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‘Welcome to the Great Outdoors’

Onto the turf we go! After seven months of indoor, or hibernation from bowls in which we have recharged our levels of enthusiasm and energy, we awake from our winter slumbers to embark on a new season (writes John Rednall).

Unless we gaze into a crystal ball, we will not hazard a guess as to what the season holds for us. That’s part of the excitement: the unknown. Will our form and consistency be acceptable to us so that we meet our own high levels of expectation as competitive players? Will we challenge for silverware? Could this turn out to be our most successful season yet?
Of course, we stand a much better chance of being successful if we prepare methodically and work hard to be at our very best.
Here are a few tips:
1. New bowls? Sometimes, it’s good to have a change and a brand new set of bowls energises our campaign. No set of bowls is perfectly suited to every rink you play on and I am certainly a believer in having more than one set in the car. Buying new bowls makes you concentrate on how they react and to learn the characteristics of them. On a personal note, I start with Henselite Tigers (size four) as they turn well on pushy greens where you need to get around short bowls. As the greens speed up and turn more, I move onto a Tiger EVO. Other makes and models are available. If you are considering changing to a different set of bowls, think about why you are changing and how a new set will benefit your skills. Do you want to change because your hands get cold and you struggle to hold your current bowls in the wet? Will your new bowls give you an advantage? You need to believe they will. Make sure you practise with them and give yourself several weeks to get used to them. Don’t sell them when you have your first bad game with them! The trend globally is that we all play with smaller bowls these days. I started with size five at the age of 14 and one season outdoors used size seven. My mother always bowled outdoors with a five. The great David Bryant’s advice was to play with the largest size you can manage.
2. New technique? We never stop learning the game of bowls and we can always strive to make our delivery action smoother, more efficient and more effective. With the onset of age and medical handicaps, we may need to tweak the mechanics of our delivery action. Hip and knee operations, lower back pain and lack of flexibility in particular require us to modify our technique to cause less stress to our joints and muscles and to have full confidence that we are not going to damage ourselves, physically. Sometimes, it is good to ask an experienced player or coach, or someone who has similar handicaps or weaknesses to advise you on how to deliver safely.

3. Necessary equipment?
When you check through your bowls bag, have you got everything you need for the position you play. Is your measure there? Does it work? Do you have a chalk spray, a pen, wedges and polishing cloth? Are your waterproofs waterproof, or is it time to upgrade? Do your shoes have a good grip on the sole or have they become slippery in the wet?

4. Warm enough? With the changing weather, do you have enough layers to stay warm when the evenings get cold? Have you tried using a handwarmer? There are some great rechargeable ones on the market now.

5. Bowls stamped? Have you ensured that your current set of bowls is stamped, should you get through to the national championships? Have you cleaned and polished them ready for your first outing outdoors are they still covered in grass cuttings and grit from the final match last year?

6. Ready for action? Bowling outdoors uses different muscles and much more force than indoors so make sure you are warmed up before you play.

7. What do you want from the new season? Are you just playing outdoor bowls because you have done so for years, or are you still competitively hungry? The quest for personal achievement remains strong in most of us and it’s really good to set yourself goals. Decide how committed you want to be to practising, playing and competing. Do you play because you enjoy the sport as a pastime with all the friendships, social interaction? Is bowls a positive distraction from work or the rigours of life?

8. What can you offer the sport? Bowls is a sport predominantly run by volunteers and every club and county urgently needs its members to contribute to the smooth running of the season. Most clubs have a small nucleus of willing helpers who help to maintain the green, make the surrounds and borders attractive, to serve on committees and coordinate team selections, fixtures, refreshments and save the club money by cleaning, decorating and improving facilities. Can you help?

9. Can you spread the word? Bowls is a wonderful sport and we need to tell those who have never tried it how great it is and how much enjoyment it can give.
Can you help to recruit new members, help newcomers to feel welcome and provide opportunities for them if they join?
Singlehandedly surviving
Competitive sportspeople measure how successful a season has been by reflecting upon the titles they have won and the standard of their performances during the campaign.
I am still fiercely competitive and felt that I had probably played the best bowls of my career last season, winning my club singles, county singles and reaching the semi-final of the Bowls England men’s singles at Leamington. I have now lost two semi-finals and one final in this competition, but the positives far outweighed the disappointments in a season that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.
The eventual champion, Lewis King, became a worthy national singles champion, the ultimate prize in English bowling. I’m sure that when the realisation that he had won the prestigious title had sunk in, he would be first to acknowledge that the road to glory is never a smooth one and that’s what makes it such an achievement. The exhilaration of winning a county, national title on your own is unbelievable, particularly outdoors where so many variables come into play. For those of us in Britain who have attained national or international singles success, we can look back with sheer satisfaction that we beat the elements and our opponents. We have prevailed in spite of playing our county singles matches early in the season, on heavy greens, where there is little turn, the gales have done their best to blow our bowls off course and the rain has dampened every positive spirit we started with. We have returned victorious from clubs where our opponents may have tried everything in their power to defeat us and take our scalp.

Caption: Always check your bowls are stamped

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