✋ 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.


My shooting pit (3)

My hobby is experimenting with designs for shooting pits.

Here is my third design. I’m quite happy with it. It will probably be my last design.

This is the most light-weight of all my designs. It consists of three sawhorses made with 2x4s arranged in a U shape. The head is covered by a sheet of white Plas-Tek and a couple of carpet scraps. They protect the ground from being pulverized into dust, and keep the boules dirt-free so that I don’t have to be cleaning them all the time.

shootingpit3_the_head

From the sawhorses I have hung a 10’x16′ baseball net (from Networld Sports, on sale for about $60, including shipping). It is folded in half length-wise, so its dimensions are 5′ high by 16′ long. The upper edge is hung from the sawhorses. The lower edges are held close to the ground by cords threaded through the spaces in the net and nailed to the ground.

shootingpit3_the_net

As a boule-return device, there is a pipe made of three 10′ PVC pipes. The pipe leads from the head back to the throwing area.

netted_shooting_pit_1
The center sawhorse is set at an acute angle with the left sawhorse. The result is that they form a rounded V shape where the boules tend to gather. (In the photo below you get a better view of the cords that hold the net down at the point where the net touches the ground. )

shootingpit3_collected_boules

To return the boules, I walk to the head and put the boules in one end of the pipe. That takes only about one second per boule. Then I walk back to the head, where the pipe has deposited the boules in a bucket.

shootingpit3_returned_boules2

I lift the bucket onto a platform, so that I can easily grab the boules as I throw.
shootingpit3_boules_ready_to_throw

I throw about 20 boules at a time. That is as many as I can lift in the bucket.

Here is another picture. You can read about the frame with the colored ribbons HERE.

netted_shooting_pit_with_ribbons


✋ Learning to shoot – form, accuracy, consistency

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.

1. Form
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.

| compilation de tirs | los mejores tiros | championnate du monde |

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.

A DailyMotion video of a recent match shows an expert shooter in full backswing. Note the position of his shoulders, torso, throwing hand, and non-throwing hand. A good model 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.

2. Accuracy
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).

Realizing this suggested to me that I should have a third goal, something that was sort of like form, and sort of like accuracy, but not exactly the same as either of them. Consistency.

3. Consistency
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.
netted_shooting_pit_with_ribbons
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.


Update

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.

ukraine_youth_petanque_training.jpg

Here is a picture of a young person with Carolina Petanque trying out the same kit.

carolina_petanque_with_ciep_equipment


Night play beside the baseball fields

Tucson’s climate is warm and dry (like the South of France) and there are many places in public parks that make fine petanque terrains. We don’t need a dedicated petanque boulodrome (although an air-conditioned one in summer would be nice). We prefer to play in the park on an open terrain.

There is, however, one problem with this arrangement. We can’t play after dark because none of the places where we play during the day has lights for night play.

There is a solution to this problem. I’m blogging about it because the solution is probably available in other cities, too.

 
In Tucson, the city and the county have a variety of public recreational facilities— parks, swimming pools, and community centers. There are also several large sports complexes scattered around the city. These facilities are designed to support sports that require large playing fields— baseball, (American) football, and soccer.

In these sports complexes, the baseball fields are typically pie-shaped. They are laid out in a large circular area that is divided into four quarters by wide gravel paths. There is one baseball diamond in each quarter. The paths between the fields give players and spectators access to the fields and to viewing stands. Tall posts supporting floodlights are located on the paths— the floodlights are very bright, and illuminate the fields on both sides of the paths as well as the paths themselves.

The paths are very wide. Because people walk across them a lot, they are hard-packed. They make perfect petanque terrains.

Aerial view (courtesy of Google Maps) of a typical sports complex— the Golf Links Sports Complex— in Tucson, Arizona, USA. The main entrance is from the parking lot in the upper right-hand corner of the photo.

Monday through Thursday evenings, city-league softball games are played on the fields. Games are scheduled for three time slots beginning at 6:30, 7:35pm, and 8:45pm. While games are in progress (roughly between 6:30pm and 10:00pm) the fields and paths are brightly lit by the floodlights located on the paths.

Between games players arrive and leave before and after their games, and there is a lot of foot traffic on the paths. But once the softball games have begun, the paths are virtually empty. The empty paths make excellent lighted petanque terrains.

A perfect lighted terrain for night play, on the paths at Golf Links Sports Complex.

View from the main entrance of the Golf Links Sports Complex in Tucson, Arizona. The access path for the baseball diamonds makes a perfect lighted terrain for night play.

The moral of the story…
What worked in our town might also work in yours. If you’re looking for a location for night play of petanque, you might be able to use facilities built for night play of other sports.

Terminology – Origin of the word “carreau”

I’ve often wondered about the origin of the word “carreau”.

In petanque, the word carreau refers to the perfect shot, when the thrown boule makes a direct hit on the target boule, knocking the target boule away and exactly taking its place.

Outside of petanque, in everyday French, le carreau means “the square”. It can also be used to refer to square things such as window panes and floor tiles. It can also by extension be used to refer to tiled floors and to floors in general. Laisser quelqu’un sur le carreau is to lay somebody out on the floor, to deck him.

AS_de_carreau_bouleCarreau can also refer to the diamonds in a deck of cards. Hence the name of the famous bronze boule from La Boule Intégrale, the AC — AS de carreau, Ace of diamonds.

Hence also the name of one of the designs in Obut’s Tatou line of leisure boules— the “Card Carreau”.

 
For a long time I could not make the connection between a square or a tile and a petanque carreau . Then I re-found the collection of Petanque Terminology that Jeff Widen (of the Detroit Petanque Club) had assembled.

The origin of the term is thought to have come from the fighting expression “rester carreau” – “to remain on the spot, to be laid out cold.” “Le carreau” means the “floor” (usually only applied to one that is either tiled or paved).

The idea, I take it, is that when you rester carreau (“stay on the floor”) you drop like a rock to the floor and stay there. Which is what a thrown petanque boule does when it makes a carreau.

What to look for when you’re looking for places to play

When you’re looking around town for suitable places to play, it helps to have some basic ideas about what’s important in a playing area. Here are a list of criteria for you to keep in mind.

Such a list can also be useful when conferring with your local Parks & Recreation Department about what features are important in a petanque facility in a public park.

Here is the playing area of the National Capitol Club de Petanque in Highlands Park, Alexandria, Virginia. It has all of the features that you want in a playing area — space for five terrains, convenient metered public parking (free on the weekends) and handicapped parking, portable restrooms, benches overlooking the terrains, picnic tables, big shade trees, overhead lighting for night play, a nearby playground for the little kids, and (obviously) a pleasant location.  It also has a storage shed to which the NCCdP has a key. The shed is useful for storing rakes (for clearing fallen leaves and branches off of the pistes after rain storms), plastic circles, guest boules, etc.

Absolute requirements

  1. A venue where people feel safe and comfortable. (A public area is preferable to an isolated area.)
  2. An appropriate playing surface…
  3. … that is large enough to host at least two games, and preferably three or four.
  4. Nothing above the terrain to prevent medium-high lobs.  That includes such things as low-hanging power lines, lights, or tree branches.

Very important
There are four features that are very important. Each of these may be an absolute requirement for a significant portion of your players.

  1. convenient, affordable parking (free or inexpensive)

    Most players will need to drive to get to the petanque courts, so they will need parking. For players with mobility issues, it is important that it be easy to get from the parking area to the playing area.

  2. restrooms

    If you play regularly in a park, in an area without restrooms, the Parks Department may be willing to install portable restroom facilities in the area.  No harm in asking.

  3. shade

    Tall buildings can provide adequate shade, but the shade from tall trees is much more pleasant. In some climates, shade is an absolute necessity. Shade varies with the position of the sun and the time of day, so be sure to check the shade in the same season and at the same time of day that you expect to be playing.

  4. places to sit (picnic tables or park benches)

    Everybody occasionally needs to be able to sit down and rest. For older or disabled players, this can be an absolute necessity. For players’ companions who watch but don’t play (spouses, grandparents) this is an absolute necessity. A table can be very helpful — for leaving snacks and equipment, as a place to sit and chat, as a work platform for scorekeeping, or as a dining table for club picnics.

Desireable

  1. accessible to players who use crutches or a wheelchair.

    For smaller clubs, this may not be very important. For larger clubs, especially those who know they have players with mobility issues, this is Very Important. Petanque is ideal recreation for veterans with lower-limb injuries. Remembering their special needs will be good both for them and for your club.

  2. a pleasant location (Ask yourself — “Would playing in this place be a pleasant experience?”)
  3. public foot traffic

    Petanque has always been a public, social game. Playing in a public park, surrounded by visitors and families enjoying the park, is not only traditional. It is also more fun, safer, and more likely to gain public exposure for petanque and for your club.

  4. a nearby playground area where companions with kids can wait while you play
  5. a dog-friendly area where your pooch can wait while you play
  6. water fountains
  7. facilities for club picnics (picnic tables, grills, covered event areas)
  8. lights for night play
  9. a lockable storage shed

    Very helpful for storing circles, guest booles, rakes, promotional literature, folding chairs. If your park has a shed, you can probably get a key by registering with park authorities.