1. Introduction

    Have you ever wondered why some players are great during practice, but are not able to perform well at competitions or high-stake moments? Well as you probably have guessed the answer is nerves and tension. Doubts and pressure lead to tension, and tension restricts your organic game flow and results in poor performance. Tension is your worst enemy in petanque and in life.

    The good news is that there is an antidote to tension and it is extension. Extension is the key element that leads to maximizing the power potential stored in your body and helps eliminate the detrimental effects of performance anxiety. 

    Ball on a String

    Think of the swing motion of your arm as a ball on a string, a pendulum, anchored solidly in the center by your shoulder. Imagine the ball in a neutral position hanging straight down and with its weight causing the string to be perfectly extended. Compare this to yourself standing in the circle, relaxing your arm, and allowing the weight of the boule to weigh down your arm into a straight line. The extension you feel in your arm is the action potential of the boule. Bending your arm or the string would require extra force, and is to be avoided to harness the full power created by the weight of the boule. Now let’s put that power to use.



    Imagine taking the ball (boule) at the bottom of the string (your arm) and pulling it back without causing the string (your arm) to bend. The only way you can do this is by pulling the ball away from the anchored center point (your shoulder) while moving it backwards in a circular path until the string is parallel to the horizon. Think of this process as your backswing.

    As the ball travels further up the circular arc against the pull of gravity more and more action potential is added. At the moment the ball is pulled back to the horizon line there is a significant amount of power ready to be unleashed by the sheer power of gravity.

    If you were to let go of the ball at the tip of the pull back, the ball would travel back down along the same circular path past the original starting position towards the horizon point at the front spectrum of the swing without requiring any extra power. 

    If at the moment of the pull back the string (your arm) is bent, or if the anchor point (the shoulder) moves up or down, the swing will not move swiftly and effortlessly along the same circular path by the sheer force of gravity, and that natural momentum will not be fully actualized. So remember to maintain a steady shoulder and allow the pull created by the weight of the boule to completely extend your arm and shoulder muscles throughout the swing motion. 

    Watch Dylan Rocher in this shooting performance. While Dylan can use a bit more stability, the string quality extension of his arm exemplify a high epitome of the ball on a string concept. He harnesses the power of his height and the length of his arms by extending and letting his arm effortlessly flow along the circular path of the swing. He is exerting minimal effort while achieving excellent results. 



    Extension is at the core of effortless gameplay. As you begin to let go of the tension in your arm and become the string, you will begin to harness the power of gravity and eliminate all unnecessary force from your swing. So when you are in the circle about to make that game winning shot, first remember to breathe, relax, let go of the tension in your arm, and allow the boule to lead the way.

    In Part II of the Effortless Gameplay series we will carry the intention of your shot into reality with the hidden power of the followthrough.
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  2. Effortless Gameplay | The Trinity of Finesse
    Three Part Series 

    Introduction

    A master in any sport makes execution look easy. Whether it’s Roger Federer in tennis, Kobe Bryant in basketball, or Marco Foyot in petanque, the very top players, the legends in their sport, train hard but make gameplay look effortless. They have mastered the most efficient, organic way of playing the game.

    Like other sports, petanque is a game of stamina and focus, and learning to play in the most effortless manner and exerting the minimal force necessary to bring your intention to life will allow you to maintain your strength all the way to the finals.

    This first part of the Three Part Series on Effortless Gameplay will focus on extension to help you maximize the potential power of your swing. Part II will uncover the hidden power of the follow through to help you execute the exact shot you have in mind. And in Part III we will master the arc of least resistance, the arc angle that will help you shoot further, play longer, and take your game to the next level.

    Let’s begin this journey with Ex-tension, Part I of the Effortless Gameplay series.
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  3. Every throw consists of speed, direction, and spin - the element of precision. The finesse of petanque lies in the ability to skillfully manipulate the spin of the boule. 

    I often see players forcing their release to generate greater backspin, but the backspin is not a standalone element that requires separate force. The backspin is a byproduct of the natural wrist motion generated during the forward swing between the cocked back position of the wrist at the pinnacle of your backswing and the extension of the fingers during the release. Adding any forced motion will add spin at the price of precision.


    Generating the desired spin requires your intention and knowledge of the height and angle of release, but it is the natural motion of the follow through into the extension of your fingertips that creates fluid, natural, and powerful backspin. 

    One way to premeditate a great throw is to extend your arm, hand, and fingers into your imaginary point of release. This will create the intention and help you visualize your arc and the degree of spin that you choose to apply.

    Creation of Direct Backspin 

    Direct backspin (without any degree of sidespin) is a very powerful tool. It allows you to: 

    1. Keep your boules rolling forward after landing
    2. Throw powerful accurate plombées (lobs) that slow down or stop upon landing
    2. Make carreaux sur place (replace boules when shooting)
    3. Have a greater feel of the direction of the throw

    Direct Rotation of Your Palm

    The key principle of generating direct backspin is keeping your palm and fingers rotating evenly along the circular axis throughout your swing. Imagine a pull-up bar in front of you, if you were to grip the bar and rotate your hand forward and backward you would maintain an even rotation along the circular axis. Direct backspin is created by maintaining your focus on the even rotation of your fingers throughout the swing.

    Once you master direct backspin, you can begin to experiment with creating side spin by tilting your palm and fingers to the left or to the right during your release.

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  4. The way a player holds a boule will tell you quite a lot about his/her game. The hand is the main point of contact between you and the boule during a throw and having a proper grip and holding style can significantly increase your accuracy.

    So what are the ingredients of a petanque boule grip? Well, there is your palm, the fingers, and the thumb. They work together to mold the infrastructure for a smooth accurate release. Let’s explore how that happens...

    Your palm is the starting point, the center and the backbone of the grip. In establishing a proper grip start by opening up your hand facing up and while keeping your fingers together and extended, place the boule in the center of the palm. Let the boule balance itself out as you continue to extend your fingers forward while keeping them together. 

    Now gently curl the fingers over the center of the boule. Remember that keeping your fingers together is the key ingredient of a good grip. With fingers touching side by side you are in the position to generate the greatest backspin with the maximum control over the angle of release.

    The last step is to place the thumb comfortably alongside the boule so that the tip of the thumb comes near the index finger without overlapping. You will often notice players who do not use their thumb at all, but I see the thumb as a locking mechanism that prevents the wrist from rotating too much, thus adding to the balance and accuracy of the throw. The key is to maintain a stable, yet relaxed grip.

    Thumb Lock
    Hand Extended
    Fingers Curled Together


    When you have the properly sized boule for your unique hand size, you should have no problem balancing the boule in the center of your palm, placing your fingers together over the boule and gently locking the thumb for stability. If you feel that the boule is falling out of your hand, it’s very likely that you need a smaller boule. And if you feel like a giant holding a pea, and your thumb significantly overlaps your index finger when you place the fingers together, perhaps consider trying out a boule that is 1 or 2 mm larger than your current size.

    At this point you should have a good feel of the boule in your hand and be ready to step into your shot! Happy Bastille Day!

    Next we will explore how the grip works with your release to give your swing the greatest amount of accuracy and control.


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  5. The swing in petanque is like a recipe consisting of several ingredients which need to be combined in the right proportion for desired results. In order to become a master chef you must know your ingredients and have a vision of what you want to achieve. So let’s begin by defining the fundamental elements of the swing such as the arm extension, the pull back, the release, and the follow through. In the upcoming entries I will touch more on the speed of the arm and the tools necessary to develop the finesse of precision.

    Arm Extension and the Line of the Shot

    One of the fundamental aspects of a straight consistent swing in petanque is keeping the arm extended at all times. Think of reaching away from your shoulder throughout the sh
    ot while keeping your arm as relaxed as possible. In theory, your arm functions as a pendulum revolving around the axis of a stable shoulder. If you draw a line between your shoulder and your target spot, your arm and the boule should travel along that line at all times for a straight shot.

    The best way to assure a solid swing is to first ground yourself by bending your knees. Then keep your arm extended throughout the back swing, the pull back, and the forward swing as you trace the line of your shot and reach towards the top of your imaginary arc during the release. Remember to keep the lower part of your body down and your head stable once you pull back.


    Make sure that you have the necessary space on the side of your shooting arm for your hand to travel back and forth in a straight line without hitting your hips or having to go around your body. When you are developing your swing, or whenever you feel that your swing is off center, I suggest to actually look back as you swing back and forth to make sure that your arm is traveling in a straight line.

    The Pull Back

    The pull back is the pinnacle of your back swing prior to going forward. In order to eliminate strain from your shot and allow yourself the most energy to concentrate on precision (versus distance and force) you must develop a nice pull back that is in line with your shot. Once again bring up the image of the line between your shoulder and the target spot. As you take your arm back along this line see how far you can go without twisting your wrist or arm off center or straining yourself in any way. Remember, the more you bend you knees the further you can pull back your swing.

    Once again I recommend to look back to see where your hand ends up and then to memorize and to feel this location. The difficulty here is that the location of a lined up pull back is not directly beside your body (meaning as far left as possible if you are right handed) and it is not to the side of your body (meaning far out to the right), instead it is in line with that imaginary line of your shot which is somewhere between the two extremes I just described. Many people have a tendency to pull back off center and then have to compensate for this during the forward swing causing them to often miss off center.

    The Reach and the Follow Through


    The last key part of the swing is the reach. A nice forward reach of an extended arm during the release completes and critically improves any shot. As you swing forward after the pull back, concentrate on tracing the same line of your shot all the way to the release and then reach forward while keeping yourself grounded. As you release, feel the extension of your arm deep in your shoulder.

    A great tool to develop in your psychological arsenal is to begin to visualize the arc of your shot prior to the actual throw. When you visualize your arc you gain a sense of where and how fast you should release the ball. Then all you have to do is to reach forward and up in line with the imaginary line of your arc. I recommend to keep your arm extended forward in front of you even after you release the boule (think of Kobe Bryant in basketball when his hand remains above him after he shoots a three pointer). This is called the follow through. The follow through method will teach you what you are doing right and wrong because you will actually see exactly what caused your boule to go in a particular direction depending on where your hand ended up finishing.

    As a side note, don’t fear to shoot and point using higher smoother arcs simply because you feel that you will miss off center. If you concentrate on proper positioning and grounding, and then align your body and trace your swing along the proper line then you will end up with a straight shot. If you don’t then one of the elements simply needs adjustment. Of course it will take some practice, but soon enough you will enjoy the benefits of the hard labor and the mental work behind the process.

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  6. Before you enter the circle you should know exactly what you want to accomplish with your shot. It is as important in petanque as it is in life. Do not be afraid of the best outcome. If you are shooting and you ideally would like to carreau, then think about making a carreau, and plan to hit the boule just above the center.

    In petanque it is fine to be idealistic because you are setting a subconscious roadmap for yourself. So
    be specific. When you are shooting, don’t just shoot at the general direction of the boule, walk up to it, pick a tiny little spot on that boule and aim for it. Even if you miss, so what, at least you knew exactly what you wanted to accomplish and you also know exactly how far you were from achieving your goal. You will see that your accuracy and percentage will increase more rapidly than if you simply continue to point and shoot in the general direction of your target.

    So if you are pointing and you only have 4 inches between the opponent’s boule and the jack and the only option you have is to lean your boule against the opponent’s, then that’s what you should be thinking about. Once you know your ideal end result, then planning becomes much easier. Walk up and find the
    exact speckle on the ground that you would like to land on and imagine how the boule will behave after it lands on that spot. Visualize how high you will throw the boule, how fast, and what kind of spin you will apply. Don’t be embarrassed to walk up between each play to see the ground or look at the target boule, you will only gain respect. And remember imagination is an acquired skill, so if you have trouble visualizing, then keep practicing and it will come.

    Once you have planned your play, then come back to the circle and attempt your shot. If the boule does something different from what you expected, then simply adjust, and
    keep adjusting. Keep planning the impossible, and soon enough you will see the results. That’s how magic begins to happen.

    So
    be daring. Even if you do not believe you can do it, plan it specifically anyway, and you will be surprised by the outcome. It may not happen every time, or right away, but it will happen a lot more often than you think.


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  7. Once you position your feet in the circle and are ready to begin your shot it tremendously helps your accuracy to ground your shot - to shift your weight from your upper to your lower body. One way to do this is to slightly bend the knees - enough to begin to feel your weight shifting from the upper body to the legs and especially to the feet.

    This technique allows you to ‘nail down your shot’ and create greater balance and strength in your form so that you can begin to shoot and point using primarily your arm without moving the rest of the body. Eliminating unnecessary body movement increases precision, consistency, and forces you to lift the boule naturally.

    If you look back to the earlier
    video with Foyot and Quintais, you will see that neither one of these world champions moves his lower body during the shot - the arm does the work while the legs provide the support. Observe their positioning and watch how the masters use the arm as their weapon.

    I believe that this is one of the most challenging lessons in petanque and one that requires true athleticism. You will find that it is very difficult to keep your lower body from moving and allowing the arm to do the work. In the beginning your boules will likely land a bit short because you won't have that extra push provided by your legs (assuming that you were using your legs in the first place). The key to success with this technique is to practice a higher arc to eliminate the strain on your body. First try this at shorter distances and as you become more comfortable with using your arm and throwing with a higher arc you can then slowly increase your distance. But be careful not to strain your back because doing this at longer distances can be quite challenging.

    Grounding and staying grounded throughout the shot is key to taking your accuracy to the next level.

    Note: Many players are huge proponents of using your legs to shoot and point at longer distances, while this is true and you will gain more power, this power may come at the price of higher accuracy.

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  8. A huge part of playing consistently is following certain rituals - repeated actions - to ensure success time after time. Positioning your feet is one of them. Another ritual is centering yourself.

    After you step in and firmly position your feet inside the circle, the next step is to center your body for the shot. I recommend to first stand up with your back straight, concentrate on your target and breathe steadily. It helps to spread your shoulders and arms a bit to get a sense of your space. And then position your torso, your upper body, so that it is perpendicular to the line of your shot - the imaginary line running from your eyes to the target boule or landing spot.

    This is very important because if your body is not lined up correctly, then everything you do after this will likely have to compensate for the incorrect lining of your body causing you either to miss, or worse become used to playing with your body off center. (If you use the pivot foot forward stance, then your shooting shoulder may be slightly ahead of the other, that's fine as long as you are conscious of this).

    Very often you will see players start out in the circle with their feet and knees facing completely off center. If this player is from the opposing team, you usually don't have to worry, just watch the results of their shot. The shot will likely be missed on the side towards which the feet are facing, or on the opposite side, because what ends up happening is the player is forced to twist their torso back towards the center to compensate for the misaligned positioning and he or she ends up over-twisting and missing on the left even if their feet were facing right.

    Some players do this out of bad habit that was not addressed when they began playing petanque. And often you will see shooting and pointing styles made up of a web of misalignments that over the years have become a comfortable norm. These players may even play well, but they will likely not reach the level of consistency and accuracy that they would have had they started out playing with proper alignment. If you notice this trend in a player you care about, I suggest you mention this fact to them during a convenient time, or at least ask them if they are doing this on purpose, or simply out of habit. Remember that it takes a lot of courage to admit that what you are doing is not the best, and even more courage to work towards changing it.
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  9. Have you ever had trouble with keeping your swing in a straight line because your body was getting in the way and you had to go around it? While this doesn’t happen to everybody, I think it is a pretty common problem that men and especially women with larger hips happen to face.

    When I was teaching one lady from LAPC how to shoot I began the same way I began this blog, with foot positioning. Since I strongly believe in the stability provided by the classical position with feet side by side, I began to explain to her why this positioning was one of the best due to the balance and stability it offers. She listened and complied. However, as we began working on the shooting swing I realized that her hips were preventing her from swinging the arm in a straight line. Very quickly I realized that the classical positioning in this case was simply not the answer and we began working towards a solution.

    The solution came by adapting the pivot foot forward position for her unique body type and shooting style. By putting her pivot foot forward (in her case it was the right foot since she is right-handed), she was able to slightly step back her other foot and shift her hips slightly to the left allowing space for the swing. She was happy and I learned something new.

    Sometime ago I was reading an article and I ran into a picture of a sculpture of an Indian goddess of prosperity by the name of Lakshmi. While I doubt the Indian goddess played boule, she perfectly personifies the foot and body positioning I just described. Take a look on the left.

    So in petanque it is very important to be realistic and recognize that you are an individual with a unique body type and you are the only one who is you. So instead of simply trying to copy someone else, try to find what really works for you and practice it. Remember that nothing comes easy at first, but after some time you will begin to feel at home.

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  10. As many of you know petanque derived its name from the french pieds tanques, which means 'feet fixed'. So while there are various styles of foot positioning, the ultimate goal is to keep your feet stable on the ground in order to maximize your sense of balance and accuracy. One thing to keep in mind is that one style does not fit all, so find what works and stick with it.

    Watch the following montage and pay attention to the foot positioning of some of the world’s best players:

    (Click here to see a larger version of this video)

    In the above video if you recognize the faces of Marco Foyot and Philippe Quintais, two of the world’s top players, you will see that they chose the classic position of feet side by side with a gap in between. Other shooters chose to have their pivot foot - the foot on the side of the shooting hand - slightly forward and aimed at the target.

    While I tried all kinds of ways of positioning my feet I eventually came to the conclusion that I achieve the greatest sense of balance and stability when I position my feet side by side with about a width of a fist in between - in Zen Buddhism this precise position is considered optimal for balance and stability while standing. In petanque this position not only provides excellent balance and stability for the standing shots, but it also allows you to fit your feet inside of the smallest legal sized circle - 35 cm in diameter.

    When I made the switch to this position a couple of years ago, it felt unnatural after being used to having my pivot foot forward for many years. At first, my shot felt very awkward - I would often force the shot or shift my knees in the process. It was almost difficult to see the benefit in the beginning, but as I continued to adapt the rest of my shot to this new position I became fully aware of its power and stability.


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