Tag: etiquette

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!



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.