Controlling your line is the cornerstone to a competitive lawn bowler. Once you have control of your line you will have cracked half of the game.
How do you improve your line control? The key to line control is a consistent, repeatable action practised until it is second nature.
In this guide, I will go through the key areas of the delivery process so you can work out which areas are causing you trouble.
Why line control is important
Line control is the base from which all bowls are played.
It allows your draw shot to improve, as you will always be in line with the jack.
Also, consistent lines make weight control easier. Shots delivered off-line will often come up short, or go long. This makes it tricky to work out if the shot was played with the correct weight.
Weighted shots are easier, as adjustments can be made accurately as you understand how much to move your line by.
Bowls is a game of consistency and a strong line technique is fundamental to this.
The link between line control and weight control
Weight control is easier with good line control. Two shots can be played with equal weight, but if the line is wrong on one it will look shorter based on where it’s finished.
How many times can you remember seeing a player overcompensate their weight after a shot with poor line control?
Too often is the answer!
What prevents good line control?
Before we can understand what we can do to improve I find it’s helpful to understand what not to do. The two are often linked.
Standing in different spots on the mat can hinder control. Even slight changes can have an effect on your aiming points. This will make your line different each time.
For some, an issue can be with their aiming Points.
Often beginners use the same aiming point from game to game, ignoring the conditions.
Whereas others have aiming points that are too vague. Aiming for a general direction will not fix your mind on a target.
A fixed point is required for each delivery, and you must be able to find new ones as conditions change throughout the season as greens speed up and slow down. You may even need to change mid-game as the green changes in the evening.
The main issue I see is a lack of focus on technique. Line control can be found simply with a solid technique.
Some can “feel” their way to it through gameplay and constant practice, but this takes much longer, and the “feel” for line control will go once the cycle of play and practice stops.
I find those who don’t rely on their technique have more frequent runs of poor form. This is because this way requires playing constantly (5-6 times a week) to stay in “the groove”.
Basic principles of good technique
What are the core principles of good technique?
- Foot position
- Shoulder and hip position
- The backswing
- Aiming points
Let’s cover each of these aspects in more detail.
A good delivery technique should be repeatable. This doesn’t just mean “simple”. A complex delivery can still be repeatable.
A repeatable delivery starts with a string pre-delivery routine. This not only prepares you to place yourself in the right position but also gets your mind ready to perform the action. This “anchoring” method is key in muscle memory.
There are two elements to the foot position. Firstly, the alignment to your target line, and secondly your ability to remain balanced through the shot.
Ensure you stay balanced. Balance is the foundation of “the step”, and toppling over can affect the delivery.
I recommend the shooter stance. You can see a guide on the shooter stance here.
Hip and shoulder alignment
Many coaches and manuals focus on the feet as the “rudder” for the delivery. However, in my experience, it’s the alignment of your hips and shoulders that ultimately determines where your front foot steps to.
Make sure your hips and shoulders are in line with where your feet are pointing.
The placement of the hips will differ from bowler to bowler, so the key here is to keep the placement the same throughout each delivery.
Your step is one of the most important aspects. The alignment of the shoulders and hips should allow for correct step placement.
Common issues include stepping up the green, as opposed to stepping towards the aiming point.
The backswing is another variation point. Ensuring you are bringing your arm back to the same place each time is important.
The release point of the delivery usually stays the same, to the point at which you bring your arm back will dictate the angle you deliver the bowl.
Do what feels comfortable
This may seem a contradiction, considering I’ve just listed 5 points that should be thought about and scrutinised! However, the ultimate goal of refining your technique is “comfort”. When you step on a green to play you need to trust your body, so you can focus on the shot at hand.
The biggest issue with line control and aiming points is some don’t use aiming points at all!
Having a focus point can help with many of the issues outlined. Alignment should always be towards your aiming point.
There is no perfect delivery. Some may be more fluid and “easy on the eye”, but an ugly delivery can be successful. The key is to identify the weak links in your own delivery and to find tweaks to improve them.
How to troubleshoot your delivery
I always recommend filming yourself performing a “Green Target drill” (see below for details). Just for a few ends.
Ideally, place the camera side-on or in front of yourself (be sure to not hit your camera with a bowl!). You can also try to include the target on the ground in the camera angle, so you can see the result of each delivery.
Look for variations in technique on shots that don’t hit the target - if you can’t get the target in the camera shot you will need to have notes on which shots were good and which ones weren’t.
Common issues to look out for are:
- Body alignment
- The step direction
- The angle of the backswing
How to improve line control today
The most important step is to troubleshoot your delivery. If you don’t have a camera, just be aware of the issues around you. For example, look at your feet after your delivery, and feel how your body lined up.
This “feeling” analysis is a great way to connect with the delivery and will help you as you move forward. You can do this step on top of the filmed troubleshooting step.
Exploring your technique
As there is no “perfect technique” I recommend an experimental approach to practice. This is known as “exploring the solution space”.
The concept is simple, you take the points from your troubleshooting exercise and you try small changes. Each time you make a mental note of what you’ve tried, and how it felt, and what the result was.
It’s important to do this with an open mind, and a consequence-free environment. By this I mean you don’t beat yourself up if things aren’t working. This process should be driven by curiosity.
Following this idea of a “consequence-free environment” includes the pressure of having others critiquing your practice or the results of your experimenting. I recommend finding a time when (ideally) no one is around.
Small incremental changes can be great. With this method, you find what works for YOU.
I’ve always been a fan of cricket, and one concept I like to bring into my bowls game is the idea of “trigger movements”.
In cricket, a batsman uses a trigger movement to transition from their initial batting stance to a position where they can face the bowler’s delivery. The idea is this movement gets their body ready in a prime position to react to the ball.
Often this movement is designed to help with the batsman’s weakness - for example, if they don’t play forward well, the trigger movement forces them to put their centre of gravity forward. This then helps with their batting performance.
How does this apply to bowls? Simple, apply the trigger movement concept to your delivery. For example, if you step towards the jack and not the line, your “trigger” is to exaggerate the step to the line.
Triggers are often seen at the start of a bowler’s delivery. Often bowlers will align their arm, or elbow to prime themselves to deliver to their line. A great example of a trigger movement is Nev Rodda’s “Hug the Bowl” concept.
This pre-delivery trigger gets your whole body aligned.
Through your exploring practice try different triggers, and see what works best for you.
Some tips for improving your practice are:
- Practice at a comfortable weight. Adjustments can be made later
- If you don’t have a routine right now, make one. Just think about what you do most often, and make sure you do it every time
Drills to improve line control
Here are a couple of drills that I would recommend to help improve your line control.
Green Target drill
Lay markers (a cd for example) 12 feet from the mat. Aim to hit the marker each time. Could start with a mat first, aim to roll the bowl over the mat. The goal isn’t to worry about where the bowl finishes. Just make sure it hits the marker.
This is important, as greens (especially outdoor ones) aren’t consistent. It is entirely possible to deliver two identical bowls, but find they end up in two different places due to which but of grass they hit.
The goal of line control is to hit the line you are aiming for. This is the only element of the game you can control. Don’t allow for the fallibility of the conditions to throw you off.
Another reason I like this drill is it makes your aiming point obvious. Many times when going for a roll-up on an empty rink, you can spend time just finding the right aiming points for the day. Whilst this is an important skill, it isn’t very helpful for those short on time. This drill offers more “band for your buck”.
“Mat width” drill
A final drill to perform is the “Mat width drill”. This is great as a follow up to the target drill, as it allows you to practice line control at different weights. This allows you to identify, and correct any weaknesses.
To set up this drill place two mats lengthways across, either side of the rink marker to the end you are playing towards. This will become your target area.
Bowl two bowls on your forehand and two on your backhand to the desired weight you are practising this can be your natural weight or short or long weight.
The aim of this drill is to get as many bowls within a mat’s length from the centre line. Once you have finished bowling your 4 bowls check how far the bowls are from the centre line by comparing them against the two mats you placed at the start.
Count how many were within a mat’s length, and repeat in the other direction.