Tag: luck

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!



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”!