Basic Tactics of Lawn Bowling



by Rob Judson

August 2002

Basic Tactics in Lawn Bowling

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Setting Competition Goals

Game Formats and Procedures

In common with sports like golf, shooting, archery, etc, lawn bowling is a target sport. Lawn bowling games take the form of singles, pairs, triples or fours according to the number of bowlers in each team. A game is played on a rink, which is a demarcated strip of a bowling green. An end begins when the first player lays a mat and delivers an unbiased jack, which serves as the focal point for a head.

The projectiles used in the game are bowls, which two opposing bowlers or teams of bowlers alternately roll along the rink towards the target bowl, or jack. The bias of bowls causes them to travel a path of increasing curvature as they slow down.

Thus, a bowl provides forehand or backhand approaches for entering a head. Players grip a bowl with its biased side either on the left or the right depending on the chosen hand of play. The line, speed and objective of each bowl delivered depends on whether its purpose is creating, consolidating, defending or attacking the head, any of which can be the tactical key to winning the end.

The specified conditions for a particular game specify the number of deliveries allowed each player before an end is completed and progressive scores are determined. On completion of each end, a player or team receives one point for each of its bowls resting closer to the jack than any opposing bowl. The direction of play on the rink reverses for successive ends, each of which follows a sequence of the laying of a protective mat, delivering of the jack, and delivering of the allowable number of bowls, in turn.

The specified conditions for a game indicate when play is to end and a winner is to emerge. Team games (pairs, triples and fours) usually finish on completing a specified number of ends. The winner of a singles game, or a game within a set, is usually the first player to accumulate a specified score of points. The winner of a sets match is the first player to win a majority of the specified maximum number of games (usually 3 or 5). Scorecards should show the points won for each end completed and the cumulative scores in each game. A scoreboard at the end of the rink should show the cumulative scores in each game and, for games comprising a specified number of ends, the number of ends completed.

Strategic Aims

Some competitors would express their tactical aim for an event in terms of winning at all costs, or winning if possible. However, a focus on winning has some difficulties. First, it is suggestive more of ego-involved, than of task-involved motivation for participating in the sport. In other words, there is sharper focus on 'destinations' than on the positive experiences of 'journeys'. Second, some people have conditioned themselves to equate winning with success, and losing with failure. They would thereby have difficulty in expressing their aim for an event, other than in terms of winning. Third, some people would consider that an aim expressed other than in terms of winning would be a recipe for not winning, or that losing is automatically a conscionable outcome. Even top-ranking competitors experience competition losses, and most competitors in all sports experience more losses than wins. Fourth, event outcome, i.e. winning or losing, depends on many factors outside the individual control of either competitor. Competitors can control only their own performances. Where one competitor is outperforming another, that other has no way of changing the likely result of the contest other than by improving performance. Should the competitor in the lead continue to outperform, any winning aims of the other would be in disarray and no longer relevant. Towards the end of the game, that opponent would tend to experience distraction, anxiety and powerlessness because of the score line.

A preferable form for a strategic aim might be: "To secure the greatest possible advantage of shot numbers through low-risk tactics, or failing that, to secure the least possible shot disadvantage". Such an aim would apply to the delivery of every bowl in every end of the match, whatever its possible or probable outcome. It would imply a quality of performance that sustains pressure on opponents right to the last bowl of the game. Sometime, the calibre of relative performance will yield a winning result, which is a bonus or reward for that particular effort. However, the basic strategic aim should relate to ability and performance, not to winning.

Basic Tactical Concepts

Establishing the Head

Tactics are an element of all sports and games. The use of tactical skill in the course of play is neither unfair nor poor sportsmanship. It mainly involves the exercise of common sense and the avoidance of poor decisions.

Basic Tactics in Lawn Bowling

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Competitive bowlers should have a thoughtful approach to each game. They should watch jack and bowls during any trial ends to obtain a feel for the green conditions. Trial ends of full length best indicate the approximate aiming angle required.

If there is a cross wind, competitors should determine whether the wide hand or the narrow hand is the kinder side of the rink. When all other things are equal, the narrow hand is commonly the easier hand to play. The aiming angle will be narrower, and the smaller angular distance between the destination point and the aiming point is normally easier to accommodate during the aiming process.

Leads should avoid playing 'around the clock', i.e. playing the same hand, end after end. If one side of the rink is kinder, the team should direct its play on that side. Leads should also avoid the temptation to change hand for their second delivery. By changing hand, a lead can immediately leave opponents with resting opportunities on both sides of the jack. Singles players or skips might wish to change to the opposite hand if the opponents are favouring it with telling effect.

Bowlers should avoid bowling short, particularly when not lying shot. A team is bowling short if more than half of its bowls are stopping short of jack high. Players should be mindful of the need to avoid short bowling, especially when their team is not holding shot. Short bowls tend to block access to the jack. Any movement of the jack is usually rearward, leaving short bowls in ineffective positions.

Bowlers should avoid bowling narrow when lying shot. A team is bowling narrowly if more than half of its bowls cross a direct line to the jack or other destination. Narrow bowls tend to disturb the jack or to leave resting opportunities for the opposing team on the opposite side of the head.

If the green is rather slow, foot traffic near the ends of rinks will gradually increase the pace of green there. A team more alert to this effect can, if first to play, place the jack near the 2-metre mark with the expectation that opponents might not allow for the extra pace and lose bowls in the ditch. Skips could consider locating the jack near the two-metre mark if opponents seem shy of the ditch or troubled by faster grass there. It might also be a good location should one or more members of the opposing team be 'nigglers'. A team that prematurely attacks the head could ditch many of its attacking bowls. A team should avoid locating the jack at the two-metre mark if their opponents seem able to ditch it with running shots at will.

If the lead and second players are more adaptable than their opponents, the team might profit from frequent changes of end length. For the start of a new end, skips of teams to play first should consider mat and jack location. If they allow leads to choose their own length, they should ensure that the length is consistent and is providing their team with a competitive edge.

They should consider maintaining a winning length, or changing what has tended to be a losing length. A medium length would provide a winning opponent least scope to change length for the ensuing end. Medium length could be a safe choice for the first end. There is then least risk of an improper delivery due to length error because of a misjudgement of green pace.

Team Tactics

When a club or players themselves form a team, it should be the most competitive team possible. This involves the teaming of players who not only will demand 100% of themselves, but also will help each other to produce a 100% effort. In other words, the team should comprise the strongest players available, consistent with the likelihood that they will work together in a mutually supportive way. Whether they are close friends, or even well acquainted with one another, need not be a key consideration.

The more cohesion within teams, the more successful they tend to be. Healthy team cohesion results in points on the scoreboard. Uninhibited, positive communications using considerate words and body language are cohesive. The ability to foster team harmony and cohesion is a basic tactical skill. The maxim that 'a champion team will usually beat a team of champions' applies. Occasionally it falls to a skipper to bail a team out of trouble, but the earlier players are equally responsible for ensuring that the team does not continually get into trouble.

Teams with compatible members are sometimes unsuccessful because of inappropriate tactics when under pressure. Competitors should avoid spoiling their performances by hurrying delivery preparation. If an opponent misses a drive, there is no obligation to hurry a delivery to shorten the delay before the opponent's next drive.

Competitors should apply themselves undistractedly throughout a game. They should avoid wasting easy opportunities to add to the score when not under pressure. Any member with a weak opponent should maximise that advantage for the good of the entire team's performance. They should remember that no team wins a game until the opposing team irrecoverably loses it.

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Leads and seconds should never 'niggle' at (i.e. gratuitously attack) the head in personal attempts at beating their opponent. This behaviour can place a team four shots down when the second leaves the mat. Unsolicited advice from thirds can irritate and erode self-confidence of their skips. Skips should avoid this problem by having a courteous understanding with their thirds about their need for information or suggestions when on the mat themselves.

Once regularly selected to play in the skip position and thereby to act as tacticians of teams, some skippers tend to feel that their tactical wisdom becomes less fallible. Some of them become quite unreceptive to advice or enlightenment on their tactical method. Skips generate team cohesion by avoiding an egocentric personal style and adopting a consultative approach to team tactics. Effective skips can do this without compromising their responsibility and decision-making authority.

A skip’s early duty is the forging of a good relationship with the third. Other forms of mutual support and respect flow from there. Everyone in a team should feel the equal of the others. A skip is part of a team, not above it. Skips should confer with their teams before each game. Skips could consider stationing new or inexperienced thirds at the head to better communicate their tactical thinking.

Skips of newly constituted teams should ascertain the shot repertoire of each player. They should ascertain which players like feedback about length errors. If the third is a better driver than the skip, the team can use the third to do more of the driving if any heads develop in a way that driving becomes advisable.

Game Planning Basics

Lawn bowling is a coactive sport where teams play games by taking turns, rather than an interactive sport like hockey where all members of opposing teams are continuously engaged. Therefore, key aspects of a competition game plan apply intermittently while the team has possession of the rink. The plan should be embraced by all members of the team, and committed to writing where circumstances permit.

Generally, a game plan will reflect a chosen strategy, and will include the intended tactics for achieving it. Simplicity is an attribute of a game plan that makes it easier for competitors to remember when under pressure. Complicated or highly detailed game plans tend to be forgotten in tight contests.

A game plan should allow for changes should particular tactics prove unproductive. Therefore, flexibility is another positive attribute for a game plan provided a team changes its tactics in a coordinated way.

A game plan should not ordinarily contain tactics designed to mask known weaknesses. Weaker elements of performance should receive attention during the training and practice plan of the individual or team, rather than as elements of a game plan. Careful attention to shortcomings in the days or weeks before the starting day of a competition should have replaced weaknesses with new strengths.

If the competition green is obviously slow, or exposed to a gusty, variable wind, the game plan should reflect a determination to minimise short or narrow bowls, and to avoid continual changes of delivery line in efforts to ‘fight’ the wind.

Post competition analysis should include relating performances to relevant game plans.

Shot Selection

Head-Reading Basics

A good method for a team to use for evaluating its options is the SWOT procedure. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths,

Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats:

• What is our shot advantage now? What are the strengths or preferences of the bowlers whose turns are to follow?

• What is our present deficiency of shots? What are the perceived weaknesses of each team?

• What opportunities or potential rewards does the head offer? What is the degree of difficulty entailed with each?

• What are the threats or risks entailed with each option? What is the scoring effect of the worst outcome?

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