In 1988 I bowled my first wood on a bowling green aged 10 years old. I use the word “wood” in the true context as the only bowls small enough for me were the old lignum vitae bowls found collecting dust in many a club around the country. This was my first experience of the sport I have now loved for 27 years but also an indication of the lack of support for young bowlers taking up the game at the time.
It was very tough to get involved in any teams at my first club due to there being a blatant disregard for young players being allowed on the green mixing with senior gentleman. This unwritten rule has come back to bite a lot of clubs on the backside as I now see the once strong clubs disappearing due to having no young blood progressing through the ranks to keep the legacy of decades of history alive. Unfortunately this is becoming an ever increasing occurrence and I sometimes wonder whether any of the jobsworth characters who seem to litter many a club ever feel any guilt when they see their club close its doors for the final time.
The dress code in this era was still very much regimented and it was very rare you could turn up for club or county without wearing the full regalia of blazer, tie, tailored grey trousers and shoes that you could see your reflection in. If this wasn’t bad enough for a teenage boy then you also had an extra stone in weight due to badges pinned all the way down the blazer lapels. To say it was not easy seeing your friends looking like a school teacher would be an understatement but these were the standards of the sport so they were to be respected. Compare this to the clothing the men generally wear today and the difference is unrecognizable.

I always remember certain things that I observed as I was growing up in the sport that were signs of the progression that would take place bringing us up to the present day. The first of which was seeing players play in white shoes with their grey trousers on. At the time this was as rare as hens teeth and these players were seen to be big headed and thinking they were better than the average player. Who do they think they are not wearing brown bowling shoes? I remember thinking to myself that one day I wanted to be good enough to wear white shoes with my greys. Yes I agree it is as ridiculous as it sounds! The second thing was the introduction of coloured bowls. This was outrageous and was a total fad. It will never ever catch on as everyone will see your bad bowls sticking out like a sore thumb. “Stick to black or brown son because you don’t want to look like an idiot”. Slowly but surely the game was starting to progress and an appeal to new young bowlers was taking place.

Those with bowling savvy knew that something had to be done to recruit young players and the current dress code and outdated equipment was never going to encourage this. In contrast the coloured team shirts, tracksuits and trainers of today seem to be having a very positive effect with younger players starting the game.

I have been lucky enough throughout my bowling career to have worked within bowls retail doing many a roadshow around the country and meeting a lot of fantastic people along the way. This opportunity also kept my finger on the pulse with regards to the new lines of clothing and equipment hitting the market and seeing the progression first hand but one thing was always a constant issue for as long as I remember. A high percentage of women would pick up a top and then immediately put it down insisting they would not be allowed to wear it due to having colour on it. I would look in disbelief at the statement and question why such a rule was in place. “that’s just the way it is” would be the answer and a plain white top would be purchased instead. Now bearing in mind this would be around 20 years ago I appreciated that maybe the ladies game was taking a little longer to accept progress than the men and things would soon change. How wrong could I be…

Having taken time out of the retail side of the sport for a number of years I have very recently decided to start up my own bowls business knowing there is some amazing bowls clothing and equipment available from manufacturers around the world and feel the organisations are doing a lot of work to encourage new players and especially focusing on youth participation. It was to my dismay that having sold a very nice ladies bowling top with navy and light blue around the neck line my customer brought it back to me the following day. I was asked for a refund due to her not being allowed to wear it as it was not plain white. I was staggered to see that the same issues I had encountered 20 years previous were still being enforced today. This made me think of how many young lady bowlers there were in and around my area and I could think of only a handful. A very harsh and disappointing statistic and it took me right back to my younger days when starting out. 

Why are the people who are implementing these rules hell bent on holding the sport back? Do they seriously think that young girls of today are going to be seen in an outfit that lost its place in the last century? Do they not question why they are struggling to sustain membership due to a lack of recruitment? Are they blinkered when it comes to seeing young women competing in major world tournaments wearing quality, up to date, colourful clothing or are they putting 2 and 2 together and getting 5?

I do not know how common this is around the British isles but it is certainly alive and kicking in my area and I feel it is time for people to put their foot down and stand up to this dictatorship. So many want the change but the minority are winning the battle and killing our sport. It is really time to wake up and do what is right for the future and hopefully it is not too late to repair some of the year’s of damage.
Rules have been implemented to allow working ladies the opportunity to play competitions on a night instead of during the day which has also contributed heavily to non participation in the past. A step in the right direction but still lots of work to be done. 

I am quite sure similar issues are still being found within the men’s game but I do feel it is currently in a much healthier place than the ladies. Stop creating pointless barriers and start to move with the times!


With the current situation in many areas of the county with regards to clubs closing due to council cuts or lack of players there is an urgent need to increase the player numbers and promote the sport.

A common statement that I hear around every club is the need to have more young players and I see a lot of volunteers giving up their own time to support a junior section generally consisting of aged 16 and under in the hope of finding the next generation of bowlers for the club. The question is whether this is proving to be a lot of wasted hours and should the focus be aimed at a different age group? When I say wasted I mean this from the point of view that the conversion rate of very young players continuing to play after 2 years must be very low and this is generally due to education, relationships, lack of progress/interest and in a lot of cases lack of backing from parents.

Having started aged 10 myself I am obviously in favour of seeing young bowlers on the green but there was a common theme amongst the group of young bowlers I started with and who still continue to play the game today. Below I will list 10 players from the northern counties who I played with or against at junior level and who we still see around the greens today playing the game and then give you the big factor that I see as the reason for this continuity. Ian Mcintosh, Shaun Mcintosh, Keith Avery, Colin Jefferson, Trevor Taylor, Gavin Taylor, Paul Hartley, Patrick Thomson, Peter Thomson and Ian Gallagher are the ten and I could name many more. Every single one of these players have been involved in national winning teams and started at a young age.

The common factor of all of the players above was that their parents or immediate family were involved with the sport. The importance of this was having the support not only financially but also being able to travel to events and also having someone to not just aspire too but also make proud with achievements. Success is so important for young players regardless of whether it is £20 from a competition or winning a trophy as an extremely low percentage of young sports players will continue if it is just to make the numbers up.

With this in mind I have always personally believed that if the recruitment is focused at the 20-50 age range I feel the juniors could potentially follow without the need to spend hours on a green trying to entertain a group of youngsters whilst their parents get some time to themselves. This age range are generally settled in their life with a secure job and family so should have available time to come along to the club and try the sport of bowls. I would be a very rich man if I had a pound for every person I have heard saying they wished they had started at an earlier age and I am very confident that the percentage is extremely high for anyone trying the sport and loving it. It is highly addictive and it is vital that we work hard to lose the “old persons marbles” stigma that surrounds us daily and sell the many benefits of a sport that boasts hundreds of thousands of participants. They can’t all be wrong now can they? Many may have participated in sport previously and see our sport as an opportunity to continue being competitive for many years ahead or it can be just a great way to have a hobby that keeps the mind and body in great shape.

If we can encourage this age group then I really feel they could then bring their children into the game rather than the other way round. Coaches will find it so much easier to get the best out of a young player if they have a member of the family learning with them and it also helps for concentration, manners and etiquette on the green.

I am fully aware that there are many players playing the sport who didn’t have family or friends playing but I’m sure they would be in the minority and generally will be very strong willed in personality as it is not easy for any person under 50 to play this sport without getting mocked by friends and family due to the short sighted perception of this great sport.

There appears to be a lot of work down in the southern area of the UK promoting initiatives like “Barefoot Bowls” where members of the public are sampling the sport in a relaxed atmosphere with a barbecue on the go and a few drinks and people genuinely looking like they are having a great time. It is well worth a look online for anyone who hasn’t seen it but ultimately this is what our clubs need to be looking at to recruit. It doesn’t necessarily need to be this concept but something along similar lines and the backing of the council wouldn’t go amiss either.

This is all down to my own opinion but I firmly believe that we will continue to lose clubs if we do not target the 20-50 age group when it comes to recruitment so it is time to put a plan in place to get out into the community and sell this great sport of ours.

Taking the Lead

There is one position that has become very underrated within the current crop of young players within our county yet not only is it probably the most important and beneficial position but it is also the biggest calling card for any player with County or International aspirations. This position is lead and to me I have always been of the opinion that it is not the skip that wins games but a lead who dominates and builds heads from the start of an end.

A look through the record books at the players who have achieved most in the sport and in most cases they will have all started as a lead and mastered the art of drawing to a bare jack and if any player can do this on a consistent basis then so many doors will open. Whether it be at County or International level you can guarantee that if you excel at lead you will be one of the first names on the team sheet and two recent local players who proved this at international level are firstly Marc O’Riordan from Hartlepool and currently Josh Minto from Northumberland who has just gained his first senior caps in the outdoor England squad at lead.

There have been so many promising players who could have potentially become a force in the sport but have wanted to become back end players before learning the basics and have generally not made the progress they could have. I would really like to see this thought process change in the future and I feel clubs have a responsibility to not only identify players with great leading potential but also to keep them in this position at all times. These players have also got to be selfish and ensure that that they always play in the lead position as consistency is lost when trying to mix leading with back end play.

I appreciate it can be hard to play in a position that can generally be a lonely one as once you have played your bowls you are left to watch the rest of the end and it is also very frustrating if you are generally lying shot but then have no control over the outcome of the end but ultimately it boils down to what the individual wants to gain from the sport and what their aspirations are. I would love to see more players look at the long term benefits of the lead position and make it their own as great leads are in very short supply.

And its a goodnight from me and a goodnight from him......

David Bolt


Disclaimer- Any views expressed in this blog may not be shared or connected to either the Sunderland & District BA / The City of Sunderland IBC.


Site last updated : Tuesday September 18, 2018 1:11 PM