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October 17, 2016

Bowls Resurrection - A Surgical Solution to the Playdowns - Part 2 of 3

This is part 2 of a 3 part discussion on the Playdowns in Bowls including: the History, the Problem and the Solution that is being offered to get Bowls back on track. If you haven't read part 1 then I would encourage you to read that first. We learn from our history... or at least we should!

The Problem

Nobody can claim there is a true rise in participation at the playdowns. No study will prove that what we are doing is promoting the game. I contend that none of our playdowns are conducive to finding and declaring the best bowlers in the province – and ultimately in Canada. 

Is it because there is no interest anymore?

  • This could certainly be the case. Bowlers are just plain tired of the constant travel and associated cost to sit through byes, to play non-competitive teams, to play teams who didn’t actually win the right to play there!
  • Is it because there are so many events that winning an Ontario Championship has much less meaning these days than it did in the past?That would be an affirmative in my eyes. Back in the old days we had one chance – three if we played horribly in the Fours or Pairs. Nowadays you have seven chances to get out of your district. No wait, you can still lose and get a chance to play in the Ontario Finals. Wow! Ontario Finalist! Ontario Champion! Those titles used to mean something!

Is it because of travel costs?

  • I don’t think so. The relative cost of goods and services back then didn’t put any more of a % dent in my pocket than it would today.  

Is it because of the increasing age of the population? Seriously?

  • 48 years ago I was younger than the average age of the bowlers by – ok 48 years or more – and the playdowns were full of entries.
  • 38 years ago I was younger than the average age of the bowlers by – 38 years.
  • 28 years ago… I was younger than the average age of the bowlers by – ok, right again, 28 years.
  • And now? I’m just above the average age.

So, we’re not getting older on average. We’re just participating less.

The old boys and girls back then didn’t seem to have a problem with stamina. They didn’t declare we had to play 10 end games because of heat. They didn’t say they were only playing “x” number of ends in a day. We are the same average age and now we have different rules? Ok, I’ll grant we might be a little more sensible today about our health but using age as an excuse for declining enrolment in playdowns is bunk.

Is it because there are fewer club tournaments to play in that bowlers go to playdowns instead?

  • No! Emphatically no!

The reason we have fewer club tournaments is because of the plethora of playdowns, and this could be the very reason we have to make a change in the way we think about what the playdowns are, who they service, and how they are played. IMHO, I believe the demise of the game started when we began adding more and more provincial events to the schedule. For those who have played the game long enough I’d like you to think about all the great club tournaments you used to play in, about all the great games you had in those tournaments. I’d like to you remember those tournaments and games because I’d hazard a guess that those tournaments are either no longer on your schedule or have been wiped off the schedule due to lack of entries.

Who have we harmed in the process?


Plain and simple. Clubs who used to rely on revenues from district tournaments (some big events - double draws!) to help run their clubs. There used to be waiting lists (often started in the previous season) for these tournaments. Now? The tourneys have either disappeared or are run half full. Sad, really.

Why did this happen? Again, IMO it is because the bowlers who once supported these same tournaments are now travelling far and wide in an attempt to become an Ontario Champion – whatever that means these days!


Yes the same players that are bickering and complaining and have been for years about how they are tired of all the playdowns, of how much time they take, of the number of meaningless games that have to be played (because of format), of the various ways that they are played throughout the province, of the lack of high level of competition at all levels of these playdowns. So is this really a competitive event? Are we attracting the competitive bowler here or are we just opening up the Ontario Finals to those who should be honing their skills in other tournaments before entering this next level of play?

The development process

When is there time to practice? Time to coach? Don’t for a minute think that just because this is Lawn Bowls that we don’t need both coaching and practice. If you think that way then you should probably stop reading right now because you and I do not have the same love of the game at all!

Bowls is a sport, especially at the competitive level, and if we want to be regarded as such then we should start acting like athletes.  

The growth of the game

In its existing state there is no way we can possibly market our game properly. Not a hope in Hades. Without a product we can market to both sponsors and the public alike there is no real possibility to take our great game to another level.

And that, folks, is the main problem with our game today.

We are not marketable in our present state.

We all know we have a wonderful sport. But we are the converted and Joe Public to this day still sees us  Dickie Dee salespeople – or painters. We are still seen as an old folks sport. We got left behind by other sports like tennis and golf and curling – all of which made major image changes decades ago – all of which made changes to their game at the highest level to attract the non-playing public.

What have we done but add a bunch more of the same? Wow… that worked didn’t it?

Bowls basic needs

I’ve written about it and I’ve lived by it and I taught my kids at home and at work about it.

I’ve always said, “If you don’t have a solution, you don’t have a problem!”

If you don’t have a solution you’re nothing but a whiner, a complainer. I have little tolerance for those who complain without offering up a solution. I have a great deal of respect for those who offer a solution, but even more for those whose solution does not involve pushing a personal agenda.

We need to get back on track in Bowls.

  • We need to promote our game.
  • We need the grass roots player and administrator to understand that promoting the game at the highest level will have an immediate trickle down effect on membership in their local clubs.
  • We need the competitive bowler to recognize how significant their presence can be at the local club level.
  • We need both grass roots and competitive elements to come together, to recognize each others needs and we especially need them to put aside their own agendas and work towards a common goal.
  • We need to make this happen soon. I am aghast at the number of clubs closing or in danger of closing due to lack of numbers.
  • We need to build a system of play that will assist with the development process.
  • We need to include events that will allow players to progress, for coaches to become an integral part of the growth process and for the social interaction between grass roots and competitive bowler to thrive.
  • We need to work on member retention and recruitment. Both are equally important. There is no sense marketing our game as the greatest game in the world if they think it’s not all that great once they get here!

We need to support clubs again. We should be working to build club and district tournaments up to their halcyon days, where securing an entry should be the concern, not an afterthought. Club and District tournaments are a stepping stone to provincial playdowns – or at least they used to be.

Most of all we need to drop our personal agendas and in the words of Apple Computing –

We need to “Think Different!”

We need to stop rehashing the same old, same old.

We need to stop making the same mistakes. It’s time to get creative and to be inclusive of all the elements of our game.

In the next part we outline the Solution to a murky history and the problems we have created for ourselves in this sport!

Yours, for the love of Bowls, Dan Milligan - The Delivery Doctor

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