Back to bowling basics

Training Session

I've played a lot of different sports in my life, even been paid to do that on occasion, and any sportsman will tell you that there are days when, regardless of what you try, things are never going to go your way. I've tried all manner of different remedies some more successful than others.

Once whilst going through a barren spell as a goalscoring centre-forward I tried everything to get out of this drop in form, even resorting to having a tot of whiskey before a game to help me relax more in front of goal. I was convinced that I was playing much better, the manager didn't agree as he substituted me told me that it was time for me to take a rest as he thought I was going downhill fast.

I eventually took the advice of a senior pro that I needed to concentrate on the basics of the game, like basic passing to a team-mate, rather than trying the advanced and spectacular. And it proved to be good advice. So how do you overcome a drop in form on the bowling green? Maybe that same advice applies to bowling as much as it does football. So let's go back to the basics of bowling and I now quote from the website for a lesson in the basics which may help anyone looking to recover their form.

Some of what follows is very basic but you may find some useful tips among the guidance. If you are thinking of modifying your bowling action then the start of a new season is the time to do it and maybe this article will point you towards some simple changes that you may wish to try out.

How to hold a crown green bowl There is no definitive way to hold the bowl. Some bowlers “cradle” the bowl, whilst others may feel more comfortable having their thumb and/or little finger along the side(s) of the bowl. You’ll sometimes see the “claw” grip, where the thumb is placed up the back of the bowl. This is a style often seen in flat green bowls, and is not the easiest grip to master. Just choose the one that works for you!

The main thing is that the bowl leaves the hand correctly. Before delivering the bowl, make sure that the bowl is held in such a way that is “pointing” in the direction you want and the sides of the bowl are upright. I’ve always maintained that the bowl is an extension of the arm, and once you’ve become used to the feel of your bowl in your hand, you almost forget that it’s there. That means there is one less thing to think about!

Preparing For Delivery

To bowl consistently it is vital that you keep your balance right throughout the delivery. Any deviation will be exaggerated by the slightest sideways movement. The first thing is to find a stance that is comfortable for you. The stature of the bowler will sometimes affect how they achieve this, but try to avoid overextending your lead long (the left if you are right-handed), as this is often how good balance is lost.

You’ll often see bowlers automatically brace themselves by holding the lead leg with their non-bowling hand. In some cases, they won’t even know that they are doing it, it is a pure reflex. Please remember, the lead leg must be on the opposite side to the bowling arm to be legal.


This is an area where there are two options to assist in getting the right line. When I started playing I was told by a bowler, with many years experience, to look for a reference point at the side of the green and aim for that. I soon discovered that, whilst it did help, I sometimes had a problem with either spectators or other players preventing me from seeing where I needed to go.

I was later advised to select a point on the green at about 6 to 10 feet in front of the mat and use that for alignment. This I found was a much more reliable method, provided I didn’t focus on a feather or piece of paper, which invariably blew away.

However, since then, I usually use a slightly different method. Listening to top golfers, they often say that they “see” the shot in their head before they play it. I suddenly found that was what I was doing and realised that the best aiming aid we have is our brain.

Once the jack has been sent, if I watch it intently, I remember the line it took. If I close my eyes, I still have the memory of that line in my head. There’s no way of knowing if this would work for you, it’s just another option. Just try the alternatives, as all three do work. I sometimes use the first two methods too, depending on the length of the mark. Maybe a combination of more than just one method is best for you, so don’t dismiss any until you’ve tried them all.

The Jack Line

It is important to realise that, although the bowls and jack have the same bias, on a falling or pegging mark gravity gets involved. This is more noticeable on faster greens, with heavier bowls. Whilst the bowl will follow the jack to start with, as soon as it slows down and starts to peg, gravity will kick in causing the bowl to move off the jack line.

By setting your bowl out on a slightly higher line you should be able to compensate for this. The same problem can arise on straight marks bowled along the edge of the green, as well as greens with a high crown.

Delivering The Bowls

Before releasing the bowl (or jack) make sure that your back foot is on the centre of the mat (the same side as your bowling arm). Delivery of the bowl is an individual thing, everyone has their own style or technique. No two actions are the same. The component parts of the delivery, however, have to be correct to maximise the efficiency of the action. As with a lot of sports involving propelling an object, the smoother action, the better the results.

In the case of bowls, a problem a lot of people have is reaching the jack on long marks. Normally longer distances can be achieved without dramatically changing a player’s natural action. A person’s physical size is not a major factor in the distance they can send a bowl, it’s how they apply themselves to having an efficient delivery.

The Delivery

This is made up of four components: backswing, downswing, release and follow-through.


The backswing starts from when you pick the bowl up. As you take the bowls back keep a smooth rhythm letting the weight of the bowls dictate the distance before starting the downswing.


As the arm starts moving forward, keeping a smooth speed, accelerate it and release the bowl as paralell to the ground as possible. In fast running conditions you may need to decelerate.


Let the bowl come out of the hand naturally, if you release too early it will hit the ground at an angle causing a reduction in distance. Likewise, releasing too late makes the bowl travel through the air before, again, hitting the ground at an angle.

Follow Through

This part is probably the hardest factor to understand, but after you release the bowl, the continuation of the arm movement does affect the distance the bowl travels. Watch any top class sports person in tennis, snooker, cricket, golf, field athletics etc, and notice the action always continues after they have made contact with the ball or released the shot, javelin, discus etc. The absence of follow-through can be useful on a fast green, when a short mark has been set, to avoid sending the bowl too far.

Adjusting The Distance

This is achieved by simply changing the speed of the delivery. In average conditions a minor change in speed will affect the distance achieved. Obviously on heavy or wet greens the variation in delivery speed is more dramatic and on dry, running greens, the tiniest of adjustment can make a big difference.

Popular Misconceptions

You often hear the comments, “I wasn’t strong enough to reach” or “my bowls weren’t heavy enough to reach”. Strength is not directly related to how far a bowl will travel – if the delivery action is correct. If your opponent is physically bigger than you they won’t have to rely on having a good delivery action quite as much. But by improving your technique and gaining confidence in your ability to put your bowls anywhere on the green, and at any length can give you an edge.

Whoever you play will try to play to their strengths, either through length of delivery or by using straight or pegging marks, so it is vital that you have the confidence in knowing you can put your bowl anywhere the jack may land. Once your delivery action becomes comfortable you can concentrate purely on the correct line, and the distance required becomes instinctive.

Regarding the weight of bowls. The bowls you use, if of the correct weight to suit your hand size and wrist strength, are an extension of the arm and consequently the delivery speed will again govern the distance attained. However, the lighter the bowl the faster the action required, due to the physics of the bowl to achieve the same distance.

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