Thursday, 28 June 2018

Tactics, tactics, tactics - some things to think about

Petanque is a complex game.

This post is really to give some idea for those just starting out about how complicated a game it can be, and some things you really must think about. If you want to be serious and want to improve, then, aside from practising your technique, you need to think about becoming tactically aware.

So where do we start?

Well a good place to begin is 3 fundamental points. 

1. Know how many boules both your team and your opponents have left to play at all times.

Have you ever asked your opponents how many they have left, or even worse, your teammates?  That tells your opponent one of two things - you're either inexperienced or you're not concentrating.  You may have unwittingly given them an advantage without even realising it.

An end of petanque has a maximum of 12 boules.  Keeping count in your head of how many your team have played and how many your opponents have played shouldn't be too hard if you are concentrating.  If you really get stuck, you can see from the boules on the ground how many have been played by each team, which in turn tells you how many are still to be played respectively.  

Why is this so important?  Well, it helps, when it is your team's turn to play to know if:
  • you have one or more boules left to play than your opponent (an advantage)
  • the same or fewer boules left to play than them (a disadvantage)
Bear in mind, the objective is to try an make your opponents play all of their boules as early as possible in the end.  Having more boules to play than your opponents means you have more chances of scoring than they do, at a simple level.  If we think about risk and reward for a minute, your risks are reduced if you have more boules because, even if your opponents play the perfect shot with every one of their boules, you have more than them to score or change things. 

2. Know the positions of all played boules relative to the jack at all times.

You can't possibly decide what is the right shot to play before first knowing what you are up against.  It can't be stated often enough.  But this is an area where inexperienced players can get themselves in a knot and it's just handing your opposition an advantage.

'Are they holding one or two?' - 'Who's is the one at the back?' - 'How close do I need to be to get the shot?'

I hear these kind of cries all the time from people standing in the circle ready to play a shot.  Often, it's because, quite unbelievably, they haven't looked at the head, perhaps for some considerable time.  

The rules allow you to stand beyond the jack and 2m to the side of the direction of play while your opponents are playing.  So use that rule to watch the end unfold standing next to your teammates - you'll have a much better understanding of how the end is developing if you are at the sharp end, rather than guessing from behind the circle.  When it's your turn, walk up to the head and converse with teammates if you need to.  Know what you are up against before you stand in the circle.

3. Know your strengths and limitations (and those of your opponents).

The key is really to understand what you and your opponents can do well or cannot.  

For example, if the team you are playing are all good shooters, but a bit dodgy when it comes to pointing,  should you perhaps be pointing your boules further away from the jack to try and lure them into pointing, rather than giving them the opportunity to play their favourite shot?  

Are you regularly leaving your pointer (who can't shoot) with the last boules and he or she has to shoot with them?  Should you perhaps have foreseen this?  You might find your team having or even planning to shoot with 6 boules in an end, but the whole thing crashes if the last link in the chain is unlikely to be successful.

Do your opponents struggle to shoot at 6 meters?  Do you struggle to point at 10?

Are you contemplating playing a shot that you know has a low probability of success (probably because you haven't practised it)?  If so, it is really the best option?

An extension of knowing how many boules each team has to play is also knowing which players will play them.  Think about these things:
  • How have the players who are yet to play boules been playing?    
  • Are they in a good frame of mind?  
  • Do they struggle to shoot over another boule?
  • Are they good at high lob pointing?
This could all influence your decision on which shot to play next and these things apply equally to your own team as your opponents.  

In short, play to your strengths and exploit their weaknesses. Or, if you prefer, play within your comfort zone and outside theirs, if you can.  

Knowing why will help you decide what

That's quite a lot to think about before playing a shot and we've hardly touched on what is actually the right shot to play.  The important thing to remember is that all of these things will give you information to help you understand why you should play a certain shot, which in turn leads you to understand the risks and potential rewards for your shot selection.  

If you can answer the why and the what, then you will be a long way down the road of becoming tactically aware.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Season Review

So, in the end our team finished 3rd in one of the tightest Masters competitions I've ever known.  Any one of 3 teams could have won the event in the final round, with 1st-3rd place decided on points difference after each had achieved 9 wins.  We missed out on 2nd by a single point. We rode our luck for much of the competition it has to be said, winning four games 13-11 (which could have gone either way to be honest).

Disappointing end to our season.  Looking back, personally it was quite a good season - 2nd in Singles, 1st in Doubles, 2nd in Triples and 3rd in the Masters.  I'll take that although that illusive Masters win still eludes me.....

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Masters This Weekend

It's that time of year again when the top 12 ranked teams in Scotland compete over 2 days for the Scottish Masters title.  This is by far Scotland's best and most hotly contested competition.  It serves as selection for international representation next year for the Men's Worlds (assuming we are given a place by the FIPJP), Women's Europeans, Veterans' Europeans and the Celtic Challenge.

This year Fochabers PC are hosts who always put on a warm welcome for us all.  I am looking forward to it! Maybe we might improve on 2nd this year - we have finished 2nd more times than I care to remember but never quite managed top spot. Maybe.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Repairing Pitch Marks

We have an interesting little debate going on locally about what is and isn't acceptable as far as repairing pitch marks are concerned and I'd like to share my views for what its worth.

As most will know, Petanque can be played on any ground surface.  This loose definition means that a variety of surfaces are acceptable, from the very smooth, sandy and flat surfaces to those which resemble a building site.  This isn't an article about what constitutes a good, bad or authentic surface by the way (there are no right or wrong answers).  Many surfaces are constructed with a loose top dressing and a firm base - often the base is a compacted layer of dust which acts as a 'blind' for a drainage layer below (certainly in Scotland we need the drainage).  When a boule lands on the top dressing it leaves a crater or pitch mark on the surface like this:

We have all come across the situation where one of these pitch marks coincides with the point you want to land your boule in with your next shot and the rules therefore allow you to repair one pitch mark before each shot.  Personally I'd prefer that the rules did not permit any ground repairs at all but we have to play within the rules we are given.  The rule is as follows:

Article 10........ the player who is about to play, or one of his partners, may fill in a hole which would have been made by one boule played previously. 

What the rule does not tell us is how the hole repair may be done.  Well here's how to do it - move the dressing layer to fill it, but don't 'sweep' your foot or stamp it flat - that's not allowed.

Friday, 19 July 2013

How to turn into 10 to 13

As if to prove my points about the importance of shooting I'd like to share with you a shot from a real game I was involved with on Wednesday.  I don't like boasting about amazing shots, particularly in print as its all a bit narcissistic to me, but in the context of my last post it does go to prove a point and therefore I am going to share it with you anyway.

The game situation is 6-10 to red.  All blue players have thrown all of their boules and red have one still to play. The situation in the head looked like this...
To put this into a bit more context, the leading boule is 40cms from the jack, the jack is 6.20 cms and the 3rd and 4th boules are approximately 1m beyond the jack.

In this situation, with one ball left you have a few options to try and score - shoot the leading boule - point to beat the leading boule (and perhaps drag the coche) but there is only one way of dealing with this situation if you want to close the game now.... "What, get 3 points out of this scenario? Kidding right?"  Many players might settle for scoring one or two in the scenario, but there is a way....

To score 3 points is tough, but it can be done (and was).  First and foremost I hope it is obvious that you need to shoot the leading boule.  If removed this would give you at least a point (the 2nd boule now counts), or two with a carreau.  Look at how the 1st and 3rd boules are aligned compared to the direction of play.  The are not quite in direct line with each other (important).  If you got a good contact on the leading boule (with spot carreau) where does the hit boule go?  Yes, towards the 3rd boule. Because they are not directly in line the shot boule might hit the 3rd boule on its left side....And, if it does the 3rd boule on the left side where does it go next?  Yes, towards the 4th boule.

The player about to play noted all this and, with a wee smile, knowing it would be unlikely that all of that would happen and that he would settle for a hit on the first boule for one or two points, played the shot.  It was perfect, one of those once in a blue moon shots which hardly ever pay off.  A spot carreau on boule 1 caused it to crash onto the left side of the 3rd boule and the resulting deflection caused it then to hit the right side of boule 4.  And the result - 3 points to red - game over and much amazement from everyone.

As I say I don't like to boast, but it does illustrate the point that you should examine the head carefully and try to identify all of the options available to you to score AND if there is an opportunity for you to close the game you should strongly consider taking it (provided you also understand any risk).

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Shooting is fundamental

I often get asked why you should learn to shoot, after-all to the beginner it can be quite frustrating early on to keep trying to shoot when they feel they could do better if they just pointed all the time.  All too often we see players elect to point (because they think it is easier or safer to) when a shoot would make things a lot better.

First and foremost, the objective of shooting is to change things, to remove opponents boules from the possibility of counting. The fewer boules your opponent has in play the fewer points they can score - it's that straightforward.  OK, you may say, I understand that but I think I can get closer.  This mentality often leads to lots of boules in the head especially if both teams have similar views.  Often the opportunity to shoot to improve the situation in favour can be overlooked if the focus is always on 'just get closer than them'.

We have all witnessed the game where pointing dominates and scores tick over slowly. One team get one close one end, the next is the same etc etc.  Petanque, we must remember, is about being closest to the jack at the end of an end - this is very different than always being close to the jack.  I have a small saying which I try to stick by when I can - "I don't want to slowly lose this game".  Slowly losing is a symptom of a pointing mentality - oh well, I didn't get close this end, but I might the next and so on.  Failure to shoot at the right time is a recipe for losing slowly.  You may have boules tightly packed in the head, but if you never shoot your opponents are also likely to have a few boules hanging around the head.  You might (slowly) win games just pointing, you may even win the odd competition, but those teams who are more balanced in their play (shooting at the right time) are more successful in the long term.

Many a time I have played games where, in deciding which shot to play, I have found myself thinking "well my opponents are unlikely to shoot that boule, even though I can see how in doing so they might score heavily".  I am exploiting the fact that I think they should shoot but probably wont - which is fine for my team but a shame for my opponents who unknowingly missed a golden opportunity.

So, where does this propensity to prefer pointing come from?  When we learn the game we are shown how to hold a boule, how to stand/squat, how to throw.  And, as coaches, what is the first thing we do?  We put a jack on the ground and tell the student to try and get close... Why?  Because that is instantly rewarding - the student might get a boule very close and we (rightly) congratulate them - "You're a natural", "sign her up!" etc etc.

What would happen if we placed a boule at 5.5m and asked the student to shoot it before introducing them to a jack?  They might miss several times before getting a hit.  Is that demoralising?  Perhaps it is. But the objective is to show them the importance of shooting.  Tell them if they can do it they will win more, win bigger and have one up on players who don't shoot.

Now I'm going to put forward a potentially controversial statement.  Shooting practice makes you a better pointer....  There, I said it.  You might think I am bonkers but think about it for a minute.  A pointer aims to land their boule in a certain spot (or at least they should if they want to be any good).  A shooter aims to land their boule in a certain spot too (the target).  There may be differences in trajectory and desired outcome, but the objective is fundamentally the same.  Consistently landing your boule in the right place.  This is about repetition and building muscle memory. Our body eventually remembers what it feels like to land a boule in a certain place.  Over time, the time spent shooting at various distances then allows us to ask our body "Ok, you know what it feels like to land there, now what adjustments do we need to make to that feeling to make our boule rest in the place we want after it has landed".  If you can shoot a boule at 10m you should also be able to lob a point to 10m too - it just makes sense to me.

It would be remiss of me not to mention pointing practice at this point.  But by pointing practice I do not mean endlessly rolling boules towards a jack - pointless in my opinion.  If you consistently roll your boules at a low trajectory with no regard for where your boule lands before it rolls you might get lucky if the competition is played on a flat terrain.  But time and again I hear complaints about more challenging pistes from pointers who think the world is against them.  Just think about this for a minute - why would you deliberately limit your ability to win by only specialising in one type of playing surface?  It might mean you do very well at your home club but what if you get drawn to play on a piste you don't know how to play - what then?  

Let's be clear here - pointing is hard - consistently putting your boule precisely where you mean to is not easy.  So pointing practice must focus on the landing spot.  Pick a point on the ground and aim to land on it again and again and again, this will help you on rough ground conditions or those with a soft or thick topping.  Now think about what might happen if you put a boule in that spot....  It's no surprise to me that the best players can point and shoot.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Challenge Match - Penicuik vs Tweed Valley

Our petanque club received a challenge from Tweed Valley PC and we hosted them on Sunday 7th July - the same day as Andy Murray would try and win Wimbledon... bad timing or what!?

In the end, with the help of 3 players which we pinched from Tweed Valley, we won the match 8 games to 1 and we all managed to catch the final set of Andy Murray's match too! Result.

I have been practicing shooting mercilessly all summer (the weather has been very kind to us) and I will often spend an hour or two in the evenings shooting - setting up game situations and trying to test myself with tricky shoots (over the tops, directly behind the jack, side-by-side, double take outs etc).  There is some definite progress but practice is all very well, it's more important to be able to do it in the pressure of a tough game.  I have had to abandon a few evening sessions when the midges were biting - keep forgetting the repellent!

Our piste is very much a shooters piste (which is the way it was supposed to be).  Pointers find it tricky as it is quite unpredictable - shooters of course are not worried about these things! The surface now has a number of humps and bumps which are inevitable as it beds in.  It was laid and compacted in the snow in March and so was totally soaked at installation. Now it has been baked the base is rock hard and the top dressing floats on it in a very pleasing way.  In the barer parts it is almost impossible to draw a circle on the ground and so we often use plastic circles instead.  I think all our players like the surface - I certainly feel it will make them better players as there are only a few genuinely challenging pistes in Scotland.  I am looking forward to welcoming players from all over Scotland to Penicuik for the Scottish Triples on 1st September.

Next up for me is the Scottish Singles & Shooting on 27th July and my defence of the Scottish Pairs on 28th July.  Being both an organiser and a player in SPA competitions has its problems - lack of the ability to warm up being the biggest.  I have never been good at singles play, it can expose any weakness quite easily and singles competitions always seem to coincide with 'a bad day'.  Maybe that will change this year...