Bowls – Beginner’s Guide

It is said that Lawn Bowls is an easy game to play but a hard game to play well. Never fear! Anyone from nine to ninety nine can play the game and with some good coaching (which the club provides for free), can reach a decent standard and enjoy the experience.

Like any sport, there are many different aspects of the game to learn. So we’ve created the links below to help you understand the various aspects of the game.

In addition to that, we have produced the following “Introduction To Bowls & Playing The  Game” together with a “Quick Guide To The Game” downloadable pamphlet for a quick reference, for printing and just to be able to get started with a basic understanding of the gam. Click here to view or download. 

The Object of the Game
The object of the game is to get as many of your bowls (or your team’s bowls) nearer to the small white ball (called the Jack) than your opponent. The game can be played singles (one against one), pairs, triples or rinks (four players in each team). In each game the number of bowls used varies: Singles and Pairs use four bowls each; Triples – three bowls each player and Rinks use two bowls each. There are published rules and also a tradition of etiquette. Skill, technique and experience separate the average player from the excellent player, but the game can be played with enjoyment at all levels of experience.

 A game generally lasts about two hours and consists of a predetermined number of “ends” (an “end” is the delivery of all the bowls from one end of the green to the other by all of the players). 

The Green
Bowling green specifications for the lawn bowls variation of the sport are stipulated in World Bowls’ Laws of the Sport of Bowls.

Several games of bowls can be played on a bowling green at the same time. The number of games depends on the dimensions of the green. Each game is played on its own portion of the green. These divided portions of the green are called rinks.

The length of a green in the direction of play will be between 31 metres and 40 metres. The green should have a suitable level playing surface made of grass.

The green is surrounded by a ditch between 200 millimetres and 380 millimetres wide, and between 50 millimetres and 200 millimetres deep. The ditch has a bank against its outer edge. The top of the bank should be at least 230 millimetres about the surface level of the green.

Generally, greens are built in a square shape as close to 40 metres as possible. This allows for games to be played in either direction. The advantages of playing in different directions are that: the wear on the green is more even, and; the players do not need to face towards the sun when playing.

The width of a rink for outdoor play will be between 4.3 metres and 5.8 metres. The centre line of the rink can be marked along the surface of the green starting at 2 metres from each end ditch. The side boundaries of each rink are shown by boundary pegs. The side boundary of the outside rink (also called a ditch rink) should be at least 600 millimetres from the side ditch (460 millimetres for indoor greens).

The Play
The bowls can be delivered on the ‘forehand’ or the ‘backhand’ depending on the player’s preference or where bowls that have already be played are.  The curved path helps the player to find a way past bowls that have been delivered short of the jack.

Note that bowls may travel outside the boundaries of the rink during their course as long as they come to rest within these boundaries.

Players must stand on a mat when delivering their bowl.  The mat is placed on the centre-line of the rink with its front end no less than 2 metres from the rear ditch or less that 25 metres from the front ditch.

Its position is chosen by the player who bowls the Jack to start the end.

During an end the bowl nearest to the jack is referred to as ‘the shot’.
You may hear players on the mat asking, ‘who is lying the shot or ‘who is holding’?’

The player who first delivers the jack must ensure that it is properly centred.

If it comes to rest within two metres from the front edge of the green it must be moved out to a mark at that distance.

The player delivering the jack can choose the length to play it, but it must finish at least 23 metres in a straight line of play from the front edge of the mat.

The players then take turns to deliver their bowls.  When all the bowls have been delivered, the number of ‘shots’ is counted.

A shot is a bowl which is nearer the jack than any of your opponent’s bowls.
For example, if you have three shots nearer the jack than any of your opponent’s bowls you score three shots at that end.

(You will have noticed by now that you bowl a bowl and not a ball)


Bowls is a highly tactical game. This is one of its attractions.

It is not always about ‘drawing’ closest the jack.

Players must constantly anticipate what shot their opponents may play.
For example when a team has a few bowls behind the head, (behind the jack), the opposing team may see the need to place a bowl amongst these to cover the possibility of the jack being moved.

Similarly, if one side is already lying the shot, they may elect to play a guarding shot short of the target area to prevent their opponents from moving anything.

These are only two examples and there are many other situations, too many to discuss here, where tactics come into play.

The jack can be moved by the bowls during play.  When a bowl moves the jack it is left in the new position provided it remains within the rink boundary markers.  It can also be pushed in the ditch by a bowl.  In this case it remains in the ditch and the players must try to play their bowls as close as possible to the jack, at the edge of the green, without falling into the ditch.

A bowl which moves the jack is marked with chalk and classed as a ‘toucher’.  If it touches the jack before falling into the ditch it stays there, remains ‘live’ and may feature in the final shot count.

A ‘toucher’ that remains on the rink and is later driven into the ditch by another bowl is also a ‘live’ bowl.

The position of both ‘touchers’ and the jack when ‘live’ in the ditch are shown by markers placed at their position on the top of the ditch.

A bowl that goes into the ditch and that has not touched the jack is classed as being ‘dead’ and it is removed.

All bowls which finish outside the side boundaries of the rink are ‘dead’.

Types of Shots in Bowling
There are basically four different types of shot, or deliver in Lawn Bowling:

The Draw

A drawing Shot is the most common and it is really what the game is all about.

This shot is the one in which the player attempts to play with the exact weight required to finish closest to the jack or to a point on the green dictated by strategy or tactics.

This shot is often considered to be the most skilful.

The Yard On

The ‘Yard On’ shot is when the player plays his bowl with the weight that will carry it a yard or two past the target.

The objective of this shot is usually to drag the jack away from the opponent’s bowls towards your own or to push a bowl out of the ‘head’ and take its place.

The Running Shot or Ditch Length Shot

The Running Shot is one which uses more weight than the yard on.

The object of this shot is to remove opponent’s bowls from the head, to move the jack to the ditch or to seek some other result that required the bowl to be played with weight.  This can be a difficult shot to play as the line (bias) required to get to the target changes with different weight.

The Drive

The Drive (or firing) is probably the most spectacular shot on the bowling green.

A drive is when the player delivers the bowl at high speed and with maximum weight so that he can strike the head or the target with full force.

The object of this shot can be to completely remove opponent’s bowls from the head or from the rink or to drive the jack into the ditch.

It is also commonly used when a player has a few shots against him.
In this case the object is to destroy the head or to ‘burn’ or ‘kill’ the end by driving the jack out of the rink.

This can be a very effective and intimidating shot to have in your armoury but many players have difficulty controlling their direction when concentrating their efforts on so much weight.

Equipment for the New Bowler
The below is the basic equipment needed for the new bowler.
Cost vary but there is ample second hand equipment around. For example: a set of second hand bowls can, depending on age and condition, cost anywhere from £20 to £120.

  • A pair of bowling shoes – characteristically with flat soles for the protection of the green – typically around £25.
  • A set of Bowls with club stickers – although a set from the club will be available to begin with.
  • Suitable shirt or blouse and bottoms.
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers for extra comfort when or if needed.


Please also see our page on Club Dress Code

Bowls Etiquette

Never walk across the green when players are bowling.

Never walk along the pathway when people are bowling towards you. Always stand still until they have bowled.

You should not shout on the green and where possible use hand singles. If you have something to say wait until you cross over.

Always have your bowl in your hand so you are ready to bowl when it is your turn.

Do not sit or stand on the edge of the green as it damages the green.

Never talk to your opponents bowl. It is highly frowned on.

When a player is preparing to deliver a bowl, those at the delivery end should stand well behind and remain still and silent so as not to distract the player.

When the bowler at the opposite end is on the mat and about to bowl, players should stand absolutely still to avoid distraction.

Mobile phones are to be silenced or switched off and are not to be used at any time while on the green and playing.

"Do's" and "Don'ts" of Lawn Bowls

The official rules of the game are set out in full in the “Laws of the Sport of Bowls” (current version 3.2 from June 2020 – link available on the club website). All bowlers should familiarise themselves with these and refer to them when they need to.

In addition to the rules Bowling happens to be one of the games with several Unspoken Rules also referred to as “Etiquette”. These Unspoken Rules (or Etiquette) refer to the way in which we play the game to ensure enjoyment for everyone and so that all have the chance to play their best. Whether you are a beginner to the sport or a seasoned bowler, they are some of the critical lawn bowls practices worth considering and following, whenever you are on the green or just at the club. They are all based on common courtesy, which makes them easy to remember.

Click here for the complete “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of Lawn Bowls.

For more information, please go to About Bowls link where you will see Rules of Bowls, The Do’s and Don’ts of Lawn BowlsBowls Etiquette and Video Coaching.

Contact Us

Please contact us to find out more or to arrange a visit to the club.
Capital Ring,
Lyttelton Playing Fields (off Norrice Lea),
London N2 0RE
020 8058 2212

Leave A Message