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Bowls is a game that has been around in one form or another, for the best part of a thousand years. It is so old, in fact, that it was outlawed by several monarchs for reasons of national security – too many people were spending their leisure time bowling and as a result the nation’s supply of skilled archers began to rapidly dwindle. Playing bowls is part of our national heritage.

Today, we are mercifully unencumbered by such concerns and so many of us have turned to bowls again. Since its inception, the game has changed considerably; it now comes in many different forms. Some are played indoors, while others are played outdoors. In this article, we’ll focus on the indoor variety – specifically on a popular form of the game known as carpet bowls.

Why indoor carpet bowls?

Indoor carpet bowls is one of the most popular forms of bowls. It is played at more than a thousand specially-created clubs all over the country. But to what, exactly, does the game owe its popularity?

Perhaps the thing that most sets indoor carpet bowls apart from its cousins is the size and weight of the bowls themselves. A carpet bowl is considerably smaller and lighter than those used in the outdoor version of the game. As such, this variety of the game is well-suited to the elderly – though it can be played by virtually anyone of any age. As well as the bowls being lighter, the distances involved are much smaller.

This means that the game relies more heavily on the skill of the players, rather than their physical strength. As a consequence, the game is extremely inclusive; anyone can play, (provided that they have use of their arms). This makes it one of the few games that the entire family can get involved with – and without certain members having to ‘go easy’ on others for the sake of familial cohesion.

Another more practical advantage of carpet bowls is its portability – since the carpet is so small, it can be easily rolled up and transported to wherever it might be needed. Furthermore, since all players use bowls of the same size and weight, it is easy to begin playing using the same equipment that is available to anyone else.

How to play

A game of carpet bowls traditionally begins – like many games – with a coin toss to decide which team begins play. Whoever wins the toss may then choose whether to bowl first or second.

From there, things are relatively straightforward. The objective of the game is to position your bowl as close to the jack as possible; whichever team has the closest bowl to the jack by the end wins the match.

Distances are measured from the nearest edge of the two objects involved, rather than their centres. In many cases, an independent referee will be available in order to resolve any disagreements over exactly how close the bowl is to the jack. This is not always possible, however, and so the captains (or ‘skips’) of the two teams must arrive at a decision. For clarity, the English Carpet Bowls Association has published an exhaustive list of its rules and regulations, which can be referred to during play if ever confusion ever should occur.

What’s required to play Indoor Carpet Bowls?

Now that we’ve established how the game is played, let’s briefly take a look at the materials required.


Of course, in order to play carpet bowls, you will need a set of bowls. Bowls are not entirely round, but slightly flat on one side. This means that they will naturally incline in a given direction. Successful carpet bowls players must therefore exploit this characteristic if they are to curve their bowls successfully around the centre spar.


In order to play carpet bowls you will require a specially-cut length of carpet, thirty feet long and six feet wide. The carped is divided horizontally with a line running through the centre, while two lines midway through each half divide it vertically. It is on these latter two lines that the jack is placed at the start of each end. At both ends is an eighteen-inch square block.

As well as the carpet and bowls, two further pieces of equipment are required: the centre spar and the delivery blocks. Both of these must be a different colour to the carpet itself – in order than they can be easily seen.

Centre Spar

A block must be placed in the centre of the carpet, equidistant from each side. This block can be any regular shape, but it is most often circular; it must be eighteen inches across and two inches high. The spar is there to provide an obstacle which the players must curve their bowls around. This is to prevent players from driving their bowls toward the centre thereby creating chaos. This ensures that the focus of the game remains principally on the skill of the players rather than their strength.

Delivery Blocks

The delivery blocks are wooden blocks six by four by two inches, which are placed on either side of the delivery box (the eighteen-inch-square box at either end of the carpet). Players must bowl between these without touching or knocking them over.


The jack is a small white ball which is placed on the jack placement line at the start of play by the team playing first. Whichever team has the closest bowl to the jack at the end of play wins the end.

Some special terms you should know

Bowls is a game which uses a number of special terms to describe its components, phases and participants. We have already noted a few of these, but it is worth taking note of a couple more:


An ‘end’ is a phase of play in which each player bowls once.


In bowls, the team captain is called the ‘skip’. A skip may pass their responsibility onto another member of their team at any time, but the bowling order cannot be rearranged once play has begun. If no impartial referee is available, then the skips must resolve any disputes between the two teams themselves. As such, a skip must be a persuasive diplomat as well as a skilful bowls player!

How to succeed in bowls

We have thus far discussed the rules of the game and how one might play it. But knowing this does not give one player an advantage over another. There are bowling techniques which will prove more effective than others and there are strategies which may secure victory for a shrewd player.


It is important, while bowling, to maintain one’s balance. Step too far forward and you will be off-balance and thus have less control over the final position of the bowl. Bowling can be done while entirely stationary, or it can be done more athletically, in order to attain greater precision and force.

Your fingers constitute the most delicate and capable machinery on your body. For this reason it is important that you hold the bowls using them, rather than in the palms of your hand. As you practice, you will learn how to use your fingers in order to deliver the bowls with extreme precision.

Do not lift your bowl up too far behind you. Carpet bowls, unlike its outdoor antecedents, do not require a great deal of power. More precision can be attained with minimal back lift, since larger movements are less easily controlled.

It should go without saying, but do not hit the centre block, as this is a sure route to defeat. Similarly, do not bowl off the side of the carpet or place your feet outside of the boundary.


It’s worth finally discussing some of the tactics which a team might employ.

The sort of shot a team might consider playing will depend on the state of play. If a team has positioned a bowl close to the jack, then they will likely attempt to defend this advantage by doing a ‘blocking shot’ – a more defensive shot intended to prevent the other team from getting close to the jack. If, on the other hand, the other team has yet to get the ball close to the jack, then they may attempt to move the other team’s bowls out of the way by playing a more aggressive shot, designed to use the other player’s bowl as a cushion.

If you are attending a local bowls club for the first time, then take the time to observe the more experienced players and try to imitate the more successful among them. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice – whilst bowls players have been known to be hypercompetitive, they are, by and large, a welcoming sort.

Bowls is a game which can be picked up at any level – it contains depths which a skilled player can explore, as well as offering immediate fun for the utter novice. If you’re considering taking up the sport, then consider no longer – head down to your local centre today and give it a go!