Friday, 18 August 2017

Petanque - The Usual Suspects

In the past 12 years or so, the game of Petanque has risen much in popularity in France, where Marseille remains the "holy" ground of the game.

TV exposure and the excellent coverage of competitions have also drawn in new converts. Much like what happened to snooker back in the 90s.


Petanque in France is also increasingly looking international, with teams from Madagascar, Benin, Thailand appearing more and more in top competitions. Skilled petanque players can certainly be found anyway in the world. The top world's Mixed Team champion is from Cambodia! They beat Tunisia to win the title!

When you watch these competitions, there are the usual suspects. You see them often at the nationals, world championships, European contests, etc. Here is a list of them.

I hope it will help you help you recognise their talents and make it more enjoyable watching the vids. You can also google them to learn of their Petanque history and craft. The Boulistenaute site is a good "library" of them.

There are also a good crop of lady players. I will feature them when I am more familiar with them and if schedule permits.



 Lacroix/Quintais/Fazzino
- Probably the best three players in France today (2017). No doubt Quintais and Fazzino are both getting on in years and growing grey. But, like Lacroix, make excellent team captains and milleur players. They all shoot and point well! 


Suchaud/Robineau/Rocher
- Here's another trio of top players. Suchaud was France's top shooter before Dylan Rocher took over. Of the three, Robineau will play play captain whereas Suchaud and Rocher often operates as shooters. They seldom miss.


Fournie/Hureau/Molinas
- Fournie is a fave player of mine for I find his skills rather pure. And he is a thinking player, more so than the others. However, he seems to have his clique of team partners; childhood friends perhaps. And I don't think he and Lacroix get along very well. He's more history with Robineau. Hureau and Molinas are shooters and both have very graceful and accurate swings. Molinas is hailed as the successor to Dylan Rocher and will no doubt be one of France's top shooters some day, if he isn't already. Between Molinas and Hureau, I think Molinas is more steady, less affected by pressure. Maybe it is just he gung-ho-ness of youth!


Rizzi/Weibel/Loy
- Rizzi is Italian and is noticeable for his 'Crane School" method of holding and throwing his boule. Weibel is a shooter and a good one at that. He is more rotund now and so shoots with a kind of roundabout fling that is with force. He's accurate though and has won precision shooting championships. Loy is well-known for his "high-lob only" pointing. He is accurate though with the boule landing and rolling just inches away, often near the jack. The other person I know to be VERY accurate with a high lob is Fazzino. Lacroix and Quintais are excellent also. You can tell by the titles they have won. In a recent competition, Fazzino and his team mates basically high-lobbed their way around a jack. It was very beautiful to watch. ;-)



Lucien/Milei/Radnic
- Lucien has a unique backspin throw when pointing. He does get the ball to stop near the jack tho, so no need for any high lobbing! Milei is noticeable for his unique way of shooting, or rather his "unique way of prepping" a shot. He raises his hand high and brings it down straight and back into a swing and forward again into line. It's fast and no nonsense as mentioned in my Shooting section. A no-fuss no hesitation way of shooting. Excellent when in competition because a slow swing can be influenced by situational pressure. Radnic is also a good pointer and found success in mixed competitions early on. He won his first all-male European triplette title five years back.

HERE ARE SOME COMMONLY SEEN TEAMS OF TOP PLAYERS:
 
Team Quintais: Suchaud, Fazzino and Quintais
Team Fournie: Montoro, Fournie and Hatchadourian 
Benji Rebaud, Romain Fournie, Jean-Michel Puccinelli. Renaud has turned out
to be quite the infallible shooter in 2017. And carreaus often. 
Team Foyot: Chris Helfrick, Jean Feltain and Foyot. In his early days, Foyot used to partner with Fazzino, but not more. His best pal and team mate, Passo, passed away last year. Now these two seems to be his regular playing partners and winning tournaments. Foyot seems willing to partner new people. In 2017 Marseillaise, he was desperately looking for a shooter. Even considered a guy from Morocco! He's to petanque what Tiger Woods is to golf. Brought it to a whole new level in the 80s and 90s.
Team Lacroix: Suchaud, Rocher and Lacroix. A very formidable team. The current world champs.
Team Fazzino: Rizzi, Fazino and Adriansteheno. Another formidable team as Adrian is a very good pointer (with his semi Crane School hold). Always lands his boule very close to the jack. 

Top Thai Players
- The Thais uses a popular hooked method of holding the boule that I call the "Crane School" of petanque. It works pretty well and is easy to pick up. But the shooting can be limited to short distances, and has a "knocked on" quality. Players need to know how to flick their wrists to get a more direct hit. Also, there could be an inherent spin bias. Players have to be aware of this in their grip. Just make it more flat. Oh, Thailand have very good female players too. They have outdone their men folk by winning world championships. 


Top Madagascar Players
- This team won the 2016 World Championships 2016, beating Benin. A force to be reckoned with. Madagascar played a superb end with Thailand once. Watch it here. There is another set of 5 players (3+subs) that are equally good. Recently they beat the top players in France to reach the final in Nice. Watch the match here


Top Benin Players
- Runner-ups at the 2016 World Championships, this Benin team is a common features often at France's master petanque events. Bio even captained a celebrity/VIP petanque match once (in 2017! Watch here)! Quite a funny match as the amateurs were swearing like sailors at their lousy throws.  


Top Moroccan Players
- They seem to have the right traditional stuff, but in the World Championships in 2012, they didn't point too well (only 47%). Little wonder they lost 13-3. You must point well to win AND rescue ends. Boudayfa, however, was excellent in shooting during that match.


Next: Start Page


Can't Count On MRT


MRT breakdown again? Don't get upset...Sing!



Can't Count on MRT
(- sung to Count on Me Singapore) We'll have a cockup tomorrow, I am sure, I am sure We'll be stuck somewhere, sibeh sway, sibeh sway You and me, packed like sardines, aircon failing, hard to breathe We cannot believe, YET we can believe There is something along the mrt we didn't pay for Another train breakdown and again feeling sore We were going to show the world what Singapore could be Excuses plenty, excuses plenty... Chorus: 2x WTF MRT, WTF MRT Can't count on you to take me home, MRT First it was Yeo Cheow Tong, singing strong, singing strong Then came Raymond Lim, coughing wrong, coughing wrong Lui Tuck Yew, a Navy stud, saw a bolt, bought a screw Was going to show Singaporeans what Army folks could do End up getting screwed, getting screwed Now there is a new man in Minister Khaw Boon Wan He gave us expensive health care but flats for a song "We're going to build a better mrt, for you and me!" With stats, you see; with stats, you see... Chorus: 2x WTF MRT, WTF MRT Can't count on you to take me home, MRT Fade: Better take Uber or Grab Taxi Kenna jammed no need walk like Burma Rail internees

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Petanque - Resources

In this section about petanque, I will include whatever resources I come across to help you become a better player. There will be training vids, competition vids, fun vids, etc.

Parc Porely in Marseille. A beautiful competition venue indeed! 

1. LATEST COMPETITIONS

- Masters de Petanque 2017: Final Four at Istres (west of Marseille, Aix-en-Provence)

- Masters de Petanque 2017; Montlucon Finale; Quintais Vs Renaud

Masters de Petanque 2017: Clermont Finale; France vs Rocher

- Masters de Petanque 2017: Romans Sur Isere Finale: Rocher vs Fournie

- Masters de Petanque 2017: Wissmebourg; Fazzino vs Gire

World Championships 2017: Doubles - Men; France vs Thailand

- World Championships 2017: Doubles - Female; Belgium vs Thailand

- World Championships 2017: Singles - Men; France (Lacroix) vs Italy (Rizzi)

- World Championships 2017: Singles - Women; Spain vs Thailand

- World Championships 2017: Mixed; Cambodia vs Tunisia


2. TRAINING VIDS

English Petanque Association Training Video At long last, a training video in English!

Mijn Methode Door Marco Foyot This is perhaps one of the best training videos out there. Shows you what you can do with the boule in all manners of pointing and shooting. A clinic conducted by Marco Foyot in his heyday. The video is in Dutch but the actions are easily understood.

Kastteknik Petanque A very good tutorial on the classic way of holding and throwing a boule. Figure out how to give more spin or less spin to a ball. And how to throw a "carreau" ball. I've some tips for you below.

Marco Foyot Teaching Left/Right Effect On Boule This is how you get around boules in front of the jack. Yes, I've tried it and it works!

Marco Foyot in a clinic session.

How to Throw a Boule with Force Even if you don't throw a boule like this man, Sougil85 is an excellent channel on the technical aspects of boule throwing. I tried his method once and it works, especially if you want to hit a boule that is close to one another. Pretty accurate, I'd say, but not my "natural" style. Look at this video (Sougil85 tete-a-tete) to see why being good at shooting allows you decide how many points you want to score. 

Training Day with Ivarsson I like this video because it shows that boule throwing shouldn't be too much effort. ;-) Here's another one with Ivarsson

- How To Shoot Right A video showing another fella with a comfortable technique.

Learn To Shoot In this video, this guy shows incredible accuracy. (Note: From my own experience, if you grip the ball slightly tighter, it will hit inches further.)

Effortless Petanque (How It Should Be!) This site makes a very good point: Petanque is supposed to be effortless. If you are using too much strength or feel, it would be just too tiring to play. Then you are most likely using the wrong techniques. Just as in golf, let your arm swing do the work. Your grip is to determine backspin; and your release to is determine where the boule should land.

Training Course From Epping P-Club Here are some good lesson tips from a petanque club. Advice on clothing and footwear as well.

Easy Does It! A light-hearted video where bubbly. young Swedish actress/singer/radio host Ellen Bergstrom takes the challenge of learning petanque so she could play a match with Swedish Women Champion, Noon Geffenblad. Part 2 is on technik, Part 3 is the match. Watch her carreau on the first try.

A Slow-mo video showing various top players' grip and style when pointing and shooting in 1998, . what most folks refer to as the Golden Age of Petanque. Check out Philippe Suchaud's page-boy haircut, lol. 

3. OTHER VIDS

- Extreme Petanque w Marco Foyot (Marseillaise 2016). - Fun stuff. No rules, just balls.

Marseille 2016: Foyot vs Dugeny This shows very, very good pointing. It also demonstrates that when the ground is kind to rolling, it may be better to out-point your opponent than to shoot at them.

A Very Good End In The Final of 2011 This is an absolute favourite video of mine and shows the unpredictability of petanque despite the mastery of technique. Stars Stephane Robineau and Romain Fournie and others. (An "end" or "mene" is a game when all have thrown their balls and points scored. You play ends when a team reaches 13 points first.)

A Very Good Recovery and Winning Point With the score close at 11-12, even the best falter. Balls that shud roll, don't. Why I think everyone shud develop a "fail-safe" way of pointing in case nerves get the better of you. I have a method that always land the ball close to the jack (when I'm using a 71mm or less ball though.)

Head to Head Competition Europe 2016: France Vs Switzerland This video shows a very different playing surface. Looks like soft dirt (what the Toa Payoh petanque ground is). In any case, Lacroix manages to better master the surface over his opponent.

Exhibition Match Indoor Mall Fance Vs Belgium This video demonstrates some very accurate "high lob" pointing. If the ground is rocky, high lob pointing is the way to go. And why most pros prefer to high lob than roll. Is rolling for amateurs and old ladies? Haha (I find rolling useful when the jack is 6-7 m near you. Most pros prefer to throw at a distance of 8.5 m.

Precision Shooting Tournament An age gap, two throwing styles, Watch how Henri Lacroix prepares for his throw.

Best Shoot-out End? This video shows the top players from Madagascar and Thailand, and one of the best shot-for-shot ends. Incredible. Or as the French say, "Incroyable!" (an-kwai-yap)

Junior Masters! A video of kid-level Masters. Nice to see so many junior "prosumers" of the game. This is what we need to see at our primary schools. Start a sport that is both social and lasting that goes far in their lives and that of their social circles.

This graphic shows the elements of precision shooting contest. A hit is one point; a hit and the target ball flies out is 3 points; a carreau with the target ball out is 5 (full points). Another contest is just hitting the jack. 

4. RULES

Some sites on the rules of petanque: (Most follow France's FIPJP rules)

Petanque Rules (Wordpress) This is a very good site in general as with regards to all things petanque! Take your time to go through them. ;-)


Can you wear gloves to play petanque? Yes, you can! 

- On choosing a boule:

The "rule" is this:

- For the pointer: A smaller and heavier boule for pointing. Smaller so your opponent finds it hard to hit you; heavier so the boule lands with a thud and not roll away so easily.
- For the shooter: A bigger and lighter boule for shooting. Bigger for better line and target; lighter so as not to be tiring.
- For the all-rounder or middle (or "milieu" (me-lure) in French), something not too big nor too heavy.

Here's a site for it: How to Choose a Competition Boule

Asian players typically have smaller hands, so choosing a boule that's comfortable is important. I am using a 72mm/690g boule. I believe my preferred size is 71mm/670g. But this size-weight combo cannot be found in Singapore.

Note that there are leisure boules and there are competition boules. Leisure boules are cheap. In Singapore, you can buy a set of 8 from SGD$ 25-35 (also at Decathlon, the only sports store that supports petanque). Recently they have started selling a set of 3 for $9.90 which is great. A set of three is better than the previous three sets of two garden/leisure variety.

So there is no reason not to get started in this sport. Plus, Geologic have also gotten their carbon steel Alpha Series of boules certified in March for competition by the FFPJP. At SGD49.90 a set cum jack they are super affordable. The set comes with a two-year warranty even! I've tested them and find them superb in quality and play characteristics. Comparable to Obut. At the moment, I am waiting for Decathlon to bring in Geologic's Delta series. I've requested for a smaller 71mm/690g set.

I've have also tested a bronze boule set from China. When new, they were a lovely gold in color. I believe the boules are not hollow centre and thus land and bounce differently from those carbon steel boules from Geologic. When knocked on, the bronze boules don't fly away easily too. They very much absorb the impact.

In France, the biggest boule brand is Obut. In Asia, you can find brands like JB, MS or KTK.


Common chromed garden/leisure boules available in Singapore. They usually come in pairs
which is not very ideal for playing doubles.
In March 2017, Decathlon Sports Hypermart in Sg started selling chromed petanque balls in sensible groups of three priced at an affordbale SGD9.90. Three months later, they started selling carbon steel competition ones from Geologic, which are a steal at SGD49.90. I am hoping they will eventually set up a petanque boutique here.



The very excellent Alpha Series from Geologic. Keep it up. 
Asia needs such low priced but excellent boules to advance the sport of petanque!

Before: Shooting a Boule 

Petanque - Shooting the Boule



Being able to shoot away someone else's boule adds an important tactic to your game play. Obviously, it elevates you above the rank of amateur. Others will look upon you with respect, and you will find greater joy to even play the game better.

You might even decide to engage in those precision contests.

In France, shooters such as Dylan Rocher (26 yrs of age, 2017) and up-and-coming Tyson Molinas (18 years of age) are well known. Marco Foyot has been well-known for years and is regarded as the "King of Petanque". He was winning tournaments everywhere and showed different tricks with his boule. He brought petanque out of the shade of oak trees, so to speak.

I think Foyot can still do the stuff in his youth, but with age, and the rise of consistent point-and-shoot stars such as Quintais, Fazzino, etc., his "varied approach" to petanque is becoming kind of antiquated. Watch his head-to-head contest (video here) with Quintais from some years ago. You can see the difference in game play and skill, and perhaps the passing of a torch from Old Petanque to New. The passing of Foyot good friend, Passo, in 2015, perhaps marks the passing of the Renaissance Age of Petanque in the 80s in France. 

In today's world of petanque, to succeed, you surely need to shoot well.

If you don't, then you have to think what to do next with your remaining boules.

It is disheartening to play with folks who can shoot well. It delegates your excellent pointing skills to the insignificant bin. BUT KNOW THIS: EXCELLENT POINTING ALWAYS PUT PRESSURE ON YOUR OPPONENT. SO, LEARN TO POINT WELL ALWAYS. LET YOUR OPPONENT HAVE THE CHANCE TO FAIL AT SHOOTING.

Shoot and point, shoot and point. Between good players, it becomes a contest of wills. One Madagascar Vs Thailand match was like that. And there were carreaus galore! Imagine that! Point exchanged for point. Watch the video here.

A. THE BASICS
- As a beginner you will probably find the boule too heavy to shoot with. Simply lifting your arm the way you point to shoot does not work. The boule does not and will not have forward momentum. A simple way to get around this is to work the elbow.

The Elbow Shot. Cup the boule in your hand in the normal fashion. Bring it up to your face so it just hides the target boule from view. That's your aiming point. Now, extend your elbow and drop swing the boule back roughly to just after your buttocks. This is your swing back.

In one motion, bring it back to the same level and release the ball.

The Elbow Shot method of shooting.

Practice this a few times. You will realise this Elbow Shot method gets you a carreau every time. Why?
Because what you have done is drop shot the boule onto the target one.

Drop shot is the traditional gentle pendulum swing of the arm and boule. It will attack the target boule at 45 degrees with just enough forward force to take its place and NO BACKSPIN.

A good example of the drop shot is here. Regis Simba from Benin does it as well. Watch him in action here. In fact, most of the Madagascar players use this method too!

The Lift and Drop Down. Another simple way to shoot is first to find the line to your target boule. Then in one motion, lift the boule from thigh height to waist height and drop it straight in line with your target boule and swing back. Do it as if you are slicing the air straight down.

For this Lift and Drop Down, the swing back is not far, about 45 degrees. Because the swing back has some speed AND similar to the forward speed, you will find you have to release the boule early, below should height. This is fine. Let it kind of shoot out like a cannon - but not with too much force as the Wing Spread method.

The Wing Spread method. This method is antithesis to what most people teach about boule technique. Why? It has only one goal. Hit the target boule direct and replace it. It is done with force and has no subtlety to it. Here is a good video example of it.

The Wing Spread method of shooting.
Marcel Bio from Benin does a gentler version of it. He slows down the follow-thru so the boule doesn't "cannonball" out with as much force.

Marcel Bio of Benin

The Crane School Method. This is in reference to the Shaolin Temple Crane Kung Fu popularised by jackie chan in the 70s, where the hand is closed in the shape of a crane's head to "peck" punch at an opponent. Similar, there are petanque players, particularly in Asia, that has grasped on to this method. Why?

It is easy to learn. You are mostly in line (crane head pointing down) and because of your grasp, you are likely to spin the ball giving it great effect especially on an uneven gravel surface. With more grip and spin, you have greater control, especially in pointing.

The drawback? The hit is not as clean as the Elbow Shot (pendulum) and because of the inherent spin, there is always the chance of your own boule spinning back. Release can also be too sticky (leading to a not so smooth release) or "rolling" (ground rolling the ball, which is great for knock-ons.) This is why using the Crane School grip is great when you want to knock on a boule. The physics is just right for it.

To get the Crane School method of shooting right, practice leading with the knuckles and drop-shotting it. The other way is to have a fast follow-thru and early release with a flick of the wrist. Play with it and see which one fits.

One famous player with this Crane School method Italian Diego Rizzi.

Diego Rizzi and his Crane School grip.
The Fold and Roll. This is perhaps the most basic and popular of all. Show the ball at waist high, turn it round and crook the wrist.Do a slow swing-back and have a moderate follow-thru. This method is great for boules of bigger sizes, which encourage grip.

This video demonstrates it from 4:47 onwards. Video: Kastternik Petanque

The Kastternik shooting instruction.

The English Petanque Association does the same. EPA video.



Both are excellent training/learning videos. (The shooting featured in both videos above is the basic Roll-Throw Method. For better consistency and accuracy, check out both Fazzino's and Rocher's ways of shooting for better results.)

The Claw Method. This is popularised by sougil85 of Youtube petanque fame. You can watch his videos and learn. His channel is here.

Sougil85 Youtube channel.
With it, Sougil85 (Giles?) is able to hit boules in a consistent manner. But because of his grip, there is a greater chance of backspin.

Also, you have to stoop to prevent from "over-lifting" the boule during release and landing it beyond the target boule.

What the Claw Method gives you is method, a repeated way to set up and execute your throw or shot. It gives confidence after repeated use. But make sure you lead with the knuckles to get a better feel of the boule in hand. This method may not work well with bigger boules.

The Claw method basically uses just the three middle fingers leaving the little finger and thumb out of the grip equation. If you do not "claw" your fingers, you are basically using the same "knock-on" grip. Three middle fingers pointing down when gripping the boule and "lift" releasing the boule.

Experiment and play with this style of grip. It might suit you. And do not forget to stoop. It's a way to get a carreau!

(Sougil85 has another video that teaches how to shoot short and long. Here it is. Note the swing back in both instances.)

B. SHOOTING TIPS FOR ADVANCED PLAYERS

Well, at this "advanced" stage, you know how to shoot somewhat, but want the following:

- Consistency;
- Carreau anytime;
- Pinpoint accuracy;
- Near shooting/Far shooting
- Different ways of hitting a boule.

Let's start from the bottom:

1. Different Ways of Hitting a Boule
- Watch the Marco Foyot training video in Dutch. It shows the various ways of hitting a boule.
Personally, I prefer to knock a boule away with my boule snot straying far. In this way, I "carreau" the point. (The actual definition of carreau is "to steal the point".)

Marco Foyot's excellent training video.

The shooting part starts at 16:02

Note Foyot's ball holding, swing and follow-thru. It is deceptively simple.

2. Consistency
- With practice, comes consistency. I know I've mentioned many methods of shooting. Stick to one and practice until it becomes second nature.

Cross-hairs. I know, petanque players wonder if there is an "aiming" aid somewhere in the throw to enable one to aim and hit all the time. Does it exist in petanque? You look at consistent hitters such as Dylan Rocher (who once hit 98/100 boules in Bryant Park, New York) or Tyson Molinas and wonder if they have some secret trick. Or the players who take part in the "1000 Boules In One Hour" event and hit about 80% of the time. Do all of them have a secret?

Thus far, I find Christian Fazzino to be the most consistent. He hits a boule dead center all the time! Watch him here at 1:03:02 as he begins his excellent run.

Well, the short answer is no. I know having certain hand characteristics help. Better finger-pam dimensions, non-sweaty palms, etc. But whatever it is, helping the right boule size and weight matters more. Invest in a suitable set and practice. Develop a muscle memory for shooting.

Also, compete often so you won't get nervy during pressure situations.

3. Carreau Anytime
- Can one carreau anytime? I believe you can. Or effect a shot in such a way that a carreau chance is above 90%. How?

You must be able to attack a boule at the right angle, force and back spin. You can also adopt a "carreau throw", using the Elbow Method (see above section on this topic). Other ways is to follow how Fazzino and Rocher throw their balls. Look for those players who carreau often. You will realise that their boule impact is slightly different. Even if their shot do not end up as a carreau, their boule stops not too far away. This is important in a shooter's game. When your opponent's boules are all shot out of bounds, what remains is your own boule.

If you are like me, who can switch between playing competitively in badminton, tennis and squash in a day, then you'll be able to change your "shot throw" as and when required. Give yourself an advantage so to speak. But I bet your coach will not like it. "Stick to one way of playing," he'/she'll say. Yeah.

Another thing to consider when effecting a carreau is bending at the knees. This will bring your boule to a lower angle of attack. Better to kick the target boule out and away. Philippe Suchaud does this often, usually with an early release with faster follow-thru.

4. Pinpoint Accuracy
- As mentioned before, I find the trend of top players just hitting a boule away without considering how it might fly away as being rather careless. A flying boule can push a team boule away of even a jack. Care must be taken how a boule is hit. They should adopt a snooker mentality where every shot counts.
- Getting your line right is very important to accuracy. Certainly dipping  your shoulder a little forward to allow your arm to swing freely in a straight line helps. This works for both low and high swingback players. Folks like Quintais and Lacroix both share similar shooting styles with short swingbacks. They appear to like flipping the ball at the end of the throw.

<on Christian Fazzino and Dylan Rocher throwing styles>

Both these players are very accurate, but their shooting styles are vastly different.

Fazzino: He is more a fingertip shooter. Notice he doesn't cup his boule fully in the palm. He holds it loosely to get feel and then swings it backwards and with a twist of the hips, launches it forward. Notice that he ends his swing with a "swipe" - right to left. This tells you a lot about his throw. He leads it with his knuckles, which helps direct the boule to its intended target and gives it line.

To carreau, Fazzino basically holds his boule the same way, but on his swingback, he curls his fingers up ever so slightly. In this way, his boule is directed more horizontally and hence landing more direct on the target boule giving a carreau. Notice that when Fazzino doesn't carreau, his shot is more of a knock-on shot. The impact is light and his boule doesn't fly away very far, allowing his boule to remain in play. Compare his impact to that of Sarrio.

Rocher: Now, this fella, who has shot 98/100 boules at Bryant Park in New York is somewhat ridiculous in his consistency. But it is no magic. He has found his sweet spot, and so can you. Some have called his swing rather exaggerated, but you can follow his example too.

Notice how Rocher starts his throw. He has a standard way of cupping his boule, hand pointing down with knuckles facing the target. This is essential as this grip allows him some spin to the boule on release. Try it. Rocher's secret is also his high swingback, which gives him effortless momentum on the down swing. Notice he doesn't do a quick swing back like young Molinas or even Damien Hureau. Another of his secret is his slow swingback. It comes down and then accelerates, allowing him flip his boule somewhat on the follow-through. He has his line and flips his boule at the right moment.

Rocher's slow swingback means he has a controlled forward swing. This allows him to bring his throw on line and control its forward lift and spin. This gives the boule a nice arc upon release.

Notice how his throwing arm ends up. It is in an awkward angle as if he has deliberately flipped the boule on its way out of the forward swing. It is precisely what he has done. You can even see his palm ending up vertical when his flip is extreme... all in an effort to land the boule with the right spin and forward moment on a target boule. And this is why he carreaus often.

The shooting styles of both Fazzino and Rocher are good to learn. Why? Because it they can call on a carreau effect anytime they want. It is in the nature of their throws. The impact and arc they achieve.

Their styles are vastly different from those of Molinas and Hureau, both very natural "roll-throw" shooters.

Why has Damien Hureau been losing in matches this 2017 summer? Roll-throw style shooters depend very much on perfect release, which is not something that is achievable under pressure. The nature of the throw is more feel and guess-work. Swingback, get the line, and release. The boule leaves the fingertips and you just hope for the best. (Check out the English Petanque Association training video under the Resources section. They also teach the Roll-Throw Method which is easy to learn.)

When roll-throw shooters miss, their boules tend to hit the ground and bounce away. Very rarely do they "knock-on" as compared to folks who add spin to their boules.

5. Practice With Smaller Targets

Practice with smaller targets - such as an indoor boule, or even metal door knobs - to gain that narrow aim and accuracy.

Stainless steel door knobs recycled as target boules.
6. Near Shooting/Far Shooting
- I know some players have trouble shooting near after practicing at distances of 8-9 m. There is no way about it but to practice shooting at short distances as well.
- But during a competition, how do you overcome it? How not to over throw and miss? A shorter swing back? Earlier release? Cup the boule more? Stoop lower upon release?
- Well, it can be all of the above.
- It can also be applying a grip and flicking.
- Watch how Philippe Suchard and Henri Lacroix do it.

- For far shooting, carry on as usual. A bigger swing back will generate more force. You could also examine the role of the thumb in your grip. Its position on  the index finger in some grip/boule holds can affect accuracy. It's like that windage control on a gun scope. Experiment with it to see how you can earn change your far shooting technique with it.
- The other way, as mentioned above, is to employ too a flick-grip. Why? Because a flick-grip released boule will also roll on the ground. If there is no direct hit, you could at least roll on or knock-on the target boule. I've tried it and found it more intuitive, especially with distances at 10m or beyond (because the jack has moved.)

Next: All Things Petanque Resource

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Petanque - Throwing the Boule



Ok, after being introduced to the game of petanque, the first thing on your mind is: Ok, so how do I throw this rather heavy metal ball?

You don't. Surprised?

If you want to progress well into the game of petanque, know this now. You do not throw the boule any more than you would throw a tennis ball.

I know, we all use the word "throw". Let me explain.

As you progress further into the game of petanque, you'll realize that just "throwing" the boule is not going to get you anywhere. It's like marrying that first boyfriend and think he is a keeper for life!

You need to make a list if you are to get that right!!!

It's the same with petanque.

Note that you actually roll the ball off your hand and fingertips.

ROLL THE BOULE OFF YOUR HAND AND FINGERTIPS!

QUESTION: In golf, do you whack the ball to get it where you want it to go? No. You master the swing in order to hit the ball. It's the same in petanque.

You have to master the swing.

Swinging the boule in your arm is easy...Any monkey can do it.

The next thing to learn is: Release.

When do you release the boule in your hand? (I can ask the same question in ten-pin bowling.) 

To answer this question, you have to wonder about your grip.

So the three factors to a boule throw are these: SWING, GRIP, and RELEASE

SWING:
- The traditional wisdom is the slow swing take back. How high? The higher, the further your boule will go? Yes and no. Speed of follow-through matters also.

The faster the follow through, the lower your swing back.

DOES SPEED OF THE SWING BACK MATTER?
- Yes and no. You can do a slow swing back. Or a fast one. Answer: It depends on your own comfort. BUT, a general slow swing back allows you to size up your throw. Folks with a quick swing back already know their throw well. No need to hesitate or size up.
- The slow swing back is also useful when your grip pressure is more than usual resulting in an early release. Watch Henri Lacroix, Philippe Quinstais, Romain Fournie and Philippe.Suchard. Those players - esp the Thais - who adopt the Crane School grip, will swing back slow. A slow swing back is when you need to release the ball earlier. Trust me, in this instance, a slow swing back will give you better accuracy. 
- A fast swing back is good for those who have already an established, fixed swing. These players usually have one kind of throw. They will only manage the release to get the boule where it wants to. Folks Like Damien Hureau, Tyson Molinas, etc. Actually these two chaps have the loveliest throws in petanque. BUT, so far Molinas is the more consistent of the two. IT MATTERS ESPECIALLY DURING TETE A TETE COMPETITIONS WHEN YOU NEED TO MANAGE YOUR SHOOTING TO HIT AT ALL DISTANCES AND WAYS. 

Philippe Suchard is probably most noticeable in this during competitions. He will call on a carreau in critical situations. As does Christian Fazzino. But both do it quite differently. You can too if you know how.

A SHORT SWING BACK
- A short swing back is possible, but it has to be matched with a comparable follow-thru speed. That in turns demand an appropriate proper release.

SO, WHICH IS WHICH?
- You can have a gentle swing like Damien Hureau, who has said "Trust your swing". But I find he is not a varied swinger and shooter.
- You can have an outlandish swing like Dylan Rocher, which is not so outlandish once you analyse it closely. You can copy him easily and name yourself after a chocolate (joke).
- You can have a short, sweet swing like Marco Foyot, or Quintais, or Fazzino. Or a high front lift and fast swing like one top player in France.

Answer: Find the movement that best suits your comfort level, body type, temperament, etc. Doing a no-nonsense fast swing back can help you avoid "weak arm syndrome" when pressure builds. It is never good to feel weak in the arm during a competition. It happens when doubt seeps in. Work on your grip pressure and release instead (tip for advanced players!).

PREP BEFORE A THROW
- Watch how Henri Lacroix and Philippe Quintais set themselves up before a throw. It it more than just pulling up your pants like what Fazzino does.

These folks are usually very accurate. This is the reason why they are often captain of their teams and relied upon to rescue their comrades in a crunch, especially when they have to shoot in the last and needs a "hero" shot. Folks like them are the best "milleurs" or middle players who can both shoot and point. I would advise advanced players to aspire to be like them.

Mannerisms:
- Some players hook their grip before a throw - like what Romain Fournie is doing these days. He didn't used to do that when he was younger.
- Pointing your fingers (with thumb at side of boule) down at the beginning of a throw does help achieve a good line.
- Sougir from Youtube (he's a popular figure in petanque instruction) has a "claw" prep-method that serves him well.  

NO STRAIN THROW
- Whatever it is, your boule "throw" should not be a strain to your hand and arm. If it is, then you are definitely doing something very wrong. Remember: Just as in golf, having a good swing matters in petanque too!

RELEASE AND ROLE OF FINGERS
- Release is the most brainless act in your "throw". Yet, it affects accuracy the most. Why? The position of your thumb matters. In some grips, especially the Crane School, the position of the thumb has to be adjusted for distance.

If you have been a racquet player all your life, do check the alignment of your fingers. They (and the wrist) could be skewed one side from holding a racquet in the ready position all the time.
- Does keeping your fingers close matter? No really. It helps when you want to ground-roll your ball. When do you ground roll your ball? When you want to knock-on a boule usually. Or carry the jack some ways.
- You could "claw" cradle your boule, swing back and still shoot well. It's all a matter of keeping your grip consistent. Remember: In any mechanical set up, consistent action bring consistent actions, hence results. The more you practice, the better your muscle memory.
Before: Game Play

Petanque - Game Play



You see, Petanque as a game is not difficult to play nor understand. Throw a bigger ball to a smaller one and see who is the closest. The one with the closest ball wins the point. With three balls, you can thus win all three points during an "end". After many ends, whoever reaches 13 points wins. "Ends' are a bit like cricket. You move from one end of the court to the next. Why? Because your boules are on the other side of the court, dummy!

Now, I am assuming you are familiar with the basic rules of the game.

- To start, stand in a 50cm diameter circle and throw a jack (small wooden ball) no more than 6-10 m. Then start throwing your boules near to it. After two boules have been thrown, the losing player will have to continue until he betters his opponent's boule. This repeats until all boules are thrown. 
- The players then start from the other end, why each game (not match) of petanque is known as an "end". You play ends until 13 points are reached. Makes sense, no?

Now, for rules and what not, there are plenty of sites out there. I will instead focus on how the game play progresses as you go from beginner to advanced player.

1. Roll and Hope to Win
- Now, this is how all of us would begin. Throw forward a boule and hope it is better than the boule out there. Then we start playing on different surfaces and realize "Hey, I need to master the surface type as well!" Yup, there's sand, soil and gravel, and all kinds of constructs in-between. You could end up playing on a demonstration court in a shopping mall too!

2. I Can Point, Now I Want To Shoot
- Okay, so you have come to a point where you can point but others are shooting your boules away. It is frustrating not to be able to do teh same to them yourself. You will likely "roll hit" first, finding that it works only well on flat, even surfaces but is quite terrible on uneven gravel. Well, you do get some good results but staying a "roll and hit" player means you will forever be treated as a "beginner". You need to be able to drive a manual shift to be considered a proper driver!

3. I Can Shoot, But Only Hit Sometimes
- You launch your ball at the target and sometimes it hits, most times it doesn't. What's wrong? Well, the key factors to shooting well, is Line, Release and Effect. Line and Release being fundamental. Effect is when you want to hit your target boule in a certain manner. Do I want to "carreau"? Do I want to "back spin"? Do I want to "knock on"?

Yes, when you can shoot well, it will be a bit like snooker. Applying techniques to the cue ball so it will behave in a certain manner after being launched.

4. I Want to Shoot Well
- Look up the other blog section on this. But remember, if you can get both Line and Release right, you can shoot.

GAME PLAY PROGRESS

I chose the photo above (from the Web, thanks) because it illustrates well what seasoned petanque players often do. Examine the "lay of play" and decide the next course of action.

It is also what teams do whenever they walk in threes back up towards the jack. Why in threes? In a threesome match, all the team members have to discuss and decide what to do next. They can also take the opportunity to observe the ground. Even out any patch afterwards.

In a competitive match, a three-person team (a triplet) take on roles such as Shooter, Middle and Pointer. Each has two balls equaling six per team. So depending on the balls left and with whom, the team has to decide the best course of action. "Oh, the Shooter has used up all his boules. How now?" Or "Should we point or shoot?"

COMPETITIVE  MATCH GAME PLAY

Now, if your interest in petanque is strong, you will probably have watched competitive matches on Youtube. You will realize that the top players in France (or elsewhere) simplify the petanque game play into two actions: Point or Shoot.

I know, it gets boring after a while.

You watch Marco Foyot's training videos and see him do all kinds of actions with the boule: roll pointing, drop pointing, lob pointing; roll shooting; drop shooting, knock ons, direct hits (carreau), double-knock-ons, etc and you wonder how come the top players do not display any of these skills.

It is increasing looking like you need to just point and shoot.

Ok, let's forget that for a moment and progress from the basics.

GAME PLAY SEMANTICS

Basic: Always land your ball before the jack. Best is to land your boule touching the jack. When the latter happens, we call it a "championship ball" or "hugging your mother" (in a filial piety way, lol. Not Oedipal, haha). You don't always see top players follow this rule, which is disappointing. The player to still do this is Philippe Suchard. Kudos to him. Other fellas are Philippe Quintais and Romain Fournie. Though I must admit, given that most players can shoot these days, it matters less where you point your boule. But practice does matter. A team recently lost five points straight and the match because the last player could not point well. His ball ended far away from the jack. It did not "protect" the jack at the front.
Now, usually after two balls are in the court, the decision of how to play the game starts. You have now have two balls and can clearly see who is the winner and who's the loser. The next thrower will have to decide what to do. To shoot or point again.

Beginner Player decision: Point again
Advanced Player decision: Shoot or Point. Why?

Shoot if the opponent boule is too near. Point if the boule is FAR and BEHIND the jack. Why?

Because if the opponent boule is behind the jack, you can point and use that boule to stop-brake your own boule. If you knock your opponent's boule, his boule will roll away typically. THIS IS WHY YOU MUST ALWAYS POINT-LAND YOUR BOULE BEFORE THE JACK!

KNOCK-ON
- You can always try to "knock-on" your boule to get it closer to the jack. This is usually done when your first throw is not that ideal. Knocking on your boule to get it closer is a technique. It is a way "to save a boule" to help score another point. Know that IT IS a technique, hence you have to find a way to learn it well.

Note: For knock-on to happen, you need to land your boule soft but just inches before. A boule lands soft if it has both HEIGHT and SPIN. It can either have the ROLL ON quality or not. But knowing how to ROLL ON the boule helps. (The opposite of the boule "rolling on" the ground is the boule "bouncing away".  A boule with no spin (and late release) will bounce away. 

KNOCK-ON OPPONENT BALL 
- You can always knock on an opponent's boule to help slow your own boule down. Of course, it has the advantage of knocking your opponent's boule away sideways too (away from the jack). This is especially useful when your opponent's boule is in front of the jack and you need to avoid knocking on your own boule to end up further up front.

GROUPING
- This concept is seldom talking about, but as a beginner, you should learn to do this well. Having a consistent throw on a particular ground means your boules will all end up in the same spot. It's like how a sniper tries to achieve all shots near one another on a target sheet (or metal plate).

Why is grouping important?

Well, in petanque, we are all trying to get the boule to the jack. If you can do this all the time, hats off to you!!!

In competition, this is hard to achieve. Why? For 1) The pressure to do well will get to you; 2) The position of an opponent's boule upsets your muscle memory (it happens even to top players). This is analogous to someone telling you "not to think of a pink elephant". You invariably do. Same with a boule you are trying to better or avoid. 3) The ground may be different from what you are used to. 4) Fatigue. You could be tired from a long day of competition.

Note to advanced players: You can achieve consistent pointing under a pressure situation. What you need to do is find a "blind man's throw" - a throw which you can achieve even when blindfolded. You know, a throw where you can rely on to achieve a consistent result (distance) even without having to ever think too much about it.

I know some folks will find this difficult to accept. Why? Because they are so used to their style of play. I find that if you use a comfortable, smaller boule you can achieve a BLIND MAN' THROW better. Basically, you need to be very comfortable with your boules to the point of being "tricksy". Work on it. It will cut down on miscues/poor throws during pressure situations in a match.

For example, you can also find a way to point a ball straight in situations when you have to squeeze a boule past a pack of opponent boules to the jack. What in mahjong we call managing a "ka long".

MOVING THE JACK
- Yes, when you find that moving the jack is to your advantage. You must learn to throw your boule in such a way that it will land and roll and "carry" the jack with it. This is usually desired when all your boules are away from the jack or ended up in a particular space.

HITTING THE JACK
- When all else fails, hit the jack. When the jack jumps out of bounds the "end" is restarted. You usually do this when you are losing or when your boules are in a hopeless scoring position.

Or you do this when the opponent has more boules left than you. BUT NOTE THAT YOU STILL NEED A BOULE IN HAND WHEN THE JACK FLIES OUT. OTHERWISE YOUR OPPONENT'S BOULE(S) IN HAND WILL COUNT AS THE POINTS.

In other words, hitting the jack helps prolong the game and lets you survive to play another end.

THE UNCERTAINTY OF PETANQUE
- Petanque may be a game of skill, etc. But because of an uneven surface and the fact that the jack can be moved - intentionally or not - an amount of uncertainty is introduced. Titles have been won and lost because the jack has moved. When the jack moves, its distance to the boules have changed and hence the scoring. It is good to bear this in mind when pointing or shooting boules very close to the jack. 

I find sometimes top players don't pay attention to this fact. They should train to shoot either side of the target boule and not leave everything to chance.

It is not enough to just hit a boule. Try to eliminate or introduce any uncertainty into the game, often at a critical stage.

YOU CAN GET EXTREME ACCURACY WHEN SHOOTING. Philippe Quintais, Philippe Suchard, Diego Rizzi, Christain Fazino, Dylan Rocher and Claudy Weibel all can do this to a certain extent. But not all precision hitters can do it. Damien Hureau can't, and I think Tyson Molinas can't either although he is young and can still improve.

Having a larger boule helps but I think it is more down to technique.

(Throwing a larger boule - say a 75mm one - is certainly different from throwing a 71mm one. And have you noticed? French top players are moving to smaller boules and there are good reasons for it.)

BACK TO THE PICTURE ABOVE
- Ok, so everybody has their boules on the ground; you have the last boule in hand. What are you going to do? Point or shoot? (See section below)

LAST BOULE DECISION
- The score is 12-11. The opponent has THE point to win. What are you going to do? The usual action is to shoot. 

Note: It is always better to lose by one point in petanque than more. Sometimes - especially when no one in your team can shoot well, it is best to lose a point (especially when the opponent's boule is in a "championship boule" position, i.e.hugging or darn near the jack). Try to catch up in the next end. Kind of like "survive to live another day". - Another end, that is.

NOT FAMILIAR WITH THE RULES OF PETANQUE?

Watch this video for the finer points in playing petanque on a regular basis. For example, how many times can you fill a hole in the ground during an end?


Petanque: Holding the Boule


Ok, the first question you probably have after picking up a boule is "How should I hold the boule and throw?"

Well, the picture above shows the most common "grip" a petanque.

You do not need to grip very tightly, just enough to not let the ball drop. Why? This is so you can release the ball easily. The ball should leave via your fingertips. This is very important.

You can view a few videos here to start off.

- Marco Foyot tres excellent training video (in Dutch but very comprehensive!)
- English Petanque Association (EPA) training video (finally a training video in English!)

Tips for Beginners:

Backhand throw. 

1. Why backhand throw? This allows you to be able to "backspin" the boule so as to control how far the distance the ball should roll. If you forward roll - like in bowling - the boule will just run on until out of steam.

2. Forward momentum. Anybody can pick up a boule and throw. But how to NOT drop dead the ball in front of you and gain distance??? Well, crook your wrist back a bit and at the same time, pull your arm back to give it a swing. The more swing there is the more "forward momentum" you are giving your boule. It WILL roll further.

3. Height. How high should I throw my boule? Well, with conventional wisdom, you should release the boule "shoulder height" each time. That's the beginner's "gentle swing and release" way. As you progress and want to control the boule more, this release height will change.

4. Stopping the boule. Two ways. A: Throw it just with sufficient force so it will not over-reach its target spot. B: Use your fingers to give the ball some "tarek" (pull back or back spin). This is why the boule HAS TO leave by your fingertips.

Tips for Advanced Players:

1. High Lob. You have probably admired top players and want to learn how they HIGH LOB so well. High lobbing has the advantage of  taking the "nature of the playing ground" out of the equation. This especially useful when the playing on gravel when tiny stones can affect the roll of your boule. It is also effective against uneven ground.

High lobbing. Palm up and outwards.

How to be good at High Lobbing?

Well, one obvious question is: Do you have ball sense??? Because one method requires it a lot, the other not so much.

Method 1: The FEEL method

The FEEL method plays on your ball sense and how well you are able to control YOUR boule: its weight, dimensions, etc. Folks with good ball sense will be able to HIGH LOB with a boule of any size and shape!

With the FEEL method, the boule rests on the crease line of your palm.

Folks like Christian Fazzino and Mickel Loy do the feel method pretty well. As does Marco Foyot.

Christian Fazzino getting ready to point.
Michel Loy getting ready to high lob.

Method 2: The PALM OUT method

Now, this PALM OUT method, I feel is a technique. A "technique" is something anybody can learn if they just spend time on it. You do not need so much "natural" ball sense although having it help heaps in petanque. But it can also be said that folks with ball sense might end up doing things their own way, neglecting proper technique!!! Remember, techniques help win games under pressure. Natural talent only win games spectacularly (haha).

With the PALM OUT method, you end up with your palm facing the sky or horizon after a throw.

Instead of flicking your wrist, you more or less keep your hand cupped.

You will find that this method is great especially for near distances such as 6-7 m, which many players have difficulty with after playing between 8-9 m often.

With this method, you are basically, allowing the ball to slip out of your hand and do a "high" arc to the ground.

Practice with various distances to get it right. With this method, the usual problem is relaxing and forgetting to give momentum to the boule especially trying to reach further distance. You do not want the boule to end up looking like a dead pigeon at your feet!!!

ABOUT GRIP PRESSURE

As you progress, you will realize that the grip pressure on the boule changes. 

What boule size you use will affect your grip and roll during swing back and follow-thru.
This pix shows a bigger than normal boule. Normal = average = 72mm/690g.
Consider moving to smaller boules as you advance. More tricks with it.

As a beginner, folks will tell you to grip the boule lightly. This is true to a certain extent. As you learn (and want) to control the boule more, this grip pressure will change.

1. If you are a DROP & ROLL beginner player, you are unlikely to alter your grip pressure much.
2. If you play on a gravel surface and is tired of tiny stones affecting your play, you might begin to want to control the spin of you boule more. In this way, your grip pressure will change.
3. When you want to affect the "flight" of your boule, again, your grip pressure will change.
4. If you want to stop the boule better, again your grip pressure will change.
5. If you use the CRANE SCHOOL of gripping a boule, then you grip pressure will be different from another player who uses another style. Folks like Diego Rizzi (Italy) and Sriboonping (Thailand) uses this type of grip.

Controlling grip pressure, spin and flight of the boule will allow you to land and stop the boule anywhere each time.
ROLE OF THE THUMB

Do you know that you can play petanque without your thumb and little finger? Try it! The most important fingers for petanque are the middle three.

So, whether you put your thumb to the side of the boule or pinching the index finger, it is a personal preference AS WELL as technique. Experiment to see what differences that bring to your game.

A closed grip where thumb is placed on index finger 1st knuckle line.
Use of knuckle lines can help regain accuracy in long throws/shootings.
Move thumb to third knuckle line for longer distance shots. 


And in terms of "shooting", the position of the thumb does affect distance and accuracy. Again, this depends on your grip and grip pressure. Pay attention to this. Many player have difficulty hitting 9m and beyond (especially when the jack gets hit and flies further away). And many top players practice with heavier boules in winter to get ready for the many competitions in summer.

Next: Game Play