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So you want to be a skip? (article- Lead)

The pennant season is almost upon us so it seems an appropriate time to undergo a refresher course on the basic principles required to make up a top pennant side. Some of you may have a copy of my booklet released in 1988 carrying the same title as above. My aim in putting together such a publication was to make it easier for those players about to assume a new position at the beginning and throughout the current pennant season. It is very difficult, for an up and coming player in particular, as she may be moved from say, second in the fourth side to third in the third side to lead in the No.1 team, all within a short period of time. Over the past few decades I’ve observed many of the men bowlers climb quickly through the ranks and are elevated (if skipping means moving up?) to the position of skipper, essentially on their bowling ability but with a limited knowledge of how to build a head or get the best out of their team.

Whilst I may have been promoted to a pennant skip as a relative novice (in a tiny club) I was called upon to complete 69 games in the second or third position at Interstate level before being promoted to the role of captaining a State rink.

My first recommendation is that you make every effort to go along and observe top players, both men and women, in Interstate clashes and I’m sure you’ll learn just what team play is all about. If you aspire to be a skipper try getting close to a rink captained by an International player and pit your skills against theirs by anticipating the shots they call their team on and if they differ in their directions from your thoughts, then try and work out why.

Over the years I have sought the knowledge of players who have excelled in specific positions, so some of the ideas put forward in this article are not necessarily my own and I particularly refer to the position of lead. As previously confessed I didn’t play lead (to my great regret) at any level but I certainly studied almost all the expert leaders over the last four decades and soon learned that those first two bowls on each end will set the pattern of play for the day.

Each position in the rink will be covered in detail and because of the lengthy introduction only the requirements of a good lead will be analysed in this article. The second, third and skip will have to wait another month.



  • Don’t waste this exercise by talking too much.
  • Concentrate on finding rhythm – this will quickly give you the pace of the green.
  • Select the best side of the green to play- shy away from playing around the clock (both backhands or both forehands) – stay with one side of the green, you’ll find it more consistent and will teach you to bolster any weakness in a particular hand.

Rolling the jack:

  • Deliver the jack with the same care and attention you would a bowl – use it as a first bowl to get the pace of the green.

Plan of the day:

  • Having selected the best side of the green to play, confirm your preference with the skip.
  • Don’t ask to change your hand during play unless it is absolutely necessary – there is great merit in playing the hand on which you are familiar.
  • Check skip’s requirements regarding length of jack required.
  • Also check where she wants the mat placed in subsequent ends – personally I request the leader select a mark on the side bank at each end and place the mat in the same position each time, unless a change of tactics is required.

Leader’s goal:

  • Your job is to get your two bowls as near to the jack as possible. The one exception is that if your first bowl is more than half a metre short, try and place your second just past the jack, thus avoiding disaster if the opposing second or third trails the jack.
  • It’s not necessarily your job to get the shot, it’s more important at this early stage of the end that you get bowls in the head.
  • Don’t be tempted to niggle at the head – it could cost your team dearly.

Team Game:

  • You may be beating your opponent but your side is losing so don’t be upset if the skipper decides to change your hand in an endeavour to alter the opposition skip’s tactics.


  • You have 6 or 7 minutes to fill in between your turns to bowl. Don’t fall into the trap of watching play on other rinks. Form a plan that allows you to closely follow your own rink but also set aside a minute or so for relaxation – tension can creep in during a long game.


  • In addition to honing your skills at rolling the jack I suggest you should try placing a bowl in the draw (about a meter short of the jack) and practice drawing around and under the offending bowl. Changing your feet position on the mat will help you achieve your objective.


The great Don Woolnough (he played more than 350 games for Victoria – almost all as lead) would average changing his hand once in 25 ends. He believed that the best way to generate self-confidence was to use his opponent’s bowl as a guide to draw around , or occasionally under and still finish close to the jack.

Another great leader, David Grant, devised an idea whereby he broke his matches into lots of 5 ends. Assessing his results from the previous five ends and attempting to improve on his next five. This is an excellent way to maintain full concentration over 25 ends, a difficult task at any time. Such an aid can be used successfully by other members of the team also.

Arrange with your second and third to pick up one another’s bowl, and in doing so, pass on some form of encouragement, which can even contain a slice of humour to ease that dreaded tension. Such actions help to engender good team spirit.

The performance of a leader on any given day will dictate whether or not the skip can play offensive or defensive bowls – never, never underestimate the importance of having a good, compatible leader in your side.

Should I have a game plan?

Let’s deal with singles play first.

When asked the question, “do you have a game plan for each match that you play?” My immediate answer is usually “no”.

There are however a couple of exceptions:

  1. If I know my opponent well, or more particularly the type of game he plays and I also know that he concentrates on dropping into a good rhythm and become “mechanical” in his delivery, I would attempt to negate his normal approach by good use of the mat and jack. In other words I would, as continually as possible, change the length of end by both altering the mat position or rolling the jack to a different length. This lesson I learnt in my earlier days when playing the quarter final of an Invitation singles event at my own club. An older and more experienced player employed these tactics, which proved to me that bowls is a thinking man’s(or woman’s) game. He trounced me 25-9.
  2. Again if my opponent was well known to me and I knew he possessed an outstanding ability on a particular length of end, I would attempt to play him on that strength right from the start. This was a tactic employed by the late, great Glyn Bosisto as he believed, as I do, that if you can beat your opponent at his or her strength, they will have no where to go. If my opponent does take the ascendancy I still have the opportunity to then change to his or her weaker length in an endeavour attain success.


Other than these two exceptions my only game plan is the obvious one, get my first bowl as near to the jack as possible. Should my opponent beat me to it and get their first bowl close to the jack, then my plan would still be to get my first (or even second or third) bowl as close as I can. Even if their bowl is in front of the jack and in the draw, I would try and draw my bowl right up to that opposition bowl, thus getting a good second shot and allowing me the possibility of playing a conversion shot with my third or fourth bowl. Just as you would in a team game however,you must have bowls in the head before you even think about attacking with anything more than say half to one metre of pace, depending on the lie of the head and pace of the green.

Unfortunately, because I played lead only once at pennant and never at Interstate level, I didn’t class myself as a “dyed in the wool” draw shot player and too often failed with my first bowl, most times coming up short. Should this happen to you, continue to think positively and use that short bowl to correct upon. I’ve always believed it was easier to correct on a short bowl than one past the jack but maybe it was because I had more practice at the former.

In a game of bowls you must never stop thinking. Be alert to changing conditions and, if not playing well, study your delivery and chances are you will find an answer to your problems. It’s a good idea to have a “check list” of about three or four of the different types of errors most likely to creep into your game, particularly if you are under pressure. My number one check point has always been my follow-through which tends to shorten when my concentration wanes or if tension or tiredness creeps in. In an earlier article I covered the aid of visualisation. Use this tool by vividly imagining yourself delivering the bowl perfectly, with a smooth rhythmical swing, seeing the bowl travelling down on the predetermined line and coming to rest on the jack. Practice this technique regularly and it will do wonders for your confidence.

Team play

Tactics in team play are always determined by the skipper but never discount any suggestion put forward by a member of your team.

Advice on team tactics in this article will be basic as positional play, including tips for the skipper, will be covered more fully in a later article which will be released leading up to the commencement of pennant.

Personally, if I’ve won the toss I will call for a medium length end and monitor the performance of my own players plus the opposition before planning a form of attack. The skipper must always remain calm, encourage his or her players and call the shots with great authority, thus letting your opposition players, including the skipper, know that you expect to win. No. 1 priority however is to defend before you attack, in other words make sure you have bowls in the head before you even think about playing a weighted shot. Be prepared to forfeit one, or even two shots rather than play a risky shot that could possibly lose you a 4, 5 or even 6. There are exceptions to this “rule” but those exceptions should only come into play when the situation becomes desperate towards the end of a game.

There are many more considerations to becoming a good skipper and prior to the later coverage of tactics etc, I suggest you should take every opportunity to study the methods of our top skippers of today.

Incidently , there is a new CD out and it’s a beauty. Produced by Fox Development Systems it is narrated by Craig Fox, a Sports Psychotherapist, and it is my belief that any bowler, man or woman, who desires to play WINNING BOWLS should own a copy. Craig can be contacted on Ph. 61 3 5428 8799.


What bowls should I be using?

This article first ran in the VLBA (Victorian Ladies Bowling Association) Newsletter.

Please excuse me for not getting into the debate on the make of bowls you should use as there is such a glut of bowl colours,types,sizes etc. on the market today that it’s just a matter of choosing the set that best suits you and the conditions under which you play. One point I would like to make however is that bowls most used by Victorians have what I term the “hockey stick” bend (i.e. emphasis on late draw) but I much prefer the more regular “banana” bend type as they are better performed in the wind and much easier to control when executing a “paced” shot or more particularly a trail shot. What type of bowl I use is still the most asked question I have to contend with but for this purpose I’ll concentrate on size and weight.

This article is written basically for women bowlers in Victoria but from comments received about previous articles it seems that most of our men are more than a little interested. Perhaps it’s the outstanding quality of the publication that attracts male readers?

Back in the mid eighties I wrote an article similar to this one but it was prior to the advent of the narrower type bowls which invaded our shores around that time. During that era prior to 1985 I believed it was of paramount importance for bowlers, both men and women, to use the largest bowl they could comfortably manage. This no longer carries so much importance because the narrower type bowl does not have to cover the distance of it’s older counterpart and therefore requires less “push.” This doesn’t mean I completely dismiss the theory of using a larger bowl, particularly when it comes to the handling of heavy greens.

Let’s face it, if you are a Victorian and play most of your bowls south of the divide, then you are destined to play the majority of your bowls on slow surfaces, at the very least from season opening until Christmas.

In an earlier article headed “Heavy Greens” I touched on the subject of bowls and their attributes but now I’ll enter into a bit more detail.

There’s no doubt the heavyweight bowl carries more authority in the head and fares better in the wind when compared to it’s lighter counterpart but the latter vagary isn’t such a problem on heavy surfaces. The real downside to heavyweights on slower greens is their tendency to sink into the grass and therefore the momentum required, especially on long ends, is far greater. It’s that extra “push” required that reveals the flaws in many deliveries and in some cases causes us to throw rather than “bowl” the bowl.

My experience over 30 years in Victoria and another 11 in New South Wales has taught me that unless a larger proportion of your bowls is played on faster greens (including synthetics) then you should be using medium or standard weight bowls. Sorry to refer you back to men’s bowls but it’s interesting to note that the great Denis Dalton persevered mainly with heavyweight bowls during his five or so years in Melbourne and an examination of his record will show that the period in question was the worst of his illustrious career.

Now for the more controversial subject of bowl size. Realising that many women are not blessed with strong wrists or large hands, I still believe that too many bowlers, both men and women, opt for a smaller bowl, to the extent they sometimes play with a set two and even three sizes less than they should, simply for comfort’s sake. If you take your game seriously then you should be bowling with the largest size bowl you can manage and control.

In conclusion therefore, I recommend that if you have to endure the slower type surfaces then you should be using a medium or standard weight set and the largest bowl you can manage and control.

One tip I do have for you, maybe even two! If you have trouble holding your bowl in wet and cold conditions, place your set in the oven on low for one to one and a half hours prior to the commencement of play. I used this method during my years in Melbourne and Geelong with great success.The second tip is to purchase a packet of “Bowler’s mate”, a plasticine type substance and knead it in your bowling hand continuously during the day’s play. You’ll find this to have a three-fold benefit.

1. It assists blood circulation and keeps the hand warm.

2. Your fingers become soft and pliable rather than smooth and “glassy.”

3. Regular such exercise will help to strengthen your hand and fingers in the longer term.

On the latter subject it’s a good idea to exercise your hands and fingers on a regular basis by pressing right hand and fingers against left, bending the fingers back. By following this exercise pattern on a daily basis   I enlarged my stretch from spanning a size four to size seven in a matter of three to four years.

Good bowling and remember, if you enjoy yourself you will bowl well – not – if you bowl well you will enjoy yourself!

Bowl in the Draw

Is there such a thing as a bowl in the draw? The answer is yes, but only if the green is extremely narrow drawing or the bowl is very close to the jack.

On most occasions it is possible to draw around or under a bowl and still finish on the jack but to achieve such a result you must alter the position of your feet on the mat. The real key to success is contained in those three words “on the jack”.

The two best Australian bowlers of my time (Glyn Bosisto and Frank Soars) have both written books   and in each case they maintain that to draw around a bowl in the draw you must take your stance on the “inside” of the mat (i.e. the left hand side for a right hander,s forehand). What they are really saying is that if you move to the left and use the same aiming line or mark, you will draw around the offending bowl, but you will not draw back to the jack.

It is acknowledged that to try and explain why you should in fact stand on the “outside” of the mat is something akin to explaining the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.

The one sure way to convince yourself as to exactly where you should take your position on the mat is to draw the natural path of a bowl travelling from mat to jack, on a piece of cardboard (or see- through plastic is even better), cut it out and then transpose it over a similar drawing of a mat and track of the bowl with the offending bowl in the draw approximately equivalent to a metre from the jack.

Four feature drawings accompanying this article may help you to understand the theory but the important things to note are not only the position of your feet on the mat but also your aiming line or mark.

Explanations are as follows:

 a. Portrays the normal path of a bowl from mat to jack with aiming mark shown as a continuation of the initial line taken. It is acknowledged that the bowl commences to draw almost immediately after it is delivered but for the purpose of this exercise we will assume it runs straight for about three fifths of it’s journey.

 b. Identical to (a) except for showing the offending bowl in the draw.

 c. Confirms what Bosisto and Soars are saying about moving to the “inside” of the mat but as the drawing shows, with identical weight the delivered bowl will pass under the offending bowl and finish short of the jack. Should a little more weight be applied the bowl will traverse the bowl in the draw but finish slightly wide of the jack.

 d. Indicates the path of the bowl, skirting the offending bowl and finishing on the jack. You will note however that your aiming line will have changed and be slightly less than that shown in example (a) by approximately half of the distance your feet have altered on the mat (i.e. about 7/8 centimetres or three inches).

 If all this sounds too technical you’re right. It is complicated and need only be applied where perfection is necessary. In other words I advise that generally speaking it is easier to just take a little more grass than normal , thus drawing around the bowl but finishing Jack high rather than on the jack.


Heavy Greens

Love ‘em or hate ‘em we all have to put up with them and generally speaking Victorians should all be experts at handling a heavy surface. Why are they so difficult? We can all “heave” the bowl fast enough to reach the ditch at the other end and practice should make perfect so why do 99% of us detest even the thought of encountering a slow, or worse still, an ultra-slow green.

It’s interesting to watch the English, or more particularly the Scottish bowlers consistently reach the head on greens considerably slower than ours and, to confuse us even more, they do so with a pushing rather than a swinging action and with practically no backswing. They also run off the mat which is frowned upon here in Australia. The secret to their ability to easily reach the head is that they use large, standard weight bowls and in running off the mat, they “drag” their hand over the bowl, thus creating a form of overspin.

Unfortunately greens aren’t just fast, medium, slow or ultra-slow in pace, there are always variations, particularly when wind is a factor. Most of us can get reasonably proficient on slow greens as we are confronted with them on a reasonably regular basis but the big test arrives when we come face to face with a severely rain affected green or a day when the surface is already slow but we have to contend with a strong head wind in one direction.

You could, of course, play at Lakes Entrance where I do. We have only synthetic greens (very good ones) which run at a consistent 15.5 seconds with a 17.5 second draw. Each alternate pennant day however we have to leave those almost ideal conditions and adjust to greens timed at somewhere between 11.5 and 13.5 seconds. What’s the solution then? How do we adjust?

There are a number of ways to counteract the problem but each requires at least a reasonable amount of practice. Before I espouse these theories I must stress that a larger, lighter bowl will cover the distance with less effort than the smaller and heavier bowl, hence my decision to return to a size six standard weight bowl for the slower Victorian surfaces. Whilst I understand there would be very few women who could manage a bowls of such size I do recall that our World Champion of a few years back, Merle Richardson used size six and she was without peer in the eighties.

Implements aside the changes required to more easily and consistently handle holding greens, all have to do with minor changes to one’s delivery, but remember the key to consistency is always going to be rhythm. Elite Victorian women bowlers of my era such as Norma Massey and Marion Stevens both seemed to handle heavy greens whilst maintaining good rhythm but I’m more familiar with men bowlers such as Bob Middleton and Denis Dalton who were experts on slow surfaces and both were able to maintain a smooth fluent delivery no matter how slow the green. Yours truly also managed a silver medal at the Edmonton Commonwealth Games on greens much much slower than anything we will find in Australia.

Listed hereunder is a number of changes you could make. Select the one which most suits your current style and practice it at every possible opportunity until it becomes second nature.

1. Commence your backswing and complete it prior to any other body movement. In doing so, your forward swing and forward step will be in unison. For lady bowlers, particularly those who are not physically strong, this is an excellent method for driving as you can produce pace without effort. With a reasonable amount of practice you will find such a delivery can be executed with great fluency.

2. Focus your eyes close to the mat at point of delivery. This was the most important discovery that I made during practice prior to leaving for the Commonwealth Games. With your head well down you will find it far easier to complete a long, strong follow-through. Some might say it is difficult to keep a good line when looking close to your feet but slow greens are always narrow and maintaining a good line isn’t really a problem.

3. Hold the bowl well back in the palm of your hand giving you greater physical strength to deliver. Touch is not an issue and judgement is the order of the day.

4 After reading suggestion one it may sound strange but if you step early (not a fixed stance), again the forward movement of both your swing and bodyweight will create greater momentum than your normal delivery.

5. Try to quicken the tempo of your delivery. Make all movements faster than normal and you will pick up that extra metre or so whilst retaining rhythm.

I’ve never been in favour of extending your backswing as this can create great problems with timing thus making fluency extremely difficult.

It matters not which of these methods you choose so long as you practice diligently and learn to maintain a good long follow-through and a smooth, rhythmical delivery.

Good bowling and may you find some improvement in your heavy green play prior to our next meeting in a month’s time.

How to play Winning Bowls


Almost every bowler who ever played the game of lawn bowls has a burning desire to raise the standard of his or her current level, and why not? What’s the secret then, how does one go about raising a standard that may have existed for many years.

The first requisite is to stand back and have a good long look at exactly what you have been doing. Are you ambitious? Have there been changes to the standard, pace  and type of greens on which you play the majority of your bowls? Are your current bowls adequate? Are you fit enough? How often do you practice? Is your practice organised or do you just turn up for a roll once or twice a week with whoever is available? Perhaps a minor or even radical change to your delivery or thinking may be necessary!


Having just watched Ian Taylor (yes, the one we’ve watched on television with that queer delivery) play a brilliant game of bowls a fellow spectator remarked, “we may as well toss our coaching manuals out the window.” “Not so,” I replied,

  1. with a smooth rhythmical delivery he may have played even better
  2. He may play that way even more often (greater consistency)
  3. He could play top bowls for many years to come!

In Australia we are known for our good and even classical deliveries but we must learn to cultivate our rhythm, smoothness, balance and co-ordination during many hours of organised and dedicated practice so that we are “in the groove” when match time comes around.

My apologies to the lady bowlers in Victoria as I’m not familiar with the deliveries of our elite performers but I have had the pleasure of watching and playing against Australian representatives such as Daphne Shaw and Karen Murphy, two of our most successful lady bowlers and both have excellent deliveries which allow them to perform consistently at the top level.

Having played my bowls in an era where most of the tournaments were won by bowlers with orthodox or even classical deliveries like those of Bob King, Denis Dalton, Denis Katuna-Rich  and Geoff Oakley. Unfortunately one can become proficient with an unorthodox delivery but I find that this only occurs in bowlers who spend upwards of twenty hours a week at practice, and that is on top of their tournament schedule.


There has been very little learnt about technique in the past hundred years so, having cultivated an orthodox delivery you must then look to changes in your mental approach to gain ascendancy over an opponent. This can be done through the utilization of    the many cassette tapes and books available on the subject. This subject will be covered in greater detail later in the series.


Lastly, I suggest you indulge in a little homework. Every three or four weeks you should write a list of all the facts (good or bad) about your game, particularly with matters covered in earlier paragraphs. Having completed this exercise without referring to your previous list , you can then make comparisons. Don’t wait until you run into a bad patch of form as it is more important to study your thoughts and action when you are in good form. You’ll be surprised at the number of minor and even major points you have missed since the last appraisal

Follow the points covered and I feel sure you will lift your game and play WINNING BOWLS


Many bowlers shy away from any form of psychology, believing it to be too deep and only for the radical or highly intelligent. Visualisation is simple and a few of our elite bowlers utilise it with great success. In more than 100 years of bowls in this country, nothing new has been learnt as far as our deliveries are concerned so the only real advancement to be made is through our mental approach.

Unfortunately we everyday bowlers don’t have ready access to a sports psychologist unless we can afford a private session and they don’t come cheaply. I’m surprised that one of our deep thinking champion bowlers hasn’t written a book on the mental approach to lawn bowls. Bowler/authors such as Peter Belliss, Barry Salter and myself have touched on the subject but not at length or in detail. Authors such as Timothy Galway and Rudi Webster have written comprehensive books for Tennis players, golfers and cricketers so where are our bowl’s authors hiding?

My belief in visualisation is supported by the following two articles and I suggest that if you wish to raise the standard of your game, now’s the time to make a start.

An American soldier who previously played golf off a handicap of five was held prisoner of war for four years, most of it spent in solitary confinement. One week after his return to the U.S.A he played a game of golf and, to everyone’s surprise,except himself, shot a sub par round. “How did you do it” asked a journalist, “when you haven’t had a club in hand for more than four years and you are all skin and bone.” “Why not” replied the veteran, “I played 18 holes of golf every day of those four years, otherwise I would not have survived.” Those daily games of golf were not physically played of course, but visualised. And in the greatest possible detail to take the soldier’s mind off the deplorable conditions. He obviously had a great love for the game and remained dedicated to his chosen sport.

To emphasise the value of visualisation I quote the findings of an American authority making a detailed study of the subject. Two women’s basketball teams were so evenly matched that each had won their home game against the other by one point. One team undertook the normal physical training for one week whilst the second team was requested to pursue a course of visualisation for the same period. Most sceptics were surprised when the latter team won the match easily.

These examples clearly illustrate just how important visualisation is and, to me, it indicates great significance in our game of lawn bowls. Almost all of us, believe it or not, already use visualisation .To get our correct line we really imagine the path the bowl will take and from that path we decide on the amount of “green” required for our bowl to finish on the jack.

The moral to earlier illustrations is obvious. Whether you’re in position to practice regularly or not (and practice is of the utmost importance) spend plenty of time in mental practice by vividly imagining yourself, not only delivering the perfect bowl but also seeing yourself, in every possible detail, as being successful, playing the greatest game of your life and winning the match or tournament upon which you have set your goal. It’s up to you.