Where did we go wrong?

One of the dangers of a blog like this one is that there is a risk of sounding rather smug and a bit of a know-all when throwing out advice about how to perform under pressure or manage a game.  So, in the interests of fairness and honesty, I propose sharing with you a bad experience from last week.  In the card reproduced below my team is the one on the left.  That’s right, 7-21.

Horror Story

Before that game we were top of the league, but this match was against the team who were in second place.  They had a game in hand, too, so a win for us would have been really useful in stretching our two-point lead.

As you can see, that win was never likely.  So what went wrong, exactly?  Let’s look at the card and dredge up some painful memories.

The first end was not good for us.  The opposition front end rolled four bowls in really close, and it was as well for us that their excellent skip couldn’t find a way to add to the tally.  Of course, I tried to get in, but failed.  This posed a classic dilemma right from the off: the draw was difficult because of a couple of bowls sticking out from the pack, and I seriously thought of having a run at the head, just to disrupt things.  But – rightly or wrongly – over recent years I have tried to stick to the draw on early ends, simply to ensure that I get that drawing weight fixed in my mind, and my arm. Playing heavy early on tends to disrupt your feel for the pace of the green.  However, should I have stuck with this safety-first approach or recognised that serious conditions required serious measures?  I’m not expecting you to come up with the answer, by the way, but just illustrating a typical dilemma for a skip.

Whatever, I guessed wrong, but in truth I wasn’t too worried.  As I joked with our lead as we crossed on the next end, “If you’re going to lose a five, do it on the first end, not the last!”  That is good advice in general, and we did in fact then get a two, the only time we scored more than a single.  I remember once watching a Scotland vs England match in Perth, and seeing the great Alex Marshall bowl two miserably short bowls on the first end of a fours match, to lose a six.  His rink then won the next two ends by three shots each end, so that after three ends they were level.  That example has always stayed with me, and I do think it’s useful to see even the loss of a six as merely two threes – manageable, even if not desirable.

As you can see from the card, the scores then bobbed along quite normally, and after eight ends the deficit was still exactly five. But equally it was starting to look as if we needed shots.  On the ninth end we were doing well until the opposing second put a shot in just to the left of the jack, on the (right-hander’s) backhand side.  I tried (and failed) twice to beat it, but for the final bowl gave in to frustration and played a clever shot up the forehand side, aiming to drift across through a gap and remove the shot bowl.

It almost worked!  Unfortunately, in my anxiety I pushed it too hard, and instead of direct contact my bowl skimmed the jack on the way through, sending the jack in the other direction, where the opponents had three bowls.  So what might have been one shot lost, and 5-11, suddenly became 5-13.  Silly!

Again we got just one shot in reply – you can just see how accurate and testing the opponents were, always ensuring that we were having to work hard even for a single shot.  And of course, when you are that accurate, what happens is that any movement of the jack often produces a few bonus shots.  That is what came about on end 12, where my last bowl needed to have a bit of pace to go around a short bowl, but finished hitting that bowl, which went forward and pushed the jack back to lose us four.

Even on the last end, with the result a foregone conclusion, we were lying four shots after dislodging the jack, but the opposing skip drew the shot with her last bowl to win the end.  It was a convincing and thoroughly deserved win.

Notice that I say “her” last bowl.  In fact, the team comprised three ladies, whereas our team had two men.  I stress this to point out to new bowlers that men and women can have really good games on a pretty equal basis at club level.  Indoors, it seems to me that women can capitalise better on their (general) reliance on the draw shot; errors of playing over-weight are magnified on the indoor carpet, and the best women can make male opponents look lumbering, rather like diminutive wingers in football dumping clumsy defenders on their backsides.

But whatever the general truth of such observations, the point today is that that game was won by greater accuracy throughout the team, together with some poor decision-making on my own part in terms of advice to others and especially what I did myself.  In truth, the result would likely have been the same even without those errors, as we were down on all the ends in question, but the margin, and the deflation of mood, needn’t have been as bad.

Thanks for helping me through what the French call an “auto-critique”.  I hope it’s as helpful to you as it is to myself!



Don’t be Greedy

Hi – it’s been a long time since my last post, but with a new outdoor bowls season looming (whatever the current dismal weather might suggest) it seems a good time to take up the threads again.  Remember, this loose series of comments and observations about bowls is not supposed to be coaching, or detailed instructions about the sport, but simply a few hints about getting the best results – both in terms of personal satisfaction and match scores.

One other reminder: the notes are tilted towards helping new – or newish – bowlers.  However, since this game can, on a bad day, reduce any of us to a frustrated sense of being a beginner, I rather think that any bowler could get some benefit, even if only in having their own ideas and experience confirmed.

So where to start, this year?  Maybe indoors, with a game I watched the other day.  Yet the subject of my advice today would apply to any match, indoors or outside.

I say I watched the game, but actually I came into it on the penultimate end, and in truth that was just as well – the pace of play was so slow that I’d never have managed to watch the whole thing.  This pairs match managed just 11 ends in two hours, whereas at our club the normal duration would be 16 ends, and 15 minimum.  Oh my!  So I suppose one point I might add here is: get on with it!

However, to the main issue.  When I arrived at rinkside, ready to play my own game on this rink, the lead player of Team A was involved in a lengthy and tedious debate, giving his skip all sorts of advice and options for the last bowl of the end.  Team A were leading 7-5 on the board, and holding five shots on this end.  So they had a potential lead of seven with one end to go.

“Come in here!”, the lead finally shouted, with a flourishing gesture.  The skip duly followed the instruction with a fine backhand – the trouble was, it was too fine a backhand, connecting full-on with the jack and trailing it through to an opposition bowl, so that Team B were gifted a shot, which put them at 6-7 on the board.  You’ve probably guessed already what then happened.  Team B won the last end by two shots, and took the match.

As we all know, in any sport, or perhaps in any either-or decision in life, hindsight is always 20/20; it’s easy to criticise when the outcome is known.  But in this case, the issue was simply one of game management.  The match had clearly been very tight (12 shots on the first nine ends). With a lead of seven on offer, there was no point in taking any risk at all.  Even advising the skip to not play the bowl, taking the five shots, would have made perfect sense.  This was a knock-out match, not one where shots difference might count later on, so why be greedy?

Obviously each situation is different.  Had there been no danger whatsoever, maybe with two or three yards of clear green to draw to a cluster of bowls, the call might have been justified.  But the very nature of the agonising and doubt suggested from the start that there were pitfalls waiting.  In that case, and in that situation, it wasn’t worth the risk.  In earlier posts I’ve mentioned the risk-reward calculation that underpins so much of the tactics in bowls. The game is hard enough without scoring any own goals!


Six Education

I was once struck by reading about an England cricketer (Andrew Strauss, I think, but it’s not vital) who was so intent on improving his game that he would write a diary about each innings and note things he could do, or should have done, better.  I realise that not everyone is that interested in improvement, but it remains true, in my view, that every single game of bowls will provide some kind of lesson for future situations. It so happens that a couple of recent matches have provided some good examples, and this post sets out to show what we can learn.  As you will see, the common factor is the scoring of six shots, but beyond that there isn’t much of a pattern so we might as well look at these items in chronological order.

The first occurred in the final of a pairs competition between Christmas and New Year.  My position in the final, it should be said, was largely down to my partner Clive, though in fairness I had a good enough day.  We came through a tough qualifying group, conceding only seven shots in three games of eight ends, and then won the semi-final very easily.  After winning the first two ends of the final to go 3-0 ahead all looked to be plain sailing, until the opponents played a really good end to which we had no answer: being four down was not a cause for alarm until it became five and then, after the last bowl of the end, six.  3-6: uh oh!

It was at that point that the opposing lead sent the jack out at the side of the rink, turned to me and said “I do that a lot”. Having just lost a heap of shots on a full length I decided to move the mat up several yards, and felt relieved as he sent the first couple of bowls sailing past the jack.  For once I was able to put mine in the area (to tell the truth I’m not that happy on short ends indoors) and we won not only that end but all the others – naturally, all with the mat several yards up the green.

So the point which comes out of this to reinforce something I wrote in a previous post is the importance of being able to handle the jack – putting it pretty well where you or your skip want it to be, and certainly not handing it over to the opposition.  If my opponent last week had put up a testing jack and then put a bowl close it would have kept the pressure on – as it was, that six was the only score they got, and we won 17-6.  It was a costly mistake in more than sense, as the prize for the winners was £50 each!

Actually, in the semi-final there was another interesting six.  We were 4-0 ahead after three ends, and lying one shot.  I saw that the opposition bowl in second position was in fact the only one of theirs that was close, and advised Clive to come in a fraction over drawing weight with the possibility of turning that bowl out.  I told him it was worth five, but he did it so perfectly that his own bowl fell in for six.  That made it 10-0 after four ends of the eight, and basically that was that.  It’s always important to be on the lookout for such situations, but of course it needs an expert touch to be able to deliver it without going wild and maybe spoiling things.

This week league matches started, and in one of these our triples team started really well on the first end, four up as I went to bowl (as skip this time).  I put two more in, but then, as there were no practice ends, decided that it might be better to try the other hand, just to see how it was running.  I bowled long and failed to add to the six – and that almost came back to haunt me, as the opposing team played really, really well all afternoon, and came back so that with two ends remaining we were tied on 11-11, then we needed a measure on the last to ensure that we had won 13-11 instead of it being a 12-12 draw.

If you think I sounded a bit pleased with myself in the account of the pairs tournament the moral here is clearly a story told against myself, as I had been too complacent on the first end, giving up the chance of a pretty regulation shot for seven in favour of a rather indulgent loose shot.  I’ve already made my New Year resolution that I’ll never again reduce my chances of adding another shot when it’s there for the taking.

The sixes seem to be coming like maximums in a T20 cricket match – I have to stress that these are exceptional scores, and that our indoor club has very competitive and often low-scoring matches.  But by coincidence, the day after the above incident we started another triples match and lost a six on the first end.  The end was disrupted by the late arrival of one of the opposing team, but let’s not make excuses – the point is, we lost a six.

At this point, there were two model examples.  The first was the previous day’s experience of a comeback.  The second was the memory of an international match I once saw between Scotland and England, where the great Alex Marshall went to the mat as skip with his rink four down on the first end, and then bowled two short bowls to give England a six.  His body language was impenetrable, his reaction inscrutable – but his rink won the next two ends by three on each, so that after three ends it was all square with another 18 ends to go.  As people often say, if you are going to lose a count, do it early, and certainly on the first end rather than the last!

Yesterday was a case in point, as we clambered back, going from 2-8 to 14-8 in the space of  five ends, and even though we then lost four singles it was enough to get the win.  Again, my point in mentioning this is just to show that there’s no need to panic or get downhearted because of a bad start.  I always find it helpful to think in terms of  the run-rate in cricket, working out a lead or deficit in relation to the number of ends left.  Dropping an early six isn’t too much of a problem with 14 ends to go – and if you pretend that it was two threes instead of a six it sounds even less daunting.

Beyond the figure six these examples don’t have a lot in common.  One of them more or less clinched a win; another could have caused an upset but was spoiled by poor use of the jack; in other games one count of six on the first end did enough damage to spoil a team’s chance of a win, while another was overhauled by steady play throughout.  But putting them all together has hopefully provided some hints and practical examples of different aspects of the game, as mentioned in general terms elsewhere in the blog.

The Luck of the Draw?

Bowls, as many coaches rightly stress, is a drawing game.  That is, the great majority of winning shots and positions are earned by good, solid, dependable, skilful drawn shots.  What’s more, until you can get the steady draw fixed in your mind (and preferably also your arm!) you can’t expect to play the heavier shots well, as they are all really variants of the basic draw. Generally speaking, the more weight you put into a shot the tighter the line that you’ll need – but to calibrate that sort of change you need a mental reference to the baseline of the draw.

It’s a bit of a truism that bowls is a game of line and length.  That’s why golfers usually make good bowlers – they are used to reading the line of a putt and judging the correct weight, with the ball travelling along a line that isn’t always the shortest route to the hole.  A different kind of bowler (the cricketing type) will also be told to concentrate on getting line and length right.  Our own sport of bowls very definitely relies on these two L’s.

It does also involve a third L, however – luck!   All sports have some element of luck, whether it’s the bounce of the ball in rugby or the golfer’s errant tee shot which rebounds on to the fairway from a tree.  In bowls, as in all true sports, the skill factor far outweighs the luck element, but there are still times when you can benefit or suffer from unlikely events.

The most obvious case is when someone plays a heavy shot which is going well wide of the target until it hits a bowl that is nowhere near the head and is deflected in to get the shot. It happened to me recently, on the second end of a match against really good opponents, and one in which victory would win us the league.  We were lying shot with a perfect bowl right behind the jack.  The opposing skip had the last bowl of the end, and sent a runner a yard wide – but it wicked off a side bowl, cannoned into the head to remove our shot bowl and ended up sitting there as one of three scoring shots   As a footnote, we lost the match by two…

Now, when this happens, there are several ways of dealing with it.  The first is to express annoyance, either verbally or with a pronounced shake of the head or rolling of eyes.  A second way is to keep quiet or mutter to yourself and carry on thinking about it.  Neither of these methods will do you any good.   I know this because I spent years wasting my time on them, especially the second.

It’s better by far to accept it (“It’s not how, it’s how many”) and remind yourself of how often you’ve benefited that way yourself.  It’s also broadly true that such things even out over time, although you can’t always expect it to average out over a short period like one match.

As I mentioned in the post on etiquette, the thing to avoid at all costs is applauding when a lucky shot comes off, or when an opponent promotes one of your own bowls to be the shot when it didn’t really deserve it.

The other thing to bear in mind, though, is that while a wild “wick” is generally seen as a fluke, earning at most embarrassed laughter, there is scope for deliberate wicks, rubs or edges (depending on your choice of word).  Indeed, the better a player you are, the more you will use or expect these deliberate shots – played rather as snooker players will use angles to play an “in-off”.

Sometimes a back-end player will play a bowl that is slightly heavy but which is calculated to shake things up a bit.  If the bowls are sitting right, he may miss the ideal target but still get a result with Plan B (if it turns out to be Plan G we can safely say that it was indeed a fluke).   But it’s important to learn when shots are genuine attempts to finish “in the area” as opposed to being lucky ricochets.

Indeed, if the bowls are set up in a promising position there’s nothing at all wrong with looking to slide off them, or deliberately give a bowl a glancing touch to finish up where you want.  After all, no one criticises footballers for a glancing header, or suggests they should have met it full on.   No, this is a part of the game to be developed, and if anyone sounds scornful about such an intended glide, played at just over the drawing weight, all they’re doing is revealing their own lack of knowledge.

This is the sort of shot where your skip might be pointing to a bowl and saying “You can use this bowl”.  Even if you don’t get the clever edge, a full-on contact will likely push it forward, so you have every chance of a result.

That sort of full-on contact to push a bowl in is also called promotion.  Again, this is a perfectly valid tactic – your skip may well be pointing to two bowls in front of the head and advising you that they are both “yours” (in other words, don’t be afraid of hitting them on the draw).  This is something else you can practise, especially as you know that if you can hit your previous bowl you have a very consistent line.  But again, do remember that while this sort of shot can earn applause, you need to keep mum if the opponents do it for you by mistake.  Losing a match would be one thing; you don’t want to lose friends as well!



“Keep away from the jack!”

One of the things which first persuades new bowlers that “there’s more to this game than I thought” is seeing people deliberately bowl so as to finish away from the jack.  Indeed, such bowls can be greeted with enthusiastic applause from team mates.   So, depending on how new you are to the sport yourself, could you think of three reasons for not finishing close to the jack?

Here’s a random piece of text just as a filler while you think!

Well, the first might be that the opposition has several back bowls, with the possibility that if the jack is moved back they will suddenly count and leave you several shots down.  In this case, your aim would be to cover the  back bowls (you’ll hear the expression “mix them up”) and limit any damage if the worst happens.

Sometimes, towards the end of a match, you will see people scattering bowls all over the place.  For example, if you are on the last end and the opponents need six to win, there is no point at all going for six shots yourself.  If you can get a shot or two yourself that’s great, of course, but even if the opposition get the shot you’d be happy with holding second and third – especially if other bowls were placed so as to cover all eventualities.

A linked reason for avoiding the jack would be if you already have a bowl sitting on it, and touching.  If you were to hit that bowl it might well spring the jack out into the open.  But I’m not sure that that would really count as keeping away from the jack – it’s simply a case of not disturbing anything – and a better variant here would be the situation where you have a cluster of bowls around the jack and are already several shots ahead in the match.  You don’t need the extra shots, as such, but what you do need to do is avoid widening the target for the opposition.  So another bowl that finished, say, six inches to the right of the jack would be a bad bowl, however accurate it might appear to a casual observer.  As for what you actually do, that will be decided by what the skip tells you.   And if you are the skip?  Well, that’s what you’re paid for…

Another very obvious way of bowling away from the jack is when you want to bowl a blocker.  Again, this might even have occurred in the example given in the previous paragraph.  There are two types of blocker.  The one that people usually think of is the bowl that finishes rather short of the head, directly on the centre line: this (assuming that the jack is also still on the centre line) should in theory stop the direct hit with a straight firing shot.  It’s also often enough to put doubt in the opponent’s mind, standing as just too much of a visual distraction.  Having said that, it’s also a surprisingly difficult shot to play, and if doesn’t come off it’s rather a waste, as all you have is a horribly short bowl which may even provide a useful sighting aid.   So you need to have a very clear vision of why it is being played, and where it is going to stop.

The second type of blocker is simply a short bowl, finishing on the drawing line precisely so as to spoil an opponent’s normal draw.  If it’s played well it can have the effect of making the opponent push a shot wide, or pull it tight, or even change to the less favoured hand.  Again, this shot is harder than it might sound, and you have to have good tactical reasons.   A variant is when a teammate might ask you to drop a bowl about a metre short, so as to obstruct the opposition’s clear run into the head.

At the opposite extreme, I suppose, is the back bowl, placed just anywhere at the furthest point behind the jack, in case it is shifted with a powerful shot.  You may be assuming that the jack might go in the ditch, with the loss of shots, so the covering bowl simply has to go as close to the ditch as is safe and possible.   The “back bowl” is very important in bowls, and you’ll often hear skips (or thirds) shouting “It’s ok, we’ve got the best back”.

All these variants and ideas are based on the best guess.  The point to remember is that – at any level – the plans don’t always come off.  For instance… Last year I was playing the final of a pairs competition, and after ten ends we were three shots down.  My partner then got us into a handy position where we were holding two as the skips went to bowl.  I added a third shot, and my opposite number played heavy but missed.  The same thing happened twice more, so that we were lying five and he had put three bowls in the ditch.  After due consideration we decided that the only danger was an opposing bowl out at the back, as the next heavy bowl might just send the jack out there.  So I placed my last bowl really nicely near the ditch – and then watched in horror as my opponent changed tack completely and drew his last bowl through an impossible gap to get the shot!  That put them four ahead and we never recovered.

After the event you can look at it and say that adding a sixth shot would have been best as he might have fired and missed again.  But that’s after the event, and you just have to play what you think is the best shot in the circumstances.   However many possible shots you can see, you’re only allowed to play one!

Wrest in Peace

It was quite a coincidence that the day after drafting the previous post on terminology I borrowed from our indoor club a copy of Bowl with Bryant, and discovered a term I’d never been aware of, even after more than 25 years of bowling.

The word, which I first of all took to be either a misprint or an archaism, was “wrest”.  But if it’s the legendary David Bryant using it, then it must be right, no?  Sure enough, when taken in context it was clear that to wrest a bowl out means to push it away from its original position, while ideally replacing it with your own.

So here, rather surprisingly, we have two almost identical words being used for two almost identical events.   (Bear with me: I’m just trying to make this clear to myself as well!)  On the one hand, we rest a bowl by coming up against it and sitting in front of it; on the other, we wrest (= push) a bowl out by hitting it slightly harder, maybe leaving our own bowl in that place but presumably not worrying if it goes further because the main job has been done.

Now, as a linguist, I’m delighted to discover this erudite distinction, but it does seem like a recipe for total confusion when trying to communicate instructions (“Did you say ‘rest it’, or ‘wrest it?”; or maybe, “Was that ‘wrest’ with a w?”).

For what it’s worth, I have to say that I’ve always interpreted the expression as meaning a gentle rest, with your own bowl finishing closer to the jack than the target bowl. If you want a bowl to be pushed through, then the word “push” seems preferable. Similarly, to indicate that a player should rest (on) a bowl, the use of a word like ‘sit’ makes things clear:  “You’re looking to come in and sit on this bowl here.”

I hope this doesn’t all sound too abstruse or complex.  As an average player, I’ve managed for all those years without being aware of the technical term, and this post should be seen as a footnote rather than a major piece of information.

By the way, I came across the technical definitions here in helpful glossaries built up by clubs such as Borehamwood and Lewes, whose sites can be found if you google “glossary of lawn bowls” or similar.  Only if you’re interested, of course…

Just Saying…

When you start playing bowls you pick up on a number of expressions which people use during a match.  Some of them are applicable in most sports – “Hard luck!” or “Good shot” being the most obvious – but there are others which are peculiar to bowls.  It’s worth running through these.  As with such earlier topics as things to do and not to do on the green, I’m noting these not as some kind of list to learn, but simply so that as you hear other people using the terms you can decide which ones you want to adopt yourself.  If you’re already an experienced bowler you might be able to add a few variations…

Instructions for Shots

The first type of expression refers to the advice someone might give to the person about to bowl.  It may be, for instance, “lose/keep a yard”: in other words, your previous bowl was a yard too heavy, so take that much off the next one.  This may, of course, be easier said than done, but at least it’s clear.

On the other hand, there may be a requirement to come into the head at more than drawing weight, and perhaps “a yard of running” will be the phrase.  This “yard on” shot is a little heavier, I think, than the one sometimes described as “just over the draw”, but even as I suggest this I am reminded of the way that French dictionaries of synonyms try to pin down words with total accuracy – my favourite was always the definition of love as being something more than infatuation but rather less than passion.  Yes, well, in theory it’s brilliant.

With regard to our bowls shot, the “yard on” shot is quite tricky, because it almost certainly implies that you are aiming to take out another bowl by direct contact. The temptation and danger here (I’ve fallen for it far too often myself) is to play the shot too heavy and waste it, either by sending it several yards past, or by doing other damage to the head. The key here is what is often called controlled weight.  You’ll also hear players telling the bowler to “be positive”: this is also an expression for coming in with a bit of weight – not wild, but certainly heavier than the draw shot, with no risk of leaving the bowl short.

Another shot which finishes past the jack is one that “covers” one or more opposition bowls.  Look at these photos:

20151222_153014 (1)                                                 20151222_153034


The first photo shows the position where both Blue and Brown have one bowl left, in that order. Blue is lying shot, in front of the jack, but it is clear that if Brown were to come in from the bottom of the picture (running right to left) and push the jack through it could result in three or four shots to Brown.  The second photo shows the ideal position for Blue’s last bowl, tucked in somewhere in front of the brown bowls – it can’t guarantee retaining the shot, but it will hugely reduce the risk of losing shots.  This is what is meant by covering the back bowls.

Either as part of this tactic or in more general terms you may be asked to “rest” a bowl – that is, come up to it and stop on it without needing to hit it too far.  Think of it as being a dead draw but to a bowl, not the jack.   (Terminology here can be quite intriguing, and I’ve added a separate note in another post – but only if you’re interested!… ) 

The Jack

The jack itself will sometimes be referred to as the white (even if it is yellow!) or as the kitty.  When a bowl finishes level with the jack it is called “jack high”.  A couple of years ago the law-makers ruled in their wisdom that that expression should indicate being past the jack, and that levelness was to be indicated by a new term, “jack level”.  Well, that may sound logical, but whenever was life (or language) logical?  Everyone has continued to say “jack high” and I suspect/hope they always will.

Another expression here is to “spring” the jack.  This happens when there is a bowl lying in front of the jack, or just to one side, but in contact with it.  If another bowl now hits that shot bowl the jack (thanks to laws of physics I don’t pretend to understand) goes a remarkable distance, especially on indoor surfaces.  So if that shot bowl is one of your own, you usually don’t want to hit it; and even if it’s an opposition bowl you may still need to be careful, depending on where all the others are.

One more term to learn with regard to the jack is the “trail”.  To trail the jack is to play a little over the dead draw weight to hit the jack and run through with it, usually because there are some back bowls waiting.  Of course, this is a very skilful shot, which I suppose is why no one tells a player to trail the jack, but rather says something encouraging like “A wee trail would be good”, or “If you could trail the jack it’d be worth three or four [shots]”.

Regional Terms

If such a shot – or indeed, any shot – doesn’t come off there are some regular shouts of encouragement.  “Hard luck/lines” is obviously one of them, but I always think this should be more sparingly used, since to be regularly told about bad luck might have a depressive effect.  Or is that just me?  I prefer the positive sound of “What an effort!” or “Well played -you’ll get it next time”.  Again, listen out for what you think works, or doesn’t, so that you can use the expressions comfortably yourself, in due course.  Here in Northumberland a lot of people use the exclamation “Hard to bear!”, which I’d not heard before coming here (and which neatly avoids the reference to luck).

Speaking of regional variations, there’s an expression in Scotland – “peels” – to indicate that the scores are level.  As in “Peels!”, when changing the scoreboard to 11-11, or “It was peels going into the last end”.  I never did find out where it came from, as no person or book gave me an answer, but I think I read that it derived in some way from curling, which makes sense.  Anyway, try it in England and people will look rather oddly at you.

Another broad difference I had to learn when coming south was the difference between “Shot in!” (Scotland) and “Last wood” (North of England).  That is, the two expressions mean the same thing, namely that the previous wood, the last one bowled, is now lying shot.

Earlier on I referred to the way that a bowl comes in to rest on another.    Another expression for a bowl which comes in to remove another and sit in its place is a “tap and lie”, but in Scotland it’s known as a “chap and lie”, since the word chap means to knock or hit.

This was not intended as an exhaustive list of expressions, but simply as a guide to the sorts of things you will hear on the green.  There are certainly others – and I’d love to hear them – and of course all sorts of individuals have their quirky expressions.  But on the basis of the above guide I reckon you shouldn’t need to be asking too much for anyone to explain what they mean or expect.





How Do I Say This?…

In the previous post I illustrated some of the things that bowlers do although they really shouldn’t, and offered some advice on good practice.  Today we can switch attention to what is said in the context of a team game, remembering that the instructions or advice are passing between two people who are at least 25 metres apart.

It’s much easier, I think, to pick up the skill of actually bowling a wood than it is to be confident in passing on instructions.  At least, it is early on.  But when you start playing the game seriously, then sooner rather than later you’ll be in a position where some advice is sought or needed, and it’s as well to have some idea of what’s required.  So here are some very general tips, which I hope don’t show too much of my own preferences or character.

The first thing, I’d suggest, is that you shouldn’t give too much information.  There is a principle involved in marking singles games where the marker is supposed to respond factually to any questions asked – no embroidery or extension, just “Yes”, “No”, “Two shots”, “Eighteen inches”, or whatever the answer is.  And in a sense that principle should guide any descriptions you give to your playing partner as she stands on the mat trying to work out which bowl is which.  You’ll see some players walking in front of the jack, pointing hurriedly to all the bowls and shouting “ours” or “against” for each one.  That isn’t what the person bowling needs to know.  What’s needed is a clear idea of the best route, and which bowls are which (if the colours don’t make that obvious already).  And if the question is: “Whose is that front bowl on the right?” then try to limit your answer to what is needed, unless there is some glaring issue.

In the same way, it’s best not to go in for offering too many options – and in this context two is often too many!  Certainly you may hear a skip invite team mates to play “Either hand”; but that just means that they are free to choose their preferred side, and it’s also true that earlier in the end there is more likelihood that both sides will be valid choices.  When you yourself are advising on what shot to play, try to avoid getting too complicated in the alternatives.  Even a simple “Either do this… or that” is liable to leave the person who is bowling vaguely unsure, and if three possibilities are offered the chances are that he will play some kind of mixture of all three, with dreadful results.

In an earlier post I said how important it was in your own bowling to have a clear visual image of what you want to achieve, and the path of the bowl. When giving advice on shots you simply need to remember how important and helpful that is.   Merely waving an arm down the forehand or backhand side can be fine when someone is bowling very well and needs no particular advice; but if something specific is needed, either because you can see some feature or danger, or because you have been particularly asked for advice, try to indicate the end result, and ideally the speed of bowl required.

I’ve already mentioned that there is no need to obsess about opposition bowls, or to go round indicating all those for and against.  Another point to remember is that there is no harm in losing one shot if it would be too risky to try to win the end.  The way I see it, the chances of a whitewash (with the opposition failing to score in the match) are somewhere between slim and zero; it follows that they are bound to be scoring on a few ends at least; and as long as the situation isn’t desperate, don’t regard the loss of one shot as any great defeat.  It happens.

One final point about advice given.  Players may ask you how far short or through (ie, past the jack) their previous bowl was.  Distances here are normally expressed in terms of length past or short of the jack, not actual distance.  For example, anyone can see that a bowl is a yard wide, but it may only be a couple of inches short of the jack, and that’s what they want to know, so as to adjust the weight next time – the line on that next bowl will, of course, be perfect!

By the same token, if a bowl comes in hard and would be have gone two metres through had it not stopped on another bowl, the player needs to know that it was two yards heavy rather more than knowing it is now level with the jack.

That position of being level with the jack is known as being “jack high” despite the attempts by lawmakers to call it jack level.  This is one of those peculiar results of international meetings which I mentioned elsewhere, and I just hope that old traditions remain on this one.  This topic of what to say and how to say it leads neatly on to the whole notion of common expressions used by bowlers in particular places, and perhaps it would be good to take a break from our imagined matches to consider some of the phrases you are likely to hear on the green.  The polite ones, anyway…



The Things People Do…

I’ve referred at some length to what we might call “etiquette” on the green – generally speaking, the proper ways to behave in relation to opponents.  We could develop that a little here, to include a number of other habits you might wish to adopt or avoid.  I mention them here not out of pedantry or convention, but because they have some good practical reasons.

The first good practice to pick up is developing a good, repeatable routine when setting up for your delivery.  This is just like golf or many other sports where the same basic movement is being used regularly.  I’m not talking here about any standard or “perfect” delivery – there are almost as many styles as there are players – but about getting yourself set up the same way each time.

As a minimum, you’ll want to check the bias is on the right side for the intended shot!  How long you take before stepping on to the mat, and how long you are on it (within reason) is up to you.  Some people like to step in quickly behind their opponent, while others take oodles of time.  In fact, and especially in singles, this element of rushing or delaying can be used as a bit of gamesmanship, so never let someone else’s rhythm force you to change your own.

Only yesterday I heard one of our members complaining about another player who waits until the previous bowl has stopped before starting to look for her own bowls on the green behind the mat.  I can entirely sympathise with that complaint, I must say, and would recommend that you have bowl ready to hand (if not actually in your hand) so that play is pretty seamless.

Once your own bowl has stopped, as we’ve said before, you have to get out of the way and allow the next player to get on to the mat.  But let’s move forward now and look briefly at something that might happen when the bowl reaches the business end.   You will know that when a bowl touches the jack in the course of its progress it needs to be chalked.  As long as the mark is visible that’s fine – you’ll develop your own habits.  Two small points may be helpful here.

The first concerns the timing of the act.  The rules have varied over the years, and currently indicate that chalk should be applied before the next bowl is delivered.  But when you think about it, the person at the other end may be about to bowl, and may not like the sight of someone moving about to chalk a bowl just as they are setting up.  So I reckon the old variation of chalking it before the next bowl has come to rest is preferable, and as long as the two teams immediately agree that a certain bowl is a toucher, and to be chalked, the precise time shouldn’t matter.  (Note that the Laws do allow for this delay, while also specifying that if a toucher isn’t chalked or nominated as such before the next bowl comes to rest it ceases to count as a toucher.)

The other small point is something at which I am pretty bad myself, and that is keeping your eye on the bowl that has become a toucher.  I find it so natural, if the bowl comes in at speed, to watch what happens to the jack that I fail to see where the toucher has finished, and since any one player’s bowls are identical this can lead to confusion. “It was this one, wasn’t it?”  “No, I think it was that one over there.”  Anyway, I’m working on ways to overcome this bad habit and would warn you against even letting it start!

When the end has finished there may be a need to measure for shots. It’s good practice to ensure that any bowl or bowls that are removed from the head are placed together, away from any of the bowls still in contention.  Female players in particular tend often to use a cloth for this purpose – it’s a matter of taste – and although that actually seems excessive to me I can’t deny that it makes things absolutely clear.

The worst habit you will see here is that of kicking bowls out of the head as a lazy way of conceding shots.  Ok, so the player may really fancy his chances as a footballer, but it’s a bit dangerous, as the bowl in question might hit another and start a debate as to what now counts.  Merely pushing them out of the way with your hand isn’t a lot better – I’ve literally seen people push a bowl behind them without looking, and without realising that the bowl has gone spinning on to another rink.  Since deciding on the shots is so crucial to the result it’s very advisable to take no chances – another reason, I guess, why placing them on a cloth is good practice (even if I still won’t be doing it!)

Another lazy habit you’ll probably see involves a third or skip trailing a cloth or towel over the bowls in the head to indicate to their playing partner the desired route.  Again, this risks moving a bowl (in particular, by making it fall on to its side) as the cloth brushes against it.  That again could set off an appeal, so don’t copy this trick even if you do see it.  It should be perfectly possible to indicate the intended path with gestures and a bit of bending.

On that same topic, it is much clearer for the person bowling if any signs that are made to indicate forehand or backhand are made with the appropriate hand.  That is, if you’re looking up the green and you want the bowl to be coming towards you on your left, use your left hand rather than pulling your right arm across your body.  This may sound like yet another entry for the department of the bleedin’ obvious, but my only reason for mentioning it is that I’ve often enough seen people do this contortion – and in a high proportion of cases it has totally confused the person with the bowl in her hand.  “Oh, I thought you meant the backhand!”…

The question of which way round things should go also applies to the toss and the scoreboards, although in reality I feel it shouldn’t be an issue.    These are areas where all sorts of petty “rules” are invented, and  where otherwise sane and rational people can get quite dogmatic – but before I risk making it sound a problem area let me illustrate the typical scenarios.

For tossing the coin at the start I’ve never found any problem at all with having someone say “Who’s calling?” and then just doing it.  Some clubs seem to think that it’s the leads who should do this, others have a convention that it is the skip, but actually (to coin a phrase) it doesn’t matter a toss.  So by all means go along with convention at the club you’re at, but don’t get drawn into any debate about why it should be one person rather than another.  Life’s too short.

scoreboard resizeThe other area where people can become quite rigid is that of the scoreboard.  Scoreboards will always indicate that the home team is on the left or on top.  But for matches within a club, or where neither side is at home, one has to decide who takes the “home” side.  There is clearly a convention in the part of the world where I now live that the team winning the toss takes that role, but in Scotland we used to do it differently, putting the side which won the first end on top or to the left.  That in its way is logical, but it met with strange looks when I moved to my present club.  “When in Rome…”

Whichever way it’s done, people can produce some oddities by being too rigid.  For example, I once marked a singles match between two players, one with red bowls and the other with blue.  Like most scoreboards the numbers were in red and blue, so I decided it made mistakes less likely both for the marker and the players if the person with red bowls had the red side.  You’ve probably already guessed what happened: one player objected, and said that as she scored the first point she had to be on the left, even though this meant the red side indicated the score for “blue”, etc.  Crackers!

I shall say more about that role of marker elsewhere.  But now, having dealt with these little foibles (and that’s all they are) we could usefully move on from things that are done on the green to those that are said.

Etiquette (2)

Most newcomers to bowls don’t realise how much of a team game it is. In fact, just as in other team sports you can see examples of a good team of average players beating a collection of individuals who may be better on a one-to-one basis but who just don’t gel as a unit.  Communication is vital in all this, plus the awareness of roles I’ve mentioned before.  Let’s have a look at how this works out in practice.

I’ve already said that only one person in the team should be giving instructions at any one time.  But this  doesn’t mean that everyone has to remain silent.  On the contrary, it’s really exhilarating when you’re in a team that’s encouraging one another after good shots – or even poor ones.  Generally, as the standard of play improves up to county and international level, so the level of noise increases as well.  This noise factor can be quite intimidating, and I’ve often seen a team of quiet, reserved players shrink further and further into their shells as a team of extroverts high-five their way down the rink simply because someone has got a bowl within two feet of the jack.  This was always a problem in the North-east of Scotland, where people are very reserved, especially when we played teams from the Central Belt, where the culture is much more open and noisy – it felt like we were three or four points down before the match had even started.

So by all means join in some applause or encouragement for team mates. What you should never, ever do is applaud a fluke shot by your own team, or a piece of bad luck for the opponents. There’s an element of luck involved in bowls – we all know and accept that – but when one of your team plays a bowl that is hopelessly wide and going nowhere, before it hits another hopeless bowl and deflects in to end up as shot, just please don’t applaud or say “Good shot”.  It’s guaranteed to wind the opposition up in reverse, and it doesn’t show much knowledge of the game.  Treat it more in the way that tennis players acknowledge a lucky net cord, and whether or not you actually apologise, you could say something like “Well, they all count, I suppose”. Most people will then just laugh it off.

The other irritating thing that some people do is to verbalise their hope that things will go wrong for the opposition.  For example, the opposition have one bowl in the head and their skip plays a shot that looks to be too heavy and is coming towards his own bowl.  Clearly if that one is moved you’ll pick up several shots.  Well, of course, this is the very shot your own skip might have played, but don’t whatever you do shout or even mutter “Come on, take it out!”.  Not unless you deliberately want to antagonise folk, of course.

Chalking the jack also has a relevance here.  Of course, it’s the responsibility of the team gaining a “toucher” to ensure that it is chalked, but you’ll see that it’s often the opposition skip or third who does this.  I interpret this as a sort of statement of honesty, whereby the person is very neatly expressing something to the effect of: “Ok, so I know that if this isn’t chalked and ends up in the ditch I could claim that it doesn’t count because it’s got no mark on it.  So just to prove what a good sport I am I’ll chalk it for you.”  Of course, the opposing player who’s benefited from the gesture should now say “Thank you”, “Cheers” or whatever passes for gratitude in their part of the world.

Other habits will also depend on the local environment.  At the indoor club where I play, for instance, there is a general convention that if one team is running away with victory they stop putting up the score on the scoreboard once they have passed about 20 shots – in other words, there’s no point in humiliating other club members.  (In a match between clubs, of course, this wouldn’t apply because everyone has to know what’s going on, especially when the match is based on aggregate scores over several rinks.)  But some people I know – quite mild and reasonable people, I should add – dismiss this idea of going easy on the opposition, and quite relish seeing a score like 36-3.   Just be aware of the conventions, wherever you are, and if you’re new to the game, or to a certain area, be ready to adjust.

After all these unpredictable events the end is finally completed and there has to be agreement on the number of shots.  The general rule here (and I mean, a rule of thumb as opposed to a rule of the sport) is that shots are conceded, as opposed to claimed.  So if you or your team have won the end you wait until your opposite number says how many shots (s)he is giving you.  You may think it should be one or even two more, in which case you can ask them to have another look, or to use a measure.  As you get more experience you’ll see things better and be more confident, but always remember that either through bias or bad eyesight the other person may be mistaken, so don’t be fobbed off.

The main point about conceding shots is that it is for the player on the side losing the end to remove bowls.  It looks bad (unless for some reason the players have come to another agreement) for the person winning the end to start picking up bowls or putting them to one side.

Technically, then, shots are conceded, but in reality, and especially in the men’s game, you’ll hear the side winning the end say  something like “Two?” (the implied question mark is important) to indicate what everyone can already see. It would waste time to go through some formal concession process.   There is a much greater edge and aggression when someone says something like “I’m looking for two.”  This rather invites some sarcastic rejoinder and the atmosphere can sour, so try to keep this bit of the game as light as possible.  Remember: “enjoy the game”!