Petanque (also known as jeu de boules) has the reputation of being an old man’s sport, but that doesn’t worry EUR student and petanque player Ellen Walrave (19). Last season, she won the National Championships in Precision Shooting and was third in the European Espoirs Championships. Her performances won her the nomination for Sportswoman 2017 in her hometown of Bergen op Zoom.

How did you start playing petanque and why do you still play it?

“At primary school, the municipality of Bergen op Zoom organised a sports project. That’s when I was introduced to petanque, which I still considered a campsite sport. I enjoyed it and continued to play it. The nice thing about petanque is that the situation always changes. You constantly have to change tactics; it’s all about insight. What’s more, you can always keep doing it, because you don’t have to be able to run fast. And it can be an individual or a team sport. There are other elements too, including my favourite which is precision shooting: knocking target boules out of a circle.”

What do your fellow students think about you playing high-level petanque?

“My friends know that I play petanque. They think it’s fun, but they certainly don’t see me as a famous athlete. I’m only known in my own sport – that’s why I was nominated by my club in Bergen op Zoom. Outside that, people never recognise me.”

How do you combine your sport with your studies?

“I usually train on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In the morning or evening, depending on my timetable. At weekends, I often have a tournament. In between, I study Econometrics and Operations Research. During exam periods, I play slightly less often, because I want to pass my courses. I still live with my parents, so I travel back and forth.”

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Ellen Walrave with her bronze medal at the European Precision Shooting Championships in September 2017 in Saint Pierre lès Elbeuf in France. Image credit: Marie Louise Walrave

What do you think about the image of petanque as being an ‘old man’s sport’?

“Petanque is more than an old man’s sport: there’s also a youth and a women’s team. It’s a shame that people don’t always know that, but I understand why many Dutch people regard it as a campsite sport. It’s just not very well known. It’s different in France, for example, where children are taught it at school. To raise the level here, we need to highlight the sport. Some time ago, for example, there was a savings promotion at Albert Heijn which allowed you to discover certain sports, including petanque. More players and more competition would be great for the sport.”