✋Improving your form

See also our other pages on technique “how to”s.

form_traditionelleIf you are trying to improve your throwing, start from the basic premise that there are two fundamental and different aspects to throwing well— form and consistency. They are different, and you need to do different things to improve them.

  • Bad form is form that prevents you from throwing effectively. The crouch is bad form because a player who plays from a crouch will never be able to shoot or even lob effectively. Acquiring good formle beau geste, form that allows you to throw effectively— is of course a matter of practice, but what’s important about good form is that it is something that you can consciously think about and work on.
     
  • Consistency means being able to do something in the same way, over and over again. Consistency in throwing a boule is primarily a matter of muscle memory. This is something that you can’t acquire by thinking about it. It is unconscious, and can be acquired only through repetition. That’s the way muscles learn.

We’ve already talked a little bit about effective ways to practice. Now we will look at how you can work on your form. Here are a few ideas that you can try.

  1. The first step in improving your form is to become consciously aware that there is such a thing as form, and that great players are great (at least in part) because they have good form. Watch Youtube videos of great players in action. Study their form. Look for the way they move their bodies as they throw. Develop your own conscious theory about what good form looks like, and about how you want your body to move when you throw.
     
  2. Human beings learn by imitation. If you watch someone do something, you will find yourself unconsciously imitating what he does. So a useful technique is simply to watch other players doing what you want to be able to do. For example, when I was trying to improve my high lob I found it helpful to watch Claudy Weibel during this marvellous singles competition.
     

    Claudy stands, and when he lobs no part of his body moves except his right arm. When I practice my lob, that’s the form that I try to imitate. Simply watching him do it makes it easier for me to do it.
     
  3. Play solitaire. While you’re playing, consciously try to pay attention to what you feel your body doing— your hand, wrist, arm, torso. If you’re having consistency issues, look for a pattern that might provide a clue to the cause in your form. If your boules sometimes go to the left and sometimes to the right, then pay attention to your follow-through, your grip, and to making sure the boule is coming straight off your fingers. If the boules are sometimes long and sometimes short, pay attention to the height of your throw and to keeping your arm straight (not bending at the elbow). And so on.
     
  4. Find a fellow petanque player who knows what good form looks like (for pointing or shooting or whatever you’re working on) and play a few games with him. Ask him to watch you as you throw and to tell you if he sees you doing something that you might want to change. You may be surprised at what he can see you doing (or not doing) that you’re not aware of.
     
  5. A useful technique is to get a friend to make a video of you while you are throwing, so you can watch yourself and see what you’re doing. A cell phone or digital camera will work, but a labtop or tablet is better because you can immediately watch the video on a relatively large screen, see clearly what you’re doing, and experiment with changing it. (I learned this from Artem Zuev, the Technical Director of the Los Angeles Petanque Club. Thanks, Artem!)

Finally, if you’re reading this and have an idea, story, or tip based on your own experience, I’d like to invite you to share it with others. Drop us a comment.


How to blacken your boules

There are a number of reasons why you might want to make the entire surface of your boules black. You might want to make it easier to tell your boules from other players’ boules. You might want to play solitaire. You just might like the color.

Gun blacking comes off on your hands and wears off quickly. Black magic marker (permanent marker) is time-consuming and messy to apply, and leaves your boules slightly sticky for a while. Now Kim Badcock, of the Mission Beach Petanque Club in Australia, has a tip for what may be the best method yet.

In response to our post on boules and rust Kim wrote

Did you know you can make your SB boules black again and very easily. A soak or wipe over with a very weak acid solution (vinegar, lemon juice, dilute hydrichloric acid etc) will change the outer molecular layers of your boule to magnetite (black colour). Quickly wipe with an oiled cloth afterwards to help seal in the colouring.

This should work with all carbon-steel boules. It shouldn’t work with stainless steel boules or with chrome-plated boules (which means that it shouldn’t work with leisure boules).

Following Kim’s suggestion, I bought an inexpensive jug of distilled white vinegar. I left two La Franc SB boules to soak in the vinegar overnight. (La Franc SB boules are relatively soft carbon-steel boules, acier au carbone.) In the morning they were really black. When I washed them off, a lot of black came off on my hands. The boules were left with a deep uniform matte gunmetal grey color. There was a small shiny spot where they had been sitting on the bottom of the container.

In this picture, the brownish boule in the front is a rusty boule that has been brought back from the dead. The two vinegar-blackened boules are at the back. The boule at the left has been played with more than the boule at the right, so it is more scratched-up. The image doesn’t really capture the color of the boules. The boules, while not absolutely black, are a much darker grey than they appear in the photo. In play, they do appear to be black.
Click to see larger image.

This picture was taken immediately after I treated the boules. Since then, I’ve played with them a couple of times and the color seems relatively long-lasting. In any event, even if the color doesn’t last forever, renewing the color with another vinegar soak is essentially effortless. I’m happy with the result.


Boules and rust

Let’s talk about boules and rust.

I have a set of La France SB boules, which are relatively soft carbon steel (acier au carbone) boules. During the summer, I lost one of the boules. About 4 months later, I found it under the edge of the carpet that I use to pad my shooting pit.

The boule appeared to be in horrifying condition. Outdoors in our monsoon rains, the carpet had kept the boule covered and moist. The Tucson summer heat will quickly rust anything that is outdoors and the least bit wet. By the time I found the boule, it was completely covered in a thick coat of orange rust.
Click to view larger image.

Despite appearances, this was not a disaster. A few minutes with a wire brush, and a few more minutes dragging the boule around on the ground to simulate a few days of play, and the boule was restored to playable condition. Here is a picture. The boule on the left is the rusty and restored boule. The other is another boule from the same set that was kept out of the weather and played with occasionally.
Click to view larger image.

There are differences between the two boules. The restored boule is darker in color, somewhere between black and dark-brown, and I expect the color change is permanent. It also has a noticeably rougher surface than its sister boule. Personally, I like the changes.

The moral of the story is— if you come across some rusty old boules, don’t write them off and throw them away. They can easily be restored to playable condition. Depending on your taste, they may even be better than they were before they got rusty.


How to remove magic marker from boules

During the off season I like to play solitaire. To make it easy to distinguish the two sets of boules, I cover one set pretty completely with black magic marker. When regular play resumes, I can easily remove remove the black marks with a product called “Goof Off”. You might be able to find it at your local hardware or hobby store. Otherwise, it is available via Amazon.com or from www.goof-off.com.
image_goof-off_can


Exploding leisure boules

On Saturday, September 4, 2016, in the German town of Nettetal, near Düsseldorf, during a neighborhood party, in the middle of a tent erected for the event, a petanque boule spontanously exploded. The explosion ripped a hole in the ceiling of the tent and left a small crater in the ground, but nobody was injured. A Düsseldorf bomb squad removed the remaining seven boules in the set and safely detonated them.

The investigation of this incident is still ongoing, but it recalls a similar incident that occurred in Switzerland in 2009.  In that incident, the Swiss Federal Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) analyzed the remaining boules in the set in an effort to determine the cause of the explosion. The boules in question were cheap leisure boules with thin metal walls, filled with a sand-like mixture (French news reports referred to it as “mortar”) to bring them up to proper weight. The sand was damp and contaminated with iron filings.

The moisture in the sand corroded the iron filings. Inside the sealed boules, in the absence of oxygen, that chemical reaction produced hydrogen gas, which caused high pressure inside the boules. The cheap boules had poorly welded seams. Under the pressure of the hydrogen gas, the seam of one of the boules failed and the boule exploded. It literally blew its top.

In the 2009 incident the set of boules was sitting on a shelf in its original packaging. In that incident, the Swiss department store chain Coop, which sold the sets, immediately stopped selling them and launched an aggressive recall campaign.

On the Wednesday following the explosion in Nettetal, the German federal government issued a press release warning the public of the danger of cheap boules. The German Petanque Federation (DPA) recommended buying certified boules and shopping for boules in specialty stores rather than in supermarkets.

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The boules that exploded in Switzerland in 2009. The boules were stored in the black bag shown on the right. Note the top of the exploded boule on the left side of the shelf, the sand scattered about the shelf, and the dent in the shelf wall at the right. It looks like the black bag must have been standing upright against the wall when the boule exploded.

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Closeup of the bottom half of the exploded leisure boule in its original packaging.

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Cross-section of another boule in the set. In addition to the sand filling, note the thinness of the metal shell.


For an interesting short video showing EMPA testing cheap boules, see THIS.

For EMPA diagrams comparing cheap leisure boules to competition boules, see THIS.

The EMPA engineering failure analysis, “Investigation into the mechanisms leading to explosion of pétanque balls”, is available HERE.


✋ Left arm back for balance

Suppose you’ve been playing for a while and you’re thinking about how you might improve your game.

Here’s a suggestion. Pay attention to your left arm. (That is, to your non-throwing arm. If you’re a leftie, pay attention to your right arm.)


Here are some pictures. In each picture, look at where the player’s left arm is.

balanced_squat_pointer_lady

As you can see, these players aren’t crouching or bent forward. (We’ll talk about crouching later.) Their torso is basically upright. They keep their left arm straight. As they throw, they swing the left arm back, extend it back behind the torso, and hold it there while swinging the other arm to throw the boule.

The left arm, extended back, is a counter-balance for the right arm as it swings forward to release the boule.

If you don’t extend your left arm back this way, you will be unbalanced when you throw. As you follow through, you will find yourself almost falling forward. To compensate and to maintain balance, you will have a tendency to lift your left foot off of the ground. Which is, of course, a foot fault.
petanque_foot_fault

lifted_foot

This is fixable. If you find yourself lifting your left foot off of the ground when you throw, it is an indication that that you aren’t using your left arm to provide balance. Change your form— stand up straight and start using your left arm for balance— and you’ll lose the need to raise your left leg.


Things to watch for as you practice your form

As you practice your form, there are a couple of things that you should watch out for. You may do them without even realizing it. Ask a friend to watch you and give you feedback on your form. Or even better yet, ask him or her to take pictures of you, so you can look at yourself later.

One thing you should watch for, and try to avoid, is putting your left hand in the small of your back.

A lot of beginning players instinctively imitate what they see experienced players doing. They see that their left hand should be behind them, so they hold it against the small of their back.

This is better than nothing, of course. It’s a step in the right direction. But when the arm is so close to your body it doesn’t provide the amount of counter-balance that you’d get from fully extending your arm back behind you.


When players aren’t using their left arm for balance, many instinctively and unconsciously go into “the crouch”. This is where you keep your balance by sticking your butt out. In order to get the butt back far enough, the player has to crouch down. Crouching can be difficult, so the left hand usually ends up on top of the left thigh to add support and stability.

the_crouch_1
the_crouch_2the_crouch_3

The crouch isn’t inherently bad. It can be a useful stance when you want to point a long, low, rolling boule. But you don’t want the crouch to be your ONLY way of throwing a boule. That would be really limiting. You can’t lob or shoot from a crouch. That’s why it’s better not to crouch. Stand up straight and use your left arm for balance.


Pocket scorekeepers for petanque

Traditional leather scorekeeper

One traditional design for a pocket scorekeeper has two numbered wheels made of stiff leather sandwiched between a faceplate and a backplate, also made of stiff leather.

This American umpire’s scorekeeper for baseball (below) was manufactured in the 1870’s. At that time, the rules of baseball allowed nine balls and nine strikes, so the numbers on the two wheels go up to 9, and the wheels are labelled “balls” and “strikes”

The same two-wheel design is used in traditional petanque scorekeepers like this one from the French manufacturer Obut. The front plate identifies the two wheels as the scores for Nous and Eux — “us” and “them”. Numbers go from zero to 15 because international championships used to be played to 15. (It is available from Petanque America for about $14 plus shipping.)
pocket_scorekeeper_petanque_obut2

The problem with this scorekeeper is that it is poorly made (or perhaps poorly designed).

  • The colored face is thin paper glued to the leather body. After moderate use, the paper face begins to peel away.
  • The tightness of the aluminum screws determines how easily the scoring wheels can be turned. It is difficult to adjust the screws so that they are neither too tight nor too loose.
  • The screws tend to loosen with use or vibration. If you drive around with this scorekeeper in your car, road vibrations will cause the screws to work loose and fall out, and possibly get lost.

Universal pocket scorekeeper

In 2006, Jill Barnes of Dublin, California (just east of San Francisco) was frustrated during her son’s baseball games. “Typically there aren’t any scoreboards, and if there is a scoreboard, it’s not functioning. My son was playing baseball. Like with all the other games, parents were saying, ‘Does anyone know the score?’ ‘How many runs is that?’   I thought, ‘I can design something. I know exactly what this needs to look like.’”

What she came up with was a simple universal pocket scorekeeper. Like the traditional scorekeeper, it has a set of wheels for “us” and “them”. (Well, “me” and “you”.) Its four independent numbered wheels can record scores of up to 99 for virtually any sport. (It is available from Jill’s web site, www.pocketscorekeeper.com, for $6.99 plus $3.00 shipping.) The plastic construction is rugged, and the straightforward simplicity of the idea is great, but I found the wheels to be stiff and difficult to advance. I needed to use both hands to change the score.

pocket_scorekeeper_in_hand

 


Home-made pocket scorekeeper

I’m diabetic, and I use disposable insulin pens. To use an insulin pen, you twist the end of the pen— click, click, click— and dial in the number of units of insulin that you want to inject. When the pen is empty, you throw it away.

I took three of these discarded pens, cut off the ends with the twist counter, and glued them together in parallel to make a pocket scorekeeper.
ferg_pocket_scorekeeper
This triple-barrel design is quite useful.

  • It is sturdier than the Obut scorekeeper and easier to use than the Pocket Scorekeeper.
  • In a cut-throat game, three players play against each other and you need to keep track of three scores, one for each player. That’s easy to do with this design.
  • Our favorite cut-throat game is Two Jacks, which is played to a winning score of 21. This scorekeeper is capable of recording scores of 21 (and more).
  • The best short form of petanque is one in which games are played to a fixed number of mènes. The third counter can be used to record the number of menes. Very handy.

If Obut was smart, THIS is the pocket scorekeeper that they would be selling.

ferg_pocket_scorekeeper_closeup2


Smartphone app

The requirements for a petanque scorekeeper app are quite simple. You need to be able to increase (and, in case of a mistake, decrease) the score of each of two teams. You need to be able to reset the scores to zero. And it might be nice to be able to count the number of menes played.

For Android, Pétanque: Marque Scores looks promising. It has a lot more features than just the basic ones I mentioned. Not surprisingly, it looks like it is the creation of a French software developer.screenshot_PetanqueMarqueScores

Apple’s app store didn’t seem to have any good petanque scorekeeper apps. Two general-purpose scorekeeper apps that had good reviews were Swipe Scoreboard and Score Keeper HD Lite.