Table of Contents:
- Volume 2: Know Your Roll
- Volume 3: What’s Your Order
- Volume 4: Ball on the Wall
- Volume 5: Throwing the Hammer
Frame: Begins with the throwing of the pallino and concludes with the tallying of points after all bocce balls have been thrown.
Ball-in Definition: A ball-in is any ball that is closer to the pallino than the opposing team’s closest ball. How we stat it: First ball-in goes to the player with the closest ball after each team begins the frame. This ball continues to be marked as a ball-in until it is no longer in up until the point that the other team is out of bocce balls and no longer able to try and beat it. After that, any thrown ball-in is marked once.
Bocce Definition: Any ball that is thrown and makes contact with any other ball before coming to a stop. How we stat it: If the result of the contact is either a ball-in or the reduction of the opposing team’s ball-ins, then it is marked.
Halo: A bocce ball that is thrown to within three inches of the pallino.
Off the board: Any ball that is does not end up on the court after being thrown. This is generally due to either throwing short of half court line, without a drink in hand, or directly to the back wall.
Bust: A bocce that reduces number of ball-ins for the throwing team or increases the number number of ball-ins for the opposing team.
Casino Definition: A team that has all four ball-ins at the end of a frame. How we stat it: The throwing side is given credit for a casino.
Volume 2: Know Your Roll
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.
Volume 3: What’s Your Order
Now that I have you thinking more critically about the way you throw a bocce ball, it is time to address when you throw the ball. To be clear, I mean the order in which you and your teammate throw the ball, not that it’s your team’s turn to throw if the other team is “in.” It’s another tiny, fundamental detail of the game for me to pull apart and examine. I can’t wait.
As a reference, here are the order of throw options ranked from best to worst:
- Sandwich: A B B A
- Doubles: A A B B
- Alternate: A B A B
Hot take #1: Alternating is the easiest and most diplomatic order, so if you have a bunch of sensitivos on your team, I guess just do that. If you believe ADD is going to be an issue, alternating should keep everyone engaged. That’s about the end of the positives for alternating shots, though.
Hot take #2: It’s generally a good idea to let someone throw back-to-back balls. Sure, it means that you’re letting someone throw again after their first attempt didn’t beat the other teams “in” ball, but the idea here is that their short-term muscle memory (that’s a thing!) will make for a better ball than a ball thrown after waiting.
Hot take #3: If A throws in with her first roll and then the other team beats it and B throws in with her first attempt, then the difference between Sandwich and Alternate is basically gone. So, have a presumed order in mind (“We on that Sandwich diet”), but allow for adjustments based on the strength of each player. If the scenario calls for a hammer, let the player that throws the best hammer throw next even if it means you break your Sandwich diet on this frame.
Hot take #4: All balls are important, but the first and last are critical. Put your best foot forward. Leave an ace up your sleeve. All the cliches. It’s not a knock to your teammate. In fact, they’ll often be the ones that get you multiple points in a frame.
Hot take #5: If it ain’t working, fix it. Stick to the Sandwich diet but change up who gets the first and last throw. Maybe the extended breaks in the Sandwich or Doubles set up is making it hard for you to focus and you need to Alternate to stay engaged. Sometimes it’s best to stay the course and sometimes it’s best to break a routine. That comes down to the players, so I won’t pretend to have general advice on that.
Hot take #6: It’s a lot easier to be confident when you’re comfortable. When you find your groove, stay in it. A few bad frames may have you shake things up, but remember the glory of the good groove.
Volume 4: Ball on the Wall
The middle of the court is where the top bocce players make their mustard, but that secret sauce recipe will not be shared just yet. Focusing on a strong and sound wall strategy is an important first step in developing your bocce game from rolling stones with hope to playing frames with purpose. Afterall, it’s these four walls that elevate our game from the backyard, freestyle games of the hoi polloi.
In some of our younger leagues, I’ve seen a team figure out how to best use the wall and ride that strategy all the way the title game. I’m not suggesting mastering the wall will take you to the promise land, but being uncomfortable with it puts you at a significant disadvantage. Before you can develop a strategy for how to best play with the pallino on the wall, you need to first take a class on David Foster Wall-use.
How to Approach the Wall
There are three main reasons to throw your bocce ball off the wall. One is to slow it down. Plenty of players have a hard time controlling the speed of their ball when the pallino is very short or very long. Getting a sense of how the wall checks the speed of your bocce ball saves you from having to make drastic changes to the natural comfort zone of your bocce ball speed.
Another major reason the wall should be utilized is to open up your angle of approach to the pallino. If you’re trying to get your ball to stop in an imaginary target circle, then there are a lot more lines into that circle when you bounce of the wall then there are if you’re throwing directly at it. Too often, though, I see players line up a shot on the wall by standing right on that very same wall. They set their line, take a couple practice swings, a deep breath and then it’s time to let it loose. Lo and behold, the bocce ball hits the wall right after it leaves their hand and goes all the way to the other side of the court. Wah wah.
The final—and probably most obvious—reason to use the wall is to get around balls that are in your way. While it’s an obvious use for the wall, it often hides in plain sight. If your goal is to get your bocce ball into a target circle, then you’ll start to find a wider array of shots at your disposal than if you were simply shooting at the pallino every time. Change your view, change your world.
Hitting the Wall
Don’t think of these walls the same way you do the rails on a pool table. They are not that rigid. The angle the ball hits the wall at will not be equal to the angle it leaves the wall. Because there is give to the walls and since you have more direct control over the spin on the ball, you have a pretty wide range of exit angles on the ricochet. Take advantage of that by standing off the wall you’re planning on throwing against.
If you roll the ball with spin heading into the wall, it’s going to exaggerate the angle it takes off the wall. This can be used to great effect if you decide you need to use the wall, but need to end up closer to the center of the court. Spin and time will get your ball from bouncing off the wall and back into the center of the court.
Backspin will really check the speed of the ball when it hits the wall. This can be very useful when shooting at a pallino that is deep into one of the corners.
Top spin is going to keep the ball moving at pace and power through impact with other bocce balls. So, if you’re just hoping to mix things up, put some top spin on there and really get after it.
Now, if you spin it away from the wall then…I don’t know—I guess it’ll stick close to the wall and you confuse me as a bocce player and person.
Pallino on the Wall Strategy
Expect chaos when the pallino is on or near the wall. The pallino will move, the bocce balls will get banged around and the frame will be in constant flux. If chaos is the rule of the day, be aggressive until you have to protect yourself. Put that first ball right on the pallino. Set up fairly close to the wall the pallino sits on, kiss the wall on your way in and the bocce ball will end up just in front or a touch off the wall and a little behind the pallino (if you get your speed right). To my mind, those are the two best spots to leave your first stone.
If you’re throwing against a stone like that, use the wall to bounce to the “wall side” of the other team’s ball. If their ball is sitting off the wall, then you can take a wider angle and aim for the wall just shy of where their ball is sitting and throw it about a foot longer than the distance dictates. You’ll rebound off the wall, send their ball into the middle of the court and then come back towards the pallino. Then you flex and mad dog the other team.
And that’s basically the way this frame is going to go. It comes down to a game of who misses first or who gets to play the last stone. There are a few more tips to impart, though:
- If you can get behind the pallino and on the wall, you’re in a very powerful position. From there, build a fort around it. If you’re able to sandwich it, only luck can save the other team from you walking away with points.
- Think about the ball you’re throwing first and don’t get too cute by putting a ball behind the pallino with the intention of your next bocce ball kicking the pallino back to your initial ball. Make the space first and then throw at the pallino.
- When the other team has gone on a run of scoring frames and you take back control of the pallino, consider putting a ball on the wall to throw off their rhythm. Remember, the wall is chaos and this may not give your team control, but it will hopefully loosen their grip on the game. Of course, if they’ve been beating you up on the wall, then throw it into the middle of the court.
- If the pallino was thrown short and is within three feet of the wall, then I recommend at least considering using the wall to nuzzle up there.
And that’s it for me. Disagree? More to add? Take it to the comments or bring it to the courts.
Volume 5: Throwing the Hammer
- Even after throwing a hammer attempt, your team will still have more bocce balls to throw in the frame than the opponent.
- If you make contact with your target, you’ll leave multiple balls in even if the ball you throw isn’t one of them.
- It’s a mess of balls in a back corner of the court so might as well muck it up.
- You want your opponent’s ball to be irrelevant for the rest of the frame.
- Seems like it will be extra fun and you like extra fun.
Just know that while you may be there for extra fun, your opponent might be there to win.
*Analysis by Dan Spomer with contributions by Matt David