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More than just throwing balls in the dirt

At first glance, pétanque appears to be a simple game. We have heard the common line – all you need in pétanque is some dirt and boules (balls) or just throw boules in the dirt. To some extent, this is true. The simplistic goal of pétanque is what makes the game easy to learn and enjoyable by everyone – find some friends and throw your boules as close to the cochonnet (jack) as you can until you get to 13 points and win.

For those of us who play this game a lot, we know that pétanque is much more complicated and layered than first appeared. The complexity happens even before we throw a boule. It starts with where we throw the jack and how we plant our feet in the circle, then it proceeds to the routine we have of holding and releasing our boules, all while thinking about the decision we made before we entered the circle and how that decision could ultimately determine the fate of the game. In short, a lot goes through our heads before we even throw a boule. The decision of whether to point or shoot is not as simple as it appears either. If we point, where should we position our boule? Should it be in front of the opponent’s boule to prevent them from shooting us out or should it be in the back in case the jack goes back accidentally or intentionally? Even when we shoot, we need to consider possible negative outcomes from a missed shot as we hypothesize our opponent’s counterattack. Each of these steps and decision-making skills take time to develop and, yet, are never to the point of perfection; it’s what makes pétanque so interesting and enduring as a sport. Both pointing and shooting are critical aspects of the game, but the complexity of the game has to do with the strategies and knowing when to point or shoot and how to execute these plays. In that sense, pétanque is more than just simply throwing boules in the dirt. Playing the game well requires us to make calculated decisions that go beyond throwing boules without purpose.

All of us started playing pétanque because it’s a fun and simple game, but what makes the game so addictive is the thinking part, and especially thinking with other people - "What do you think? Should we point or shoot?" Without thinking, pétanque would probably be just like cornhole. Fun is a necessary ingredient to any sport or hobby, but when fun is combined with thinking, the experience is elevated to another level - it's fun on steroids!

To our pétanque friends, keep playing, thinking, and having fun. :-)


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