Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’

Yesterday I played in my first pétanque tournament, an interclub match hosted by the Panmure Pioneers.

I won all three of my games: a singles match-up, then doubles, then triples. And we won as a team, thumping our opponents from Kennedy Park before retiring to the clubhouse for beers. I was resplendent in my new team shirt.

That picture shows a common feature of the game : measuring to see exactly who’s closest. It can come down to the millimeter. As a result, there are more timeouts than in an NFL game, making an already leisurely game even slower. Yesterday’s matches were untimed, so there was no real incentive to hurry up.

Pétanque is in a class of sports / games that demand consistency and precision more than strength, speed or agility. As a result, just about anybody can play. Horseshoes, pool, darts, bowling, even golf fall loosely into that same bucket.

And (cause or effect??) all of those pastimes are associated with drinking to a greater or lesser degree. As a result of the low physical barriers to entry and the easy availability of a nice cold beverage, these tend to be games that people play casually. Which is fine… playing games like that is fun!

But some people just enjoy competition, and some people must subscribe to the “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well “school of sports participation. As a result, there are tournaments for all those sports, and I was inordinately proud to be called on to fill out the club roster this weekend.

In all these activities, the difference between a casual player and someone who really takes it seriously is immense… To me, watching a pro or semi pro darts player, golfer, or pétanque player can seem like watching something impossible, a magic trick. But we were separated into different divisions, so the big boys played against each other and most of the match-ups were reasonably close. It would be almost as un-fun to win 13-0 as to lose by the same margin. All my games were close enough to be exciting right to the end.

I enjoyed the tournament, and I especially enjoyed winning. While I was playing I was concentrating hard… trying to read the tiny little imperfections in the gravel surface that can throw a ball off course, planning my shots, even trying to psyche out the opposition by playing to their weaknesses. The stakes could not have been lower, but I was fully engaged. That’s a satisfying feeling, and for me a more enjoyable road to mindfulness than most.

As fun as it was, and even though there are tournaments every weekend during the summer, I don’t know that I will be joining all that often or practicing enough to move up the rankings very much. There are many fun and also important things to be done on a Sunday. And besides, it took a long time to get to that cold beer!

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