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Tony Allcock’s top tips for outdoors

With the sun shining and the first games of the outdoor season underway, Tony Allcock discusses things to remember, his tips for success and how to practice effectively to get the most out of your summer game, whatever your level.

AS we approach the new outdoor season in the British Isles it is important to remind ourselves that at this time of the year the demands of the outdoor delivery are totally opposite to those of a fast indoor carpet.

It is fact that indoor bowls are made and manufactured for play on a fast running surface and despite all that has been written about the ‘ruination’ of the game, due to straight running bowls, I strongly recommend that for outdoor play bowls with a certain degree of bias are used.

They will be the best overall. Interestingly, I read through an article written for ‘Bowls International’ some 11 years ago when I stated that I only had one set of bowls and used them for playing both codes. Views change and I fully accept that my opinion has changed.

Straight running bowls may be suitable as a means to the straightest way to the jack but if any bowl is in the way, then a straight bowl would then be quite useless. In singles play, expediency (and results) suggest that those who succeed are those that have opted to play with bowls with a certain degree of bias.

TIP: Size of bowl for outdoor play is far more crucial than when playing inside a warm building. A cold wet hand needs a size of bowl that is manageable. To test this, players need to try to sample bowls with very cold, preferably wet hands.

Hold the bowl and then turn the hand so the back of the hand faces the sky. It will be extremely hard not to drop the bowl (so mind your feet), but if the hand can keep the bowl in this position for more than four seconds then the size of bowl is going to be fine. Additional machine turned grips are, in my opinion

Accept the challenges of grass: Definitely an acknowledgment that the outdoor playing surfaces is a challenge in itself. The way to approach this is to accept it (despite overpowering frustration), play it as it is and most importantly, keep it simple.

Too many players stepping out of the indoor club onto a grass green try to play in a manner in which they have just left behind. It will not work.

TIP: Simple straightforward approach to shot selection and execution is generally the best rule and this is most pertinent at the beginning of the outdoor year.

Approach: Coupled with one’s own mind set, it is useful that this is in place, however simply detailed and applied. It need not be complex but the concept of this might be very new even to world class players.

A general game plan is a foundation, a base line which must be frequently visited throughout the season, especially in the early months.

At the start of the outdoor season I would make my personal game plan. This would, primarily, be the acceptance that frustrations would be running fairly high due to the fact that the playing surfaces would have a much greater influence in determining the end result. I needed to remind myself of this and accept that I could not change it but I sought ways in which to deal with it.

I would therefore, ensure my emotions were in check and adopting an attitude of attempting to cope with the conditions in the given situation and playing it ‘as it is’.

Grip: Time to reacquaint, as a ‘tried and trusted’ outdoor grip will be needed, especially at the start of the season when greens are heavy.

Remember the principle of the lower the thumb is on the bowl the lower the bowl sits in the hand. This gives greater power. Even the experienced players will need to identify the outdoor grip required and until it becomes ‘natural’ a very quick check should be made prior to every delivery.

TIP: To aid my grip I always carried two pockets of dusters – one pocket full to finish drying the bowl after I had taken the excess water off with a chamois leather and the other to dry my hand. I had to attempt to get my bowl as dry as possible in order to deliver correctly.

Don’t forget other aspects of gripping the bowl such as waxes, dusters, chamois leather, hand warmers, gloves and any other aid for keeping the hand flexible, dry and warm.

Tactics: To write about tactics in detail would need every page in this magazine! Principally however, one or two general tactics may be implemented in the early season.

As the greens have hardly settled, the lead bowls (whether team or singles) will have a greater influence than usual on the result of the end. One good bowl near to the jack will usually remain in the same position for the duration of the end. It is therefore, an excellent ploy to try to protect close bowls whenever possible.

This type of defensive play may not be so valuable when grass greens have settled down and the sun has dried out the surface, but on a wet heavy green a bowl nestling the jack is a jewel itself and needs to be protected.

The clever players will have established the reliable lines to the jack for which there will not be a vast choice. A bowl placed in front of the head, on line to the jack will create great problems for the opposition attempting to arrest the head.

TIP: Playing safe is an excellent tactic early season outdoors as natural surfaces will not be reliable enough for playing very exact running bowls and often a bowl played with weight will be exposed to the variances of the rink levels.

One shot per end is the objective – the rest will follow!

Style: This has to be based on a theme of simplicity. Early outdoor season demands a style of its own. The delicate fine touch used on the indoor green will be inadequate on the natural surface. Initially, the outdoor bowler must practice technique to acquire necessary skill but it is essential that a certain style of play must be adopted accordingly.

As I was taught many years ago, heavy outdoor greens favour those players who make a concerted effort to reach the head and to ‘give the bowl a chance’. On grass surfaces, there is a greater chance of the bowl losing momentum as it travels from the hand to its destination.

Neat play may actually become ruination in the early season. Style needs a rather crude approach. Fine motor skills come into their own when grass greens are sun soaked and dry.

One very important aspect of style to remember is that natural bowling surfaces change all the time and often these can go unnoticed throughout the duration of a game. Styles will need to change – unlike indoor play where none is required.

TIP: It must be remembered that grass greens are not as precise as indoor surfaces. They do not lend themselves to many of the complicated shots executed indoors.

In general terms, greens at the beginning of the outdoor year are not so predictable and do not run to form. The style of play therefore must be of simple form and likewise shots attempted.

Delivery: Indoor bowlers will naturally be conditioned to delivering bowls out to an aiming point. Outdoors this will need to be contained.

It will be hard as the eyes will, naturally, want to look for a wide arch, the arm and body also having been conditioned to follow this will all be wanting to step out to the line. In the early season, this has to be contained and approach adjusted.

TIP: To condition oneself to aiming consistently on an early season green, try to utilise tracks and marks found on the bowling rink itself – it helps with containment of delivery.

If you arrive on a rink upon which there are well worn tracks on one side of the green you can comfortably assume that this will be the most reliable hand to play.

Preparation: If I prepared for a game condemning the bowling green before I started then it would be an indication that as soon as the score line took a negative shape, this would be the time when the tricky green will become even more apparent and opponent’s bowls appear to be even more lucky than usual!

As it is at this time that we need to find the inner determination to face all difficulties presented and to then to battle even harder to overcome, any preconceived negative thoughts will certainly take over at this time and would rule supremely. So time to remember the game plan and the self made resolutions it contains.

It was a great help if I made a mental promise to myself before the start of a game that the green was going to be difficult and that I was not to let it destroy my determination to win. This enabled me to enter the game, determined to conquer all and I was prepared for the turbulence before it arose.

I recall, when playing in the 1992 World Championships in South Africa, when there was a particular problem with one of the championship greens. I was due to play the joint section leader in my group of the singles, and whoever won that tie was in a very strong position to qualify for the medal places.

Some countries had previously objected to the standard of this green and some rinks had already been taken out of play. Initially I was upset that the rink on which I was scheduled to play remained in play and after a long talk with Mal Hughes (England manager), I accepted the fact. I started the game 0-7 down and it would have been easy to become disillusioned with all that was happening.

But I remembered the commitment to my personal game plan to which I was contracted. Touching base with this during the match, I found true determination and managed to eventually win a close encounter. It was the vow made to myself which proved so valuable enabling me to overcome the situation. Incidentally, the following day the whole green was taken out of play!

It is not a good idea to have a game plan set in concrete, but there are basics which require adherence and recognition of the same should be made before the game starts.