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”!



Etiquette (1)

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.



Don’t let on…

When writing earlier about varying the length of the jack, or the position of the mat (which may be the same thing), I gave some general advice about not letting on to the opposition if they change things in a way you don’t really like.

It seems to me to stand to reason that you won’t want to give the opponents an advantage.  Yet I’ve heard people in our club complain audibly, in a league match,  about the fact that the opponents have shortened the ends.  “Huh, all these short jacks, that’s not a game!”  Well, guess what the opponent will do next time.

It’s not just our club. Indeed, the reason for my inserting this short post into the series is something that happened just last week at an indoor match where I was playing lead.

In truth we should have been beating the opposition quite easily, but we found ourselves struggling because one of the three, usually the skip, was producing one good bowl on each end, scoring one or two each time.  Our lead of 11-4 was gradually whittled away until a loss of three shots made it 11-11 after ten ends of the fifteen.

When we finally regained the jack I knew we had to do something to change things, but also knew our skip wouldn’t want a massive change, as we weren’t playing badly.  So I took the mat up by about a yard and a half, or maybe two at most, and to my relief found that my opposite number immediately lost the line and length with all three bowls.

We won the end, and so I kept the new length.  When we won that next end as well the lady said “It’s your fault, changing the mat like that” and I knew we were on to a good thing.  So we won the next, and the next – at which point (to my amazement) she said: “Now I thought you were a nice man. Can you put that mat back on the T?”

You’ll gather that this match wasn’t exactly county standard.  But you’ll also gather that I was almost tempted to take the mat even further, since she had so clearly revealed she was upset by the change of length.  In the event we were already home and dry, so I kept to the new length which was suiting us so well and we won the last end for a comfortable win.

Now the point of this short story is not to claim that I have any great insight or skill.  I simply want to show how pointless it is to draw attention to the fact that you don’t like a certain length.  Pointless in that it will influence nothing – and may mean you score no more points!



The Back End (2): Skip

The role of the team captain in sport can differ quite widely from one sport to another.  In football, for example, it’s difficult to see what the captain really does apart from wear a special armband and be present at the toss of the coin before the game starts; in cricket, however, even at Test match level there have been cases of players who would not justify their place in the team either for batting or bowling performance, but whose ability to maximise the skills of the rest of the team made it worthwhile playing them.

Bowls is somewhere between these extremes.  You could hardly imagine playing someone as skip who couldn’t otherwise make the side; but the amount of direction, instruction, cajoling and encouragement is such that the skip really has to be more than just another player.  This is why you sometimes hear people say of So-and-so, “He’s a super player, but not much good as a skip.”

Since this blog is mainly (for the moment) directed at newish bowlers I’ll resist the temptation to talk about what a good skip should or shouldn’t do.  Rather, I’ll describe the role in similar terms to how we’ve reviewed the other members of the team, and also outline some crucial points about how those other players need to behave for maximum benefit to the team.

The skip bowls last.  That means that there are some difficulties.  The most obvious is that there might be lots of bowls in front of the jack, but there are ways to deal with this. Only last night I saw a team on the next rink to ours go into the last end one shot down, and then find themselves another four down after the leads and seconds had bowled.  But by playing heavy bowls the skip first of all cleared a bit of a gap, and then, with the very last bowl, came in with another running shot which hit a front bowl, which moved another one, which moved the jack, which … won the  match!   Ok, so it required some luck as well as skill, but even so, it showed that not all was lost even at four shots down on the last end.

As this story shows, the nice thing about being skip is, of course, the ability to change things.  But that can bring its own problems – some skips can become rather superior, showing obvious frustration as team mates fail to deliver, and I’ve also come across a couple of players who shall remain nameless but who clearly asked their thirds to play difficult shots so as to keep the “glory shots” for themselves.  Bad news!

A linked problem for the skip is to decide what to do when (as happens) the side is four or five shots down with only one bowl left.  Does she play a dramatic heavy shot to scatter the opposition bowls or move the jack; or is it best to play for a draw to cut down the score?  Well, of course, no two heads of bowls are the same, and it’s impossible to give a theoretical, one-size-fits-all answer, but on the assumption that you are more likely to be observing this dilemma rather than dealing with it, do watch and learn from seeing how good skips deal with this, and on what grounds.  Let me confess that in my early years I wasted a lot of heavy bowls when faced with this situation, and on several occasions I committed the cardinal sin of making a bad situation even worse.  How’s that for a hint?

So much for playing shots as skip.  In terms of the team dynamic, just remember that you should always do what the skip says. This is not dictatorship, or adulation: it’s simply that the skip is in charge of overall strategy, and has the crucial advantage of standing at the head, with a much better view of what is happening than his team mates on the mat can have.  The skip may be asking you to play for position, or even to block the hand of an opponent who favours one particular side.  Whatever the skip’s reasons, you don’t argue: you play the shot. I would admit that in a team where everyone knows one another well, some people might query the instruction gently (“You sure?  Forehand?”) but once it’s confirmed it would be the death knell to team unity and your reputation if you played the other hand.

Before bowling your wood, you need to know the target – that is, either the jack, or another bowl, or maybe a general area on the green.  If it’s the first of those you shouldn’t need a lot of telling, but a good skip will be very explicit about any of the others.  If the skip doesn’t make things clear enough, by all means ask (as opposed to objecting) – that’s not a problem at all.  Crucially, you also need to know what weight to play – is it a draw (in which case, again nothing much needs to be said), or is it to be a bit heavier, in which case the skip needs to indicate this.  Just make sure that before you deliver your bowl you have a clear idea in your mind of what’s wanted, and an ability to visualise the track of the bowl and the end result.  It won’t guarantee success, but if the shot doesn’t quite come off a good skip will make some encouraging noises.  And even if you miss quite badly just remember (if the skip doesn’t reassure you) that “No one ever bowled a bad bowl on purpose.”








The Back End(1): the Third

panto horseNew bowlers may be a bit puzzled at first by occasional references to the front end and back end – it all sounds a bit like a pantomime horse.  Very basically, in a standard team of four, the lead and second are the “front end”, and (as we have seen) have the job of setting up a nice solid platform; it follows (in more ways than one) that the third and skip comprise the “back end”.

Although there is no doubt that to be a good back-end player you need quite some experience, let me again stress that there is no hierarchy here, any more than there is between (say) the backs and the forwards in rugby.  As long as everyone knows their job, and just gets on with it, the combined effort works well.

So what about the third, exactly?  The major distinguishing feature is that this player does the measuring.  I mentioned in an early post that measuring is not a group activity, but something to be dealt with by just two people – the opposing thirds, or a nominated substitute.   The other players are best advised to take themselves well away from the head, and (even if they can’t resist being interested spectators) to remain silent.  Of course, there are times when you see your third make what looks like a mistake, perhaps overlooking a bowl or being persuaded by the opposition that a certain bowl is counting when probably it’s not.  But you still shouldn’t intervene at that point – if you know the third well enough, and trust your judgement, by all means have a quiet word at some other point.  I know, I know, it’s irritating to see shots wasted like this, but let’s not have public debates that will serve only to encourage the opposition.

Measuring is an important aspect of the game.  Some people are much better than others at seeing relative distances, and judging which bowls are “in” – builders and joiners are particularly good at it, for some reason! We all improve with experience, but I have literally heard a TV commentator refer to one of the top 10 players in the world as being not much good at judging shots.  I’ll leave the techniques of measuring to a separate post, but for now, let’s just note the convention that it’s the third who does the job.

Deciding on the shots after all the bowls have been bowled is one thing.  But the third also needs to advise the skip of developments during the end, as the skip is playing his or her shots, It will make a huge difference to the skip’s choice of shot as to whether the team has the shot bowl or not, and there’s also a need to know what other bowls are in the area.  Of course, the skip has been standing at the head until it’s her turn to bowl, so for the first of the skip’s bowls there’s probably no need to give any advice.  Only if things change is there really a need to shout, or to point out individual bowls.  The skip usually has a clear idea of what needs to be done – but if he appears in doubt, and asks for advice, you need to be clear and decisive.

As a quick aside, do remember that if you’re playing lead in pairs you’ll also have to carry out several of the functions I’ve described here – partly by helping your partner decide on shots to play and also, most definitely, by doing the measuring.

In terms of actually playing shots, the third has to be able to do everything the skip does.  This means the full range of shots.  It’s especially important to be able to play “runners” (weighted shots) as opposed to the dead draw, because the latter option might be ruled out by the way other bowls have finished.  You also have to be ready to play positional bowls (that is, bowls which finish some distance from the jack, just in case the jack moves that way).  I’ve come across some players who’ve been allowed to play for years using the same hand (either forehand or backhand) yet still get picked to play third or even skip. That is frankly ludicrous.  There’s no way that anyone can play all the shots required if using only half the rink – the game has quite enough difficulties as it is.

Once the end has been completed the thirds agree on the number of shots and communicate this in some way to the skip, for marking the card. Here’s another hint: when the result is just a single shot, but not close enough for an actual measure, it’s best not to say simply “One” or “One shot” when agreeing the result, but to specify “One to us/you”, “or “One red”, etc.   It can happen that two people each assume it is their shot, and once the bowls have been moved there’s no way back.

Methods of indicating the score differ.  Having learned the game north of the Border I naturally adopted the Scottish habit of tapping my shoulder the appropriate number of times to indicate shots to our own side, and tapping a raised thigh to indicate the number scored by the opposition. It’s clear, even at 30 metres, and it’s great for anyone hard of hearing, too. (The same system is used to indicate the position at any point during an end.)  When I came to England, however, I realised that people were looking puzzled at this shoulder-and-thigh stuff: here there is much less uniformity, with all sorts of combinations of fingers, hands or feet, as well as words.  But I do notice that the arm- or leg-tapping has caught on at our club – just don’t do it too enthusiastically, or people will think you are trying out some line-dancing moves.  Yee-ha!

Finally, just to repeat another point from an earlier post, when the skip is at the head only the skip should be instructing other players what shots to play. And when the skip is bowling, only the third (or second/third in triples) is to say anything.   It doesn’t matter how exciting or important the game might be – if everybody starts getting involved you really will have a pantomime.