Second Helping

I earlier wrote that every team role is important, but then also said that the score-keeping has been taken away from the second player in the team, so you may wonder what is special about this position.  It’s a fair point.  In fact, the argument that this is an anonymous sort of position is supported by the way that some clubs and teams have a policy of putting new players in as a second, hidden, as it were, from the responsibilities of leading or measuring and advising.

To be honest, I can see the argument.  And to be even more honest, I think I’d agree with it.  That is, I reckon a new player would be more comfortable watching and then following the lead player, rather than having to deal with the issues of setting the mat, throwing the jack in the right place and being accurate.  But there is a school of thought, articulated for example by the great expert Tony Allcock, which maintains that the beginner should be encouraged simply to do the basic job of drawing to the jack, without the additional variations of shot that a second has to learn.  Let’s just say that I was initially attracted to that idea.  But whatever your views on the topic, we can at least agree that the second’s role is also important.

This, of course, is even more the case in triples, because there the second is acting as second and third.  In other words, the second player here carries out the functions which would belong to the third in a team of four (measuring, and advising the skip on what shots to play). It seems quite clear to me that that would be a step too far for a beginner, at least in a serious (league) game, and in that case I would either put my learner in as lead, or else play the learner as second and agree with all concerned – including the opposition – that it would be my lead who was in charge of measuring and communication.

But let’s not make this too daunting!  What is the second doing?  Well, in a standard team of four the second is there either to reinforce the position set up by the lead, or possibly to shore things up when there are early signs of weakness.  The role will certainly rely a lot on the ability to draw shots, but not just drawing to the jack – there may already be a requirement to reach and cover a particular bowl behind the jack, or to finish on one side of the rink as opposed to the other.  You may be asked to push an opposing bowl out of the way by playing just a little “over” (heavier than) the draw shot.  I have definitely come across cases where the second is asked to fire full-blast at a bowl right on the jack – this was a culture shock when it first happened, I can tell you, but as the standard of competition rises, so these tactics become more obvious. In addition to varying weight like this, the second will definitely be told which hand to play much more than happens for the lead.

The main point to come out of all this, then, is that the second ideally has to be more versatile than the lead.  Not as a player, as such, you understand, but in that role on the day in question.  Again, we can see why some people prefer to have new players performing as leads, but I’m assuming that a sensitive skip would know not to overload a new player who was playing second.

If the lead has not got shots close to the jack it’s very important for the second to do so, with at least one bowl. Otherwise the third will be left with a heap of opposition bowls and much less chance to change things. The second’s job is to calm things down.  And if the lead has done a good job, with your team lying shot, the second has to protect that position by playing for position, as advised by the skip.  It may be that the very last thing the skip wants is another bowl close to the jack – so you have to be aware of this and respond.  I’ll say more about such tactics elsewhere.

For the moment, however, let me just stress again how critical the role of second is in triples. The importance of correcting, defending or developing the position left by the lead is magnified now that each player has three bowls, and with only the skips left to follow.  Decisions about who should play where will depend on ability, experience, temperament and personal compatibility, not to mention the confidence of the players concerned, so there’s no point in trying to lay down general laws, Last year, for example, I played in two triples matches where one of the team was making his league début (very successfully – we won both games), and in each case I wanted the new player to lead because they had three bowls to do what they had spent a lot of time practising – drawing.  A more experienced player, who knew my game, could then play the link role as second/third.  But if we had been in a team of four, with two bowls each, I suspect I’d have advised having the new members playing as second.  It depends…

We’ve looked, almost by accident, at one or two of the things that the third does, but this position has a couple of really special responsibilities, so we definitely need to spend a bit more time on it.  As such, the third will be the subject of the next post.


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