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Study: Mental Skills and Lawn Bowls

Story by Bowls Australia

As part of Bowls Australia’s (BA) ongoing research on what makes an elite bowler, Dr. Fraser Carson from Deakin University has completed a report on the mental skills of lawn bowling.

Beginning with the Australian and Emerging Jackaroos before venturing out to the general bowling population, Dr. Carson’s study has identified the five characteristics that elite level players possess to a far advanced degree, and will form the basis for further research.

Having analysed a large cross-section between the elite and sub-elite bowlers, Dr. Carson’s findings were the elite players have noted higher levels of:

Challenge: the extent to which people see challenges as opportunities and look to identify strategies for self-development
Commitment: the ability to stick at it and be persistent. Demonstrates an ability to perform under pressure

Peak under pressure: a greater ability to deal with pressure in competition, and sees this pressure as a challenge and enjoys this environment

Self-confidence: higher levels of confidence in both general and sport-specific situations

Dr. Carson’s report also included four recommendations (routines/techniques to help develop key elite skills):


1. Pre-performance routines
This is something that is very personal, the aim is to trial a few different ideas and see how you bowl after them and what works for you. We recommend starting by repeating what you did when you bowl at your very best. With a routine such as this, you want to prepare your mind and body for the shot. You want to do the same thing every time that you bowl.

Some ideas:
– Pick up the bowl, set your feet and take a deep breath
– Use of internal self-encouragement comments such as: ‘You’ve got this’- Rehearse the shot in your mind, visualise the outcome you are after
– Repeat a keyword (i.e. ‘smooth’) in your mind as you release the bowl

2. Breathing relaxation technique
With this process, you need to clear your mind of unnecessary stimuli, prepare your concentration and state of calm for the shot. This can also be used within training, with diaphragmatic breathing sessions to improve mental performance and reduce negative stress.

– Breath in and count to five, hold the breath for five, breath out for five
– Practice diaphragmatic breathing; place one hand on your chest and one at the base of your stomach. While breathing the hand on your chest should stay still, while the other moves gently in and out
– Deep inhales/exhales

3. Concentration Improvement
Here we are looking at improving focus on the current tasks associated with the bowl and also throughout training. The idea is to clear and unnecessary information to be able to completely focus on the task at hand. You are looking at improving your mental performance and problem solving under pressure. There are a variety of different ways to go about this.

– Keeping note of all other issues/tasks going on in your life on your phone or a notepad – Pick up a bowl and examine it for five minutes. Try not to get distracted
– Use non-sport ideas like concentration grids or download an app to practice every day – Develop a specific ‘cue word’ that reminds you to focus

4. Mental Rehearsal
This is almost a longer version of a pre-performance routine but generally done away from the green. This can involve running through the entire game, watching it play out with your outcome goal in mind, or you can also visualise individual bowls and the predicted outcome of those. This process is a way to come with stress and improve self-confidence in your capabilities.

– This can be done on the day of competition, visualising the game or the shot
– Practised a few times a week: a mental relaxation and rehearsal session, visualising skills you want to improve on and seeing yourself execute them.

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