Becoming a Better Shooter

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The process of including shooting throws in your petanque repertoire is not as difficult as many think. True, many players in the US are not used to throwing balls at targets - especially those that have come to the sport from a rolling game like bowling! But we do have past experiences that have preconditioned us to be able to throw with some degree of accuracy - bowling, baseball, even chucking stones out of a garden, and skimming rocks across a pond...

Shooting in petanque can be just as much fun as any other casual tossing activity. The first thing that you have to accept is that you can do it. There is nothing magical about tossing a boule at a non-moving target 20 or 30 feet away and hitting it. Some of us will have to practice more than others, but we will all eventually be able to do it.



So where do we start? Well, lets start by building on skills that we already have. If you can throw a pretty straight ball that is a very good start! Initially you may not have the strength to keep the boule in the air the entire distance to the target (keeping the shot boule off the ground as long as possible should be your goal). Your boule may drop half way to the target and roll in the rest of the way. Of course every inch that it is on the ground increases the chance that something will deviate it from your target - this is why you want to keep it off the ground as long as possible.

But we work with what we have, and if a throw that just gets half way there is what we have, then that is what we use for the time being. Concentrate on keeping the line of the throw as straight as possible and you will find yourself hitting more and more often.

On target!


Don't try this at home!!!

Petanque Secret Portal!

Besides avoiding surface-caused deviations there is another reason to try to throw your boule as much of the distance to the target as possible - other boules! People that develop striclty rolling shooting techniques are very limited once the end starts getting cluttered by boules in front. This is why a lot of people think that they have to shoot as soon as they see a pointing boule that they think might be in too good a position to out-point - they are afraid that the shot will be blocked by another boule.



I believe that it is better to wait to shoot until you are sure that you really have to. Often another boule will out-point what appeared to be an excellent boule. Or a boule will bump the boule that you would have shot. Or an opportunity will present itself later that could mean a multiple point end if you shoot out one boule.

Conversely, there will be times that you shoot successfully just for the opponent to put in another equally good boule and you have one less boule in hand to counter that situation.

But to have the the option of waiting to pluck a target boule out of a crowd, you need to have the strength to deliver the boule either right on the target, or very close to it. Gaining the strength to do this might take some exercise. See the exercises page for ideas on how to accomplish this.


The ideal shooting throw is the carreau (cah-row). This is where your boule replaces the target boule while knocking the target boule away. The advantages of a carreau shot versus other shooting throws is that it serves not only to knock the target boule out, but also gains a point for your team! A combination shooting and pointing throw in one!

Given the advantages of such a throw, it is important to practice a technique that will increase your chances of accomplishing a carreau. I have found several factors critical in carreauing.

1. The angle that the thrown boule strikes the target must be about 45 degrees. So your throw should not be a direct throw, but rather a sort of low lobbing throw that will drop right at the base of the target boule.

2. The throw should not be too hard. You want just enough energy in the throw to displace the target, the remainder of the energy is dissipated into the ground.

3. It helps to put back-spin on your thrown boule. This will encourage the boule to travel down the surface of the target boule and into the ground if you hit the target directly, and if you are slightly in front of the target it will minimize bounce and slow the thrown boule so that it does not follow the target boule but remains in place.

You might also watch for chances to accomplish a palet (pah-lay) - where you not only knock out the target boule but also improve on its position as your boule moves even closer to the jack!

Now if everyone on your team is an excellent shooters, that is another story... shoot away!

So far, I have seen this situation only once. The opposing team (doubles) could both shoot very well. It was their strategy to shoot rather than point (we had been out-pointing them). As soon as we put a boule within even a few feet of the jack, they shot it out. Over and over again they successfully cleared our boules to out of bounds resulting in multiple point ends and their eventual victory.

Having one person on the team that can shoot is good, having two people that can shoot is even better.


Shooting Tip!

To better focus and hit more often, don't just aim at the target boule - aim at a spot on the target boule! That's right, find a spot on the target boule and aim for that. You will find that distractions will disappear, and you will often hit that spot!

Once you start hitting the spot, you will be ready to knock the target boule to one side or the other, or do doubles (hit more than one boule with your thrown boule!).



There are sites, books and videos showing practice exercises that you can do to improve your shooting skills. Basically they have to do with choosing a target and throwing at it over and over again. Some will advise you to put your target boule on top of a log or beam. Whatever the configuration, they are still exercises where you pick a target and throw at it over and over again. Obviously, this will help.

I suggest that you start out with the target at a range that is beyond 6 1/2 meters - you will rarely have to shoot at a target closer than this. See if you can throw that distance in the air. If you can not, do the exercises suggested to increase your strength, and meanwhile use the shorter distance to practice throwing in a straight line at the target. Try to add some height to the throw so that you are coming down and striking the ground at about 45 degrees - this will be getting you ready for lots of carreaus later! Also practice throwing with a backspin. I find that adding the backspin makes it a more challenging throw for me, but the rewards later are worth it! Once you can throw the distance, add another meter so that you are throwing at a target boule that is now 7 1/2 meters and so on as you gain strength. Realize that once your opponents learn that you are a dead-eye shooter they will try to play the jack as long as possible! So your eventual goal should be to be able to keep your boule in the air for nearly 32 feet and be accurate while you're at it. Not asking too much right?


I have two favorite shooting practice games. Free-style Shooting, and Shooting Contest.

The first game Free-style Shooting is simply throwing out a couple of target boules (use your old set or some of the family boules that you started with years ago) and then shooting them. After you have shot them, kick them someplace else on the terrrain and shoot them again! Keep shooting at them until you hit three times in a row. Now this isn't as easy as it sounds because if you hit those two target boules with yours, they tend to move even further away! So getting three in a row can be a challenge. This is where the carreau throwing style helps... This practice game should be played in a light playful spirit - sure take some time to aim, but not too much time. What you are trying to accomplish with this exercise is to help your body be ready for whatever position the target boule is found in. And also to make shooting less intimidating - in this case it is not an occasional throw in a game, it is the whole game! Don't be discouraged if you don't hit every time you throw - just do your best, celebrate your really good throws and realize that you are getting better and stronger with every throw.

Shooting Contest is just that - using the international shooting contest target configurations and keeping track of the score as though you are playing in the World Tireur Championship - you representing the US of A. Keep track of your best score and see how you would stand up to the world's best. I threw 18 points once! (and I had forgotten to do one of the configurations so you can imagine how well I would have scored if I had done them all! Lets see, if I hit all four throws for 5 points each... that would have been 38 points total!!!) If you are not familiar with a Tireur Contest, it consists of a target boule within a one meter circle, and throwing positions of 6.5, 7.5, 8.5, 9.5 meters. You throw at the target once from each distance. You get 5 points for a carreau (you boule stays in the circle, the target is knocked out), 3 points if you knock the target out, but don't stay in, 1 point if you hit the target but don't hit it out. The targets are, one boule in the center of the circle, a target boule behind another boule, a target boule between two other boules, target boule behind a jack, and a lone target jack (this one you get 5 points if you hit the jack out, and 3 points if you hit it but not out). Top players score 40 points or more... so if you start scoring 40 points or more on a regular basis let someone at the Federation Petanque USA know... and congratulations!


Advanced Shooting Techniques

There are a couple more things I'd like to mention about shooting. They concern shooting on short ends and torso torque.

Many shooters have mentioned that they have a hard time shooting the short ends. There might be various reasons for this - but I believe that it has to do with the angle that is created by a target that is that close to the throwing circle. In order to get the angle back closer to what it would be on a longer end, and to overcome the tendency to over-throw, I have experimented with shooting from a squat. I've not seen anyone else do this, but it works for me! I am much more accurate on the short ends shooting this way. Consider trying this if you find that the short ends are difficult for you as a shooter.

Torso torque has to do with allowing your torso to turn so that your shoulders are tilted back somewhat during the backswing. I have noticed some of the French Masters do this to a greater or lesser degree. I have also watched baseball pitchers make the most of the torque that their torso can generate, golfers do so as well. We are not throwing the distance, nor is the speed necessary, that a baseball pitcher requires to be successful. But we will be making more throws during the course of a tournament than the pitcher will. And so need to help our back, shoulder, arm by generating as much energy away from them as possible. Turning the torso will help with this. In fact, it seems to make the strength aspect of the throw seem incredibly easy! Shot putters heave much heavier balls much further than we will ever be required to and most of that push comes from their legs and their torso. Our torsos have a lot of mass and when they turn, beleive me a little 1 1/2 pound ball goes with them. So try turning back with your backswing and see whether it helps you avoid injuries and throw further easier.

The reason torso torquing is under Advanced Shooting Techniques is because it is more complicated than not turning your torso. You will be adding at least one new variable to your throw, and maybe two (if you use your legs during the throw). The new variable is getting the timing right for release. In a stationary torso throw you just have to release at the right time, you should already be swinging along the proper plane. However, in a turning torso throw, you have added a new moving plane that you will have to factor into the timing. You may find yourself releasing early and missing your target to the right (if you are right-handed). This is to be expected until your body gets used to the new technique. Don't be discouraged by this, just think about how easy the long ends are going to be once you get the torso torque technique down!

To Thumb or not to Thumb! That is the Question! Some people use their thumb to stabilize the boule, especially when their boule is just a bit too big for their hand. This certainly helps avoid the boule slipping out of the hand when swinging forward to deliver, but that thumb can also impart spin to the side or inhibit backspin. I have experimented with keeping the thumb in to better hold onto the boule in my throws. There is no doubt that doing so helps to make the longer throws. It is extremely important to train your hand to take the thumb away before you release however! I would suggest that you practice that motion without a boule in hand to give you hand the motor-memory to do so without thinking. If you do not train your hand, you will find it clutching the boule causing out of control throws, generally going up very high and landing short, or over-throwing badly. So if you are going to use your thumb for stability, train your hand to remove it an instant before release!


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copyright 2007-2011 Nathan G. Doster