“Stepping back” to move the circle

In this post we look at the Stepping Back Rule in Article 7 and answer frequently-asked questions about it.

As we discuss the rule, remember that the FIPJP rules are designed for FIPJP-sanctioned competitions where games are played on rectangular lanes 4m x 15m. On these lanes, games are played back-and-forth, first in one direction and then in the other direction. Because of the limited length of the lanes, players sometimes find, after placing the circle around the former location of the jack, that they can’t throw the jack to the maximum permitted distance (10m) because the circle is too close to the lane’s end boundary lines, which are dead-ball lines. For example, suppose that at the start of the first mene, the circle is placed close to the west end of the lane and the jack is thrown so that it lands 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 location 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. Article 7 says—

[If] the throwing of the jack could not be made to all legal distances [then] 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.

In this context, “the previous mene’s line of play” means a line drawn from the circle’s location in the previous mene through the circle’s initial location in this (the current) mene. In diagram 3, the line of play is shown as a dotted line.

What does “stepping back” mean? The Stepping Back Rule assumes that the player is standing in the newly-placed circle, looking toward the place where the circle was located during the previous mene. While looking in that direction, he steps backward (in the direction of the solid arrow in diagram 3).

He can continue to step backward until he reaches 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 (diagram 4). (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.)

Note that 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. If he doesn’t wish to move the circle, he can leave it where it is.

(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 that 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 you must pick one of them.

(Q3) Team A’s throw of the jack is not successful, so it turns the jack over to team B. Can Team B move the circle before placing the jack by hand? Does it make any difference whether or not team A moved the circle before attempting to throw the jack?

YES, team B can move the circle before placing the jack. NO, it doesn’t make any difference. Team B can move the circle whether or not team A had previously moved the circle.

(Q4)  If team A moves the circle, can team B put the circle back to where it was before it was “stepped back” by team A? Or at least move the circle closer to where it was before it was “stepped back” by team A?

NO. (1) That wouldn’t be “stepping back”. (2) There are practical reasons for forbidding the circle to be moved closer to its former location. As noted in the FPUSA Official Rules Interpretations for Umpires (November 2015, Question 15), 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 location would have exactly the opposite of the desired effect— it would decrease the chance that a valid jack is thrown.


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

(Q5)  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 this case 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 of between 6 and 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 might be a practical possibility to continue playing in the same direction.

(Q6)  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 location and backing away from it.

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