Is it OK to leave unplayed boules on the ground behind the circle?

One of the questions that new players have is— What should I do with my unplayed boules? Is it OK for me to leave them on the ground behind the circle?

The answer is NO: it is not OK to leave them on the ground behind the circle. If you do, a player stepping out of the circle might step on them and injure himself— a fall, a sprained ankle, or worse.

So, what should you do with your unplayed boules? You have two options.

(1) If you are playing in an umpired game on a terrain with marked boundary lines, it is legal to leave unplayed boules on the ground OUTSIDE of the dead-ball line. If you do, you won’t get a warning from the umpire. Note, however, that even if it is legal, it is still not safe. Even outside the boundary line, boules on the ground will still be a tripping hazard.

MarcoFoyot_unplayed_boule_on_ground(2) Hold your unplayed boules in your hands. This is the best thing to do. If you don’t want to hold extra boules in your off hand while you throw, then, when it is your turn to throw, set them down on the ground beside (not behind) the circle. Step into the circle, throw, step out of the circle, and immediately pick up the extra boules … like Marco Foyot in this photo.

It may be acceptable in your local club to leave unplayed boules on the ground. But even if it is, be aware that you’re creating a safety hazard if you leave your boules on the ground. Leave them to the side of the circle (not BEHIND the circle) and far enough from the circle that other players aren’t likely to step on them while entering or leaving the circle.

Remember, a team always has the right to know how many unplayed boules are being held by the players on the opposing team. Never tuck unplayed boules out of sight, like in a pocket. Always hold them in your hands, where they can easily be seen by the opposing team.

When you need your hands to be free to measure a point, never set down an unplayed boule on the ground near the head while you measure. It is too easy for someone (you, probably) to get hurt by stepping on it, or (after measuring) for you to pick up the wrong boule by mistake. While you measure, leave your unplayed boules somewhere well away from the head and (preferably) wrapped in your boule towel. If you do that, there will be no question about where they are and what they’re doing there.

Finally, note that some groups have a local custom in which everyone leaves their unplayed boules on the ground beside the circle. One team’s boules are on one side of the circle, and the other team’s boules are on the other. If you find yourself playing with such a group, go with the flow. “When in Rome, do as the Romans.”


Recently on “Ask the Umpire” a player asked where he could find, in the FIPJP rules, the rule that unplayed boules may not be left on the ground inside of the dead-ball line, but may be left outside the line. You won’t find it explicitly stated in the rules, but I think that you can at least find its basis in Article 19, which says that dead boules should be removed from the terrain. Article 19 is the visible tip of the iceberg. The rest of the iceberg, which is not visible, is a basic but unwritten rule that the only boules that should be on the terrain are boules that are “in the game”, i.e. boules that have been thrown and are still alive.


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“Stepping back” to move the circle

There is a rule in Article 7 that we can call the Stepping Back Rule. In this post we look at the Stepping Back Rule and answer the most frequently-asked questions about it.

As we discuss the rule, it will be important to remember that the FIPJP rules are designed for use in a very specific context— FIPJP-sanctioned competitions— where games are normally played on rectangular marked lanes (cadres) 4 meters wide and 15 meters long. The size and shape of the standard lanes mean that…

  1. Games are played in a back-and-forth pattern, first in one direction and then in the other direction. (The best translation of the French word mène is in fact “direction”, not “end”.)
  2. It is common for players to find, after placing the circle around the former position of the jack, that they can’t throw the jack to 10 meters (the maximum permitted distance) because the circle is too close to the lane’s marked boundary lines.

Consider the following example. At the start of the first mene, the circle is placed close to the west end of the lane, and the jack is thrown to a distance of 7 meters, so it is exactly in the center of the lane (diagram 1).

Team A wins the first mene, so it starts the second mene by placing the circle around the former position of the jack. The jack was in the exact center of the lane, so now the circle is in the exact center of the lane (diagram 2).

The circle is half a meter in diameter, so the western edge of the circle is 7.25 meters from the western boundary of the lane, and the eastern edge of the circle is 7.25 meters from the eastern boundary of the lane. In this situation, team A might like to throw the jack to 10 meters, but they cannot. Both the western and eastern ends of the lane are too close.

This is where the Stepping Back Rule comes in.

The Stepping Back Rule

Article 7 says—

At the following mene, the jack is thrown from a circle drawn or placed around the point where it was located in the previous mene, except in the following cases:

2) The throwing of the jack could not be made to all legal distances.

In the second case, the player may step back, in line with the previous mene’s line of play, but without going beyond the maximum distance allowed for the throwing of the jack.

This option is available only if there is no direction in which the jack can be thrown to the maximum distance.

If, after three consecutive throws by the same team, the jack has not been thrown in compliance with the rules specified above, it is handed over to the opposing team which also may make three attempts and who may move the circle back as specified in the preceding paragraph. In this case, the circle may not be changed if this team does not succeed in its three throws.

The crucial question about the Stepping Back Rule is of course— What does “step back, in line with the previous mene’s line of play” mean?

Intuitively, “the previous mene’s line of play” means a line drawn from the position of the circle to the position of the jack in the previous mene. But to avoid complications involving cases where the jack was shot out of the lane in the last mene, we can say “the previous mene’s line of play” means a line drawn from the position of the circle in the previous mene to the circle’s initial position in this, the current, mene. In diagram 3, the line of play is shown as a dotted line.

To understand what “stepping back” means, we must remember that the rules assume that alternating menes are played in alternating directions. The Stepping Back Rule assumes that the player is standing in the circle, looking toward the place where the circle was located in the previous mene. While looking in that direction, he steps backward (in the direction of the solid arrow in diagram 3).

He can step backward as far as he likes… EXCEPT that he cannot go farther than the first point where he is able to throw the jack to the maximum legal distance (10 meters). Note that that means that he can step back until the circle is ELEVEN meters from the western dead-ball line. A valid jack must be at least one meter from any dead-ball line. So in order for a player to be able to throw the jack to 10 meters AND keep the jack one meter from the dead-ball line, the circle must actually be eleven meters from the far dead-ball line (diagram 4).

Questions about the Stepping Back Rule

The Stepping Back Rule generates a lot of questions. Here are some of them.

<Q1>  If “the previous mene’s line of play” crosses the lane at a steep angle, could a player stepping back along the line of play be forced across the lane’s side boundary?

NO. Obviously, you can’t place the circle outside of the lane. When “stepping back”, a player should back directly away from the circle’s former location (along path A in diagram 5) as long as it is possible to do so without crossing the lane boundary. Then, in order to continue to back away, the player should back away along the inside of the lane boundary line (along path B).

Remember something that is always true, but that becomes more obvious in cases like this. The direction in which the player backs away is determined by the circle’s former location. But the maximum distance to which he can back away is determined by the lane boundaries and the farthest dead-ball line (in our diagram, the dead-ball line at the west end of the lane).

<Q2>  We’re playing on a big playing area. There are one or two directions in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10 meters, but we don’t like any of them. We’d prefer to play back in the direction we just came from. But in that direction there is not enough room to throw the jack to 10 meters. Can we play back in that direction, and invoke the Stepping Back Rule to move the circle back?

NO. The Stepping Back Rule can be used only if there is no direction in which it is possible to throw the jack to 10 meters. You may not like any of the available directions, but, well, you have no choice. You’ve got to pick one of them.

In this set of questions, team A is placing the circle at the start of the second mene. The initial position of the circle is in the center of the lane, as in diagram 2.

<Q11>  Can team A leave the circle where it is?

YES. The Stepping Back Rule does not REQUIRE a player to move the circle. It simply provides him the option of moving the circle if he wishes.

<Q12>  Can team A leave the circle where it is, and continue to play in the same direction, toward the east?

YES and NO. It is legal to continue playing in the same direction. But usually, for all practical purposes, there simply isn’t enough room. In our example, the circle is 7.25 meters from the eastern boundary of the lane. To continue playing toward the east, team A must throw the jack to a distance no less than 6 meters and no more than 6.25 meters (maybe a little more if they play toward a corner). That’s practically impossible to do.

But on a longer lane, or an open terrain, there might be more room, and it would be possible to continue playing in the same direction.

<Q13>  Can team A move the circle away from the east dead-ball line, and then continue throwing the jack toward the east?

NO. That would not count as “backing away along the line of play”. Remember— When moving the circle, you must be looking toward the circle’s former position and backing away from it.

<Q14>  Team A moves the circle, and throws the jack. Its throw is not successful, so it gets to throw the jack again. Before it throws again, can team A move the circle again?

NO. A team may move the circle only once in each mene.
(On second thought, see the next question.)

<Q15>  Team A throws the jack, but its throw is not successful. Can it move the circle back before making its second attempt to throw the jack?

YES, in the USA. The FPUSA Official Rules Interpretations for Umpires (November 2015, Question 15) says that

A team is allowed to move the circle back for their permitted throws per Article 7 either before their first toss of the jack or afterwards. The rules are not specific, nor prohibitive, therefore, it should be allowed, even after two failed attempts to set a valid jack, so as to expedite play by increasing the chance that a valid jack might be thrown on the third attempt.

If you’re playing in France, the answer is less clear. On April 20, 2015 the French umpires commission has ruled that

The circle cannot be moved after the first throw [of the jack]. It stays in its place for the three consecutive throws that the team is allowed. It can only be moved by the opposing team, before their first throw [of the jack], within the limits specified in the rules.

But in February of the same year, the FFPJP released rule changes to go into effect on March 1, 2015. Those changes said that

Each team can, in its turn, move back the circle according to the conditions specified in the preceding paragraph, if its first move [of the circle] didn’t permit throwing [the jack] to all legal distances. (One [i.e. each team] can therefore move the circle back two times.)

So there seem to be THREE possible answers to this question

  1. The American position is that at the beginning of each mene, each team gets one “Move the Circle Back Free” coupon. The coupons never expire (until the jack is successfully thrown) and each team can choose to use its coupon whenever they like.
  2. The first French position is that each team must cash in its coupon before making its first attempt to throw the jack, because that’s when the coupon expires.
  3. The second French position seems to be a combination of the first French position and the American position. At the beginning of each mene, each team gets TWO “Move the Circle Back Free” coupons. One coupon must be used like the coupon in the first French position. The other coupon can be used like American coupon.

In actual play, I have no idea what a French umpire would rule.

<Q16>  Team A makes three unsuccessful attempts to throw the jack. Then team B also makes three unsuccessful attempts to throw the jack. So now it is team A’s turn, again, to try to throw the jack. Can team A move the circle back before making its fourth attempt to throw the jack?

In this unlikely scenario, I think the answers divide along the same party lines as with the previous question. I think an American umpire would say YES. I have no idea what a French umpire would say.

In this set of questions, team A moves the circle and then fails in its three attempts to throw the jack. It is now team B’s turn to try to throw the jack and (optionally) to move the circle.

<Q21>  Can team B move the circle FARTHER AWAY from its initial position than team A did?

YES.

<Q22>  Can team B move the circle CLOSER to its initial position than team A did?

NO. That wouldn’t be “stepping back”. The FPUSA Official Rules Interpretations for Umpires (November 2015, Question 15) also notes a practical consideration. Part of the purpose of the Stepping Back Rule is “to expedite play by increasing the chance that a valid jack might be thrown”. Allowing a team to move the circle CLOSER to its original position would have exactly the opposite of the desired effect— it would decrease the chance that a valid jack is thrown.