Notwithstanding COVID-19, excitement is building for the 2021 Pennant season. With the 2020 season being cancelled after 3 rounds fingers crossed, we get a full run this year. Trials begin this weekend and as such your roving Saints correspondent thought it was a good time to discuss the roles and responsibilities of each position in a fours game, not only for the benefit of our new members, but also as a refresher for our long-term members. It cannot be stressed enough that different positions played in lawn bowls have unique responsibilities and the way players carry out these duties will invariably determine the overall performance of the team. I have discussed these roles with some of our most experienced bowlers and combined with my own experience and views, below is a summary. However, always check with your skip on their expectations for your position and you prior to your game.
The Team: I have learnt, both in business and sport, that the most successful teams play for each other. We each need to go out and play our selected position the best we can for our team mates. Bowls is not defined by a single end, it’s 21 ends and the strategy we employ is for that duration although we may pivot our strategy as conditions change and we learn more about our opponents. Don’t worry about getting the shot, follow the strategy and shot selection that your skip has devised. Remember the head looks very different from the mat as compared to the head itself. Play for your team mates and play for the Saints. Pennants is not an individual contest.
The Lead “the Rock”: The Lead is the most important position in a team, the first player I look for when forming a top team is a great lead.
The art of Lead bowls is to be able to deliver the Jack to a length requested by the Skip, then get two bowls in the Head, or at least behind the jack within the “keyhole”.
The keyhole as shown above and is an area 6” (150 mm) all around the Jack opening up to a spread for approx. a yard (1 m) behind the Jack. The perfect two bowls a lead can play is one <20cm directly in front of the jack and one directly behind the jack. Jack High bowls are not great as these can be used by your opponents to gain shot so consistent line is invaluable in a lead.
Use the “trial ends” to find the true side of the green and discuss this with the Skip as you pass on the green. This will mean bowling forehand in one direction and backhand in the other to play on the true side. It is not recommended to bowl “around the clock” (same hand in each direction, e.g. backhand) as the grass is usually different each side and so too can be the pace. Do not change your hand unless your skips asks you to.
Remember, although to be shot is desired, it is not essential because back bowls inside the keyhole area are good positional bowls and are equally important. Short bowls (> 30 cm in front of the jack) are a cardinal sin. If you drop short with your first bowl make sure you finish behind with your second, two short bowls in unforgivable. As Confucius said “short bowl never disturb head”.
The Lead is “the Rock” of the team on which success is built. If the Lead plays a good hand, usually the rest of the team follows suit. I have heard Leads say they are disappointed when their shot bowl gets knocked out. What the Lead needs to remember, they set the scene, and their bowls are the bowls to beat. You don’t need shot, just two good bowls in the head.
When practicing, Leads should roll multiple jacks to different lengths for at least 10 mins before they put a bowl down. Not only do you get the pace of the green but rolling the jack is so important to the team strategy and success, if you can’t roll a jack within 30cm of where the skip has his foot you won’t play top grade. Now you are ready to bowl in practice; with the matt on the tee, set one jack minimum length and one maximum length and draw two bowls to each jack on the same hand, do the same in the other direction on the same side of the rink (i.e. other hand), NB you need four jacks. After 15 mins place a bowl close to each jack (you will need two additional bowls) and draw to beat that bowl. This puts you under pressure like a game situation. A good lead will always be sought out by the club’s top players and asked to join a team as good leads are very hard to find.
The Second “the Opportunist”: The Second is the most important player in a team and must be a player with all the shots. There is only one rule that a second must know and be able to execute: “When your team is holding shot you play wide 30-60 cm past the jack, finishing at or about the extremity of the rear of the key on the same side; if your team is not holding shot you play narrow 30-60 cm past the jack, finishing on the other side of the rear of the key”. Consistently do this and your skip will love you and you will be the first person selected in the top team. Good seconds have precise weight control and can play positional bowls when the skip calls for them. A good Second should also possess a solid drive or running shot. With the advent of tighter bowls some 15 years ago all players lines are better, i.e. they finish more times than not within 30 cm of the centre line. This means that after 6 or 7 bowls being delivered the jack and shot bowl can be blocked by short bowls. A Second must be able to break up a head when needed otherwise the team can get in serious trouble very quickly.
A good Second is usually more versatile than a good lead because of the need to play both sides of the rink, chop and change between forehand and backhand and play a variety of weighted shots. A good Second hands his lead each of their bowls before they get on the mat and never takes the mat until the skip has called the shot. Never try and pre-empt what shot the skip might call, not only is it off putting for the skip but it will also cause you confusion as your choice of shot may be different to the skips. How many times have you heard “I had two shots in my mind” when a player misses a shot?
In practice drills again do the short jack long jack as per above, 15 mins. Then draw to a ditch jack, one in middle and one to either side, 10 mins. Then place a jack mid length on the line with a bowl adjacent to that jack and a jack directly left or right of the first jack and on the boundary line. Drive at the bowl. When you hit it draw to the boundary Jack. The hardest shot is a draw after a drive but this is very common. 10 mins. Next place two bowls within 10cm of the jack and draw or play two foot through to get shot, 10 mins. Now go to the bar and have two beers, 15 mins. An hours training done twice a week will improve your bowls and the club’s coffers.
The Third “The Enforcer/Conversion King”: The Third, like the Skip, is active at both ends of the rink – at the mat and in the Head and is the most important member of the team. When stepping up to the mat, eight bowls have already been played and the Skip may have a particular strategy in mind. Never take the mat without taking instruction from the Skip on the shot and outcome desired. Connect with the Skip to ensure the right shot is delivered, e.g. rather than a draw shot, a strategic bowl, or a take-out shot is called for. This means that the Third is required to be a strong bowler, must be capable of the full variety of shots, i.e. draw on either hand; play a “Yard on/Metre through”, a “Hit and Stay” or a Drive when requested, as well as playing a Positional Bowl. Practice all of these twice a week as per above. The Third should also be able to encourage team performance, be diplomatic, and always trust the advice of the Skip.
The Third must always be focused on play and be good at reading the Head, as the Skip may ask for advice from time to time, so you will need to be able to accurately assess the Head. When giving advice, be clear and succinct in direction, weight and desired outcome. Always tell the skip which bowl they need to beat as well. It is important to not confuse the player on the mat by giving too much extraneous information e.g. doing the Chicken Dance saying, “This is theirs, and this is ours, you could do this or you could do that or maybe…” and accompanying signals, a good skip knows the head. Be specific. If the Third is unsure on which shot to call for, then be confident enough to ask for the Skip to come to the Head. The Third is the communication link with the Skip to share strategies with other team members so they feel part of the action. The Third needs to carry chalk and a measure and be a “capable measurer”. If you are not, then practice measuring too.
The Third must be aware of the laws of the game, especially covering the head. The Third should stand still just behind the Jack when the Skip is playing, without moving or providing advice unless asked to do. When the Head belongs to the opposition, the Third should move to behind the Head and then stand perfectly still. A good Third should be a skilful bowler paying constant attention to the game, have endless patience and a fair amount of psychological strength to offer your teammates and the Skip.
The Skip “the Strategist/Executioner: The Skip should be a competent bowler playing every shot in the book and know the Laws of the Game. They should be the best “converter” on the green or have a Third who is. The Skip is the “Motivator”, a good psychologist, psychiatrist and an analyst. A Skip must know the team’s individual players and call shots within their capability. A Skip must be clear and concise with their directions - give just one desired shot and outcome to provide focus and intent for the player; the chance of success is increased because of the player being able to visualize exactly what you want. Try it, the results may surprise you. I am sure you will agree that providing the player with several alternatives, or a string of too much information can cause confusion.
I spoke with one of our leading Skips on this point and he stated that: “A decisive attitude by a Skip benefits both the Skip and the player being directed. The Skip is demonstrating leadership and knowledge which is what the player needs to focus on one, and only one, shot and what the team needs to progress. I also have found from experience that clear and highly specific direction can enhance a player’s personal development. It’s surprising how often players rise to the challenge when given clear direction and achieve a level of performance that is higher than they anticipated. When players start to believe that they can “make the shot” rather than just being hopeful, they have reached a higher level of ability which they will not recede from.”
A good skip memorises the head, looks for the highest percentage shots (e.g. this hand offers a draw and a sit and stay on a wing bowl vs the other hand that is just a dead draw). A good Skip memorises every good shot they have played and recalls these when under pressure.
A good skip always praises good performance and does not express any feelings of displeasure with bad shots. If necessary, talk to the player having difficulties when passing them on the green by giving an encouraging word or a tip for improvement. The Skip should take the Third into his or her confidence to show the team, and the opposition, that the team is in complete harmony. A Skip must be loyal to his own team to bring out the best in them. Never let your team hear you criticize them back at the Clubhouse. (Many a skip has lost a good team member because of this mistake.)
A Skip must be in tune with the state of the green, call percentage shots, have a good attitude, communicate clearly, and most of all show everyone you are enjoying the game. A Skip must analyse the opposition as well as their own team for their strengths and weaknesses. Find a weakness: a bowler who drops a bowl – go ditch to ditch or dead short, they lack control and will probably be found out at either length; a bowler only playing one hand – take that hand away from them, see what they can do on the other; a Third driving on medium lengths – go long to reduce the percentage of the shot; a lead always jumping on the mat before your leads bowl stops – stay on the mat a little longer and break their rhythm. Observe, make notes, pivot your strategy.
The most important relationship worth developing is that of the Skip and the Third. Know each other’s game, strengths and weaknesses. Be open to suggestions but decide on the one shot you want and can play. Being a Skip is being a team member who has good management skills and a relaxed demeanour to ensure the team members play to the best of their abilities.
Prior to each game the Skip needs to discuss with the team their individual responsibilities and the teams game plan. Strategy will change but go in with a game plan. If you don’t have a game plan, watch the first 5 ends slip by and suddenly you are down 8 shots. Teambuilding is important, as the performance potential of a team is much greater than the individual talents of a player. Mutual respect, good communication, trust, acceptance and encouragement are just a few traits that will foster team spirit.
Did you notice something? Every position is the most important position. I will say again, we each need to go out and play our selected position the best we can for our team mates. Fours is not an individual game; we all need to lift each other to succeed.
This article was penned by our resident Saints reporter and outstanding skip - Chris "Scarey" Carey.