Playing for Blockers in Lawn Bowls

  • By: Jack Toucher
  • Date: July 29, 2023

Some bowlers frown upon blockers. They even say that playing for blockers is bad etiquette.
But what does this mean?

It means that traditionally a bowler has one goal only: to get his team’s bowls, and as many of them as possible, as close to the jack as possible. Anything else is just a pretense – such as simply trying to block another player’s bowl from reaching the jack.

The kind of blocker that is unusual, and somewhat suspect, is one that is played extremely short – just over 14 metres from the mat. (Any bowl that does not travel at least 14 meters is dead and must be removed from the rink.)

What is a blocker in lawn bowls?

Technically speaking, a blocker is a team’s bowl that lies in the way of an opponent’s bowl finding a clear path to the jack. In the photo you can see that the moving bowl, indicated with a twirl, is being blocked by the bowl indicated by an arrow. The player has done his best to go around the blocker but this has not worked.

What is more, a whole set of blockers on the other side of the head, also indicated by an arrow, has made drawing to the shot on that side nearly impossible. So the player has chosen the lesser of two evils in playing the hand he has.

The blockers shown in the photograph are bowls that have arrived in position because the players have been trying to get as close to the jack as possible. They are well within a metre of the jack and can therefore be regarded as legitimate blockers.

Should you play for a blocker in lawn bowls?

There are several reasons why you should not deliberately try to play a blocking shot in lawn bowls.

  • Most often it is impossible to place a bowl well outside the head (i.e. more than a metre away from the jack) that will block the path of every opponent’s bowl. The “real estate” is just too large to be accurate and in any case the opposing team generally have bowls with differing paths in their armoury – not mention the different paths created by different bowl weights and advanced delivery techniques of the players.
  • Playing for a blocker takes your mind off the central objective of lawn bowls, which is to get as many of your own team’s bowls as near to the jack as possible. Once your mind has moved away from the building of the head, it is hard to get back into that mindset.
  • Every delivered bowl that is intended NOT to be in the head is a potential scoring shot wasted.

Ultimately, trying to play a blocker is a defensive move and puts you on the back foot. It is the very opposite of attacking, positive play.

That said, if I was playing for a big prize and winning depended on my playing a successful blocker, I would probably try to play it. But I would place the blocker as close to the jack as possible so that the opponent would risk hitting my bowl into the head and thus ensure that I get the shot and win the game.

Example of a deliberate blocker

In the 2014 Australian Men’s Indoor Singles Championship (1:26)Brett Wilkie played a deliberate blocker on the opponent’s left hand to prevent David Holt from getting anywhere near getting two shots to win. As a blocker it was a failure. David would have been better off drawing on that hand.

This example shows just how hard it is to play a successful blocker in the true sense of the word.