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A Guide for Skips

(and the rest of the team)

“ Aim for my feet”

“Good line – a yard short”

“More green”

I’ve yet to meet anyone who deliberately bowls a bad wood and almost everyone knows that they have bowled short/long or wide/tight.

Bowlers don’t need correction from the end of the rink in a game.

We’ve all played with skips who help our game and with others who do just the opposite. Human nature suggests that when we are cast in the role of skip we will all be great for some and at worst a horror for others but how do we avoid the most basic pitfalls and how do the rest of the team get the skip that they deserve ?

The following is compiled from a reflection over my first six years of bowling, shaped by content from a couple of coaching programmes, feedback from a good number of those I bowl with and against, and supported by the laws of the game which have just been through their fourth iteration. I hope that the following gives you a chance to reflect on your practice as a member of any bowls team whether you are a skip or not and I’d be really interested in any feedback that you wish to give. My email contact is at the end.

It's all about teamwork and communication

Bowls is mostly a team sport and teams need good communication to function well. Communication isn’t all about the spoken word – head movements, facial expressions, hand signals and body posture also convey significant messages from one end of the rink to the other. 

Someone once said that communication is the response you get. In other words, if your message doesn’t get through one way then try another and by implication it is the responsibility of you, as the communicator, to check that they have been understood and interpreted as intended. The lazy way to impart a message, especially if it is intended to seek improvement in another player is to tell them what you believe they are doing wrong. However, half an hour spent supporting their improvement in a practice session, and the use of questions to help the player analyse what they are doing and apply change will create a longer lasting improvement that also empowers the player. 


Having everyone on the team participating in the game on their own rink is a good start ! There is much to learn from watching every bowl that is delivered before and after your own. Each team member has a role in encouraging and supporting the other players on the team. It is important to create a good vibe on the rink. Opening conversations with those on the rink is essential. The art is not letting those conversations and comments become distracting to you and your team. Equally, understanding what is happening on other rinks in your match is also important as long as that attention does not distract you from your own game. 

Concentration is important in any sport. Obtaining a focus and holding that throughout a 2 or 3 hour match is a skill development in it’s own right. Remember that the single physical factor that most affects concentration is hydration. Make sure you have and use sufficient liquid during a match. Waiting until you are thirsty is too late. Alcohol is a diuretic which decreases the amount of liquid in your body !


As well as warming up so that you are ready for the first end. You use a lot of different muscle groups in delivering a bowl and hearing bowlers say that they need 4 or 5 ends to warm up rather emphasises that this is a physical sport and you need to be ready for the first end. Your club coach can suggest some simple warm up exercises and a brisk walk around the green and a few simple stretches will see you ready to perform from your first bowl. 

You might also share with team members what you know about the green, what you know about your opponents, what length jacks suit you all best, what your favoured shots are etc. 

Once the game starts it is the role of the Skip to direct the building of the head and it is your role to deliver what is requested. Practice between games (not roll-ups) to perfect the shots and directions that you have struggled with during the last game. There are many exercises that your club coach can support you with or that you can find on the internet.

Being focussed on the shot in hand, having a good pre mat routine and having a well practised delivery are all part of the work that every player has a responsibility to work on in some way before a match, even a friendly. Just turning up and expecting to do better than last week is not serving your skip or your team members well.

Working together

Communication isn’t just about the skip calling to the rest of the team, it’s about how you support each other, how you take shared responsibility for shot choice and how you take shared responsibility for the match result.

The skip will focus on the head and ultimately on shot choice. The skip will use the number 3 or others at the head to reach a shared view of what shot is asked of each player – remember the strategy may be to have a bowl placed somewhere other than on the jack. A good skip will know how each bowl is likely to behave and what shots best match each player and their bowls.

The rink passes to the opposition when the previous bowl comes to a rest. At that point communication from your side (including hand signals) must cease. For this reason, look to your skip before you start your next bowl for direction as to bowl placement. For the skip who is considering the head after the last bowl there is nothing worse than seeing your players next bowl already half way up the rink !

The skip’s prime role is about reading the head, anticipating where the next shots are likely to be placed and countering those placements with good shot strategy. It’s not always about bowling to the jack. Obviously this depends on the ability of the players but blindly bowling to the jack ignores the possibility of jack or bowl movement whether by design or not. A skip will be reviewing the head and asking where the risks are and where the percentage shots are for their player. 

If there is a time for an honest appraisal then it is best after the game with some tips on what to practice. You could suggest a discussion with the Club Coach about some routines or exercises that can be used in a practice session. You could offer to have a practice session together. Nobody deliberately bowls a poor bowl. 

We all work best when we are encouraged. It is not the skips role to give a funny quip to every bowl, to commentate on the delivery, to tell the player what they are doing wrong, or to guess where the bowl will finish. Players know when they have played a poor shot. Less is often more !  An encouraging word is usually welcome a player sets aside a shot and focuses on the next one to come. Other team members need to be alert and listen to adjustments that they need to make to their shot as a result of what has been played before them. Remember that as a skip your body language is as powerful as what you say and it is easily read at the other end of the rink.

Each member of the team needs to know their role and what they should and should not be doing. Players at the head should not crowd around the head but should be far enough back for the skip who has the rink at that moment to step in and review the head before giving direction for the next player to deliver a bowl. 

Play stops for your team when the bowl being delivered stops. Calls from the Skip (who is the only player who should make any call) or number 2/3 if the Skip is bowling, must stop as soon as the delivered bowl stops – that is when the rink ‘belongs’ to the opposition. 

A player about to bowl should be alert to the direction given by the Skip and start their shot preparation after they are clear about what shot is required. They should stay on the mat until the bowl stops so that they can see the line and length that they delivered, giving time for the mental adjustment before they make their next shot. If a bowl is bowled before the previous bowl has stopped, the opposing Skip can ask for it be removed from the rink. (The first time this happens should be a warning)

When it comes to determining shots, it is the number 3’s (when playing rinks) who are the only people who should be involved in agreeing the shot score for the end. 1’s and 2’s are inevitably interested but are best advised to step away from the head unless they are asked by their player to assist. No 1’s (and 2’s when playing rinks) can get on with clearing the rink and getting ready for the next end. 

In matches of fours, where the 3 is often at the head with the skip, there are two sub teams to work together, the front end ( lead & 2 )and the Skip and 3. These two sub-teams can communicate together when changing ends.


A good review of a game with the team is good practice. An honest self assessment is of much greater value than platitudes from other players telling you that you played well, when you know that you didn’t and equally if you tend to think you have played less well than you did then good balance needs adding before you depart.

Using questions such as :

As skip

How did I help the team improve their performance ?

Was everything I asked of the team understood/interpreted as I intended ?

Did the team find my contribution helpful ?

What would the team have liked me to do more of ?

What would the team have liked me to do less of ?

For all 

What went well for me ?

What didn’t go so well ?

What would have helped me most when I was not doing so well ?

What didn’t help me when I wasn’t doing so well ?

What did I contribute to the team ?

What was I asked to do that I did achieve ?

What was I asked to do that I didn’t achieve ?

What do I need to work on in a practice session to reinforce/further develop my skills and consistency ?

Summing Up

I hope that this has been helpful, has given you a few insights and added to your thinking and understanding of the game. The next couple of pages are extracts from the latest edition of the Laws of the game and the whole document whilst not bed side reading is worth reviewing from time to time.

I'd be interested in your feedback and happy to receive any comments that you wish to make, please Email: Andy Winter

Director of Coaching Bowls England Mal Evans, feedback: "I like the guide, short, simple and effective particularly for bowlers who are not only currently skipping"

Extract from

Laws of the Sport of Bowls

Crystal Mark Fourth Edition

(August 2022)


Section 3.1 – Players and their duties 

40 Players’ duties 

40.1 The skip 

40.1.1 The skip will have sole charge of the team and all players in the team must follow the skip’s instructions.

40.1.2 The skip must decide all disputed points with the opposing skip, making sure that any decision reached is in line with the Laws of the Sport of Bowls.

40.1.3 If the skips need to check any part of the Laws of the Sport of Bowls before reaching a decision, they must ask the umpire for an explanation.

40.1.4 If the umpire considers that a decision reached by the skips is not in line with the Laws of the Sport of Bowls, the umpire must overrule that decision so that it is in line with the laws.

40.1.5 If the skips cannot reach agreement on any disputed point, they must ask the umpire to make a decision. The umpire’s decision is final.

40.1.6 If the Controlling Body has not appointed an umpire, the skips must choose a competent neutral person to act as the umpire.

40.1.7 The skip must: be responsible for the score card supplied by the Controlling Body while play is in progress; make sure that the names of all players of both teams are correctly entered on the score c record, on the score card, all shots scored for and against both teams as each end is completed; compare and agree the score card with that of the opposing skip as each end is completed; and at the end of the game, record on the score card the time that the game finished and then sign their own and the opposing skip’s score cards.

40.1.8 For domestic play, Member National Authorities can decide the procedures for using a scoreboard instead of one of the score cards. 

40.1.9 For domestic play, Member National Authorities can transfer the skip’s duties described in law 40.1.7 to other members of the team. However, they must make sure that the duties are transferred to players whose positions, in order of play, are the same in each team. 

40.1.10 Skips can, at any time, delegate their own powers and any of their own duties (except those described in law 40.1.7) to any other        members of the team as long as they tell the opposing skip immediately. 

40.2 The third

 40.2.1 The third can measure any and all disputed shots.

40.2.2 The third can tell the skip the number of shots scored for or against their team as each end is completed.

40.3 The lead

The lead of the team to play first in an end must: 

40.3.1 place the mat as described in law 6.1.1; and

40.3.2 deliver the jack and make sure that it is centred before delivering the first bowl of the end.

40.4 Other duties 

Along with the duties mentioned in the previous paragraphs of law 40, players can carry out any other duties assigned to them by their skip as described in law 40.1.10. 

Extract from

Laws of the Sport of Bowls

Crystal Mark Fourth Edition

(August 2022)

Section 1 – Game basics 

13 Possession of the rink 

13.1 Possession of the rink will belong to the player or team whose bowl is being played.

13.2 As soon as each bowl comes to rest, possession of the rink will transfer to the opposing player or team after allowing time for marking a toucher as soon as it comes to rest.

13.3  A player must not deliver a bowl before the previous bowl comes to rest and possession of the rink has transferred to the opposing player or team.

13.4 If the umpire, either by their own observation or on appeal by one of the skips or opponents in Singles, decides that a player has delivered a bowl before the previous bowl has come to rest, or the players in possession of the rink are being interfered with, annoyed or distracted in any way by their opponents,

13.4.1 the first time this happens the umpire must: warn the offending player, while the skip is present; and tell the coach, if they are present, that the player has received a warning.

13.4.2 on each occasion after this, the umpire must have the bowl last played by the offending player or team declared dead. If that bowl has disturbed the head, the opposing skip or opponent in Singles must choose whether to:

   replace the head;

   leave the head as altered; or

   declare the end dead.