Bowls: Some Basics regarding Leads, Seconds, Skips, and Measures
This is a “refresher” note on some of the basics regarding the roles of the various positions and behavior on the green. For a social game—indeed I would argue for any game—the overall purpose is enjoyment, but there are certain rules to be followed and the game becomes less than enjoyable if chaos reigns and “anything goes.” I thought, therefore, it would be helpful to clarify some points, since there seems to be genuine confusion about what the rules are and what “good behavior” is on the green. I would also encourage you to read the section on lawn bowling etiquette at the back of the membership roster. In discussing this topic, I am not going to focus on technique or strategy—such as “no short bowls”—but on functions, and, since we play fours so rarely, I am not going to discuss vice-skips.
The full set of rules for lawn bowling as played in the USA can be found on the USLBA website. That site has a link to the international Laws of the Sport of Bowls. The US version differs somewhat from the international rules, but will differ less from the beginning of 2011 when the US will drop the controversial “hammer” rule (This is the rule that allows the team winning an end to force the losing team to bowl first on the next end, thereby retaining for themselves the last bowl of the end.) The USLBA site also has an excellent section on etiquette—more comprehensive than we include in the BLBC Handbook.
The function of the lead is (A) to place the mat and roll the jack, ideally to the spot where the skip is indicating he or she wishes it. The jack must be rolled the minimum distance—this is why, if the mat has been moved up beyond the minimum mat distance (two meters), the jack must be a corresponding distance beyond the hog line—if it is not, it gets sent back for the opposing lead to roll. If the jack is rolled a second time and goes into the ditch or out of bounds, it is, of course, set at the maximum distance—two meters from the plinth. However, you should be aware that once this is done, control of the mat reverts to the original lead, who may then place the mat wherever they want it, so long as they maintain the minimum distance between the mat and the jack; (B) the lead of the side losing the end rakes the bowls to the correct position (behind and to the right of the mat, from the perspective of someone bowling from the mat); (C) the lead of the side losing the end puts up the score on the board. (In triples, the losing second does this.) Rake first, then mark the score. Those are the basic requirements: it is NOT the job of the lead to be in the head when the skip is bowling—leads should be at least six feet behind the jack at that point and, strictly speaking, there is no real need for them to be on the green at all once they have bowled even though in social bowling some leeway may be allowed. However, when all bowls have been rolled, they should not be venturing an opinion as to who has the shot or how many shots have been won. That is the job of the seconds. (Naturally, if you are playing pairs, the lead is both lead and second, so both sets of functions apply.) Also—this is more etiquette or commonsense than a strict rule—a lead should not be picking up the rake before the final bowl has been rolled. I have seen this, and it is disheartening to your skip to assume that he or she cannot make the shot and take the end.
The primary role of the second is to replace the skip in the head when the skip is on the mat. As mentioned, the losing second puts up the score while the losing lead rakes. When at the head, the second should keep the skip informed of the count by the normal hand signals (X pats on the shoulder or on the thigh, depending on whether you are up or down). Whether the second should offer the skip advice as to what shot to play is a question that should be decided between the skip and the second, ideally at the outset of the game. Certainly, if the skip asks advice, respond—to the question asked e.g., whose bowl is in front? Are we up or down? Should I come forehand? But if the skip is not seeking advice, best to keep silent unless you are confident your skip will appreciate the advice. Once your skip’s bowl has come to rest, you must relinquish the head to the opposing second. (This applies to skips too when they are ruling the head.) Technically, at that point, you are not supposed even to indicate up or down and you are not supposed to step into the head to eye the bowls—you are supposed to do that only when your skip has the mat again. Finally, this is not a rule but a courtesy, the second of the team winning the end should pick up the jack—once all counting has ceased!—and hand it to their lead for the next end.
The skip is in charge. He or she literally “calls the shots.” A good skip, however, is a benevolent dictator and rules with a gentle touch and voice. Admittedly, given wind conditions and some bowlers’ hearing capacity, the gentle voice part can sometimes be difficult to ensure. Also, to be frank, because leads and seconds do not always follow the roles outlined above, a frustrated skip may feel he or she has to make their point forcefully. Nevertheless, although there is nothing in the rules that says a skip cannot yell “You’re short!” or “Oh no, you’re in the ditch!” this type of behavior is at best counterproductive and can verge on the insulting—the poor bowler on the mat knows they’re short or in the ditch and they especially know when they’ve rolled a wrong bias—the last thing they need is for it to be publicly announced much less denounced. The Laws of the Sport of Bowls do not specifically determine what a skip can or cannot tell his/her team, but in tournament play conduct that is disturbing to bowlers on other rinks (as constant yelling is likely to be) would almost certainly be subject to a warning by the tournament master, and possibly penalty. We do not have tournament masters in our draw games, of course, but skips should show a good example to others and abide by the highest standards of play.
This is perhaps one of the areas of greatest confusion. The first rule of measuring is: if in doubt, measure. Do not spend all day discussing which bowl may or may not have the shot. Get down and measure it. Second, measuring is always done from the jack to the bowl and specifically that means placing the plastic square of the measure against the jack (without disturbing it, of course). You do not measure with the plastic against the bowl and the end of the tape against the jack. Third, when it is agreed—by the two seconds and not by a conference of the seconds and the leads—that one or more bowls are definitely “in the count” but others need to be measured, the clearly winning bowl(s) should be carefully removed from the head and put aside in an area where they will not be in doubt. (The rules do not specify this, but it can be helpful to place the definite bowls on a rag so everyone is aware which bowls are no longer subject to doubt.) If, for example, there are three bowls of one team that may be in the count and only one bowl of the other team, measure first to the latter bowl and then use the tape to see which, if any, of the other possible countable bowls in fact make it. Finally, both seconds should clearly signal to the skips what the count is. And finally finally, no raking or clearing of bowls should be undertaken until the count has been declared, even of the bowls that are 20 feet from the jack.
For many of you, all of the above will seem obvious and second nature. To those, I ask for forbearance. For others, I hope this will be a useful refresher on points that probably were, or at lest should have been, covered by your instructors, but that, alas, are on occasion forgotten. And let us remember the spirit of camaraderie that is one of the most appealing aspects of this sport.
To all—good bowling!