Popularizing petanque in the USA

We all wish that petanque would become more popular in the USA. But what, exactly, would being “popular” mean? To me, it would mean that I could move to almost any town in the USA and find people to play with. If there wasn’t an already-existing petanque group, I could find enough people to start a group.

Here are some thoughts.

The French organizational model, in which most players belong to clubs and the clubs belong to the national federation, won’t work in the USA.

  1. The linchpin of the French system is the club, which is a mechanism for funneling players’ financial support into the club’s boulodrome. For that kind of system to work, there must be many players concentrated in an area where the only available venue is a club-supported boulodrome. If there aren’t enough players, or if a good, free petanque terrain is available in a public park, then the system won’t work.
  2. Another leg of the French system is the monopoly that the French national federation has on organized competitions. In France, if you aren’t a member of the FFPJP you can’t play in serious competitions. The American national federation (FPUSA) does not have such a monopoly and has no way of creating it.
  3. A third stumbling block is the sheer size of the USA. The distances between cities and clubs makes regular inter-club competitions unfeasible; without such competitions there is little need for a national organizational infrastructure to support such competitions.

In places where petanque has taken root, it has often been started by someone with a connection to France. In New York City it started with French restauranteurs. Near Boston, it started with French expatriates from the Armenian community in Marseilles. In the San Francisco Bay area, it started with expatriate French wine growers. Sometimes it started with an American returning from working and living in France.

Many petanque clubs were started by energetic and enthusiastic individuals.
Clubs pop up, flourish for a few years, and then fade out of existence when the founder dies or moves away. It’s a natural cycle, I think. But it suggests that the FPUSA’s aid program for new FPUSA-affiliated clubs may not be especially effective in growing petanque in the USA. The trick is not to make new clubs, but to keep them alive once they’ve started.

Growing petanque in the USA is NOT the same as increasing FPUSA membership.
There is a natural progression in the growth in popularity of any sport or activity. In the beginning, for whatever reason, there is a growth in general popularity. The activity/sport grows, and more and more people begin to engage in it. Then, once there are a lot of people doing it, they start to develop an interest in organizing clubs, holding inter-club competitions, and so on. Eventually they dream up the idea of an umbrella organization for all of the clubs and all of the competitions— a national federation. Clubs and a national organization, then, are the results of growth, not its causes.

It follows that if your plan for growing the popularity of a sport is to grow clubs, you’re putting the cart before the horse. The first thing that you need to do is to grow players. That’s why I think that the best way to grow petanque in the USA must be to promote the general popularity of the sport and not to worry too much about whether or not a player or a club is affiliated with FPUSA. If the effort is successful, then clubs will naturally appear, and players and clubs will naturally get to the point where FPUSA affiliation makes sense for them.

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