it as a matter of control— of consistency in the speed of my throw, and consistency in when I opened my hand and released the boule.
To help me practice consistency, I rigged up two ribbons across my shooting pit, just above head height. And then I practiced throwing between those two ribbons, trying to throw to a consistent height. My theory is that if I can throw to a consistent height, then I’m gaining control over the point in my swing where I’m releasing the boule. And if I can throw to a consistent distance at the same time, then I’m gaining control over the strength (speed) of my throw.
Practicing with the ribbons helps keep me aware of the height to which I am actually throwing. And it helps me to get a better idea of what is a good/desirable height for my throw. As I adjust my ideas about the best height for the throw, I adjust the height of the ribbons.
The FFPJP (and their training arm, CIEP) sells a kit for use in schools, for teaching petanque to kids. It contains equipment designed to teach the kids consistency by having them throw their boules through vertical hoops. Same basic idea. Here is a picture of Ukrainian kids using the kit.
Here is a picture of a young person with Carolina Petanque trying out the same kit.