1. The First Question

There was a time, not too long ago, when sport was played for fun and recreation. Now, few sportsmen think in those terms. If they do, then their thoughts are sure to be drowned out by the loudest sound heard anywhere in the sporting world, that of the cash register.

Consider the golfer who has just missed a metre putt. He looks miserable and no wonder – the mistake could have cost him $50,000 or more. For the same reason John McEnroe argues the call and insults the line umpire; and the crowd screams for the blood of both.

You have seen it and so have I, because television, plus sponsorship, have turned golf, tennis, cricket and football into a giant world-wide entertainment industry. This is sport in the 1980s and for many decades to come.

Or is it?

It seems that, at least in the older generation, there is a natural regret for the passing of the old ways – a longing for sport the way it was. And yet it is beginning to look as if one of the most remarkable periods in any sport is about to burst on the game with the oldest participants of all.

Lawn bowls is now being exposed to sponsorship and television – it, too, has much to offer a wider world: all the things that make for good sport. There is success, and failure, comedy, tragedy, suspense, skill, concentration and stamina and the one quality so absent from other sports these days. It is called sportsmanship.

To me, watching the rush of events in the game since the World Bowls Championships were held in Australia early in 1980, has been a matter of some pleasure and satisfaction. Yet, basically, the game has hardly changed at all. It still gives and demands as much as it ever did. It allows one to obtain as much enjoyment and exercise as the effort required to play.

That old nonsense about bowls being a pastime only for the retired is being laid to rest by the numbers of young men to be found on the bowling greens of Australia. To them and to you, the reader, I want to ask a simple question.

Do you want to be a winner at bowls? Saying yes is easy. The hard part comes in finding the real answer, for it lies deep within yourself. Read this book, take its contents to your heart and your mind, let me guide you and then you may find not only the answer but also something new about yourself.

If you do these things, you will play winning bowls. Somewhere along the way, all champions in all sports reached those higher peaks by unlocking the great reserves of confidence, concentration and tenacity that are in us all. The key is a burning desire to be better than we are. This is the basis for my belief that champions are made and not born.

I can show you the way to greater things in bowls, whether you are a newcomer or an advanced player. It is a remarkable thing about the sport of bowls that a man can win a title within a few years of taking it up, or many years later. Many have done both. I cannot think of any greater illustration of this point than the remarkable R. T. (Dick) Harrison. He served in the Boer War, took up bowls in 1903, and won the Victorian singles title three years later, and the State Champion of Champions title the following year. In 1943, thirty-six years later, Dick Harrison again won that Champion of Champions title. He was then seventy years of age.

A champion requires dedication and desire greater than most people’s understanding. Yet, in these pages, I can set you on the road to that understanding and show you the physical and mental skills and techniques you will need. These may not be of great importance to the ‘social’ bowler, and why should they be? After all, it is part of the game’s enjoyment that nobody really cares too deeply about who wins or loses in a social game.

At the higher levels, however, it’s a different story, and the psychology of lawn bowls assumes an essential part of a champion’s game. I call it the ‘inner game’ and to play it, a bowler needs to understand what has to be done and why; how it can be done better; and most of all, how to build within himself the confidence and will to win.

In any sport, the basic and most important factor is the attitude of the player himself. If the attitude is right, then the benefits to be obtained become almost automatic.

‘Why didn’t I take up bowls twenty years ago?’ is more a comment than a question and one I’ve heard a thousand times from bowlers who began only after they had retired. Most of them did not start earlier because their attitude was wrong. They had been led to believe that old myth about bowls being an old man’s game.

Whoever described bowls, more accurately, as a young man’s game that old men can also play, knew a thing or two. Whatever your age, it can teach you the twin arts of relaxation and concentration like no other sport. It is also a great leveller. I recall that after winning my first club championship, I was invited to captain a team of four at the start of the following season. Still fired with confidence and enthusiasm from my championship, and keen to do well as a skipper, I approached the first match with great expectations. Then came the thud. Not only were we beaten, we didn’t even register on the scoreboard!

Bowlers, generally, can be fitted into one of three groups, each producing a great deal of enjoyment in different ways.

First, there is the social bowler who plays only for the pleasure of it. He likes to win, but if he loses, he hardly gives a thought as to why he lost.

The second group is made up of competitors, who play socially but in addition, relish pennant matches and club tournaments. They usually spend a great deal of time aimlessly practising and playing, but seldom critically examine their game. Nor are they dedicated enough to make the sacrifices necessary to move into the next group.

Only a minority of bowlers can claim membership of the third level. It comprises champions and potential champions who get there through dedication, hard work and sacrifice. They have a burning desire to succeed and an analytical and self-critical mind that allows them to sort out what is right and what is wrong with their game and their approach.

Now which group is for you?

If your ambitions take you no further than the first or second rungs, you are certain to reap great enjoyment and make many friendships from your efforts. If, however, you see yourself in the third group, the best of the best, then the struggle will be greater. But, so too will be the rewards, mentally and physically.

The decision is yours.

Next: 2. The Banker from the Bush