8. Teaming Up (updated)

Please note: This page contains a selection of updates (in italics) as of September 2014, the original page is:  8. Teaming Up

If singles play demands skill, wits and concentration, then teams play calls for all that – and more. As the title implies, there must be team-work whether the game is pairs, triples or fours.

In Australia, most bowls is played in teams, either in pennant, interstate competition, or just a friendly roll-up after work has ended for the day. Whatever the size of a club, it usually has only just enough rinks available to cater for its members. So it makes sense to get as many players onto the green at a time, as possible.

By playing as a team member, the newcomer learns more quickly what bowls is all about. There is another benefit, too. Once he is on the green, a man who only minutes before, may have been weighed down with the cares of the world, will quickly forget them. He will be among friends.

Let us deal with each team game separately, for each provides its own style of play, approach and even psychology.


‘Partners’ perhaps is a better name for this game. It involves patience, tolerance, mutual support and plenty of imagination. Pairs play gives me almost as much satisfaction as singles—to be able to think and work with another as one, is a splendid feeling.

Pairs should be played like a game of fours with one man playing lead and third and the other playing second and skip. In Australia we play pairs differently from say, the British and the South Africans, who operate under the international rule of each man playing his four bowls in succession. I believe ours is a better game because it provides greater scope for each shot, and allows more flexible tactics. Here, each man plays his four bowls in units of two alternately. This method means a match may take longer, with the constant changing of ends, and may eventually end under growing pressure from many quarters.

As I said, the nature of pairs means that it is an extremely tactical game, and since each player has four bowls, you will find it to be of a higher standard. The jack will be moved more often than in a fours match, so it is essential to keep the number of short bowls to a minimum. Never worry if you are playing lead and your first two bowls are through the head. It is better to err on the long side since back bowls can be extremely valuable in pairs with the jack moving around such a lot.

The idea is to get two or at the most, three good bowls on the head, then look for position. Remember that, like chess, pairs is essentially a positional battle, and that greed is often punished.

Here’s a good example of what I mean1A.

For identification, my partner’s and my bowls carry crosses. The head holds great danger for us, as an opposition trail shot could well leave us five or six shots down.

I choose to drive at the opposition’s bowls, removing the danger and improving our own position1B.

A direct hit with the drive on the forehand has cleared all the offending bowls and left me holding five shots1C.

A lead must avoid creating too big a target through placing all his bowls into the head. It may be marvellous drawing but a good opposition skipper will soon destroy the head with either a drive or a running shot, or at the least, a trail. You can find a disaster on your hands very smartly by ignoring the danger of an opposition with the controlled shot as their stock-in trade.

At the same time, courage and coolness and an analytical mind can often pay off, particularly when your opponents least expect it— and this can be demoralising for them.

In this type of situation2A, always think before you act. Ask yourself: what can I gain, and what can I lose? I’m two shots down and the obvious shot, at first glance, is to drive at those two opposition bowls. But is it?

This is my shot2B — a draw on the forehand with little risk and even a possibility of trailing the jack to my own bowls, thus going from two down to two up.

Now let’s go back to the head as it was2C and look at the position before I came to the mat. Those two opposition shot bowls certainly are a tempting target for a drive.

If I drive here’s the probable result2D. The two shot bowls form a ‘plant’, as they say in billiards, and with my drive, I’ve pushed them onto my nearest bowls, knocking them well out of the head and leaving me a possible five shots down.

Successful bowls is percentage bowls, and in pairs prudence often wins out over pile-driving.

Most top bowlers agree that the simplest trap a pairs skipper can fall into, is the habit of not concentrating enough with his first two shots. It is his job to consolidate by drawing if he is down in numbers of shots, or look for position if his partner has done his job and drawn two good shots.

As much as straight-out ability, the pairs game revolves around position, courage, brains and imagination. Each partner, since he is playing in two positions, must possess all the shots. Each has to know what the other is thinking and trying to do.

In a nutshell, pairs partners run in double harness. Good ones go together like bacon and eggs.


I have to be candid and admit that triples is no great favourite of mine.

Thankfully the former three bowl triples has been replace by the more competitive two bowl event. Whilst the old version is still preferred by social with their desire for an extra bowl each end, we now see the later version as similar to fours play. Tactics are much the same as in fours and requires more concentration from each player than the three bowl game which tended to produce reduced concentration with the first and even second delivery.

The later version is slightly more of a draw game as reducing the number of bowls delivered in an end from eighteen to twelve makes for fewer short bowls and less cluttered heads. It also involves the lead and middle bowler to a far greater extent as it is no longer a skipper’s game.


For as long as bowls is played, there will be arguments about who is the most important player in a game of fours.

Some have it that the skipper is the most vital, since it is he who controls the tactics and thus, the game. Others put forward the case for third; the second has his supporters as does the lead who, it is claimed, provides the basis for victory or defeat.

Over the years I’ve heard them all, and I must say that I am not impressed. There is only one element for success in a fours game, and that is for each member of the team to do his part and blend with his mates into a solid combination. Often I’ve seen four fairly ordinary bowlers defeat four above-average players, simply because they harmonised, communicated and played as a team. The others failed because they didn’t — perhaps because they were temperamentally unsuited to each other, or because they were, at heart, individualists.

Fours is a team game and yet each member has a different job to do.


  • The leader sets the pattern of play and virtually decides whether the team plays attacking or defending bowls. He does this by the length to which he rolls the jack and whether or not he gets his two bowls close to the jack. Those are the leader’s two main tasks.
  • If you are playing lead, you should aim to get shot, but if you don’t, then it is necessary for you to get at least one bowl near to the jack. It gives your team-mates something to work on.
  • Never ‘niggle’ at the head unless the skipper asks you to — and that’s not likely.
  • Try and play one side of the green —forehand one way and backhand the other. Once you’ve settled on the hands to play, stay with them unless your team is being beaten or your skipper recommends that you change.
  • Maintain your concentration, particularly on your own match and do everything you can to encourage your team-mates.


To play second in a team of four demands all-round versatility. It is the second’s task to counter his lead’s failure to get shots close to the jack or convert when the opposition lead has gained an advantage.

That type of role calls for a second who can draw, wrest out opposition shots or break up a head. At the higher level of competition, it is essential for the second to be a good driver. That’s why the players selected in state or national teams tend to be specialists in their positions.

If you are chosen to play second, be certain about what you are asked to do by the skipper. Be ready, but don’t get onto the mat until you are certain. Above all, a second must have confidence in his skipper who will often call for him to play shots which from the mat, often look to be impossible.

I’ve found that the biggest temptation for a second is to attempt to ‘reach’ an opposition bowl lying jack high when the skipper has called for a draw. The skip, from his end, knows it is vital to have one on the head but it won’t happen if you are tempted to niggle at that jack high bowl and miss altogether. It can be a tough life playing second, but even tougher for a skipper if his second doesn’t do what is asked of him.

The other jobs for a second in a rink are mainly housekeeping — keeping the scorecard and the scoreboard on the bank, but don’t forget you have to be precise about these, too. Getting the scores wrong or mixed can be, at the least, an embarrassment. Often it’s much more; it could end in the entire team losing points.


Probably the best way to describe the third’s role is to call him the foreman on the job.

Basically, his qualities must be those of a sound, all-round second, plus plenty of experience. The latter is essential, because he has to be able to read a head and advise the skipper at the other end when asked to do so. Experience will have taught the third to be cool in a crisis. Often he will be called on to play a crucial shot when the team is in trouble. The third can be worth his salt for a mere half-a-dozen ‘big’ shots during a match, because those shots could mean the difference between a win and a loss.

Some other tips for a third:

  • Be decisive when asked a question by your skip.
  • Develop the judgment to decide who is holding shot.
  • Be exact, steady and confident when measuring for shot.
  • If you see the possibility of a big score and the skipper hasn’t, call him to the head and explain.
  • Never put doubts into the skipper’s mind. His job is hard enough as it is.


This man is like any other captain in any other team sport.

The job demands that he be experienced, understanding, calm, a good tactician, a good psychologist, and it helps if he is a good bowler.

Over the years, thousands upon thousands of words have been written and spoken about the essentials of being a skipper. I’ve watched the good ones and learned much. I have stored that knowledge and used it when my chance has come.

In summary:

A good skipper must be positive and decisive, have a sense of humour, and command of all shots. He must also be confident and alert to changes in conditions.

At the end of it all, comes the hard part. If the team is beaten, the skipper invariably has to carry the blame— that is where it will be sheeted home. If the team wins, everybody wins, not just the skipper.

The responsibility for the team’s approach and tactics is the skipper’s, but he cannot carry them out alone. His major task, therefore, is to instill in the other three players the fact that they are playing with him and not as individuals, although each has to carry out his allotted task.

If a skipper can make his team a happy one, then half the battle has been won. That is why I am always aware of the need to be pleasant and tactful — not condemning a struggling player, but encouraging him. I try to avoid too many gestures, because they can be misunderstood at the other end of the green, as can too many comments.

Experience teaches a skipper what type of tactics to adopt in each match, but as a general rule fours in many ways is like pairs. With so many bowls delivered during an end, the jack is bound to be moved around. Therefore, never leave your back position unprotected. Count on your opposite number playing the perfect shot, rather than failing. That way, you won’t be caught unawares or become careless.

Ultimately, no matter how good a skipper is in all other departments of the game, his reputation is based on the results he achieves. So if the score on the board is what counts in the end, a skipper always looks for the shot that will get his team out of trouble or the one that will add to the score.

That is one secret of winning team bowls.

Here are some more.

When things look blackest, there’s usually at least one way to tip the odds in your favour. In this case3A, it is almost impossible to drive or run the shot bowl out direct. The jack is in the ditch.

The way out is to play a running shot onto my bowl3B (carrying cross and touching the shot). In snooker, it’s called a ‘plant’ or a ‘set’. In bowls in Queensland, it’s called a ‘charlie’ — I don’t know why.

The method works, anyway. Here3C, my running shot has pushed out the opposition bowl (not a toucher) and left me five shots up.

Here’s4A another ‘plant’. This type of head is not always obvious and the inexperienced player might opt for a draw, although the odds would be against him succeeding.

‘The plant’ is lined up with the opposition shot bowl4B, and my running shot really is a no-risk play. In making my decision, I considered I had more to gain than lose.

The result4C is that not only has my previous bowl been promoted to shot, the bowl I have just delivered has stopped in the count and the opposition bowl, previously shot is well out. Four shots up is a big dividend.

Bowls is all about seizing opportunities and this one5A is a chance to pick up some ‘runs’.

Even though I’m holding shot, the position is a precarious one and the opportunity lies in those five back bowls of mine. There is some risk involved as it is possible to ‘nick’ the jack and go three down. Yet, it remains a percentage play rather than a gamble.

I play the shot5B at almost drive pace, but on the backhand to give my shot bowl some protection. The aim is to take the jack back.

That is where the jack ended5C, being struck full-face. It’s the type of shot to be played early in a match in an attempt to demoralise the opposition.

There’s nothing in bowls quite so exciting as the drive. It is also a potent weapon, that gives both satisfaction and rewards. Here6A I am two shots down and the target is an obvious one.

Always drive with your bowl swinging away from danger, as in this instance6B. In driving at the two shot bowls, there is little risk. In fact, should I hit either side of the left-hand bowl there is a strong possibility both bowls will go.

The result6C is exactly that and I am two shots up. That, surely, is satisfaction.

Next: 9. The Inner Game or 9. The Inner Game (updated)