Measuring your skill level

It would be useful to have a simple, standard method for assigning a numeric value to a player’s skill level. A player could measure his (or her) improvement as he (or she) practices. Players seeking partners for a competition could use the measurements to help them find suitable partners. The method could also be used to measure the skill-level of a team before the start of a competition. With such measurements available, a competition organizer could seed teams without playing qualifying rounds.

Here is one way it might be done. There could be two measures, one for pointing and one for shooting. A target circle would be drawn on the ground. It would be 1 meter in diameter. A throwing circle would be placed 8 meters from the target circle. The terrain should be as similar as possible to the terrain that a player would encounter in a competition.

  • A successful pointing throw is one in which the thrown boule rolls to a stop inside the circle.
  • A successful shooting throw is one in which the thrown boule hits and knocks a target boule (located in the center of the target circle) out of the circle. A shooting attempt is NOT considered successful if the thrown boule hits the ground outside of the target circle before hitting the target boule.

If any part of a boule or divot overlaps the target circle, the boule or divot is considered to be inside the circle.

A player’s score (as a pointer or a shooter) is expressed as a percentage— the number of successful throws compared to the total number of throws. For the number to be precise enough to be useful, there must have been at least 20 throws.

With these measures in mind, a player might express his skill level as 80/5 (80% successful as a pointer, and 5% successful as a shooter) or 90/60 (90% successful as a pointer, and 60% successful as a shooter), and so on.

The easiest way to make the measurements is with two people. While one person throws, the other resets the target area between throws and tosses the thrown boules back to the thrower.

Admittedly, such measurements would be very rough. Still, I think even such rough measurements would be useful. I can also imagine that it might be useful to have these measurements at a shorter or longer distance, so a player might rate himself 90/60 at 7 meters, or 75/20 at 9 meters, and so on.


✋ 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


✋ 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.

MarcoFoyot_pointing_lesson_at_Amelia

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

How to watch petanque videos on YouTube

If you like to watch petanque videos on YouTube, eventually you will run across a video (like 2éme Demi-Finale PPF 2015 part 3) where things just don’t look right. The players may look too tall and thin. Or too short and squat. You may see the image on the left, when you know you should be seeing the image on the right.

The problem here is that the person who uploaded the video to YouTube made a mistake and uploaded the video with the wrong aspect ratio.

Is there something you can do about this?


The easiest solution is to go to www.videolan.org/vlc and download and install a program called VLC. VLC is a free, open-source, cross-platform multimedia video player. It is safe and reliable. Download and install it.

Once you’ve installed it, you can use VLC, rather than your browser, to play YouTube videos. Here’s how to do it.

When you’re using your browser to watch YouTube videos, and you find one with a bad aspect ratio, select (highlight) the URL (web address) of the video and copy it (press CONTROL+C, or right-click and select COPY).AspectRatio_copyYoutube_URL
Then open VLC. On VLC’s Media menu, select Open Network Stream.
AspectRatio_VLC_openNetworkStream

Then paste (press CONTROL+V, or right-click and PASTE) the URL there, and click on PLAY.
AspectRatio_networkStream_enterURL

The video will start playing.

After it starts, an easy way to change the aspect ratio is simply to repeatedly press the “A” key on your keyboard until the video displays with the correct aspect ratio. If you prefer to do things a bit more explicitly, you can use your mouse to select Video, then Aspect Ratio, then the aspect ratio that you want.
AspectRatio_VLC_setAspectRatio


AspectRatio_VLC_LoopIf you really want to study a video, VLC has a couple of other useful features.

One is a “loop” feature. If you click on the LOOP icon, that marks the beginning of a video clip. Click a second time on the LOOP icon, and VLC starts playing that same video clip over and over, so you can watch it over and over again as long as you want. Click on the LOOP icon again, and looping stops and normal play resumes.

AspectRatio_VLC_FrameByFrameIf you click on the FRAME-BY-FRAME icon, the video freezes. Then each time you click again on the FRAME-BY-FRAME icon the video advances one frame. This is the ultimate possible slow-motion playback. Clicking the wedge-shaped PLAY icon will cause VLC to resume normal display of the video.


✋ The height of the throw

I’ve been watching YouTube videos of great shooters, trying to analyze what they’re doing so I can try to do what they’re doing. One thing that (I think) I’ve noticed is that when they are shooting, they are very consistent in how high they throw the boule.

From an FFPJP training video on Youtube

From an FFPJP training video on Youtube

Almost every player that I’ve watched throws his boule so that, at the top of its trajectory, it is about head-height. If a player is shooting at a longer distance (say, 10 meters) then he throws a little higher, so the boule goes a foot or two above his head.

Marco Foyot gives a shooting demo at the Zanesfield Petanque club

Marco Foyot gives a shooting demo at the Zanesfield Petanque club

This suggests that the great shooters are pretty consistent in the force (or speed) with which they throw the boule. And that means their form is probably pretty consistent — the height of the backswing, the speed of the throwing arm, and so forth.

The difference between shooting at a short distance and shooting at a long distance is therefore the height to which they throw the boule. For a short throw, the boule is released fairly early and follows a lower trajectory — about shoulder height at the highest point. For a longer throw, the boule is released later and follows a higher trajectory — above the player’s head, perhaps, at its highest point. In both cases the path of the boule has the same shape — a gentle arcing curve.

Thinking this over, I realized that I was wildly inconsistent in the height to which I was throwing, and that I should try to be more consistent.

On my practice area I rigged up a frame half way between the circle and the target boules. From the frame I stretched two flexible tapes. The tapes are wide enough to be visible, and loose enough to slip out of the way if I hit one of them. One of the tapes is at about head height and the other is about 18″ higher. With this apparatus in place, sometimes I practiced with the goal of throwing my boule between the two tapes on its way to the head. Sometimes I practiced with the goal of simply getting the boule between the two tapes.
netted_shooting_pit_with_ribbons

I’ve been doing this for a while, and it seems to be helping.

In the process, I found something that surprises me. After I practice shooting for a while (usually with a low percentage of success), I switch from aiming for the target boules to aiming just to get between the tapes. When I do this, my percentage of success (in hitting the target boules) is often higher than it was when I was aiming at the boules! I’ve noticed this several times, so I think the phenomenon is real. But I have no idea about how to explain it.


✋ Effortless throwing

You can’t do many accurate low, hard, flat tir au fer shots if you are straining your body and muscles to the limit. Similarly with those high, high lobs that come straight down, drop and stop. One of the most important secrets of effective throwing, therefore, is how to throw powerfully with a minimum of effort.

art_of_petanque_pendulum_swingOne of my favorite posts on this topic is Artem Zuev’s post on Effortless Gameplay, in which he tells you to think of your throwing arm as a pendulum, a ball on a string.

Today, quite by accident, I stumbled across a YouTube video that makes Artem’s advice more concrete and more useful. The video is, of all things, How to Effortlessly Generate Powerful Tennis Serves. It opens, interestingly, with a demo of… ball on a string.

The bottom line is that the secret of both an effortless tennis serve and an effortless petanque throw is momentum — understanding it and learning how to use it. If you read Artem’s post, and then watch this video, you can see that everything that the instructor says about the momentum of a tennis racket translates directly into a lesson about the momentum of an arm holding a boule. What the instructor is doing is inviting you — when you practice — to think about your throw in terms of momentum, and to try to be aware of — to feel — your body as a tool for generating and using momentum.

zen_in_the_art_of_archeryThe video is a bit long and verbose, but it is worth watching all the way to the end. The instructor makes an important point, starting at 7:20 (“One more tip…”). While your brain is learning what it feels like to generate and transfer momentum, don’t try to aim. Just let the ball go… wherever. You don’t want aiming to interfere with your free swing.

This advice reminds me of Zen in the Art of Archery. Herrigel, under the guidance of his Zen master, practiced the motions of drawing the bow and loosing the arrow literally for years before his Master felt he was ready, and they moved on to the next step… aiming at a target.

✋ How to throw a high lob

MarcoFoyot_highLob_ZanesfieldAs a new petanque player, interested in improving his throwing form, I have a question.

When do you unwind your cocked wrist?

When you throw a high lob, during your backswing your wrist is really cocked — the hand holding the boule is curled up toward the underside of your forearm. And when you finish your throw, you’ve uncoiled that curled wrist so that your hand is open and your fingers are pointing up and out. Uncoiling that curled wrist is how you get backspin, retro, on the boule.

My question is

When does that cocked wrist get uncoiled?
Does it gradually uncoil as the swing progresses?
Or does it stay coiled during most of the swing, and only uncoil quickly at the end of the swing?

The answer (or at least, one answer) can be found in a YouTube video of a clinic that Marco Foyot taught at Amelia in 2012. In the video Marco demonstrates the motion of throwing a high lob. You have to watch closely. The demo starts at 4m 38s, and it is over in about 3 seconds.

Here are some stills from that video.

For the high lob, Marco doesn’t take a big backswing. (In fact, he doesn’t ever seem to use a big back swing.) He starts with his throwing hand and the boule low. In this picture, he’s just starting to raise his arm — he looks as if he’s going to hit the lady in the background with the back of his wrist.

The swing progresses. Higher. And higher. Note that in picture C, even when his wrist has been raised above his head, Marco’s wrist is still cocked.

A B C

Only when his arm at the very top of the swing, does Marco snap his wrist.

marco_foyot_lob_demo_21marco_foyot_lob_demo_22

So that pretty much answers my question — the wrist uncoils at the end, with a snap.


Studying these pictures, I’ve noticed a couple of other interesting things. One of them is that Marco’s hand is very high — above his head — when he snaps his wrist and releases the boule. Here is a picture from a clinic he taught in Zanesfield, OH in September 2013.

The other is that Marco’s arm doesn’t seem to be moving in a swing or an arc from his shoulder. If you look at pictures A, B, and C, you will see that his hand is moving almost vertically straight up. That means that most of the force of the throw is UP — there is relatively little OUT.

That makes sense, but I’m going to have problems digesting it. I’m a big fan of Artem Zuev’s Art of Petanque blog. His advice to think of your throwing arm as a pendulum (a ball on a string) makes a lot of sense to me, and is a style that I’ve been trying to achieve. But Marco’s definitely not doing “ball on a string” when he throws a high lob.


One of the things that is hard to realize is just exactly how high a REALLY HIGH lob is. On YouTube, there is a nice video of Bruno Leboursicaud demonstrating a fantastically accurate high lob. In the video, you can’t see how high the lob is, but from the time it takes to come down, you know it must have been really high.

 
Fourtunately for us, Zanesfield Petanque has posted a video on its Facebook page showing Marco demoing a high lob during his clinic there. On his second throw (which you can see in the photo at the beginning of this post ) you can actually see how high his lob is.

Here is Marco at the World Championships in Thailand, in 1993.

MarcoFoyot_highLob_Thailand1993