See also our other pages on technique “how to”s.
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Teaching new players how to throw a boule
Petanque clubs usually offer introductory classes or ad hoc one-on-one training sessions for new players. How to throw a boule is the most important part of these sessions.
Often, when a club member volunteers to teach a beginners class, he (or she) has no particular theory or method about how best to teach someone to throw a boule. He (or she) just wings it.
We’ve been working on an alternative to winging it. It is a method for teaching the fundamentals of throwing a petanque boule.
Our approach is to treat the act of throwing a boule as a sequence of simple activities, or steps. We teach the beginning player how to perform those steps, in sequence. After mastering these fundamentals, the player can then go on to adapt them to different situations, and to evolve his own personal style.
In this post, we describe the method. First, we describe the steps in roughly the same way that a trainer might describe them to a student. After that we offer a few suggestions for how a trainer should conduct a training class.
We call our method the 7+3 method because we teach it in two passes.
- Pass 1 covers the “physical game” – seven activities involved in physically throwing a boule.
- Pass 2 covers the “mental game” – three mental activities performed as part of the throwing process.
The steps in the physical game are:
P1 Feet P2 Hand P3 Wrist P4 Curl P5 Back P6 Snap P7 Follow-Through
The steps in the mental game are:
M1 Plan M2 Pick M3 Observe
In this discussion, we assume that you throw with your right hand. If you’re left-handed, just reverse the words “right” and “left” where ever you see them.
PASS 1 – TEACHING THE PHYSICAL GAME
- Stand in the circle.
- Place your right foot so that it points toward the spot where you want the boule to land. Usually, this means pointing your foot at the jack.
- Your left foot should be a comfortable distance from, and parallel to, your right foot. Some people prefer to put the left foot a bit behind the right foot, possibly with a slightly open stance.
- Open your throwing hand, palm up.
- Extend your fingers. Keep them straight, parallel, and together.
- Extend the thumb to the side.
- Think of your hand as being V-shaped, with the point of the V pointing toward your wrist. The point of the V is where your “life line” ends at the base of your hand.
- Curl your fingers over the boule.
- At this point you should be holding the boule so that your fingers are straight, together, and folded directly over the boule so that they are holding the boule wedged into the V.
- Relax your thumb so that it comes forward and lightly touches the side of your first finger, but does not touch the boule.
Here is another way NOT to hold the boule — the “claw” grip. The fingers are spread apart and the thumb is grabbing the boule.
You often see children holding their boules this way because they are playing with adult boules that are too big for their hands. If this is the only way that you can securely hold your boules, consider playing with smaller-sized boules.
- Turn your hand over, so that you’re looking at the back of your hand.
- Don’t rotate your forearm, but flex your wrist from side to side until your hand forms a straight line with your forearm.
The picture on the left shows what your wrist should look like. It is straight, so that the hand is in line with the forearm. The picture on the right shows a natural, but incorrect, posture — the wrist is turned to the right, so the hand is not in line with the forearm.
At this point, you can check your form by swinging your arm from your shoulder, like a pendulum. When you swing your arm up, be sure to keep your arm and elbow straight. You should see that you are swinging exactly in the direction where you want the boule to go.
- Extend your right arm out in front of you.
- Straighten your elbow, so your arm is straight.
- Remember, your hand is turned over, palm down.
- Curl your wrist forward, and under, as far as you can — as if you’re trying to touch the underside of your forearm with the boule.
Here is what your hand, arm, and wrist should look like.
P5.1 Left arm back for balance
[Formerly we taught this as part of P5. But experience has shown that it is so important that it needs to be taught and emphasized as a separate step in its own right.]
Keep your left arm straight. Swing it back, behind your torso, and hold it there. Keep it there, behind you, while you swing your right arm and throw the boule, which we will describe in the next step.
If you find yourself almost losing your balance, and leaning forward or almost falling forward when you throw your boule, that is a sign that you aren’t keeping your left arm up and back and using it as a balance. Similarly, if you find yourself lifting your left foot off of the ground behind you when you throw, that’s a sign that you aren’t using your left arm properly, and you’re raising your left leg to try to provide the balance that your left arm should be providing.
(This is the backswing part of the throw.)
Keeping your left arm behind you, swing your right arm from the shoulder, backward and forward, like a pendulum. Keep your right arm straight — it really should move like a pendulum. This is the motion that you will use for the backswing and the throw.
Don’t start your swing with your right arm pointing down toward the ground. Have your right arm raised high behind you — parallel to the ground if you can. You want a nice high backswing so that gravity will help you pull the boule through your swing.
- As you do this, lean forward slightly. This will make it easier to get your right hand a bit higher behind you.
- If it feels natural, bend your right knee slightly.
- As your right arm goes up behind you, your left arm will naturally lift a bit, to balance and compensate.
- Remember to keep your wrist fully cocked.
Malek Hfaiedh in full backswing. Note his wrist — at the top of the backswing — still fully cocked. (Photo courtesy of Artem Zuev).
A young Didier Choupay, one of the world’s great shooters. (Photo courtesy of Boulistenaute).
Kids, don’t try this at home. At the top of the backswing, the throwing shoulder is typically level with, or a little lower than, the off shoulder. Choupay is using so much “torso torque” that his throwing shoulder is actually higher. See Byron Putman’s book Petanque.
Here is a YouTube clip of a young man practicing shooting. I like this clip because he pauses at the top of his backswing, so you can really see his form. When he pauses, note how his body is leaning forward slightly, and his two hands are raised high behind him.
This kind of big backswing— torso leaning forward, both hands far back and very high— is what the world’s great shooters use to power their shooting. Pointers generally don’t have to throw their boules as far as shooters, so pointers tend to have a more moderate backswing. You may even see experienced pointers who have no backswing at all— “It’s all in the wrist,” they’ll tell you.
Nevertheless, this is the form you want to learn and practice. It gives you a solid foundation to build on. When you eventually start shooting, this is the form you will want to have. In the meantime, as a pointer, you can reduce the size of your backswing. But don’t reduce it so much that you have no follow-through. And don’t stop curling and snapping your wrist.
(This is the swing part of the throw.)
- Swing your right arm and hand forward.
- Swing from your shoulder, like a pendulum. Keep your arm and elbow straight, and your right wrist curled.
- Your left arm and hand stay more or less up and back, behind you. Just let them move naturally. (See the picture of Marco Foyot, later in this post.)
- When you release the boule, snap your curled wrist upward and open your fingers to let the boule fly.
- to keep your throwing arm straight — don’t bend your elbow, and
- don’t gradually uncurl your wrist during the swing. Keep it cocked during most of the swing. Then snap your wrist at the last moment before you release the boule.
The story here, in case you’re not familiar with it, is that Spiderman originally did not have the spider power to shoot webs, so he used mechanical web shooters that he wore beneath his wrists. To fire one of the shooters, he would press a button on his palm, which is why he makes his signature hand gesture when he’s shooting a web. And of course his wrist is cocked back to get his hand out of the way of the web that he’s shooting. Your wrist should look like his. But keep your fingers straight, like the Buddha.
When you release the boule, you should feel like you’re shooting your boule at a definite target. You can see this in the form of advanced players such as Marco Foyot. You see the torso twist. The right shoulder comes forward and you can almost see him pushing the boule with shoulder, arm, and heel of the hand.
(The last physical step is the follow-through.)
- After you release the boule, let your hand and arm keep moving upward in a natural finish to your swing.
- At the end of your follow-through, your hand and arm should be in front of you — or more precisely, in front of your shoulder — pointing in the direction that you wanted the boule to go. Your fingers should be pointing in the same direction as your arm, and either pointing straight out or straight up.
The follow-through may be the most important of the seven steps. This might seem surprising. How can something you do after the boule has left your hand affect where the boule goes? But think about it. If your hand is aimed at the landing spot when you follow through, then you can be sure that your hand was aimed at the landing spot when you released the boule.
And if your fingers are pointing straight up, then you weren’t accidentally putting unwanted left or right spin on the boule. Watch Jean-Pierre Subrenat making this point in this YouTube video (from about 6:50 to about 10:00). “As soon as your hand turns a little bit, one way or the other, the boule is going to follow.”
So if you find that your throws aren’t going where you want them to (especially if they are consistently going to the the same side, left or right), then pay attention to your follow-through. You’ll be surprised how much improvement you will see, simply by making sure that you’re following-through properly.
PASS 2 – TEACHING THE MENTAL GAME
Planning is the very first step. Do it before you do anything else. Do it before you do step P1.
- Don’t just go out there and throw the boule in the general direction of the jack. Have a strategy— know exactly what it is that you want to accomplish.
- This is where you make the classic petanque decision: to point or to shoot.
- As a beginner, your choice will almost always be to point. But point to where? If the field is clear, remember “boule devant, boule d’argent” and point in front of the jack. And of course, point where you have an opening. If there are a bunch of boules to the left of the jack, point to the right.
- This is your opportunity to walk up to “the head” and make sure you understand exactly what the situation on the ground is.
- Now is also the time to confer with your team-mates about strategy.
You have your plan. Your foot is pointed at the donnée. The boule is nestled in your hand and your wrist is straight. Now it’s time to pick the throw that you want to execute.
- Pick your throwing approach. What is the best way to accomplish your plan? A high lob? a demi-lob? a long roll along the ground?
- Pick two spots on the terrain — (a) The “parking spot” – the exact spot where you want the boule to come to rest. (b) The “landing spot” (the donnée) – the exact spot where you want the boule to hit the ground.
- If you’re pointing the first boule in the end (mène), you want the parking spot to be in front of the jack, and the landing spot in front of that.
- Spend a couple of moments staring at the parking spot, the place where you want the boule to finally end up.
- Then concentrate on the landing spot. Don’t over-think your throw. Just look at the landing spot and allow your body’s natural physical coordination take over.
- BREATHE. Take a couple of long, slow, deep, calming, Zen-master breaths.
- Then curl your wrist, take your backswing, and throw the boule.
The very last step, after the boule has left your hand, is not to lose consciousness.
- After you throw, after the boule leaves your hand, your head will be filled with The Big Question: What happened? Did I knock away an opponent’s boule? Did I get close to the jack? Did I gain the point? Am I a hero… or a klutz?
- In the excitement, you actually may not see the boule hit the ground. So your goal in this last step is to control that excitement and to remain conscious — to continue to observe and to remain fully aware of where your boule hits the ground.
- After the excitement dies down, ask yourself— Exactly where did the boule hit the ground? If you can’t answer that question, then you lost consciousness.
It is important to pay attention, to remain conscious, and to actually SEE and be aware of where the boule lands. There are two reasons for this. First, this information is feedback to your brain, helping it to fine-tune your hand-eye coordination and improve your throwing accuracy. Second, this information is feedback to YOU, telling you whether your intended landing spot was actually a good choice. If your boule landed exactly on the intended donnée, but then stopped short or rolled too far, then you need to adjust the location of the intended landing-spot or the height or force of your throw.
(THIS SECTION IS FOR INSTRUCTORS)
SUGGESTIONS FOR HOW TO TEACH THE 7+3 METHOD
Human beings are hard-wired to learn by imitation. If you tell someone how to do something, he may or may not be able to do it. But if you show him how to do it, he will probably be able to imitate what he sees you doing. So your basic teaching technique is demonstration.
For each step or activity, when you teach it:
- Demonstrate the activity. During your demonstration, point out the parts of the activity that the students should pay special attention to.
- Have the students try to imitate what you’ve just demonstrated.
- As they imitate, watch them. Provide individual feedback and coaching as needed.
Start the class by having everyone line up around the edge of the playing area, so everyone can see you. Don’t put out a jack.
Start by demonstrating how to throw a boule. Demonstrate the best form that you can, so the students get a picture of what the process of throwing a boule looks like.
Then go through each of the seven physical steps, one by one. For each step, use the demonstrate + imitate + feedback technique that we described above.
Then give the students some time to practice putting the seven steps together and throwing their boules. Give them an approximate distance to aim for, but don’t give them jacks. Emphasize that at this point they should pay attention to their form, and to how well they are executing the seven steps, and not worry very much about where their boules end up. We’ll worry about that later.
When the students seem comfortable with throwing their boules, move on to teaching the three mental steps.
Give each of the students a throwing circle, or show them how to draw one. Place a jack about 8 meters in front of each circle.
Take the students through the seven physical steps that you’ve just shown them, this time inserting the three mental steps in their proper places in the sequence.
For step M1 — There is not much that you can do except describe it.
For step M2 — New players tend to try to hit the jack or get as close as possible, with the result that they often overshoot and place their boules behind the jack. So for step M2 (picking the kind of throw, the parking spot and the landing spot), emphasize the importance of picking a parking spot in FRONT of the jack and picking a landing spot that is far enough in front of the parking spot that boules won’t go past the jack.
Have the students throw their boules while practicing M2 and M3. These steps are largely about paying attention to their own actions, so help them to become aware of that. Ask questions like “Did you hit your landing spot?”
After you’ve given the students time to practice steps M2 and M3, they are ready to play a real game. Form them into teams (doubles, rather than triples, if possible) and have them play two games, changing opponent teams between games. These games will give them a chance to practice the skills that you’ve just taught them, and give you a chance to introduce the basic rules and practices of petanque.
For more information on “throwing mechanics”, we highly recommend Byron Putman’s excellent (and inexpensive) book Pétanque: The Greatest Game You Never Heard Of. If you’re going to be playing petanque, you should own (and of course read) this book.
Art of Petanque (http://www.artofpetanque.com/) is a great blog by Artem Zuev, a professional photographer and the Director of Training (2010-2012) of the Los Angeles Petanque Club. Art of Petanque was the inspiration for several of the ideas in this post, and Artem kindly gave us permission to use several of his photographs.
M1 Plan P1 Feet P2 Hand P3 Wrist M2 Pick P4 Curl P5 Back P6 Snap P7 Follow-Through M3 Observe