The Marbles Players

By Mr.Bordsenius at 2006-07-28

These are the players who will only play rolling shots on the smoothest, flattest part of the terrain. If there’s a stone, they want to remove it, if there’s more than 1 stone, they want to rake the terrain flat. Why?

Remember, petanque is traditionally played on an uneven, unprepared surface. In France the stereotyped “village square” terrain will usually be quite rough, often with tree roots, lumps of concrete, stony areas, ruts from the market vehicles, gullies where the rain drains across, etc. All these features are what make up the character of a “real” terrain and where the locals will test each other’s skills and abilities by “playing the terrain”.

Anybody can roll a boule on a smooth, flat terrain but it’s not so easy when the terrain has slopes and dips, stony areas, etc. The beginner invariable complains about a “bad bounce” whereas the expert will study the terrain, chose the best shot – rolling, half-lob or high-lob – and the correct landing spot, so as to minimise the risk of a “bad bounce”.

One of my earliest petanque lessons was visiting La Ciotat, the terrain where petanque started, and playing against a “little old man” and a young teenage shooter. The little old man, who obviously knew every centimetre of the terrain like the back of his wizened hand, took us over to a far corner of the terrain. This was incredibly stony, more like cobblestones than smooth gravel. Having only learnt to roll a boule, I soon discovered that my boules would take an embarrassingly random route, bumping over the stones, well away from the jack.

In contrast, the little old man knew exactly where to land his boules and he had the skill to lob accurately onto his chosen spot. The boule hardly rolled on landing and stayed close to the jack.

The young shooter didn’t miss a shot and we had a rather short game!

Beginners usually think that pointing is easy, shooting is difficult. Experienced players often say the opposite. Why? Because the shooter usually only needs to learn and play one shot, au fer, a direct boule to boule hit. Shooters are untroubled by an irregularities of the terrain. In contrast, pointers need to have a range of different shots and have to play different surfaces and take into account any irregularities and obstacles, such as blocking boules or stones on the terrain.

Remember, that removing stones is a) against the rules – penalties can result in the team being disqualified, see Article 10 - but b) more importantly, is contrary to the spirit and character of the game.

If you know the opponents don’t like an uneven terrain, you know where to play! Again, this is why petanque is best played open terrain, precisely because you then have such choice. If the terrain is totally flat and featureless, or you’re restricted to a narrow piste, this basic characteristic of the game is denied.

Rather than always playing on the same surface, much better to play on a variety of different surfaces. Learn to play a range of different shots and learn to “read” the terrain and adapt your game accordingly, if you want to improve as a player.

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