Ray Ager, of the Brighton & Hove club and A Lot of Gaul, went on the first Marco Foyot coaching course at the end of November. Here is his report:
I’m a keen club player and boules retailer, playing for about 7 years now with the Brighton & Hove club. Apart from a beginner’s session with the SE Regional Coaches several years ago, like many players, I’ve never had any formal coaching and was very keen to spend a week with one of France’s all time greats and former World Champion, Marco Foyot.
I briefly met Marco at Le Mondial la Marseillaise, France’s biggest tournament with over 10,000 players, where I played in 1996. I’d previously translated Marco’s first video, Ma Méthode, into English. His comment, when I introduced myself: “That’s amusing – an English guy who plays pétanque!”
The course took place at Baillargues, just outside Montpellier. There were 9 of us staying for the week, one American, one English, the rest French – everything takes place in French, so you need to be pretty fluent. The course took place at the club La Fanny Baillarguoise, situated in the town’s large sports complex. Marco met us at the hotel and gave the American player and myself a lift to the terrain. Marco introduced himself to the group. It was all very informal, first names terms and the informal “tu” to everybody.
The first lesson was on advising everybody on the correct size and weight of boules, plus correct grip. Marco has a new boule out now, the C13 – hopefully soon to be available exclusively from A Lot of Gaul - and a few players were advised they needed a new set! Mainly because of incorrect sizes and recommendations over weight. Marco’s boules are from 680 – 720g, 72 – 76mm, semi-soft carbon steel with a superb grip and are either bald or with one circle. One of the French players had a set of heavier “pineapples” Knowing that these are often popular with pointers in the UK, I asked Marco about this. His view was that if you look at what the top players in competitions use, “nobody ever plays with anything heavier than 720g” and “pineapples” were pretty much dismissed as an unnecesary gimmick that offered no advantage. Marco clearly thought that smooth boules offer the best grip and heavily striped boules impaired a clean release of the boule from the hand.
Marco gave the player a lighter set of boules to use during the week and the player seemed very happy with the results. One of the shooters – a former heavyweight boxer who was perfectly happy with his 760g boules – was also advised to try something lighter!
Next Marco emphasises the importance of la donnée – the landing spot – when pointing. In his view, the most important aspect of accurate pointing, something that even a lot of “expert” players often neglect. Marco demonstrated landing accurately on the chosen landing spot and then it was our turn, one by one to point our first boule. This was something Marco frequently came back to – if your pointing wasn’t accurate, it was usually because the landing spot was wrong, rather than any incorrect throwing technique. Marco would advise on the correct landing spot to improve accuracy.
Marco also advised on playing as a team: your own game will always be dictated by the abilities and weaknesses of your own team and the opponents and you have to adjust your game accordingly. If you have a team that includes strong shooters, you’re obviously going to play differently to a team with weaker shooters.
After a break for Pastis and lunch, it was then shooting in the afternoon. Again, Marco demonstrated the basic technique and we then all have to shoot 3 boules at different distances.
The following day was again a series of pointing exercises, all concentrating on the landing spot, both rolling and lobbing. Part of the terrain had some quite large rocks and these were used as obstacles that you had to lob over to get to the coche. We finished with a high lob into a 50cm circle. Marco could get on average 2 out of 3 boules to land and stay in the circle, even at 10m – pretty impressive.
There was also a “precision pointing” exercise, where we had to point through a very small hoop, just enough room to get a boule through. Again, there was a marked landing spot and the coche in a 50cm circle. We were scored on the exercise and had to land within the marked area, pass though the hoop and finish in the circle, all at various distances.
We finished with a mini-tournament of winners play winners, losers play losers with Marco playing in one team. I twice played against him in triples – 1 point each time!
Next day was mainly shooting and also included a visit for the afternoon from the legendary Passo, one of Marco’s team-mates and one of the world’s top shooters. Both Passo and Marco gave shooting demonstrations, which included shooting 6 back boules: Passo hit all 6, Marco hit 5 out of 6. Again, stunningly impressive. We finished played games with both Passo and Marco.
The week finished with a series of marked exercises for pointing and shooting, plus points for games won in matches. Pointing was mainly into target areas, scoring for inner, middle and outer circles. Shooting was exercises from the World Shooting Championship:
- shooting a single target boule at 6, 7, 8 & 9m
- Shooting a boule behind a coche
- Shooting a back boule
- Shooting boules side-by-side
- Shooting a boule off a wooden block – one of Marco’s favourite exercises
- Shooting the coche
There were quite generous prizes for the top 2 players: cheques to spend on merchandise, including boules, clothing and videos. I came 5th! Frustratingly dreadful scores in pointing but boosted mainly by shooting the coche.
In contrast to the “conventional” view of learning to shoot first at 6m and gradually extending the distance, Marco was firmly of the opinion that you should learn by starting at longer distances, then shorter distances will be easy. “You must be able to shoot at 10m, otherwise opponents will simply play a 10m coche if you can’t.” Marco also advised training with heavier boules at 10-12m during the winter, before reverting to normal weight and distance for the summer season. “After a winter doing this, I never missed a shot!”
For those who stayed for the weekend, there was the opportunity for licensed players to enter the National tournament at Arlès, one of France’s top tournaments. It took place in a superb municipal boulodrome, 56 indoor pistes, heated and floodlit with grandstand seating for the carré d’honneur, the “centre court” terrain, used for the finals. With 282 triples teams, Marco’s team was one of the favourites but surprisingly went out in the 2nd round in a closely fought match against a very strong young team. Like all of us, Marco had a hard-luck-story and was a bit unlucky to lose: the opponents missed 2 shots, only for the 2nd miss to nudge the coche in their favour – much to Marco’s disbelief – gifting them an easy 3rd boule for the match.
Although I did feel that Marco has a bit more to learn to be a really effective educator, I nevertheless had a really excellent week. It was fantastic to spend a week playing with Marco, with a visit from Passo and Pipi, another of Marco’s team mates, including Pastis and lunch together each day. Marco’s very friendly and accessible, despite being a Chamion, “just an ordinary guy!” He’s an inspiration to watch and I felt that his advice had rubbed off on me and I know what to try and do to improve my game – now it’s down to hard work and practise. Where’s the right landing spot!
Buy me a beer (or let me win a game!) and I’ll also tell you about:
- Drinking champagne in a stretch limo
- The crazy Gipsy I thought was going to kill his partner
- “Come outside and we’ll settle this” – Saturday night at the bouledrome!
- The missed shot that cost 750F
- Shooting the coche, “for the honour of the Queen”
- Shooting both eyes on a 100F note
Please visit Brighton and hove petanque club
A lot of gaul
for more information.
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