This week I had the pleasure of sharing a few beers with a Team GB national coach. It’s not crown green bowls as we don’t have a national side. It is a related sport, but that is not the point of this post.
I got the chance to grill him for 3 hours about the way their coaching system operates, what it takes to be a national level coach, and how their learnings might help my mission to improve crown green development.
Wow! It blew my mind. Even at Level 1, the level of detail they apply is amazing. Level 2 training is a 5 day course.
I don’t have a sports background apart from being a low level bowler for 30 years. I don’t have sports science knowledge or much coaching experience or expertise.
But my view is that coaching takes people on a journey from novice through club to county to national level. Its needed at all these levels as a vital part of the development effort. It should operate separately, but alongside the work to increase participation. As I understand it, most county level bowlers (certainly in our county) get no coaching at all. And new bowlers generally learn from other bowlers, bad habits and all! This is wrong.
I’ve been through the BCGBA Level 1 course. The fundamentals are there, but there is work to be done! Even having passed, I don’t feel very well equipped to teach anything but the basics at a taster lesson. I thought I would have a structured set of sessions I can deliver to a new bowler to properly equip them for club bowling, and some scientific techniques to improve specific delivery issues. Seems I have to work that out for myself from the coaching manual.
As far as I can see, the BCGBA step from Level 1 to Level 2 is mainly based on continued experience. I hope I am wrong. I don’t appear to get additional training to achieve Level 2, I just assist at a Level 2 coaching day and then get assessed when I have 60 hours of time under my belt. I can do the hours, but does that mean I am naturally a better coach? Again, I can see in the manual the technical delivery improvements that a club player should be aiming for when coached by a Level 2 coach. But what I don’t have the knowledge of is the techniques to help someone achieve these improvements.
Here are just a few examples of the sorts of things done at all levels in my friends’ sport that I think could apply to crown green bowls:
1. A structured, documented, programme of coaching sessions with developmental targets designed to improve players at all levels of ability.
2. Detailed progression plans specifically for the technical elements of bowl delivery, including setup, preparation, action and follow through.
3. Improvement techniques for non-technical elements such as concentration, shot selection, tactics, fitness and competitiveness.
4. For players with the most potential, provide individualised coaching programmes covering months or years of improvement, based on the observations of an experienced coach working at a one-to-one level.
My Team GB friend believes coaching could have a big impact quickly in crown green, and I agree. Their sport has gone from a similar position to where we are today to Olympic medal winners in 5 years. Maybe we could have an impact on the North Midlands bowls performance within a few years with a fair wind.
Obviously we don’t have the capabilities, finance or resources to emulate a Team GB setup. But taking all this learning on board I have 4 plans for our county:
1. start working on documenting a structured improvement plan for novices and new club bowlers. See if we can improve my own clubs results and roll out wider to the county if it works.
2. work out a way to trial coaching for one or two more advanced players, hopefully using my friend for support. See if we can get one or two players punching above their expected weight.
3. get myself BCGBA Level 2 accredited.
4. find someone to be county coaching officer and get as many other bowlers into the BCGBA coaching scheme as possible.
Oh, and for those who already bowl we need to get past the attitude I have often encountered that ‘I’ve been bowling for 20 years, I don’t need a coach’. It works for the top football, golf, snooker, tennis players, why not bowls?