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”!