Roles For Players During The Game


Lead: The player who starts each “end” by rolling the jack. This is an important part of the game as usually the skip will want the jack to be rolled to a specific length they indicate. The lead will try and get their bowls as close to the jack as possible. When the lead has bowled they will then stand quietly behind the mat length until all the others have bowled. As a new bowler, lead is the position you're most likely to play.

No.2: This player will look to the skip for instructions and then bowl accordingly. When the No.2 has bowled they will then stand quietly behind the mat length until all the others have bowled. If the No.3 has been standing with the skip they will now return to the mat to bowl whilst the leads and No.2’s walk to the “head” and stand quietly behind their skip.

No.3: This player may stand with the skip in some games and then return to the mat when it is their turn to bowl. Having been at the “head” they will know the precise position of each of the bowls played so far (you will find that the view from the mat can be deceiving until you are at the “head” yourself) and will have taken the skips advice on which type of shot to play. When the No.3, and his opposite number, has bowled they will return to the “head”. When the “end” is complete if there is any “measuring” required this is done by the No.3.

Skip: These players are usually the most experienced in your team and fully understand all facets of the game.

As each bowl of his team is bowled they will advise the bowler (lead, No.2 or No.3) where their bowl has finished so that, if any adjustments are needed to “weight” or “length”, these can be made.

They have the ability to play any shot that is required to win the “end” as well as being tactically aware of what the opposition may try to do.

If they ask for information about theirs, or their opponents bowls, it is only the No.3 who will reply (leads and No.2’s should remain quiet unless specifically requested for their opinion by the No.3)

They have a scorecard which they update each “end” and occasionally ask their opposite number to confirm the current score. They will instruct the No.2 to ensure the scoreboard at the end of the rink is kept up to date.


Playing with two or three team mates is very different fromsingles or pairs, and for many people it is the best way to enjoybowls. Fours is the particular favourite, and is far and away themost common form of the sport. There are many reasons for thisbesides the obvious one of making the most efficient use of a club’sfacilities. The team game maximises the companionable feature ofbowls, and this can be most welcome, even for the top players afterthe stress of singles. Nothing is more enjoyable than being a memberof a really close-knit harmonious team.

Tactically, the team game is utterly fascinating. The harnessingof several individuals talents and temperaments to the pursuit of ashared goal is immensely challenging, and to do it successfully isone of the most rewarding of human activities.. To examine how thatis done it is best to analyse the various positions on the team, asthey contribute to the team effort.


We must emphasise the importance of the draw shot, it is thereforenot surprising that we consider the “lead’s” function utterlycritical to team success. It is the natural starting point for thenovice. It would be less than wise for the novice not to see that thelead position was his/her natural home. However there is a tendencyto wish to progress down the team order, as though it were promotion.At club level this is widely encouraged, where a promising lead willnot have to wait long for such a promotion. Hence the attitude sooften encountered that dismisses the lead as either a beginner or abowler whose limitations prevent further progress.

After all, he only has to bowl the jack to the length his/herskipper dictates, and then draw a couple of shots. This is wrong!Setting the length and bowling these first woods is a matter ofutmost importance, as any no 2 can vouch for. There is all thedifference in the world between shaping up to play into a head withtwo well placed draws courtesy of your lead, and looking for asalvage shot to clear up a mess.

A position to hold

If you are a promising lead at club level, and see the wisdom ofstaying for some time in that position in order to hone your drawshot, what is your best course of action? Do not allow yourself to berushed down the order. Instead try and become such a good lead that astronger team snaps you up for the same position. Really good leadsare like gold dust, and are likely to make good skips if that iswhere their ambition lies.Because the lead only plays the draw shotit is a specialist position (uniquely) and some specialist leads areso good that they never show any interest in moving down the order.

Shot is not the aim

In terms of his/her two vital deliveries, the lead has similarconcerns to those of the singles player at the start of an end, butnot identical. Both are trying to set up a favourable head, but insingles, there is considerable pressure to emerge from the first twobowls holding shot. To do so does not always result in winning theend, but with only four bowls to come it is better to be one up thanone down. It puts pressure on the opponent to change the situation.This is not the case for the lead in the 4’s game. With 12 bowls tocome there is no great merit in holding shot, at least for its ownsake. There will be ample opportunity to convert the head later on ata time of maximum advantage. What the lead has to do is to get twogood bowls into the head to make life for the opposition as difficultas possible and must never, repeat never be short. Nor should he bejack high to present a target for his/her opponent. He should guardagainst too tight a line as a bowl which hooks past in front of thejack will have very little further influence on the outcome of theend. If holding shot with his/her first delivery then do not puthis/her second one alongside and present a target. If his/heropponent is holding shot he should try and come alongside to givehis/her no 2 a target. Never try and remove an opponents bowl this isthe task for a later player.


Having stressed the importance of the ‘lead’ that is still thebest position for the novice, not just for his/her sake but becausethe demands on the no.2 are too great. He is faced with the task ofeither consolidating a good position or salvaging a bad one. He comesto the mat to face a situation not of his/her own making. Eitherhis/her lead has established a solid foundation for the head or hehas not. If the former, the no.2 must build on that foundation,hoping to leave his/her no.3 in a really dominant position. If thelatter he must do everything in his/her power to retrieve thesituation, knowing that if he fails in this task his/her team-matesmay be left chasing a forlorn cause. If the situation is favourable,his/her skip will either ask him to protect the shot bowl(s) or gethis/her bowls into the head in such a way as to provide insurance forlater developments.. Either way positional shots are called for, sothe no.2 must not only be a good draw player but he must also be ableto vary the line and length at will. This is particularly difficultduring the early stages and the no.2 who is first in the groove willgive his/her team a real boost. If the head is unfavourable when theno.2 comes to the mat, his/her course of action is radicallydifferent. If his/her lead has not got a bowl close, then the skipwill direct him to get right into the head, either to take shot or atleast to get bowls into position for a conversion later on. Failureto do so can lead to disaster, because it may leave the oppositionwith a virtually impregnable head. The no.2 can be described as theanchor man of the side. Unlike the lead he is anything but aspecialist position, calling upon the complete range of shots.Thereis a particular practice routine that will give the no.2 insight intohis/her task and is equally useful for singles. Make up a head of 4bowls, haphazardly, two aside. Then study it, decide on thepercentage shot and play it. Note the result. Repeat the exerciseseveral times. You will develop your power to read any situation.


It is impossible to describe the role of the no.3 in purelybowling terms. As far as that aspect is concerned, it is enough tosay that the no.3 must be an all round good bowler, since he willface every conceivable situation when he comes to the mat. Inparticular he will be called upon to play a wide variety of runningshots, so he must be confident of weight. He should be a good singlesplayer. The no. 3 is also tasked with measuring the head, markinghis/her skips touchers and removing ‘dead’ bowls.The real key tothe position is the no.3’s relationship with the skip. He is theskip’s close partner, his/her right hand. So the blend ofpersonalities is very important. He must have confidence in his/herskip and vice versa, always acknowledging that the skip takesprecedence. At club level the more senior members tend to gravitateto the lower orders. Dissension in a team is ruinous, and even anundercurrent of resentment will surely damage performance and mar thepleasure of the game. His tactical discussions with the skip shouldtake place at the head, and never when the skip is on the mat. Hemust also provide the link between the skip and the other teammembers, with an easy rapport throughout the team with communicationlines through the no.3.Beyond that it is impossible to define a goodno.3. An excellent no.3 for one skip may be no use to another, forentirely personal reasons. It may be lack of respect, either way, aclash of personalities or simply a lack of balance betweenpersonalities. For example if the skip is a reserved, quite type, itwould seem desirable for the no.3 to be outgoing. Indeed if there isany generalisation worth making it is that the good no.3 is morelikely to be an extrovert rather than an introvert, because ofhis/her role as a communicator. However if his/her outgoingpersonality is too boisterous for the skip’s taste, of if he is toofree with his/her advice (from the skip’s point of view) whatthen?In a sense the best no.3 is the no.3 the skip feels mostcomfortable and confident playing with. As in all team sports thepersonalities must balance.


Fairness and tact. The good skip will display all these, and anyother favourable attributes that the circumstances demand.
Hisprimary task is to provide his/her small band of warriors withpurposeful direction. From opening bowl to final shot his/her must bethe guidingAs team leader, the skip is the most important role of thefour. Whilst his/her two bowls may not be more important than anyoneelse’s, coming when they do they can hardly be less important. Ontop of this is placed the burden of directing the team. Goodleadership qualities are universal in their application, and widelyunderstood -even if not so widely practised. There is no need todwell on such characteristics as vision, judgement, commitment,firmness,intelligence behind every action. his/her relationship witheach team member will be different, because their functions aredifferent but in each case his/her aim must be to enable. He must getthe best possible performance from each of his/her crew, by whatevermeans. In every way connected with the enterprise the skip must havethe unqualified respect of his/her teammates and to obtain thatrespect he must earn it.

The quality of leadership
We will examine the relationship ofthe skip with each team position in turn, but first with the wholeteam. High morale is the invaluable by product of team confidence.The skip must conduct himself in such a way as to inspire thatconfidence and communicate to others what it is he wants them toachieve making them believe they can achieve it. He must make themfeel totally involved in the corporate activity. Even when they lose,the morale remains intact.Therefore everything that has been saidabout the necessity of the no.3 to be a good communicator holds truefor the skip. He must give advice where it is helpful, instructionwere it is required, and encouragement at all times.The lead knowswhat is required of him, so all the skip has to ensure is that thelead goes to the mat in in a positive frame of mind. Generally theskip will select the length of jack he wants the lead to deliver, butnot always. Sometimes he will allow the lead to chose his/her ownlength of jack.Thereafter the skip will want to make the choicebecause it is a tactical matter involving the team as a whole(bearing in mind the two objectives of suiting your team andfrustrating the opposition). The same holds true for mat placement.

The tactical battle joined

The no.2 now enters the fray. Unless it is too obvious to pointout, the skip will make the choice of shot perhaps in consultationwith his/her no. 3 and having taken into account his/her relevantknowledge of the no.2’s bowling capacities, hand preference and soon. But it is his/her choice, since the tactical campaign is on, andthe entire tactical responsibility is his. When he gives his/herinstructions, here, and everywhere in the course of the match, theskip should do so with clarity, precision and with confidence.Theremay be times when the skip may have practical advice for a teammember which he should not be slow to give in an appropriate manner.The thoughtful skip will be unfailingly encouraging when a member ofthe team is struggling.The no.3 and the skip are together for most ofthe match, they should know each others games inside out and shouldshare a joint perception of the situation in which the no.3 must playhis/her bowls. Most of the time they will reach a consensus on theshot the no.3 should play but in the event of there being a disparityof view the no.3 must defer to his/her skip whilst realising that itgoes against his/her skips instincts to ask a player to play a shotabout which he is not entirely happy. In such a case the no.3 shouldalways play the shot asked and with all his/her skill.

Moment of decision

When the skip himself comes to bowl, the battle moves to itsinevitable climax. The tactical considerations can be legion, and theskip will rely on his/her no.3 to help him clarify his/her thinkingas he weighs the possibilities. Here is where the relationshipbetween the two is at its most critical, and where the no.3 requiresa subtle as well as an astute mind.He will want to provide the bestpossible advice, and he should not shirk from trying to persuade theskip of the correctness of his/her views. But, not only has the skipto make the final decision, as always, but this time he has todeliver the bowl himself. The no.3 therefore has to weigh theobjective situation in the head against the subjective nature of theskip’s own mind.This is not so much a matter of tact, since the twoof them discuss shot selection endlessly, and it would be a flawedpartnership if the skip took any disagreement personally. It is morea question of enabling the skip to go to the mat certain that he hasmade the correct choice.It is at this critical juncture thatimperative outweighs fine distinctions between choices of shot, andso the no.3 must know when to desist, just as the skip must know when to insist.