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?
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.