Why amazon.com is a terrible place to buy your first set of petanque boules

Why amazon.com 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 amazon.com. What you will find on amazon.com will almost certainly NOT be what you want.

If you search amazon.com 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.

Before buying a set of “petanque/bocce” balls, consider what you want to do with them.

Before buying a set of “petanque/bocce” balls, consider what you want to do with them. Do you want to: (a) play petanque, (b) play bocce, or (c) just mess around without worrying too much about any rules. My recommendations, for each of those scenarios, are at the end of this review.


(1) Petanque is played with balls (called “boules”) that are about the size of a baseball (about 73mm, less than 3″). Boules are typically made of steel. They may or may not be hollow, and they typically weigh around 700g (just under two pounds).

(2) In petanque, each player brings his own set of three boules. A proper set of petanque boules contains three boules, all with the same groove-pattern. You identify the sets belonging to different players by the number and pattern of grooves on the surface of the boules. Typical patterns are: no grooves, single-groove (wide), single-groove (narrow), and double-groove, although you may also see patterns with three or even 4 grooves. Coloring the grooves with different colors of permanent marker can help players to see the differences between sets.

(3) In petanque, each team plays with 6 balls. Players play with 3 boules when their team has two players, and play with 2 boules when their team has three players.

(4) WHAT KINDS OF BALLS SHOULD YOU BUY? You want each player to have his/her own set of 3 boules. If you buy a bag that contains 3 matching boules, you have enough boules to equip one player. If you buy a bag of 6 metal boules that contains two 3-ball sets, you have enough boules for two players to play singles. If you buy two such bags, you will have 12 boules; enough to equip 4 people to play a doubles game.

(5) WORDS OF WARNING: Some vendors sell bags of SIX metal balls and call it a set of “bocce/petanque” balls. A bag of 6 metal boules — if it contains three 2-ball sets — WILL NOT work for petanque. Some vendors sell bags of EIGHT metal balls and call it a set of “bocce/petanque” balls. A bag of 8 metal boules that contains four pairs (2-ball sets) WILL NOT work for petanque.


(1) Bocce is played with balls that are larger and heavier than petanque boules. A bocce ball is about the size of a cantaloupe (about 110mm, just over 4″). Bocce balls are typically made of solid plastic (epoxy resin) and typically weigh about 900g.

(2) In bocce, someone typically brings a set of eight balls that is enough for the entire game. A proper set of bocce balls contains 4 pairs of balls: 8 balls in total. Typically, you identify the sets belonging to different players by the color of the balls and the number of grooves on the surface of the ball. Different teams play with different colors (usually, red vs green), and each player can tell his own ball by the number of grooves (single or double) on the ball. In some bocce sets there are 4 pairs of balls, each set of a different color.

(3) Bocce is played as a 2-against-2 game; each side plays with 4 balls; players play with 2 balls each.

(4) WHAT KINDS OF BALLS SHOULD YOU BUY? You want a set of 8 balls, consisting of 4 pairs of balls. The balls should be made of wood or epoxy, not metal.

(5) WORDS OF WARNING: Some vendors sell bags of SIX metal balls and call it a set of “bocce/petanque” balls. Six balls only, no matter what kind of balls they are, WILL NOT work for bocce. Some vendors sell bags of EIGHT metal balls and call it a set of “bocce/petanque” balls. These aren’t true bocce balls, although you can play a game of bocce with them if you wish. A set of 8 metal balls will be more portable (smaller and lighter) than a set of 8 true bocce balls.


[This section depends on the product being reviewed. It might, for example, say something like...] This product is a good buy. It is the least-expensive set of 8 metal balls that you will find on amazon.

IF YOU WANT TO PLAY PETANQUE: This product is NOT recommended. It consists of four sets of 2 boules each, so it cannot be used for any proper game of petanque, as explained above. MY RECOMMENDATION: Look elsewhere on amazon for offerings that contain two sets of 3 boules each. There are at least two other products on amazon.com that fit that description.

IF YOU WANT TO PLAY BOCCE: This product is NOT recommended. These metal balls are not true bocce balls, which are larger, heavier, and made of epoxy. MY RECOMMENDATION: Look elsewhere on amazon for proper bocce balls. There are many reasonably-priced sets of true bocce balls on amazon.

I have left reviews like this for a number of sets of “bocce/petanque” balls on amazon. A few people have flagged them as helpful. If you want to leave a similar review, feel free to copy-and-paste text from this post. (Just remember to customize the text in the IF YOU JUST WANT TO MESS AROUND A BIT AND NOT WORRY ABOUT THE RULES section.) And please share links to this post— help get the word out.

There actually are a few decent sets of petanque boules on amazon.com. You can search for petanque boules set of 6 — doing that will filter out the sets of 8, although it won’t guarantee success. (See our warning about sets of 3 pairs.) And for goodness sake, don’t buy any of the horrible painted boules offered by BuyBocceBalls

Your best bet on amazon is the set of leisure boules sold by Petanque America, although you will save money (and have a few more options) by ordering directly from the Petanque America website.

Finally, Petanque Portal USA is a good starting point for more information about the game.


✋ 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?
Continue reading

✋ 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.


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.


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 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.

✋ Tips on how to practice effectively

If you play a lot, eventually you’ll probably start thinking about what you could do to improve your game. The standard options are practice and taking lessons. But there aren’t any petanque schools or coaches in the USA, which leaves American players with only one option… practice.


You set up a practice area in your back yard, and you get out there and start throwing boules. You see improvement, but you also wonder “Am I doing it right? Am I practicing effectively? How do players of other sports practice? Baseball players, for example. How do they practice? Is there anything that they know about practicing that I could use in practicing petanque?” So you go onto the Web and start googling around, looking for help and insights on ways to practice effectively.

That’s what I did. Here is the best of what I found.

There is a really good article that sums up a lot of the other articles on this list. It is “The Relevance of Practice in Pétanque Performance and Competition” by Philippe Geraud. It is available online in the early fall 2016 FPUSA newsletter, or our archived copy is HERE.

The articles that I found when I first wrote this post in July 2015 are-

  1. A Better Way to Practice
  2. The wrong way to practice golf – Why Much of the Work Golfers Do to Improve Their Games Isn’t Helping Them Get Better
  3. The Science of How To Practice a Skill Effectively
  4. The Psychology of Getting Unstuck: How to Overcome the “OK Plateau” of Performance & Personal Growth
  5. Why “Deliberate Practice” Is The Only Way To Keep Getting Better and
    Deliberate Practice: What It Is and Why You Need It

Removing a boule for measuring

Sometimes — before the agreement of points — you find yourself in a situation where you know which boule is closest, but you need to make a measurement in order to determine which boule is second. And sometimes you can’t make that measurement because the closest boule is in the way.

Which boule is closer - B or C ?

A has the point, but which boule is second? B or C ?
We must remove A in order to measure the distance to C.

In such a case, you need to mark and remove the first boule (A in our diagram), take the measurement, and then put it back exactly in its original position.

When tolerances are tight, this can be a tricky operation. Your marks on the ground may not be precise enough to allow you to be sure that you’ve put it back exactly in its original position. Another consideration is the fact that your marks on the ground are disturbing the terrain in a very sensitive area — something you really don’t want to do.

I’ve seen reputable petanque sites that suggest that you take another boule and tap a few times — very gently — on the top of A, to make a slight depression under it. Then, when you replace it, it will fit naturally and exactly into that depression.

That’s messing with the terrain! Don’t do it!

As Richard Powell, Regional Umpire of the Southern Counties Petanque Association of the English Petanque Association, writes

You should NOT try to push the boule downwards to make a little “cup” in the ground to help with its later replacement, because the “cup” might prevent the moved-and­-replaced boule from moving if any subsequent boule were to disturb it, or may stop any other boule that is moving from going where it would otherwise have gone.

As a practical matter, I think concerns about the effects of the cup are more theoretical than real. Petanque is not played on billiard-table surfaces. The size of the cup is unlikely to be greater than the natural variation of the surface. And the cup is surely a smaller disturbance of the terrain than marks drawn in the dirt, the traditional and accepted method.

Still, this technique does disturb the surface of the terrain, and that’s a concern, at least on a theoretical level.

What can we do then?

Here’s a tip that was posted by Colin Stewart last year on the “rules of petanque” forum of petanque.org. It is such a neat idea that I can’t help re-posting it here.

A good method which doesn’t disturb the surface is to use an old shoe lace. Wind the lace around the base of the boule and pull both ends gently until it fits around the point where the ground and the boule meet — but don’t pull so tight as to move the boule, just enough to create a ring that fits closely around the base of the boule.

Lift the boule out carefully and then measure. Replace the boule into the ‘ring’ of shoelace and then carefully unwind the lace from around the boule. The removed boule should be precisely where you left it and no need to scratch marks into the terrain.

This sounds like a great idea. I think I’ll need to practice a few times before I get the knack of it. And I’ll need to add a shoelace to my boules bag.

When your pointed boule gets shot EVERY time

In team play, the standard practice is for the team’s pointer to throw first and for the team’s shooter to throw last. Teams like to hold back their shooters — to keep them in reserve, so they will be available in case of an emergency.

This strategy works well, but it can be frustrating for pointers.

A few years ago we were playing a visiting team that had an exceptionally strong shooter. This gentleman, whose name was Van, had been a championship-level shooter as a young man in Vietnam.

I was pointing well. But no matter how well I pointed, Van would play next and shoot away my beautifully pointed boule. Finally, I expressed my frustration to a friend.

“Don’t feel bad,” he said. “The fact that Van is always being called in to shoot your boules means that you’re doing your job.”

“Your job as a pointer is to point so well that you force the opposing shooter to shoot you. Basically, your job is to disarm the opposing team of its shooter. By pointing well, you’re doing just what you’re supposed to be doing.”

✋ Pointing strategy

Here is a great post from the Harrogate Montpellier Petanque Club. I’ve lightly edited it for American readers.

First boule of the end


Always try to put your first boule in front of the jack. About 30-50 cm is a good distance, but even a meter in front is better than 10cm behind (see Backstops below).  The French have a saying, “Une boule devant, c’est une boule d’argent” – A boule in front, that’s a money boule.

The ‘boule devant’ has two advantages:

  1. your opponent cannot roll their boule directly to the jack but must aim to the side of your boule.
  2. If their aim is a little off (or they get a deflection from an uneven terrain) and they hit your boule, the chances are that they’ll push your boule closer to the jack.


petanque_strategy_use_opponents_boule_as_backstopA boule just behind the jack is a gift to the pointer.

It’s much easier to stop a boule against a backstop than it is to stop it without.  Just throw slightly harder than you think you need to and let the backstop do its job.  A boule resting against a backstop is also harder to knock away. If it is shot, it will be knocked backward; it will hit the backstop boule; all of the momentum will be transferred to the backstop boule (which will go flying!) and the boule that was struck will stay nearly in its original place.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop the opposition from now using your boule as a backstop — but that’s all part of the game.

Promoting your boules

petanque_strategy_push_your_own_bouleAs mentioned above, boules in front of the jack can be promoted by running your boule into them and knocking them forward.  [Americans usually call this “pushing” your own boule.] There’s often an additional benefit in that the second ball remains close to the point of impact, forming a blocker.

Be careful if there’s an opposition boule close to the one you wish to promote. You can push an opponent’s boule as easily as one of your own, so take into account how accurately you can throw.

Limiting the damage

A common scenario for beginners starts when the opposition get a boule very close to the jack early in the end.  You can’t really point closer so you try to shoot it away.  Your team’s throws keep getting closer and you’re sure the next one will do it but you suddenly realize that your team have used up all of your boules!  Your missed shots have probably all gone sailing off well past the jack, allowing the opposition to rack up a big score with their remaining boules.

To reduce the odds of getting thrashed like this, you need to point one or two boules that, although not closest to the jack, are close enough to make it difficult for the opposition to score lots of points.  Better for them to score a couple of points than five or six. 

Ideally, try to make your boule snuggle up to the opposition’s closest boule so that they’ll think twice about trying to shoot yours away.

When limiting the damage won’t work

Of course in a situation where the opposition team needs only a single point to win the game, limiting the damage to only one point won’t help.  Strategies to consider in this situation are:

  1. Shoot the jack out of bounds, but only if they have thrown all of their boules.  This is a skillful shot but it stops the opposition scoring.
  2. Point slightly hard towards the jack and try to knock it towards some of your boules.
  3. Point and hope to beat the opposition boule.
  4. Shoot the opposition boule and hope that that will leave you closest.

None of these strategies are an easy option but you don’t have a lot of choice.