Nailing that first bowl

Nailing that first bowl
Nailing that first bowl
June 29, 2015 Darryl Fitzgerald
Recently I’ve been working with a few bowlers who are just starting on the competitive path. A few of
them have played in Tournaments, some Districts/Provincials (especially Novice & Junior) and in some
other competitions like League nights around the club.
It’s always interesting to hear the thoughts of these players once they’ve had a taste of some higher level
competition. I don’t think anyone fully understands the skill required to play this game until they have
had a taste of playing people better than they are. The mental toughness, focus, vision and touch
required to play bowl after bowl is extreme. The ability to not only roll a bowl to a jack on the centre
line, but to adjust to varying lengths and then to be able to further adjust to a moving jack requires a vast
array of physical skills, mental skills and a lot of practice.
I often see practice going on where it’s a simple draw or drive routine. Roll a jack out, roll your bowls
close and repeat or in the case of a drive, roll the jack, then drive at it and repeat. Just the basics and no
real goals other than the draw to the centre jack wherever it may lie.
I asked many of the “newer” bowlers I’ve met this year (as in 5 or fewer years playing) what the most
frustrating thing(s) are when you are playing or what gets you the most worried/stressed when you play
yourself or with a team. (I also posed this question to a few seasoned players in regards to new players)
There were many things that came up, but one theme I picked up on from was rolling the jack and the
first couple bowls. Some found it hard to roll a jack or roll the first bowl close. When asked if they
practice jacks, many say NO. When I ask if they have any drills to help work on adjusting weight and a
lot say NO.
Some of the seasoned players are noticeably frustrated when their lead would roll the jack to a random
length (not where it was asked) and then the first one or two bowls would be nowhere near the target
jack. Many don’t realize how the first bowl can change all of the bowls to come after and how a good or
bad bowl can really lift or drop the team. Every miss builds up pressure and makes you feel like the
next bowl MUST get close, it can also feel like you’re letting your team down. You feel obligated to get
one close to make sure the next bowler on your team has something to work with and isn’t multiple
shots down. The pressure of that can make drawing close even harder.
I’ve touched on practicing rolling the jack in a past post, so I’ll refrain from any detail here (See: Who
Cares about Rolling a Jack?). But along the same line as that post, I want to draw attention to the
importance that a well thrown jack and a great first bowl has on your game.
Take a moment to recall a time you rolled your first bowl right onto the jack. Perhaps it was an inch in
front or behind, maybe you had a resting toucher on the front or back. Regardless, you nailed that
shot. How did you feel after that shot? How did you feel rolling your next shot? I bet it was a great
feeling! If you drew two feet in front or behind with the second, that probably felt fine as you knew you
had a great first shot. If you missed your first by three or four feet, how did that second shot
feel? Probably felt like a MUST MAKE shot! If you are a Skip, how does it feel when your lead nails
that first shot? I bet it feels just as good!
So doesn’t it make sense to take time to practice weight control and especially being able to relate
rolling the jack to rolling your bowl? Getting out to practice with both jacks and bowls can be
advantageous if you set the right goals and set a proper focus for your drills. Being able to relate the
rolling of the jack to the rolling of your first bowl so you can nail the length is a huge part of controlling
the game and setting your team up for success. For leads, your skip will love you if you can master this
skill. for singles play, this can set you up for a lot of success!
Below I will detail a couple of drills I recently used to help players work on weight control and also on
jack to bowl relation.
Drill #1 – Steps
This one is used by many people I’ve trained with and coaches I’ve worked with. It’s simple because it
requires 4 jacks (or 4 target mats or 4 half tennis balls). Place one on the minimum distance and one on
the 2 meter mark (maximum). The other two are to be placed at equal distances in the middle so you
have four targets at various lengths. Each bowl played is to a different length and you cannot bowl to
the same length twice. I tend to guide a player to start short and move to the next longer mark until they
hit the max on the 4th, then coming back they start long and proceed until they hit the minimum. If
you’ve done this a few times, you can start by mixing up the length and keeping to the same rule: you
cannot bowl to the same length more than one. This gives a little variety and keeps this fun. (Boredom
is always something to avoid when doing drills)
The idea is to gain the skill, touch and confidence that you can make substantial adjustments with each
bowl while hitting a similar line (the jack moves — remember that!). If you are rolling bowls all over
the green, you’ll need to step back and work on fundamentals to focus on point of aim. If you are close
and hitting a similar line each time, it should just be a matter of feeling the adjustments in weight to get
each length. This not only allows you to test all the fundamentals, but you can also see how the player
makes changes to their delivery for various lengths (maybe good, maybe bad).
Variation: Set jacks at various lengths, but also off centre. By adding in the need to adjust your line it
can test the focus of the player and give them an added challenge. I like putting a couple on the
boundary and seeing how the player adjusts.
Drill #2 – Jack and Jill
This one I used to train myself on rolling a jack and matching it with my first bowl. It’s a very simple
drill where you set your mat at the two metre mark and then roll a jack. Next you roll your first bowl to
that jack trying to match it. Now move rinks to get a clear green or have your coach/partner clear the
rink. Roll another jack and a single bowl trying to match it. This is repeated until you start to get a
close bowl to the jack you are throwing. Not only does this help practice throwing jacks and setting
length, but it gives you only one shot at matching that jack. The focus is that your #1 goal and your
most critical shot is the first one. No second chances, no repeats. A great outcome of this is if you can
really find a players strong length and natural tendency by rolling the jack and a bowl. Are they rolling
the jack to the same spot, but always coming up the same distance short? It can be frustrating to the
bowler as they only get one shot to hit the target, but the idea is to really start learning how to relate the
roll of the jack to a bowl. It is a great advantage to be able to match them and get that first bowl close.
Game variation: I sometimes play this as a follow-up. Crown green 1-bowl singles. Take a mat and
jack, place the mat and roll the jack and play it wherever it lies. Two players to a mat, one bowl each
and play singles for 8 ends, then switch partners. This gives a fun little game where everyone is trying
to make that one bowl count! Wherever the jack ends up s where you place your mat and start your next
end — any direction, and spot on the green is playable.
Give these drills a try to see how you do in matching that first bowl to your jack. I guarantee you will
love it when you start nailing that first shot and putting the pressure on your opposition!
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