We need to talk about your roll here. Putting a bocce ball into play is the most basic skill in the game. Pick up bocce ball, toss bocce ball, watch bocce ball either do what you intended or do something else. After seeing a few thousand people play bocce, it’s becoming clear that everyone has their own way of executing this basic skill. What I’m trying to say is, you’re all snowflakes.
Just like snowflakes falling into different categories, one can group together different throwing styles. I’ve broken throwing styles into three main categories. I’ll break down the variations and pros/cons within each style. I’ll spoil the main takeaway now: take in this knowledge and throw with confidence.
- Forehand: Your hand is behind/under the ball when you release it onto the court. If your first bocce throw wasn’t forehand, then you’re probably an alien. The motion is so natural, that people often don’t put much thought into it, freeing minds to consider where they want to place a ball and not how they need to throw the ball. Another plus is that a forehand roll is not going to bounce much upon hitting the turf. This makes it easier for a player to anticipate the ball’s path and make accurate adjustments for dips, ridges, hills, etc. on the playing surface. The biggest challenge with the forehand throw is being aware of the top spin that is naturally a part of this throwing motion. Time and again I see inexperienced players becoming exasperated with how much farther their ball rolls than expected. Almost without fail, the ball is rolling off their fingertips as they curl their arms up towards the ceiling and they are not aware that they just put a ton of topspin—and thus extra rotations—on their ball. Then, when adjusting for these long throws, the slower arm motion takes both speed and spin off and the throw comes up way short of what they thought the adjustment would result in.
- Backhand: Your hand is in front/on top of the ball when you release it onto the court. Generally speaking, this is the first adjustment a bocce player makes to their game. The wrist snap that goes along with this throwing motion imparts backspin, causing the ball to “bite into” the turf when it lands. The grip and wrist snap combine to have the ball come off the same finger(s) in the same way nearly every time, whereas a ball thrown forehand has way more fingers and subtle variations that can happen each time. It is for this reason that the backhand hammer is more common than a forehand hammer. While forehand rollers tend to underestimate the spin they impart on a bocce ball with their throw, backhand rollers tend to overestimate the affect of backspin. The backspin will check the ball’s speed the first time it hits the turf, but that’s about it. Furthermore, if you get a big first bounce, that second time it hits the turf is with topspin. The nature of a backhand throw is for it to land farther into the court than a forehand throw. That added distance increases the chances of the ball landing poorly and being sent off course.
- The Push: This motion looks very similar to a forehand roll, but the crucial difference is that the wrist and fingers manipulate the ball in such a way that it leaves the hand with little to no spin. This is generally achieved by releasing the ball at the proper time with a locked wrist or by pushing the ball out of your hand with your palm. The result is a ball that gets to the turf quickly and by throwing a “dead ball,” the player is able to focus on the arm motion generating all of the ball’s speed. While this often improves a player’s ability to consistently roll to expected distances, it also subjects the ball to the subtle imperfections of any given playing surface. A player that pushes the ball has to learn the court’s secrets and trust the lines they pick out. This motion goes off the thinking that it is easier to predict a ball’s path by eliminating the variables introduced by top or back spin.
I have one thing left to say: don’t treat this as a one or the other decision. Like a good golfer keeps multiple clubs in their bag, a good bocce ball player should have multiple different shots in their repertoire. Find the throw that you are most consistent with and utilize that the most, but be flexible and ready to adjust to different situations. If you have to throw a hammer, be prepared to do it backhand. If you want to bocce and then have your ball carry forward, you should be ready to use topspin. To be great at this game, you have to be willing to make a simple game complicated.