Why Toss a Coin in Lawn Bowls?

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

There is a charming tradition of tossing a coin at the start of a lawn bowls game. One of the skips will toss, unless a skip deputises another team member to “do the toss”. In a game of singles, the marker tosses the coin for the players.

The purpose of flipping a coin is to establish which team will be the first on the mat. When only a scoreboard is used (not a score card) then the team or singles player that wins the toss is written at the top of the score board and the other on the bottom.

The toss results applies to the trial ends too. More unusually, the toss is done after the trial ends and applies from the first end.

What does to “have the mat” mean in lawn bowls?

The team (or player in a singles game) that wins the toss at the beginning of a game then is first on the mat and therefore “has the mat”.

Further into the game, the team or player that wins the end then also wins the mat, and so “has the mat”.

When you have the mat then your team delivers the jack and plays the first bowl.

Sometimes the skip’s name is mentioned in connection with the mat i.e. “It’s Jim’s mat now” or “Wasn’t that Sally’s mat?”

How do you toss a coin for lawn bowls?

The person tossing asks the opposing caller “Can we toss?” and shows the player the coin. “This here is heads, and this is tails.” Then he tosses the coin so that it lands on the green. The winner of the toss “has the mat”.

Usually players use a defunct currency coin, such as the old five shilling coin shown here. There are also coins made specifically for tossing the coin at bowls but it’s unnecessary to have one. Any coin with a head and tail will do.

Keep the coin safe in your bowling bag.

Is there an alternative to tossing a coin?

If players do not have coin handy, or they are in a hurry, they can simply toss by rolling a bowl. The skip asks the opposing skip “Big or small?”

Once the opposing skip has nominated her preference, the skip rolls the bowl solidly so that it turns over about fifteen times on the green. The result will be the winning call and that team (or player in singles) then “has the mat” and is the first to deliver the jack and deliver the first bowl.

Calling “big” refers to the large emblem on one side of the bowl. Calling “small” refers to the small emblem on the other side of the bowl.

It doesn’t matter whose bowl is rolled because every bowl has differently sized emblems on either flat side.

If the bowl does not fall on its flat side but remains upright, which often happens, then the person rolling the bowl simply kicks it again until the bowl falls flat revealing either the big or the small emblem.

Can you give away the mat in lawn bowls?

The team that wins the mat can give away the mat to the other team. This may seem counter-productive but it is not. There are couple of reasons for doing so.

Perhaps the team “giving away the mat” wants to unsettle the opposing team (or opponent in a singles game) psychologically. More often the skip gives away the mat because he wants to ensure that his bowl will be the last plays in the first end. There is an advantage to this because the last bowl has the last chance to win or improve the end result of that end. But that’s only if the skip is entirely confident that he can play accurately and carry out that plan.

It is important to note that when the opponent gives away the mat to you, you are not allowed to reject it. You must accept it, and accept it gracefully.

World Bowls laws are clear about the toss

World Bowls laws of bowls state the following:

5.2 Tossing for opening play
5.2.1 The coaches in a side game (or, in their absence, representatives of the
sides), skips in a team game or opponents in Singles must toss a coin.
5.2.2 The winner of the toss must choose whether to: place the mat and then deliver the jack and the first bowl; or tell the opposing player to place the mat and deliver the jack
and the first bowl (the opposing player cannot refuse).
5.2.3 The option chosen by the coach or representative who wins the toss in a
side game will apply to all teams or Singles players (or a combination of
teams and Singles players) who make up the side.
5.2.4 If the coin is tossed before the start of the trial ends, the option the
winner of the toss chooses will apply to both the first trial end and the
first end of the game

A coin as a gift for a bowler

A coin for tossing makes a lovely gift for a lawn bowler. And coins make nice prizes in lawn bowls fun days or even business league competitions. You can buy a whole bag of coins online for a low, low price.

Smart alecks and the bowling toss

Believe it or not, players try to unsettle the opposition by messing around with the toss. Sometimes they just flip the coin once onto the back of their hands, which suggests cheating even if it isn’t.

I have seen a top player put his foot on a bowl (on the small side) and then ask the opponent to call. Most often the opponent says “big” and the top player wins the toss.

Be a smart aleck in the pub, not on the bowling green.