The word “etiquette” might conjure images of people being very dainty and polite, but in the context of our blog it’s simply a general word to describe the things that players should (and shouldn’t) do and say in the course of a match.
Take, for instance, the start of the game. You’ll notice that people always shake hands with every other player, exchanging some comment such as “Good game”, “Nice game”, or “Enjoy your game”. This really is important, and so is the rounding-off at the end of the match. Apart from the obvious “Well played” or “Thank you”, if it’s a knock-out match and you’ve finished on the losing side it’s a convention to wish the opponents good luck in the next round. This may be hard to make out sometimes as you are saying it through gritted teeth, but it has to be done. Come on, it’s only a game (a saying that is particularly favoured, for some reason, by those who’ve just lost!)
With regard to how to behave during actual play, just remember that possession really is nine tenths of the law in bowls. More precisely, possession of the mat is the term used to indicate that you’re either in position to bowl or have just done so. In fact, you have possession of the mat once your opponent’s previous bowl has stopped, and at that point you are entitled to be on the mat, unimpeded. There’s no need to rush – take your own time and play at your own rhythm. But by the same token, once your bowl has come to a stop at the other end you have to vacate the mat area. Don’t be surprised if you’re told to move if you stray up the green or stand admiringly on the mat.
You will sometimes see some players run, jog, or walk extremely fast after their bowl, in order to get to the other end. (This is possible outdoors and in non-timed matches indoors, but as most indoor stadiums operate on the basis of timed sessions for matches there is usually a rule to ban such expeditions.) In matches where it is allowed, remember that the rule is still that you mustn’t delay the next bowl, so you really have to arrive at the head no later than your bowl. Sometimes players are a bit slow and it’s… well, it’s naughty.
Another thing that people sometimes get away with and shouldn’t do, is to ask questions about the outcome of their bowl immediately after it stops. You really mustn’t do that. As I explained above, possession has now passed to the other player or team, and any information which you want has to be asked after their next bowl.
Talking about exchanging information, remember that as the thirds and/or skips walk up the green and cross over in the middle of the end, the person who is about to play is the one who is in possession of the mat, and therefore can dictate the speed of the game. If he wants to get on with it he must be able to do so, and not have to look at a group of opponents discussing possible strategy or bemoaning the dreadful luck they had on the last end. However, if the player due to bowl chooses to hang around and discuss options before heading off towards the mat that’s his prerogative, and the other side just has to wait. (Again, if there’s a time limit on the match you can expect some complaints if there’s any perceived time-wasting here.)
When you’re standing near the head either before or after bowling your own woods, it’s really vital to keep quiet and still when other people are bowling. It can be incredibly irritating when you are about to bowl and someone decides to shift position for a better view, or to check the scoreboard. Let me put my hand up and admit that I’ve been told off for moving in this way (the game was just sooo exciting, honest!) but at least I haven’t been a repeat offender.
The Laws make it clear that players who are at the non-bowling end must be behind the jack when someone is bowling (except that it is possible to step in front of the head to show a team member what shot to play). In addition to being behind the jack, if it isn’t one of your team who is bowling you should stay clear of the head as well.
Many of the little “rules” or conventions of bowls are just like those in other sports. For example, one avoids standing in a position where a shadow falls over the jack or right in front of the mat. This would clearly make life difficult for the person bowling, and is akin to similar conventions in golf. Another issue concerns the wearing of white shoes when using a white jack: if someone stands too close to the jack it can smudge the perspective from the other end, and the person bowling has every right to (politely) ask the player in question to move to one side. Meanwhile, when standing near the mat it’s important to stay well back behind the person bowling (the Laws stipulate one metre, minimum): it can be very off-putting to be aware of someone near your shoulder, or to catch a glimpse of someone in the corner of your eye just as you are lining up a shot.
These latter points may sound obvious, and they are certainly common sense, but it’s surprising how often they crop up (or would do if we hadn’t learned from previous experience). One of the main reasons for this blog is to highlight and illustrate such issues so that you don’t have to learn the hard way, with the embarrassment that comes with it. Most of this post has concerned what happens as players set up to bowl; in the next one I’ll look at some of the things that happen as the end develops.