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Thursday, November 10, 2022

A Balancing Exercise to Improve Delivery for Lawn Bowlers

Lawn bowlers really don’t need a lot of strength. So long as the surface they play on is reasonably fast, the potential energy from allowing the bowl to defend to the rolling surface combined with the kinetic energy from a pendulum swing is sufficient to take a bowl to the full length of the rink.

What lawn bowlers need, increasingly as they get older, is improved balance. Most delivery motions involve a stepping forward with the advancing foot and a brief balancing on the anchor foot. Brief as this is, a partial loss of balance by your entire body can lead to deviations in achieving the desired line and weight for your shot.

If you have been lawn bowling more or less regularly for six years or more, I think I can provide a little test that will demonstrate that your balance may be more important for your delivery than you think.

Take a bowl and stand in your ‘ready’ position for starting your bowling delivery. Now raise your stepping foot slightly off the ground so that all your weight is supported on what would be your anchor leg. Start counting: a thousand and one, a thousand and two, etc. stopping the count when you lose your balance. Now switch the bowl to the other hand and repeat, standing with all your weight supported on what would normally be the leg that steps forward. Again count. Repeat these two a few times. At least for me, I have much longer control of my balance standing on my normal anchor leg. This, I hypothesize, is because my lawn bowling has provided practice balancing on my anchor leg.

Doing this exercise, standing beside the back of a chair that you can reach out to when you lose your balance, you should, with practice, be able to stand alone on either leg for 20 seconds. When you can do this controlling your balance perfectly throughout your bowls delivery will be improved commensurate with whatever improvement you have made using the exercise. Try it!

Thursday, September 15, 2022

A Smooth Delivery and the Subconscious Control of Weight

I have found that after a lawn bowler has played for something like six years or more, his/her subconscious can be unleashed to consistently deliver the correct weight to reach any jack between the minimum and maximum distances so long as, indeed, it is left to the subconscious instincts— that is, being ‘in the zone.’ This is in fact what is claimed in the teaching literature and that indeed is what I have found to be true.

The unexplained caveat however is that one’s delivery must be reproducibly executed and smooth. That means no dumping, no wobbling, and no loss of balance. Your subconscious is assuming according to its secret algorithm that your delivery will be executed exactly according to form.

I have found that the delivery technique wherein I draw my bowl carefully back along the extension of my aim line while counting “a thousand and one” followed by a smooth reproducible forward step with a slight flexing of my forward stepping knee so that my whole foot grounds itself on the count of “a thousand and two” followed unhurriedly by a smooth forward swing of my delivery arm that settles the bowl onto the green as I count “a thousand and three” gives me the best chance to deliver over and over according to this form.

Now- in the setup for the delivery, it is important not to get away from visualizing the desired arc of your bowl on its path from mat to jack, because this is the data that your subconscious will mysteriously plug into its algorithm for producing the correct weight.

Notice that I intend you to be fully conscious about taking your bowl slowly and steadily back during the count of  “a thousand and one” but from there you should have a blank mind and just focus with tunnel vision intently on your stare point out on your aim line.

If you are anything like me, until you have played bowls for at least six years, you will consider this subconscious control idea to be some form of voodoo. It can’t possibly work; or so I thought. 

Well, it does work but your delivery action has to be smooth.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Big or Little? Winning the Mat

When lawn bowlers don’t have a coin in their pockets at the beginning of play, one skip will often roll a bowl a short distance, end over end, pineapple fashion, and ask the opposing skip, “Big or little?” If the skip calling the outcome is correct, that skip gets to choose either to command the mat or have the last bowl in the first end.

Although the chances of either outcome are approximately the same, there is a small difference in favor of calling, “Big”  because those bowls that,  after the pineapple tumbling motion, finish on their running surface more often fall with their big decal uppermost. I have tested this experimentally and it does seem to prove out (59:54). 

This is not statistically significant but if you want to win the choice it seems best to call, “Big.”

My Last Secret for Consistently Hitting Your Stare Point

In 2020, I published a blog describing the bowling delivery that I have evolved during my previous 8 years of lawn bowling.

At one point this month just passed, I was teaching a new bowler this delivery and during the instruction, I hit upon a week of concept that radically improved my own capacity to roll a bowl precisely and consistently over a stare point 3-5 meters out on the green. Further testing and practice have shown that indeed this change can be an improvement.

Over and over again, in these blog articles, I have emphasized the importance of getting one’s advancing foot down on the green before swinging your bowling arm through to deliver a bowl. I have now found that not only is it important that the heel of one’s advancing foot touch the surface of the green but one’s weight needs to have been transferred forward onto the ball of that foot before starting the downward swing of the bowl if one wants to more dependably roll your bowl over your stare point.

So great is the improvement that follows from this change that I am repeating my earlier blog with this change printed in a red typeface below.

I bowl from the Shooters’ stance. My anchor foot is positioned at an angle of 45 degrees to the line of delivery. I have chosen this because it provides less side-to-side tilting during my stepping when I am on one foot only. For the set-up, I use the South African foot positioning which places the stepping foot one-half a stride in front of the anchor foot. This reduces the length of the forward stride and thereby reduces the time that I'm standing on one leg. I expect this increases my stability. In my set position, I have my non-bowling hand resting on the knee of my forward leg. This keeps my center of gravity lower than it would  be in a completely erect posture; again trying to minimize sway. My hand on knee locks in that stability. My weight is essentially completely on my anchor foot in this 'set' position so that my forward stepping will provide be a consistently momentum accompanying a consistent forward velocity. 

My wrist is no longer cocked. I abandoned this experiment because it was inconsistent with having a more relaxed arm. The biggest change from previous years is that I now hold my bowl tilted, (the plane of the rolling surface not parallel with the aim line) even in the ready position so that no  Bryant twist is required during the backswing. This follows the observed practice of Stuart Andersen, a world bowls champion. This angle reflects the natural position of my hand when it hangs loosely at my side.  Previously,as I twisted my wrist when I was using a Bryant twist in my backswing I felt that the bowl’s changing center of gravity was throwing off the smooth line of my backswing. Starting with the wrist off-center as Andersen does eliminates this perception. Bringing my wrist back into line, so the bowl’s running surface coincides with the aim line, occurs in my forward swinging and I do not feel it.

My grip for a draw or running (run through) shot is best described as having the “C” formed by my thumb and index finger on the bowl’s grip marks. (Since I use Aero Zig-Zag Grooved bowls, there is an actual channel for my thumb and finger.) My middle fingertip is centered on the running surface of my bowl. In contrast, for a drive, all four of my fingers are on the bowl with my index finger on one grip and my baby finger on the other.  My two middle fingers are near the center of the running surface. Putting all four fingers behind the bowl seems to improve my power while preserving accuracy.

Following David Bryant’s teaching, holding the bowl in a proper grip and standing in my set position, I look back and forth alternating between my stare point, over which I must roll my bowl to get the proper bias swing, and the jack location, whose distance I need to internalize to get the proper weight. At the same time, I make a few abbreviated practice swings along the proposed line, and then when I feel comfortable I begin my backswing.

My backswing is slow and measured; like an archer drawing his bow or a pool player lining up his cue. My mind is focused on keeping my backswing on top of the extension of my aim line out behind me. My eyes stare at the ‘stare point’ on my aim line which I want my bowl to traverse.

I do not start my forward stepping until the completion of my backswing. This backswing along the extension of my aim line is done to the internal count of “a thousand and one.”

On the measured, unhurried count of “a thousand and two” I step forward and bring my stepping foot, heel first, down onto the rink. My bowling arm does not start swinging forward during this step. Doing so would lead to some at least partial loss of balance that would make rolling the bowl over my ‘stare point’ more difficult. Nevertheless, although I do not start my arm swing the bowl moves forward somewhat because my body moves forward during this stepping out.

Then on “a thousand and three” as my body rocks forward and my weight transfers from my heel to the ball of my foot then onward to my toes, my arm swings forward. Thus the bowl is being accelerated both by my arm and body movement at the point when I draw back my fingers and release the bowl just in front of my planted advanced foot.

At this point, my body dips slightly to bring my bowl closer to the ground. I release my bowl just in front of my forward foot. During the forward stepping and forward swinging, my mind is blank—in order to commit complete control to my subconscious. Once the bowl is released, I consciously observe whether I have rolled the bowl over my stare point so that I will know whether I need to correct my line or simply do a better job of hitting it!

It is important, I think, to be sure that one completely transfers one’s body weight forward onto one’s stepping foot. This is achieved by actually walking off the mat or at least raising one's anchor lag above the mat.  I have so far failed to consistently follow this, so it is a work in progress. I am also trying to vigorously draw my fingers and thumb off the bowl as I release it so that there is no last-minute deflection from the line; but, this so far is just a hoped-for outcome. Since I am trying to leave the forward swing to my subconscious it is difficult to consciously control the bowl’s release.


Saturday, July 23, 2022

Knowing Your Partners’ Bowls: Advising a Team-Mate Regarding Line

Do you play often with the same team members? Most likely - yes.

Have you ever practiced using their bowls? Do you know how the bias of their bowls compares to your own? Can you tell that team member what his aim point should be on the forward bank, succinctly but precisely, as you pass him at mid-rink during the first or second end? 

No or much less likely- right?

What I propose here is that you schedule a practice session with each of your regular partners during which you each deliver two of your own bowls followed by two of that partner’s. From this, you discover the correction factor for calculating your colleague’s bias based on your own. 

The other thing you need to accomplish is to have adequate common terminology for describing recommended aim points on the forward bank.

The unit of measure I use is the half-rink width (HRW). This I define as the distance between the center-line marker and one of the rink boundary markers. Many clubs actually provide intermediate marks on the bank dividing the half-rink width into thirds! This is a violation of the Laws of Bowls Crystal Mark 3. Nevertheless, you will often see it, at least in Canada.

Thus moving from the center line outward I can specify 1/3 HRW, 2/3 HRW, 1 HRW (the boundary) 1 1/3 HRW, 1 2/3 HRW, 2 HRW (adjacent rink number), and so on. This can be abbreviated to: center line, 1/3, 2/3, boundary, 1 1/3, 1 2/3,  rink number, and so on. 

So, suppose I am leading and my partner is skipping. I know from practice that his bowls are wider than mine by about 1/3 HRW. Now, for example, suppose I am bowling the first end, delivering over the center front edge of the mat and I discover that on the right-hand side of the rink my aim point is the boundary marker. I then can anticipate that my partner’s starting aim point should be 1 1/3 on that side and I as I pass him  at mid-rink when he is going to the mat to deliver the skip’s bowls, I tell him, “1 1/3 on the right.”

It is crucial for you and your teammates to be crystal clear whether you are reporting the bias you are using or the corrected bias that they should use. 

In the example above, when I tell him 1 1/3, he must know without a doubt that this is the aim point he should use and not the one I found good for me!  In the alternative, if you have agreed that you will report your bias and he will do the correction I would have said, “The boundary on the right.”

Of course, in this case, as skip, he will have been watching all my deliveries and may have a fair idea what the line should be, but it is not always easy to figure this out from a position just behind the jack. Furthermore, the information you provide is just a starting point to which all bowler add their own accumulating information.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

In Support of Trial Ends at Lawn Bowls

 In Toronto Canada, at the clubs where I am a member, no trial ends (as in The Laws of Bowls Section 5.1) are allowed before either a social game or an intra-club tournament match. Similarly, in local open inter-club tournaments, I have not encountered trial ends. In the provincial playdowns, on the other hand, there are trial ends.

In Canada, for domestic play, ‘the Controlling Body can limit the number of trial ends to be played (no trial ends or one trial end in one direction). It can also decide whether the trial ends are played immediately before or immediately after the scheduled start time for the game.’

The most common reason for denying trial ends is that it unnecessarily extends the duration of play. This is incorrect. There is no requirement that any player to participate in the trial ends, there are only some rules governing the management of practice when everyone is participating. Since the regular rules of play are not enforced during trial ends, things like playing out of turn or foot faulting have no real meaning. Furthermore, the local organizers are empowered to require that trial ends be completed before the official start time for the games. So quite the opposite, encouraging trial ends would result in fewer players arriving at the last minute for their game! 

What is more, having trial ends will, I think, encourage more beginning bowlers to participate in competitions. Thinking back, what worried me most when I was a new bowler, was looking ridiculous when delivering my opening bowls in a match. Trial ends would reduce this fear. (Before a match, practice at right angles to the direction of match play, which is permitted, already allows one to get an idea of proper weight.) 

The most substantive problems where no trial ends are allowed are:

1. Not having trial ends can give an advantage to teams with members from the club hosting the event. 

2. Because there is no opportunity for the lead to discover the more playable hand during trial ends, it introduces a greater element of luck rather than skill into the first few ends.

3. Not having trial ends removes the opportunity for any player to try out, in a limited way, different sets of bowls before the match play begins.

4. Not having trial ends removes the opportunity to assess your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses before the matchplay begins.

5. It provides an unfair advantage to the team bowling second in the first two ends.

There is no good reason to disallow trial ends and a few good reasons to promote them.

A Novel Way to Introduce Beginners to Competitive Play at Lawn Bowls: Retaining New Bowlers


We must be doing something wrong. The middle to older demographic, whom we would expect to be interested in taking up lawn bowls is not arriving.  Bowls clubs are closing.

My hypothesis is that the instructing period is too long, we need to get new bowlers into real games more quickly. It is taking too long for initiates to pick up what is needed to fit into a game with more experienced bowlers.

To address this I propose a very slightly modified game that enables one experienced bowler on each team to be with the beginning bowler, coaching and encouraging throughout the play.

The setup is just a game of fours with the difference that the tyro leads each deliver three bowls. Thus it is a standard game of fours with the difference that nine bowls are delivered by each side in an end.

Why will this provide more support for the starting bowler and enable him or her to get actually playing a game sooner? In the fours game, the lead and second are physically together all the time. If the person playing second, quietly coaches the new lead throughout the match—“Now you center the mat.” “Now you deliver the jack and guide skip to center it.” “The aim line is about the number sign on the adjacent rink.” “Check to see whether your bowl is inside or outside the rink.” etc. then the lead will feel more at ease and will be less likely to be criticized by other irritated players who want to play faster games.  With someone dedicated to keeping the new bowlers aware of both aspects of a good delivery and their team duties, they can begin actually playing games after less instruction and practice.

This may work or may not. What is for certain is something has to change or our game is a goner!