The foundation of bowls is “line and length”. If you have control over these two factors then you will be able to play any shot in the book – but just how do you control your line and length? In this guide I’ll run through everything you need to know.
When you play a shot in bowls you need to play with the perfect line and length to get the bowl in the right spot on the green. However, many bowlers struggle with at least one of the two, which will impact their ability to win more games.
In this guide I will go through the common methods and theories to help you find a way that works for you.
What is “Line and Length”?
It’s an experience any new bowler will have to go through – having the phrase “Line and length” repeated. All. The. Time. But what does it mean? And how do you begin to do it?
Lets break it down to the 2 components – “Line” and “Length”.
As you may know by now, lawn bowls is played with balls known as “bowls” (funny that, eh?). These aren’t normal balls however, as they are shaped in such a way that they bend when you roll them.
This means to get your bowl to finish inline with your target you must roll the bowl either to the left of the target, or to the right depending on how you hold the bowl in your hand. That way when you roll it it will bend back towards the target.
The “Line” is simply when you roll the bowl just wide enough so that it bends to finish inline with your target. How do you find that sweet spot? Well, we’ll cover that later. For now lets consider the second part of the perfect shot – the Length.
The length of the shot (also known as the “weight”) is how hard to roll the bowl.
In order to get to your target you must roll it hard enough so that it doesn’t stop short, and not too hard so that it doesn’t go too far behind.
Much like the line of the shot it takes judgement and skill to find that sweet spot.
Think of it like a putt in golf. To get the ball in the hole you need to direct the shot so that it bends will any inclines in the surface, and with the right force so that it falls gently into the hole.
Get them both right and you’ll have the perfect shot.
Finding The Line
The keys to finding the line in lawn bowls is having a repeatable action, and using an aiming point that works for you.
Firstly, if you ensure you make the same movements from the same spot on the mat each time, then you will be able to make adjustments to your line.
Secondly, by finding an aiming point that works for you then you will have a starting point from which you can move from.
Lets take a look at those in a bit more detail.
Before we even start thinking about aiming points and line consistency, you first need to get your delivery technique sorted.
The key to bowls is consistency, this applies for line and length, and this begins with how you deliver the bowl.
To ensure you are delivering the bowl consistency you must make sure you are doing the following the same each time you bowl:
- starting point on the mat – if you stand in a different point of the mat it will change the starting point of the bowl, which will affect the line
- your back swing – ensure you are bringing your arm back to the same point, and watch out for your arm flaring out when adding weight. If you flare your arm out your arm won’t deliver the bowl straight
- your step – make sure you step forward to the same point each time. Your feet will act like rudders, so make sure they are pointing in the right direction
- your finishing point – make sure your arm follows through to the same point after the delivery. This paired with your back swing and step will determine the line your bowl takes
This will take a lot of practice and patience, but, once you are confident you have a consistent delivery you can start to consider aiming points.
In order to roll your bowl down your chosen line, you first need to consider how you’ll know where to roll it. This is where aiming points come in.
“Aiming points” can be confusing for beginners as they are unsure how to line themselves up with one.
The way I think about aiming points is that its like throwing a paper ball into a bin. To throw a ball into a bin you need to look at the bin (always helpful) and then you bring your hand up to line your arm up with it.
Once you are all lined up you throw the paper ball.
This is the same with bowls. You pick your spot, you line your feet and arm up to it and then roll the bowl towards it.
But where do you look? In the bin example you have a clear target, but with bowls you have to aim away from the target so that the bowl can bend back.
There are a few options for you.
The 4 most common spots (illustrated above) are:
- Behind the rink
- A spot in line with the jack
- The spot you expect the bowl to turn (otherwise known as the “elbow”)
- A spot 6 feet in front of you
I go into the pros and cons of these in my guide to aiming points, but needless to say you will find a preference for your style of play.
Try each one and see which you prefer.
Finding The Length
Once you have your line control down, then you can move onto “weight control“.
Finding the weight is a lot trickier than finding the line, mainly because lawn bowls surfaces are rarely the same. Even when you play indoors the speed of the surface will change each time you play.
Because of this you will find that your weight control will naturally improve the more you play.
Having said that there are a few factors that you have control over that will help.
Much like line control, weight control is all in the mind.
By having a consistent delivery technique you are giving your mind a solid foundation from which to “add” or “remove” weight from your shot.
This is great when you just need to add or remove a yard or two, if you are finding the surface is much to fast, or too slow for you technique then you may want to consider some slight adjustments.
Adjustments to technique
If the surface you are playing on seems much too fast or too slow then you might want to consider one of the following adjustments:
- delivery stance – you can stand up higher, or crouch down further in your pre-delivery stance to adjust your weight. Standing up higher will add weight and make your bowl travel further, whilst crouching down will reduce weight (ideal for fast surfaces)
- back swing – you can change how far back you bring your arm. On particularly fast surfaces, you might even remove the back swing completely
- delivery step – you can change how far you step to adjust the weight of shot. the further you step the faster the bowl will go
Once you have made adjustments to your delivery to suit the surface you need to stick to it. This consistency can then be used to make minor adjustments in weight.
I go through this in more detail in my guide to weight control, so please check that out if you need more information on controlling your weight.
Line, Length And The Draw Shot
Up to this point I have been using the word “target” instead on “jack” – and for a good reason.
Of course the aim of bowls is to get your bowls close to the jack (or closer than your opponent at least), however there are other shots, and other spots on the green that we want to put our bowls.
For example, you might want to do one of the following:
- place a bowl “in the count” – this is where you are just aiming to get closer than your opponent’s closest shot
- place a “covering” bowl – this is where you get a bowl behind the jack, just in case it moves.
- place a “blocking” bowl – this is where you get a bowl short of the jack and on the line of your opponent
All of the above are considered “drawing” shots, as they are played with the exact weight so that the bowl stops at a certain point (we’ll look at weighted shots next).
“So why does this matter to line and length?”. Well, because every shot you play, regardless of your “target” requires the right Line and Length. You just have to adjust your targets and technique to adjust.
An important step towards becoming a better all-round bowler is to see every shot – whether it be a centred jack, or a wide covering shot – as the same combination of line and length.
As you practice try different shots, and think through your process of finding those two elements.
Line, Length And Weighted Shots
Target areas aren’t confined to draw shots, they apply to weighted shots too.
When playing a weighted shot you might be trying to do one of the following:
- Playing a “yard on” shot – this is where you play with just a little extra weight with the intention of moving either a bowl, or the jack from the head. Ideally the bowl will finish on the green near the jack.
- Playing a “driving” shot – this is where you play with plenty of extra weight with the intention of moving either a bowl, or the jack from the head. It is highly unlikely that the bowl will finish on the green and will often end up in the ditch
To many weighted shots are seen as a different thing altogether. As if they don’t follow the same rules as the draw shot.
This is also why many bowlers struggle with them. They rely too much on the “feel” of the shot, as if there is some magic skill that you have to earn through practice.
This is simply not the case, as weighted shots still rely on line and length.
For weighted shots you have to look beyond the head. For example, if you were playing a “yard on” shot, the bowl will stay on the green. Imagine the shot in your head, if you played it right, where would the bowl finish? That spot is your target, and you adjust your line and length accordingly.
Line and length is the foundation to every shot in bowls. Using the tips and guides above you will find your consistency improving, which will ultimately lead to you winning more games!