Training Sessions 1

Training Session – 2 trainees

Lead player duties

[Supplies:  Green, end Numbers, 4 edge markers, 4 jacks, 2 sets of bowls, 2 mats, 2 pushers]

Introduction to tools:

The second most important player in a game can be the Lead…the first being the Skip.

When the score for an ‘end’ has been decided between the two ‘Skips’, the ‘Lead’ player of the team that scored knows that he/she will deliver the first bowl for the next end.   That means the ‘other Lead’ gets to gather the bowls with the ‘pusher’. But the two opposing Leads have to work in unison.

Team that scored Team that didn’t
The Lead must fetch the mat and set it on the green; centred on the ‘end number’; a suitable* distance from the ditch; getting confirmation* from his/her Skip The Lead fetches the ‘pusher’ from the bank; gathers the bowls; and pushes them towards (but not into) the ditch; watching where the opposing Lead is setting the mat; so that the bowls are behind the front of the mat but within easy reach.


Placement of the Mat

I said it should be a ‘suitable’ distance from the ditch and that ‘confirmation’ by the Lead’s Skip should be received. Rules indicate that it must be a minimum of 2 metres (at least two lengths of the mat). In club play, the Skip often leaves it up to his Lead—unless he has a ‘tactic’ in mind, which you’ll be taught later. The maximum distance from the ditch is with the front of the mat at the ‘hog line’ (discussed later). (Besides, the ‘hog’ line mat placement makes for a very short distance to bowl and requires that the Jack be thrown sufficient distance to be OK.)

The usual practice is to face the ditch, make sure the mat is right-side up, and keep it in line with the ‘green number’ until it’s at least 2 metres away.

Delivering the Jack

The Lead’s Skip will be standing where he would like you to send the Jack (or Kitty). You’ll throw (roll) it, while standing on the mat, to come to rest within the play area (shown above in grey). The rules require that the Jack shall come to rest at least 23 meters from the front of the mat; so the Skip stands at least that far away from you.

If your delivery falls short of the grey area, the opposing team instead delivers the Jack (embarrassing).   If instead, it goes into the far ditch, same result. But if it goes beyond (the grey area), yet doesn’t reach the ditch, the Skip lifts and places the Jack 2 metres from the ditch (at his end).

Centering the Jack

In competition play, there may have been marked a line on the grass (representing a straight line down the centre of the green); but in club play, your Skip will require your help in making sure the thrown Jack is centred on the green.

Standing on the mat and using the rink/green number behind your Skip as your guide, indicate —usually with your arms—whether the Jack should move to the left or right. When it is centred, signal so. (A common mistake is for the Lead to see that the Jack is centred, and stop communicating—by leaving the mat. The signal varies by club and Skip, but holding both arms straight up is common.)


Starting the End

Meanwhile, the opposing team’s Lead will have positioned the bowls to the right-hand side* of the mat, so that none are in the way of the delivery and all are behind the front line of the mat. Should the Jack have been misdelivered, the two Leads will exchange roles.

* The assumption in bowls texts is that the player is right-handed.

The pusher and any other unneeded items will be removed to the bank, and play will commence with the Lead delivering the first bowl as guided by his/her Skip. Always wipe off any chalk-marks from your bowl (put there by the Skip if the bowl hit the Jack.)

Delivering a Bowl


In ‘Pairs’ (or ‘Doubles’) play, you have 4 bowls to deliver; in ‘Triples’, 3 bowls; and in ‘Fours’, just 2 bowls. Unless otherwise directed, your intent is to draw each bowl as close to the Jack as possible. Since hitting the Jack would change the setup of ‘the Head’, that is Not the intention.

Instead, the ideal ending position of your first bowl is just behind or just in front of the Jack.   If you accomplish it, it will be harder for your opponent to move or remove it. Regardless, your Skip may express his/her wish for a particular ending position. Within six inches of the Jack would be very pleasing.

If you are the opposing Lead, your first bowl will usually have the same target and you are not expected to pay attention to your opponent’s bowl—even if it is hiding the Jack.

If the Jack does become hidden, the Skip may have to signal you its position with either his hands or holding a towel above it. Regardless, your delivery weight or speed is based on reaching the Jack—not on removing obstacles.


End of Turn

Following the delivery of each bowl, remain on the mat while watching where it stops and for any confirmation of success from your Skip. Then make room for the opposing Lead by moving behind the mat to watch his/her delivery. By all means, pick up your next bowl and prepare it for delivery to avoid delaying the game.

After all your bowls have been delivered, move back to the bank to make room for the next player.   (If playing ‘Pairs’/’Doubles’, wait for your opponent’s last bowl to come to rest before collecting your towel or scorecard and walking to the opposite end of the green.)

Training or Coaching

Although we invite visitors (if dressed appropriately) to join us (especially if we’re short a player), it is so much wiser for one person to show you how we bowl on a separate green, foregoing his/her place in a game. Mid-season, however, it is possible that no space remains for such demonstration and guidance during your visit.

If you are serious about becoming a good bowler, arrange time with a competent trainer/coach when both he/she and you can do so without the distraction of onlookers. We do so individually or in small groups without reimbursement. Obviously, the larger the group of trainees, the less individual attention you receive.

Because the weight and size of your bowls affect your effort, each bowler may need to choose a slightly different ‘point of aim’. The bowl’s ‘bias’ creates the curve or path that it follows in your attempt to arrive at the Jack. Keeping your eye focused unblinkingly on that point may be compromised by eyeglasses or by being off balance.

One thing you should know is that almost no two people have identical delivery patterns. Your height, arm-length, weight and fitness affect this balance. The movement requires co-ordinating your arms and legs, while bending, but keeping your eyes on that ‘point of aim’. A trainer isn’t just another bowler, he/she recognizes these factors in others.

I suggest practising by imitating others—without a bowl at first. Some people, for example, find that their left hand (having nothing to do) varies it’s movement—so anchoring it on your left knee at least keeps it consistent. Some people can’t release the bowl close to the ground, allowing it to bounce unnecessarily.

Since you likely don’t own a set of bowls when you first visit us, try different sets until you find ones that are easiest to deliver. Then make a note of their size and weight. For instance, size 00 is smallest in diameter and in weight; size 5 is about 10% wider and 30% heavier. If you get some training, ask which bowl is right for you.

We have members who may have bowls for sale and others who can order a set for you when you reach that point. Dimpled bowls are easier to grip, heavy bowls require more effort, and there are three major manufacturers (Henselite, Drakes Pride, and Taylor). If you can, borrow someone’s bowls to feel the difference.

Hints about delivery

Before you step on the mat, select your bowl from the gathered bowls that are beside you.

(Especially if borrowing bowls, you may make a good shot with the wrong bowl and give away a point.)

Make sure your bowl is clean.

(If the grass is damp, mud or grass may have attached to the bowl, causing it to slip during delivery.)

Position yourself within the mat’s edge.

(For a right-hander, the right foot must remain on or above the mat until the bowl is released.)

Take direction from the Skip as to required shot.

(Some Skips give ‘a green’ or ‘aiming point’ which tells you on which side the bias must be.)

Point your right foot at your ‘aiming point’.

(If you know that your bowl takes a narrower draw, you may be aiming slightly inside the Skip’s indicated position. Remember that the Skip is directing other players as well.)

Don’t hold your breath.

(Your concentration should be on delivery, so you don’t want to be hurried. If anything, exhale before taking your arm backward.)

Check the grip and bias.

(The grip should be relaxed and the bowl ‘upright’ in your hand.)

Step forward with your left foot.

(Depending on your chosen method, this may be taking a preparatory stance—or a part of the actual delivery.)

Bend your body.

(Depending on your delivery choice, this is either preparatory or the means to bring the bowl down to ground level.)

Keep your eyes on the aiming point.

(Picture in your mind the path of the shot.)

Combine the backswing and forward step.

(The degree of backswing is dictated by the distance of your shot.)

Watch your bowl’s path.

(If it met your aim, was it correct and heavy enough? If not, remember what to change with your next shot.)


Some commonly asked questions

Is outdoor bowling much the same as indoor (mat) bowling?

Whereas outdoor bowling (on grass) offers a varying surface, dependent on weather and how recently mowed, the indoor mat is almost constant. Dependent also on how long the (indoor) mat is, it might not be as fixed as a regulation grass green. Also, because of the absence of wind, an indoor surface is more consistent. The actual temperature outdoors fluctuates with the time of year, making the weight of your clothing another factor.

Are the same bowls used indoors as for outdoor bowling?

Experts will point out that, although the same bowls may be used, the conditions are sufficiently different to dictate not. The indoor carpet remains the same throughout, as does the temperature.   The draw is wider and constant and there is no ditch indoors. It makes good sense (if you can afford it) to buy bowls that suit the indoor conditions.

Does the indoor game differ when learning to bowl?

Facilities are used for other sports in the summer, so are temporary. A carpet laid on a bare floor creates less friction, so the bowl needs a wider draw and travels more slowly, requiring less effort to deliver.   No seasonal adjustment, month to month, is required. The lack of a ditch results in slightly different handling of ‘out of bounds’ bowls/jack.

Do tactics differ between indoor and outdoor bowls?

With lower friction indoors, a ricochet off one bowl can better be predicted. Using a bowl with a narrower running path allows you to stay closer to the centre line when bowling on carpet, making a take-out shot more reliable. Indoors, you may find it helpful to have a wet towel to increase friction—where outdoors a dry one would do.

How does training for indoor and outdoor bowling differ?

The outdoor season takes more training, especially to adapt to the weather. The grass is sometimes newly cut and dried by the sun; but sometimes longer and heavy with dew. After a few ends the grass dries in well-used areas but not throughout.   The tracks of previous bowls can often be seen, which may assist the next player to copy or adjust his aim.   Outdoor bowlers prefer bowls with grips to avoid it slipping.


Training Session   — 2 trainees — Player duties

Vice (or 2nd in Triples) 

[Required:  Green, End Nos., 6 green markers, 2 Jacks, 6 sets bowls, 2 mats, 2 pushers]

Whereas in ‘Fours’, the players have 2 bowls each…and in ‘Pairs’ they have 4 bowls each, this narrative concerns the 3-player game where each has 3 bowls…i.e., ‘Triples’. The Lead will have already delivered his/her three bowls. In the process, the jack must have been moved. In the above drawing, the Skip directed an advanced mat, so the jack was thrown long-ish.


Depending on the experience levels of each team member, they will support one another with advice of their own or by interpreting the requests of their Skip. Your duties are divided into two phases—‘delivering your bowls’ and ‘tending the head’.

* The assumption throughout is that the players are right-handed and have already received coaching in delivering the bowl.

Delivering your bowls:

Whereas the routine for the Lead player varies much less, the ‘Vice-Skip’ will be reacting to the resulting ‘head’ and may either be ‘consolidating’ (improving a positive result) or ‘remedying’ (removing an opponent’s shot bowl). For example, in the illustration above, the jack was moved and ‘red’ currently is counting.

The jack is exposed to an ‘out turn draw’ = suitable if your Lead has the red bowls.

The blue bowl at top of drawing is exposed to a ‘take out’ = again to consolidate red’s score.

A heavy ‘out turn draw’ = would put a back bowl behind the jack, while there’s room.


If instead your Lead is blue, you might draw between the front reds for shot (by so doing, you are assuming your opponent will bowl an ‘in turn draw’ to ‘raise’ or slip between the front end.)

Regardless, you will normally agree with the Skip as to the shot you are planning to make.



Changing your role in the game:

After both Vices have delivered their three bowls (and they have come to rest), both the Leads and Vice-Skips will walk to the opposite end of the green. First, however, it is customary to move the Skips’ bowls closer to the mat.

Before leaving the ‘Head’, the ‘Skips’ may decide to discuss with their ‘Vice’ what they plan to do.   Although no actual measuring will be done until the end has been fully played, the Skip may confirm that at least one of the ‘Vices’ has the means to ‘chalk’ a ‘toucher’ and measure the bowls when the end is completed.

During the Skips’ deliveries of bowls, the Vice for the delivering Skip will stand in or behind the ‘Head’ and answer questions of his/her Skip. Depending on the importance of the match and the need to exchange suggestions, the Skip may walk to the ‘Head’.

The rules for ‘following a delivery’ are in a separate text. The principle, however, is that the game not be delayed unnecessarily and the opposing Skip not be inconvenienced by such activity.


Chalking a toucher:

While acting as the Vice-Skip, if the delivered bowl hits (touches) the Jack (before coming to rest), you will ‘chalk’ the Skip’s bowl. (No other bowl becomes ‘chalked’ – such as when a previously delivered bowl is pushed into the Jack.)

If the Jack is driven ‘out of bounds’ (sideways beyond the side boundary lines), the end becomes ‘Dead’ and no score is counted for either side. Any remaining undelivered bowls are pushed or carried to the ‘Head’ and the ‘Lead’ (for the team that lost the previous end) pushes the bowls to the mat.

If instead the Jack is driven into the ‘Ditch’ (but within the boundary lines), the Jack remains ‘Alive’ and the game continues. If the Jack was struck directly by the delivered bowl, that bowl will be ‘chalked’—even if it also ends up in the ditch and within boundaries. (Should it instead go ‘out of bounds’ after hitting the Jack, it becomes ‘Dead’ and is removed to the bank.


Counting the end:

With the exception of determining whether a ditched or struck Jack has gone out of bounds (which in match play calls for an Umpire’s decision), no measuring is done to determine who is lying ‘shot’ while there is still a bowl to be played.

If the two Vices agree to the bowl that lies ‘shot’ and to the bowl that is next closest, the ‘shot’ bowl can be picked up and placed (usually on a towel/cloth). If they then agree on the next closest bowl, and it is of the same team’s, it joins the other bowl on the towel.

Once a bowl of the ‘other’ team is next closest by agreement between the Vices, the score for the end is the number of bowls that were set aside. If they are not in agreement as to any of the compared shots, the Vices decide which of them will measure. A string or tape measure will usually resolve this decision. If still uncertain, the Skips can decide—or call for an Umpire.

The ‘Lead’ of the team not scoring will then ‘push’ in the bowls.

Either the ‘Vice’ or the ‘Skip’ will enter the agreed-upon score on the scorecard.

Delivery that crosses the boundary:

Let’s say that a previous shot caused the Jack to come to rest very close to the boundary.

Illustrated above is the Skip’s bowl’s delivery line. In order to reach the Jack, it will leave the playing area but come to rest within the lane/rink. The Skip would warn the Vice in advance, and if successful, the bowl would end in bounds and not be removed. If it doesn’t return before coming to rest, it would be removed to the bank.

This happens when a jack has been struck earlier and is close but not over the boundary line.   There is another remote risk of a bowl from the neighbouring lane/rink being in the way of the Skip’s delivery.   If the delivered bowl strikes a bowl on its way through the neighbouring lane, the struck bowl must be replaced where it was…or quickly lifted and replaced before being hit.

Etiquette would indicate that before attempting the shot, your Skip would inform the Skips in the neighbouring lane/rink of his/her intention.

Measuring can be better taught in person. This picture shows a typical string-type measure that retains the measured distance once the thumb is released (in this case the measurer’s left thumb).

And for really close bowls to the Jack, there are adjustable callipers built in.