Article 10 - Participation

Participation or Attracting More Bowlers
Article published in  Todays Bowler Feb 2002 - revised 2009

When I asked the editor for suggestions about what might be of interest to the readers, after being asked to write a piece for the magazine, he was not slow in coming forward with some suggested topics and I was then left feeling rather like choosing the question in an examination to try and give good value.

So the choice came down to the controversial subject of bias with what constitutes a legal set of bowls and the other hot topic at bowls meetings which is 'a question of how to attract more players to this great sport'. As I have some fairly strong opinions on more participants, I thought that's the subject and I can share my thoughts with readers to see what reaction it will provoke.

The question with regards to attracting more players does seem to be high on the agenda of all the bowls associations throughout the World. I hear from my colleagues in Australia that they are concerned about less people taking part in their Pennant competitions and falling numbers of registered bowlers. Similar comments are also heard from New Zealand. Canada and the U.S.A. Those last two countries where the game is less well recognised but they also have a continuing problem with attracting new members.

Generally the solution that most come up with is to concentrate on attracting junior members. This certainly seems to be true in the U.K. for example the Scottish Bowls Association has a scheme, which has run for a number of years, to introducing school children to the sport, other associations and counties have similar schemes as do some clubs. The promotion of such schemes has been very strong in the last few years and this is particularly evident by the number of approaches that Drakes Pride has had for small size bowls for junior coaching schemes. Whilst support of these schemes is important junior coaching must be considered as a long term project. Also it could be said that the, albeit restricted, televised tournaments have shown that the game is no longer an old person's sport. Mind you some adverts on TV do play on the 'ageism' perception.

My thoughts however are more to do with encouraging and attracting people from other sports which might be classified as more physical, such as rugby, soccer, hockey, net‑ball etc. Get them when they are at the end of their quality team play at around 35‑40. They have a proven record of enjoying sports and a proven record of playing in a team. Bowls has the great advantage of being a sport that people of that age group can still play at a high level and can continue to do so for may years. So as well as attracting the youth, let's get them at that lower middle aged group before we lose them to golf and show them how enjoyable the game of bowls is.

The other point in aiming at this sort of age group is that this is where the population growth is shown to be, they are also the section of the population which has the disposable income and are people that have been used to club membership and know the basic requirements of same.

Therefore, my suggestion would be to bowls clubs who are concerned about losing members, and here is the major question. Is it solely the officials that are worried, or is it the clubs themselves that are concerned?

There is the old saying "you can take a horse to water but can't make it drink". So for all the good efforts of the officials, if the club members are not won over to the promotion of their sport, then the reduction in numbers will continue. .

 So perhaps not only do we need to encourage people to think about playing bowls, but also to encourage the clubs themselves to be more open to new members; in fact perhaps we should be encouraging them to twin with their local rugby club, for example. Why not invite some of the players down to try out the sport. Just as long as there is no insistence on them wearing whites, and if the shoes are a problem speak to your local bowls stockists and ask them to contact Drakes Pride who offer a very reasonably priced bowls overshoe ‑ which allows the person to wear their ordinary outdoor shoes whilst still giving protection to the 'green'. It should be possible for each club to have a few pairs in various sizes so that interested persons can "have a go".

Although it is easier for crown green bowls than perhaps it is for lawn bowls, something that is done by the Thurston company in Liverpool might be considered:

Some businesses have "fun nights" for their staff which could be a night of crown green bowling, a meal and a few drinks in the club. The clubs are delighted to host the night as it gives them some additional income, and the groups just hire the crown green bowls from Thurston for the night.

It is quite interesting to note that new members for the bowls clubs have been picked up from such events. Perhaps therefore, lawn bowls clubs could look through their old selection of bowls hidden in the lockers, get a few sets together, and then contact their local Chamber of Commerce offering their facilities to host such events, have the bowls overshoes available and perhaps a couple of members to offer some basic coaching advice. The club funds will be improved and some new members might also be found.

Some say that the dress code puts off new recruits but is that really true. Yes, there are some rather strange regulations particularly for the ladies, but in all other team sports a team kit is expected and in those other team sports, if you were to change your club, then the team kit would also change. Perhaps the advantage in playing in white, which will be common to all the clubs is not such a handicap. Most sports require specialist footwear and therefore bowls is not that different.

Perhaps therefore the excuse with regard to the dress code is somewhat lame. Yes, styles could be improved to accommodate the views of the modern day and age and that may well be helpful in attracting new bowlers.

Do the umpires cause too much strife? I hardly think so, just think of the abuse that is hurtled at the referees in some sports by both players and spectators and yet they are considered to be "popular" sports.

So in reality it probably comes back to all of us who are involved with this great sport  of bowls to "sell it", and if changing the play format and using coloured bowls gets more TV. coverage for the great game then its all for the good.

Additional Notes
- In Australia in recent years, certainly since 2000 the clubs have found a means of encouraging the use of their club, with the benefits that this brings of bar and food sales,by allowing 'social bowls' sometimes call 'bare foot bowls' other times 'night owls'. They have used a simple games format and have no dress code other than shoes or 'bare foot'. The events have been quite successful and some participants have enjoyed themselves and the sport that they have become 'bona fide' members of the club. 
- Drakes Pride has, since 2008, been supporting Bowls England in encouraging Clubs to prompt membership their Clubs by sponsoring the 'Bowls Club of the Year' award.

© Peter N Clare 2002/2009. ©E.A. Clare & Son Ltd 2013. This article can only be reproduced in part or whole with the permission of E. A. Clare & Son Ltd.