Beginners Guide To Bowls

It doesn’t matter if you’ve only ever watched a game of bowls, or if you know nothing about it – bowls is a really simple and enjoyable game to get into. Some of the benefits of bowls include its sociability (it’s a great way to meet new people and make new friends), as well as the fact it’s suitable for people of all ages and abilities.

The aim of the game is simple. Get your bowls as close as possible to a small white or yellow ball called the ‘jack’. The Jack may also be referred to as the “kitty”.

It might sound easy, but the fact that the bowls do not travel in a straight line seriously adds to the tactical challenge.

Bowls can be played indoors or outdoors, on artificial or natural surfaces and the rules are the same.

Bowls is a game for people of all ages and abilities from young children to older adults. It is all embracing. It can be played on equal terms by almost anyone. It does not require special strength or athletic ability.

How Competitions Unfold 

All the action takes place on a standard bowling green, which is a flat square 34-40m long. This is divided into playing areas called rinks.

After a coin toss, the first bowler (the lead) places the mat and rolls the jack towards the other end of the green as a target.

The jack must travel at least 23m and, when it comes to rest, it is centered to the centre line of the rink.

Then bowlers take it in turns until all of the bowls have been played. This is called an ‘end’. Points are awarded to each team for every bowl that is closer to the jack than the opposing team’s bowls. The direction of play changes after each end. 

Bowls can be played in singles, pairs, triples and four-player teams.

Each player has four bowls per end in singles, three bowls in pairs competitions, two or three bowls in triples, and two bowls in fours competition.

The team captain, or ‘skip’, always plays last and is instrumental in directing the team’s shots and tactics.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

How The Scoring Works

Scoring systems vary for different competitions.

However, it is usually the first player, or team, to reach a certain number of points eg: 21 points in a singles match, or the highest scorer after a specified number of ends.

Types of Shots

The bowls are not quite round. They are shaped differently on one side which gives them the bias.

As the bowl slows, it begins to roll in the direction of the bias.

Bowlers will therefore change the side of the bias, depending on the direction in which they want the bowl to curve.

The challenge of all shots is to be able to adjust your line and length accordingly.

Note: The faster the delivery, the smaller the curve!

Draw Shot:

This allows the bowler to roll the bowl to a specific location without disturbing the other bowls too much.

For a right-handed bowler, ‘forehand draw’ is initially aimed to the right of the jack, and curves back to the left towards the jack.

The same bowler can deliver a ‘backhand draw’ by turning the bowl over in the hand and curving it the opposite way, from left to right. In both cases, the aim of the bowl is usually to roll it as close to the jack as possible.

The Drive:

Involves bowling with considerable force with the aim of knocking either the jack or a specific bowl out of play. There is very little curve on this shot.

Upshot or Weighted:

Involves delivering the bowl with enough power to move the jack or disturb other bowls, but without killing the end.

Ditch Rules

Bowls reaching the ditch are removed from play.

However, if they touch the jack before heading into the ditch they remain ‘alive’ and remain in play, unless it is out of bounds to the side of the rink. In which case it is dead and removed removed from the ditch.

If the jack is knocked into the ditch it remains ‘alive’ unless it is out of bounds to the side of the rink.

If that happens, this is called a ‘dead or killed’ end and is replayed.


There can be a large number of bowls on the green towards the conclusion of an end – particularly in the team games – and this gives rise to some complex tactics.

For example, the team with the closest bowl will probably decide not to aim for being close to the jack.

It is probably in their interest to opt for a more blocking shot by setting their bowls up to make it difficult for opponents to get their bowls in towards the jack.

This area where the jack and bowls are concentrated is called ‘the head'.

Some players will try to get their bowls in places where the jack might be deflected to if the opponent attempts to disturb the head.

The Bowls

Made of a hard plastic composite material

You can play all year round – artificial greens in the winter and out on the natural “lawn” greens in the summer.

What is Meant By "Weight or Speed"?

​​​​​​​The bowl needs a certain amount of momentum to reach the jack. You as the bowler create that momentum by delivering and propelling the bowl down the rink. If the bowl doesn’t reach the jack it is called “short.” If it travels past the jack it is called “heavy”.

This game is all about adjusting. Once you see where your bowl has finished, you can adjust your next bowl to get a better result.

More “weight or speed” will help short bowls reach the jack. Likewise, less weight will help bowls that have travelled past the jack, to finish closer to the jack.

  • If you’re playing short - you can lengthen your delivery by increasing the speed you bowl. Try swinging your arm back a bit further to put more weight behind the bowl
  • If you’re playing too heavy - you can reduce the length of your delivery by moving more slowly. This will ensure there is less weight behind the bowl, so it won’t travel as far.
  • If you’re playing too wide, that is the bowl is not coming back to finish on the centre line, try bowling along a target line that is a little narrower than your previous bowl. Note where that bowl finishes and adjust again if required.
  • If you’re playing too narrow - again, try bowling along a target line that is a little wider than your previous bowl. Note where that bowl finishes and adjust again if required.