Insights from Coach Darryl Fitzgerald on Developing your Mental Bowls Game

BCB’s interview with Darryl Fitzgerald from 2016Darryl F.
Bowls Canada was given the opportunity to sit down with Darryl Fitzgerald, Head Coach at Heritage Greens Lawn Bowling Club and coach of Bowls Canada’s Development squad to explore his views on coaching the game of Bowls and some of the tools he uses. The Head Coach position is not Darryl Fitzgerald’s only role in bowls. He is an active club bowler himself, a member of the club’s board of directors, and a member of the Canadian High Performance Team. Additionally, Fitzgerald is an avid blogger and his blog “A Canadian Bowler” is widely read across Canada and internationally.

Bowling since the age of 16, Fitzgerald is a firm believer in the value of a strong mental state as an essential tool for athletes.  BCB chatted with Coach Fitzgerald shared some of his insights surrounding the idea of the mental state of a player, how it can affect a player’s game, as well as his perspective on leadership within the game of Bowls.

BCB: I understand that you took a leadership course at Wilfred Laurier University.  How did that experience apply to your coaching?

DF:  While the specifics of some of the modules within the course may be geared towards a specific industry or group, the overall concepts and methods are universal in both business and sport.  It’s a lot about how you treat people, motivate people and engage them to be the best they can and the most productive they can.  This has gone a long way in how I lead my teams and also how I run my coaching programs.  You can never get enough good leadership.

BCB: Leadership is a consistent theme in your blog “A Canadian Bowler”. Many of the leadership steps that you mention refer to developing a strong ‘mental state’. What do you mean by this and just how important is mental state for a player?

DF: Bowls is a game heavily reliant on mental skills.  I often say that the game is in the region of 80% mental and 20% physical.  You can be the best technician in the world, but if you aren’t mentally prepared to play the game you’ll be at a huge disadvantage.  Emotional highs and lows, bad results and pressure can really crush you mentally and take you away from being in the game.  Focus, concentration, decision making, strategy and tactics are all mental skills that rely on you being in a good mental state.

BCB: In reference to mental state, can you explain how you would describe the mental skill evaluation?

DF: Mental skill evaluation is something that can be done for a player to see what mental skills they possess, what they lack and what can or needs to be worked on.  It’s simply a listing of skills I think are important to the game, in being successful and things that a coach and player should be aware of if they want to excel.  It’s just like working on your technical skills and figuring out where you need some work – grip, stay low, follow-through, etc.  I look for ways to improve the mental game and add then add that to the training.

As an example: take a skip of a competitive team who has had 50/50 success on the big stage – after looking at their technical skills, you might find they have only small improvements needed to roll great bowls, but looking at their mental skills via a mental skill assessment you may find they have extremely negative body language in response to their own or a team mate’s mistakes. You might also see that they struggle to cope under pressure which then negatively impacts their technical ability.  This creates a vicious cycle where they unknowingly continue to negatively impact their team’s performance through their body language, they are unable to make the shots needed, and ultimately fail to perform as the pressure mounts. So without even realizing it, their mental state has impacted personal and team performance.

Once you have identified this, it is possible to build specific training scenarios to allow the player to practice under pressure and to work on their body language.

It’s always good to do both a technical skill evaluation and a mental skill evaluation when you want to see where you stand as a player and a coach.

BCB: Do you plan on taking any leadership courses through the National Coach’s Certification Program? More specifically, through the multi-sport modules on the pathway towards competition coach or performance coach training?

DF: Yes, I have been scoping out the courses offered and looking to start filling in all the gaps required to complete my current level and beyond. While my coaching and competitive schedule over the summer prevents me from jumping on courses immediately, I am excited to start taking these once season is starting to wind up and over the winter.

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