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EXCLUSIVE | Ceri Ann Glen on her bowls comeback

Thirteen years since playing her last competitive bowls match, Welsh-Aussie Ceri Ann Glen (nee Davies), now living in Scotland, is back on the green and performing at the highest levels.

Ceri Ann, 43, is a former Welsh international who won a silver medal in the 2006 Commonwealth Games for Australia and recently won the mixed pairs alongside Stewart Anderson at the 2023 World Indoor Bowls Championships as well as runner-up in the Ladies World Matchplay just five months into her return to the sport.

She has made her home in Scotland in recent years but has joined Cardiff IBC this season and made herself available to play for Wales in the Home International Series in March.

Bowls International caught up with Ceri Ann about her comeback

BI: How long have you been away from bowls and what made you take a break?
CG: Around 13 years I think. I had a job as high-performance manager in Scottish bowls and it felt like a conflict of interest to concurrently administer and play at that level so I stopped playing in 2009. As a family we then stepped away from the sport entirely later in 2009 after I was told Scotland no longer wanted my help. At the time it hurt a lot, but now I’m very grateful for what that experience taught me. I stayed away because we were building our family and focusing on my career.

BI: What made you come back to playing bowls?
CG: We’ve built a family in Scotland, but sadly lost all my close family members in Wales. I was raised playing bowls with them. In the process of grieving, I came to realise that I have my own, personal relationship with the sport, with the jack, and it wasn’t healthy for me to allow others to affect that relationship. I missed the smell of wet grass, the lights indoor, feeling the jack in my hand. Yes, even playing in the rain. All the little things eventually mattered enough to want to practise again. My family encouraged me back and one of my sport clients inspired me also.

BI: What are you enjoying most about being back?
CG: The honest (and slightly boring) answer is that I enjoy the process of practise. Also feeling part of a bowling community again brings back a lot of feelings of belonging.

I’ve re-joined Cardiff Indoor Bowls Club to play again with my pairs partner from my Cardiff University days, Debbie Jones. We understand and trust each other and that matters a great deal. I practise near my home at West Lothian Indoor Bowls Club which hosted the Scottish International Open.

BI: Does your husband or either of your children play bowls?
CG: Yes, my husband Ian plays a lot better than I do! His mum Carol also plays with us in leagues. My daughter, Nieve, is nine and absolutely loves it and can watch for hours. She’s a natural. My son, Dylan, 13, has tried and is great, but right now enjoys his football too much to commit to bowls.

BI: What did you learn from playing in Australia?
CG: Some obvious things like the adaptation of tactics to different surfaces across Australia and New Zealand. The value of having a technical coach (especially Normy Carmichael at Tweed Heads). How it feels playing for a super club like Helensvale or Paradise Point on the Gold Coast where I lived. The fact that some top men bowlers were classy enough to ask for changes to their premier league format so they could include women like me felt pivotal for the sport as did seeing up close the development of the commercial base for the sport.

I also learned some sound marketing skills and made special friends building up a bowls club in Brisbane (Mount Gravatt).

But my greatest personal lesson was discovering what representation means to me.

I was asked to spar against the Australian women’s team, and I tried to embrace the role I was there to play as a lone wolf in the pack. Surprisingly, I was asked to represent Australia (including becoming a citizen) for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. At the time, I thought I’d live in Australia forever. You just don’t turn around and say I don’t want to represent this nation I have made my home. I knew ‘the loud Welsh wolf’ was understandably, not a popular selection.

It was sadly, such a lonely time for me, I felt dislocated. Knowing how fortunate I was, I also struggled a lot with the guilt of not being more grateful. I remember crying alone after playing against Wales especially. But one night, at the Games, I couldn’t sleep, and I walked around the village in the dark and rain. I then saw the volunteers coming in to look after us all. All these good folks just proud of us and wanting us to do well. Something just clicked, and I became a proud Welsh-Australian. I was desperate to honour the nation with a gold, but we settled for silver. The coaches offered me sport psychology support on my exit from the team which also really helped me come to terms with the complexities around identity. That also crystalised my commitment to work longer term in high-performance to help others.

BI: As a high-performance consultant by profession, what qualities does that role bring into playing bowls?
CG: In truth, it’s probably more the other way round. I was a bowler first and the lessons the sport has gifted me have been critical to my career. It’s a cognitive sport. The processes of problem solving, reasoning and decision making are pivotal. The open mindset needed for quality deliberate practise required and the technical attention to detail. Then there is the art of just being inside your own performance and trusting yourself and performing well with others. And of course, the confidence, composure and concentration skills that support a resilient performance.

Bowls has helped me to really explore and adapt to other sports and lots of other industries, particularly finance, in meaningful ways. The first two questions I ask any client is ‘what will it take to be world-class at what you do?’ and ‘what will I take to be world-leading?’ The former requires searching for verifiable benchmark data and a competitive advantage, and the latter requires more entrepreneurialism and innovation. I love exploring performance and the learning never stops.

BI: What’s your thoughts on the future of bowls and what needs to be done to attract more young people to the sport?
CG: In short, I think we should respect, and empower the voluntary backbone, encourage families, and build pathways appropriate to the conditions of the sport where it lives and create additional, open competitive opportunities, irrespective of age or gender.

Firstly, what works in one country won’t necessarily work in another. For example, bowls clubs in the UK have grown up as mining or community membership-based clubs. Many are council-run in Wales, and mostly private in Scotland. In Australia, they have grown up around gaming machine capacity and licenses and barefoot bowls and participation matters as well as membership. So, there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer.

What I have seen all over the world is clubs that have sustainable success over decades, (rather than cyclical, bought-in talent), have at their heart, a family or number of families working together as a community to make them successful. There’s nothing wrong with buying talent of course. We need ways for professional players to generate income. But for that, you need a strong commercial business or sponsor to underpin that approach.

In the UK, while we strategically focus on growing the commercial side of the sport, we may be wise to focus on making our sport attractive to families. Hooking in people of working age, they are more likely to bring their children and they are more likely to stick longer term. They will also bring their older parents, so there’s a multi-generational bonus. I remember moving the condiments around the table debating tactics and playing carpet bowls with my brother in my living room as a child. Getting told off for driving. In fact, I still get told off for that sometimes!

I also believe we should continue to make provisions for different groups like men, women, old, young, social, competitive. For example, there’s good evidence for men having their own time for their mental health. But when it comes to the performance pathway, there also exists a space for overlap, where performers can play in a team irrespective of age or gender. The conflict comes when there’s a territorial or scarcity mindset, when there should be room for it all.

Just as bowls development doesn’t have a one size fits all globally, it stands to reason neither will our performance pathways. And pathways matter to everyone whether competitive or not, because they allow the sport to be enjoyed and showcased at all levels.

Having been a performance pathway manager in several Olympic sports myself, I can honestly say that in physiological sports like rowing, cycling or triathlon it makes sense to build your pathway top-down based more on physiology, anthropometrics and aligned competition formats and outcomes driving their profiling. For early specialisation sports like gymnastics, diving or even swimming, it needs to be built bottom-up. Strong clubs with technical coaching excellence and smooth competitive transitions enable their pathways to work.

Bowls is a hybrid technical/tactical sport, so has various things in common with archery (closed skill) and table tennis (adaptive skill), curling (tactical teamwork) and sailing (adaptive problem solving). In these sports, pathways are best built middle-up and middle-down. What happens at county, regional, state, and national level is pivotal in setting the tone for how successful we can be at the podium/elite level, and just as critically, how motivated our clubs are to perform.

We must think carefully about how our pathways are structured and promoted as it doesn’t just affect performance. The sport is on a participation precipice.

The Home International Series gave motivation to many people to keep improving at club and county levels. It might not make sense to Australia, or to those who are perhaps not from our sport but understanding the true habitus of the sport itself in the UK at its literal grass roots is ever so important in making structural changes in terms of what replaces this key pathway tier.

BI: What are your bowls dislikes?
CG: I have personally loved the fact bowls still feels so familiar coming back. It just smells the same.

But I am a little frustrated that the sport hasn’t progressed more in the UK in the last 13 years. It’s always going to be a mat and jack of course, but Australia has rightly moved on to secure more commercial income and ensure the best women and men compete together in several new formats. If the UK are serious about their female competitors keeping pace, they might be wise to take note for the future.

BI: What are your bowls aims?
CG: I don’t have any audacious performance goals. It’s always nice to honour the sport and try to put in at least as much as you get out to leave it in a better place. I’m not sure how yet, but even just quietly helping fellow clubmates out, giving advice where I can or bringing some younger players on, seem like good, and right things to do.

If Wales think I can still play or contribute to the team, I’d be honoured to support in any way I can – my ‘hiraeth’ has gone on long enough. And if I can translate my practise into winning for and with others that is always a nice feeling too. But so long as I can just go out with the jack in hand and practise, I’ll be happy enough.

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