Coaching The New Blind Bowler
Try to meet with the prospective new blind bowler in or near the car park. After introductions, enquire how they prefer to be guided (usually by holding your arm or your shoulder), and utilise the opportunity to guide him/her into the clubhouse, using their preferred method. Remember to always guide the person from in front of them, especially when going up or down stairs or through a doorway. Always be aware of possible obstacles or dangers and concentrate on ensuring their safety at all times.
Once seated in the clubhouse, it is important to establish approximately how much sight, or lack of it, the blind or visually impaired person has. An accurate assessment will be determined at a later stage by eye tests based on specific criteria. Having established the details, it is a good time to enumerate and explain the various sight categories that apply to bowls for the blind. (see sight classification below).
EXPLAIN THE BASICS OF THE GAME
Now talk to them about the basics of the game. Let them feel the jack(kitty) and explain that it is the object ball which can be rolled to any distance between 23 and 33 metres according to the player's choice. Tell them that there is a centre string running up the middle of the bowling green and let them feel the string. Let them feel the mat which is placed on the centre of the string and forms a ninety degree angle with it.
Explain that, after the jack has been rolled, it will be centred by placing it on the string, and the distance of the kitty from the mat will be announced. There are distance markers placed on the side bank of the bowling green every two metres from 23 to 33 metres. The correct distance helps the blind bowler gaugue the amount of force necessary to be expended.
Place a bowl in their hand and let them feel the contours. Explain that one side is slightly higher and that, because of its special shape, the bowl will run in a straight line for two thirds of it's journey and then slowly bend in an arc towards the lower side. A player has the choice of playing the forehand (where the bowl will curve from right to left), or the backhand (where the bowl will curve from left to right).
Let the player feel the big ring and small ring markings on the bowl where the relevant stickers have been placed. It is essential for both the player and the coach to ensure that the big ring is ALWAYS on the outside for forehand and backhand. Failure to do so will result in the bowl turning in the wrong direction (a wrong bias) and the bowl being wasted. The player does NOT get the opportunity to replay a wrong bias.
ONTO THE GREEN
Guide the new bowler to the bowling green and stop at the edge. Explain that there is a drop of some 30 centimetres to the green and that you will go onto the green first. Once on the green, you take both hands and help them to descend.
Let them feel the face of the bank, the ditch and the manicured grass and the string. Tell them that the bowling green is 37 metres square and that it is divided into six lanes. Take them for a walk up and down the lane letting them feel the bank and ditch on the opposite side.
Place the mat on the string some 6 metres from the ditch and guide the bowler onto the mat facing the NEAR bank. Put the bowl in his left hand and let him feel the ridges on the running surface with his right. Place the middle finger on the centre of the running surface, with the two adjoining fingers spread out, both touching the outer rings.
The thumb should grip the bowl on the upper outer ring, although there is room for flexibility of its position depending on the size of the player's hand. The little finger rests lightly on the side of the bowl and plays no part in the delivery. Too much pressure on the bowl by the "pinky" can cause the bowl to wobble.
The bowl sould rest on the fingertips and not sit in the palm. The two outer rings should be in a parallel line with the forearm and the wrist must be rigid. When gripping the jack prior to delivery, the middle three fingers should be UNDER the jack with the thumb on the TOP. Again, the little finger plays no part in the delivery of the jack.
Let the bowler feel the middle string and the front edge of the mat and position his body accordingly to face 12 o'clock. Now ask him to to face what he perceives to be the direction of 11o'clock (backhand) and then 1'oclock(forehand) on an alternating basis. By repeating this exercise a number of times, the player will have no trouble in finding the average angle of delivery.
Push a bowl to touch your players foot and ask him to pick it up and grip the bowl in the manner he has been taught, and to stand facing the forehand and ensure that his bias is correct. Having established the right angle, the right foot should be on the mat facing the direction of the grass and the left foot is placed slightly forward (some 20-30 centimetres) parallel to the back foot facing 1 o'clock. The entire body is now facing the direction of the forehand.
Now, ask your player to bend forward and adopt a comfortable, semi-erect, position with the knees slightly bent and the right arm and hand extended forward, facing the correct line. The elbow is slightly bent and the wrist is rigid. The left hand should be placed on the knee where it should remain until delivery and follow through are completed.
The right arm is taken back slowly to a point some 30 centimetres behind the knee and is kept as close to the body as possible. The right arm then comes forward past the right knee and the left foot steps forward along the grass line. Timing is essential and the forwrd swing of the arm and front step should take place simultaneously. The length of the forward step is proportional to the height of the player. During the backswing and forward movement the shoulder must not be dropped and the bowler must keep his head UP as if looking along the line of the grass.
When the right arm moves into the forward swing which is in a line parallel to the left foot, the right knee starts to bend and the weight now moves onto the left foot. The bowl should should be gently grassed and leave the hand some 30 cms. in front of the left foot. Releasing the bowl too early will cause "dumping", resulting in the bowl being short or off course.
Once the bowl has been released, the right arm continues its forward motion in a straight smooth follow through with the palm of the hand facing upwards and the arm pointing to the line of delivery. The speed of the FORWARD SWING determines the amount of momentum necessary to enable the bowl to reach the kitty.Throughout the delivery, the forearm and wrist must remain rigid. After a number of practice deliveries on the forehand switch to the backhand and go through the same procedure.
THE FIXED STANCE ALTERNATIVE
PLEASE NOTE: Although I have found the above "clinic style" to be the ideal teaching method, some people have a problem with the forward step. This is particularly prevalent amongst some B1 (totally blind) players who battle to contend with a forward movement into nothingness, and people who are particularly heavy or have difficulty in keeping their balance.
In such cases, a fixed stance is the optimum solution. Here the front foot is placed fairly far forward ( about 50- 70 cms) BEFORE DELIVERY, while ensuring that the player is comfortable and balanced. When delivering, it is important to grass the bowl some 30 centimetres in front of the left foot. The follow through is identical to that where a step forward is taken.
For B1's, this might be a transient phase and, with time, they may develop the confidence and the balance necessary for the forward step. However, on your initial meeting/s, if your bowler is battling with the step forward, switch to the fixed stance which, with time and patience, might prove to be transient or might end up to be a permanent delivery. This is not a problem, and some of the world's best bowlers deliver from a fixed stance.
In order to "level the playing field" for competitive play, players are categorised into
one of four sight classes - from B1 to B4.
B1 applies to a totally blind person. While some may have some perception of light or dark, none will be able to recognise any shapes nor perceive any hand movements in front of them. Players in this category will wear special occlusion glasses in competitive play.
B2 is the first of the partially sighted categories and extends from the recognition of hand movements to a visual acuity ( eye sight level) of 2/60. It means that this individual would only be able to see something at TWO metres that someone with normal sight could see at SIXTY metres. For example, a B2 sitting in an optometrist's chair would only be able to see the top letter of an eye chart from a distance of up to TWO metres.
The B3 category caters for people with slightly better sight, and goes from a visual acuity of 2/60 to 6/60. Or, sitting in the optometrist's chair, the B3 would only be able to recognise the top letter of the eye chart up to a distance of SIX metres.
B4 is a new category which was recently introduced. While it deals with those who have even better sight levels, (better than 6/60 and up to 6/24), it's main focus is on people with restricted visual fields, commonly referred to as tunnel vision. If you close your index finger into a tiny ring and look through it, you will be able to see a great distance, but you won't be able to see very much around you, even at a close distance.
Provided that the visual field is less than 20 degrees, that person would qualify to play in the B4 category.
It is important to point out that in the weekly games at the club (non-competitive), it is common for people in different sight categories to play in the same game, thus enhancing the social aspect of bowls for the blind and visually impaired.