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Learn the Lingo and other miscellany

All sports have their own language but not to worry!  Now you’re ready to get started, here are a few terms that will help you chat about the sport.


  • Backhand | When (for a right-handed player) the bowl is delivered so the curve of the bowl is from the left to right.


  • Bias | The shape of the bowl which causes it to curve.


  • Delivery | The moment the bowl leaves the hand.


  • Ditch | The gully around the green. If a bowl ends up in the ditch and it is not a ‘toucher’ then it doesn’t count.


  • Draw | A bowl delivered at the correct weight, and with correct line, to arrive exactly where you want.


  • End | The sequence of play from the moment the mat is placed down until all bowls have been delivered and you know who has won. A bit like a game in tennis!


  • Foot fault | If you don’t deliver the bowl with part of your foot on or above the mat.


  • Forehand | When (for the right-handed player) the bowl is delivered so that the curve of the bowl is from the right to left.


  • Green | The total playing area. There are usually 6 rinks on each green.


  • Jack | The little round target ball to which you’re trying to get your bowls closest.


  • Mat | The rectangular shaped mat from which the bowler must deliver the jack and/or bowl.


  • Pace of Weight | The amount of force with which the bowl is delivered to execute a particular shot.


  • Rink | The rectangular strip of the green, between 4 and 6 metres wide, on which the game takes place.


  • Stance | Position adopted on the mat prior to delivery.


  • Shot | The bowl that is nearest the jack at any stage of play.


  • Toucher | A bowl that hits the jack during its original course. This bowl still counts even if it ends up in the ditch.

If you haven’t been able to find the answer  anywhere else, you may find it below…


What makes the bowl turn?

Many people believe one side of a bowl is more heavily weighted than the other. However it is the shape of the bowl that makes it ‘turn’ rather than anything to do with weight. This is known as ‘bias’.  The curved path taken by the bowl is always towards the side with the smaller disc, but this only happens when the bowl begins to slow down.  The point at which the bowl begins to turn is known as the ‘shoulder’ and this will vary according to the distance, or length, that the jack is from the mat. A simple guide is that the shoulder is roughly two thirds of the distance the bowl has to run to arrive at its objective.

Is there any etiquette to know?

Nothing about which to feel nervous. Friendly sporting acts towards teammates and opponents are appreciated and reciprocated, such as keeping still and quiet whilst others are delivering their bowls. Players within the same team will regularly acknowledge good shots. This could be a simple clap but can often include a ‘high five’ or a cheer – depends how much the game matters!

What are different formats of the game?

The most common formats of the game of lawn bowls are:

Singles: Two players with four bowls each – winner is first to 21 shots.

Pairs: Two teams of two – the winning side is team to score most shots after agreed number of ends.

Triples: Two teams of three – the winning side is team to score most shots after agreed number of ends.

Fours: Two teams of four – the winning side is team to score most shots after agreed number of ends.

In competitive games of pairs, triples and fours, an ‘extra end’ is played if the scores are level after the allotted number of ends have been completed.


When you play in a team, what are the different positions?

In team games each member has a particular role. Below is a simple description of the roles of each player in a fours game:


Lead - The Lead is the first to play. The Lead places the mat, delivers the jack and centres it before attempting to bowl as close as possible to the jack.


Second - The Seconds play after the Leads have each played their two bowls. The Second may be asked to play a variety of different shots by their skip depending on what the Leads have done.


Third - The Third may be called upon to play different shots in order to score more or to place bowls tactically to protect an advantage. In addition the Third is also responsible for advising the skip when requested and agreeing the number of shots with their opposite number each end and measuring as required.


Skip - The Skip has overall responsibility for the rink and should be an experienced and capable player to offer assistance to new bowlers. The Skip’s duties include directing the development of each end, overall responsibility for the rink as well as settling any disputed points with the opposite Skip – especially in event of no umpire being present. They must also complete the score card, but may delegate this duty to another member of their team.


What are the dimensions of the playing surface?

Outdoor bowls is played on a flat grass (or artificial) surface called the ‘green’ that should be either rectangular or square. The length of the green in the direction of play should be between 31 metres and 40 metres.  The green is divided into sections called ‘rinks’ which should be between a minimum of 4.3 metres and a maximum of 5.8 metres wide for outdoor play.  Surrounding the green is a ditch, and a bank where markers indicate the boundaries and centre lines of each rink.

Each game is split into individual ends. At the start of each end one player will place the mat on the centre line of the rink and deliver the jack. The jack is then put on the centre line at the other end of the rink. The jack must be a minimum of 23 metres from the mat at the start of the end.

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