Player role and boule selection

This information is intended for the beginning or intermediate player who has decided to purchase his (or her) first set of competition boules.

If you haven’t already done so, please read our page for beginners on how to find boules.

For our suggestions and guidelines for a player seeking to purchase a first set of competition boules, see our page on Selecting competition boules.

Role-based recommendations — rubbish or nonsense? ▲

There is a school of thought that says that you should choose your boules based on the role you play in a triplets teams — as pointer, middle-man, or shooter.  In our opinion, most of this advice is rubbish. But it is so widely promulgated that we should say something about it.

In a triplets team, there are three standard roles, or positions.

  • One player is the shooter. His specialty is “shooting” — hitting opposition boules and knocking them away from the jack. He’s often the senior member of the team and the team captain.
  • One player is the pointer. His specialty is in “pointing” or “placing” — throwing boules so that they come to rest very close to the jack.
  • One player is the milieu — literally, the “middle-man”. In the team roster, often the pointer plays first, the shooter plays last, and the middle-man plays… well… in the middle. Sometimes, the middle-man will need to point and sometimes he will need to shoot. So he needs to be an “all-rounder” — competent at both pointing and shooting.

The received wisdom of this school of thought is as follows.

A pointer should use small boules… to make a smaller target for a shooter. A shooter should use big boules… to increase the chances of hitting the target boule.
A pointer should use heavy boules… more mass will carry a rolling boule over irregularities in the terrain. And if the pointed boule gets shot, its greater mass will be more difficult to displace. A shooter should use light boules… to preserve shooter accuracy by minimizing shooter fatigue when doing a lot of shooting. Some say that a lighter boule is more likely to produce a carreau.
A pointer should use hard boules… because pointed boules get shot a lot, and so need to be tough lest they wear out quickly. Or… because a harder boule has more “bounce”, making it harder to make a carreau. A shooter should use soft (“tendre”) boules… to limit “bounce back”, thus increasing the chances of making a carreau.
A pointer should use striated boules… to increase traction on hand and ground, making it easier to put spin on a boule. A shooter should use smooth boules (boules lisses)… for a clean and accurate release when throwing.
The recommendations for the middle-man, as you might expect, are wishy-washy. He should play a boule that is neither too big nor too small, neither too heavy nor too light, neither too hard nor too soft, with striations… but not too many.

In our opinion, these role-based recommendations live in the realm of fable and folklore, not in the real world of science and practical experience. Many of them are based on a priori reasoning rather than real evidence. Some violate the laws of physics. Some of them are self-contradictory or simply make no sense.

  • When two boules collide, it is to your advantage for your boule to be the more massive of the two, regardless of whether it is the hammer or the anvil.
  • Recommending that a shooter use a larger boule is like recommending that a sniper increase his chances of hitting his target by using a larger caliber bullet. It is simply silly.
  • For the same reason, it is silly to recommend that pointers use a small boule. In fact, if anything, a pointer should probably prefer a larger boule. Pointed boules spend a large part of their time rolling, and we all know that, across rough ground, big wheels roll straighter and more easily than small wheels.
  • Whether or not a throw produces a carreau is determined almost entirely by the angle of impact. The weight or hardness of the boule has little to do with it. For the beginning shooter, however, a “soft” (less bouncy) boule may help keep a short throw from bouncing over the target boule.

And so on and so forth. As Byron Putman writes [Petanque, p. 103]:

Be skeptical of most club-level boule selection advice … it is often based on urban myth and contradictory inferences. For every reason cited to throw a larger boule there is an equally legitimate reason for throwing a smaller boule.

In fact, the whole idea of role-based recommendations is highly dubious at best, and useless for beginning and mid-level players.

  • Whatever your particular skill or preference, there will be times when you need to shoot, and times when you need to point.
  • As a beginning player, you will not yet be a competent shooter, so there is no reason to choose an especially large or light or soft boule.
  • And you will not yet be skillful enough to put a lot of left/right spin on the boule, so there is no particular reason to choose a lot of striations.

So ignore role-based recommendations. The sites of some boule manufacturers almost force you to specify your preferred role before they will help you with boule selection. If your must deal with such a site, just tell them that you’re a milieu.


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