Sharyl Ann Milligan is from the Cobourg Lawn Bowling Club and has been involved in lawn bowling since the early 1970s. She wrote this article in July for the Biased Bowls blog in order to highlight their junior/youth program which is one of the longest running in the country.
Here we are into July 2020 and nary a bowl has been rolled on the Cobourg Lawn Bowling Club Greens by a Junior or Youth member this year.
The COVID-19 Pandemic that has stretched far and wide has put a damper on youth learning to bowl programs, many of which allowed them to continue to improve their skills in lawn bowling, renew friendships and generally enjoy the game of bowls.
I have been involved with the CLBC Jr./Youth Program since the early 2000’s, after I retired from working with youth for almost 40 years. I realized that a wonderful program that had been started at our Cobourg Club back in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s had been dropped and the equipment dispersed!
I come from a Lawn Bowling family. My dad bowled for years and my brother followed in his footsteps not only becoming a truly wonderful lawn bowler at the Provincial, National, and International level, but also a Coach, National Coach, and author of Canada’s Technical Coaching Manuals.
I knew something had to be done about our Junior program so I stepped up to the plate and started what is today the CYLB Club. With NCCP level 2 coaching skills, National Technical Official Skills, Officiating at Women’s World Bowls and two Commonwealth Games, combined with years of experience coaching young deaf, hard of hearing youth in various sports, I wanted to give back to a sport that had already given me so much joy.
I originally arranged to go to two local public schools and put on a hands on demonstration in the school gyms of the sport of bowls. These were always held in the early Spring. The gym floors were marked out in ‘rinks’ and I had borrowed a couple of mats from the club and had purchased from MVP Sports a few sets of Bowls that would fit the hands of youth. I also visited two local high schools, had wonderful support from the teachers who assisted with the sessions in the schools, followed by a couple of sessions on the green.
From these sessions it was hoped that the youth would be interested enough to come for lessons and games on the green. This was a success in the early years and although I have stopped going to the schools, families of previous students have continued to join our program.
Back in the 2000’s, there was an excellent magazine put out in the Cobourg and Northumberland area. It was free of charge to parents and this listed all activities available for youth in our area. These ads got noticed and over time, children came from all areas both within Cobourg and in outlying areas. They were often brought to the club by grandparents.
Before each session began, each of the students were fitted with the proper size of bowls, anything from a Junior Ace Bowl up to Size 2. We have found over the years that this seems to be the range of bowls needed. More recently, sizes 000 and 0000 Cobourg Youth Lawn Bowling (Trips and Quads) have been introduced, making the transition from Junior Ace to ‘regular’ sized bowls even smoother.
The summer sessions were held twice a week for 1 1/2 hours on the green. During these sessions the students received the following initial instruction:
• how to place the large ground sheet and then the mat on the green
• how to hold & roll a jack with the stipulation it must go past the hog line and not in the ditch
• stance on the mat and ultimately the delivery sequence
Skills learned included:
• Draw shots to various lengths (we used small pylons & hockey pucks set to lengths you wanted the students to draw to)
• Drive shots – where they must pick out a specific bowl at set length
The skills sessions change according to who attended as some students were more advanced than others. At the conclusion of the instructional sessions a certificate was given out indicating how far the student had progressed ie – ‘deliver a Jack, deliver a draw shot, drive a ‘drive bowl’, delivered a ‘toucher’, ‘trailed the Jack’, understanding of Bowls.
In each session at the Cobourg LBC, the students learned etiquette on the green, basic rules of the sport, and proper use of measuring equipment.
We have always been very health conscience, making certain youth wear sunscreen, hats, and bring water bottles. There have always been jugs of water available for all to fill up their bottles. We include a refreshment break part way through the time period. These food breaks are always well received.
At the end of the session, students learned how to roll up the large mats and where to put the equipment. Each group on each rink would clean up their own area (mats, pushers, jacks and bowls back in their right bags, and ensuring their area was left clean & tidy).
The Cobourg Youth hosts two open youth tournaments a year, one in early Spring to help those youth get ready for the mid season provincial youth singles tournament, and then a second tournament in late August — a 4/3/2/1 open youth tournament. This was held for youth bowlers in all development categories. I sincerely wish to thank two local businessmen, Adam Bureau who sponsored the first youth tournament of the season, and also my brother Dan and his wife of MVP Sports – Canadian Cobourg Youth Lawn Bowling distributor for Taylor Bowls, for their support and sponsorship of our 4/3/2/1 youth tournament.
Over the years, the club’s more advanced students have played in a number of open youth tournaments held across the province. They have also played in the Provincial Singles which can lead to the National Youth Singles Championships held at various locations across the country.
We have travelled with our participating youth bowlers from Coast to Coast, playing in National Singles tournaments and also a Mixed Open Pairs tournament. What a great way for our youth to see our country, all the while enjoying the game of Bowls. They have played in B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, N.S. and Ontario.
I’m extremely proud of all of my youth bowlers and their accomplishments and proud to say that one of my athletes, Baylee vanSteijn, is now on the National Development Team, having already competed with the team in Wales and California. What an accomplishment at such a young age.
At this time I am also including a recent interview I had with my brother Dan and how being introduced to bowls as a teenager led to his many bowling accomplishments through 52 years on the green.
As many of you are aware, MVP Sports, the Canadian distributor for Taylor Bowls of Scotland and owned and operated by Dan & Brenda Milligan, have been proud sponsors of the National Youth Championships for over 20 years.
As a 14 year old, I was involved in a great number of sports, but it was bowls that intrigued me the most. It was like chess on grass! Other sports I played were about speed and power, and required a high degree of athleticism if success were to be met. Bowls is different! That’s not to say that bowls is not a sport — for it is! But bowls is a sport that anyone can start at any age and depending on the bowlers degree of dedication that they can compete at the highest level. It demands a combination of skill, strategy and fitness.
As a youth, I had many friends who were never going to be good hockey players, competent soccer players, or star quarterbacks, but they enjoyed sports. Imagine if bowls had been introduced to them back then. In 52 years of bowls I can say that while I have had a modicum of success in other sports, I have experienced the most enjoyment from bowls. I’m sure my friends back then would have experienced the same had they been given the opportunity.
Opportunity. That’s the key! I can’t tell you how many times I have heard members from other clubs, when asked about their youth programs, exclaim, “Oh we tried that once but none of them joined our club — so we don’t do it anymore!” Wow! I can’t imagine if I hadn’t been allowed to join the Agincourt LBC to play with the likes of Milne Freeman, Beecher Poyser, Al Klink, Mickie McFadden, to name a few.
Milne used to call my boss on a Wednesday around noon (my first job at a paint store) and ask Len if the kid with the long hair and ziggy zaggy pants could make it to the club in time to play in an afternoon tournament. I was more than eager to make my way across the top of Toronto and after the 45 minute bike ride they would have a set of bowls ready and waiting for me. With minutes to spare, and usually out of breath, I have to admit I probably wasn’t much use to them, but they ‘got it’! They got the fact that here might be a keeper, and they did everything to keep me enthused. They took me to the PLBT, the biggest men’s tournament in North America, in my first year of bowling. They took this long haired kid to play with them at some of the ritziest clubs in Toronto, the Granite Club and the Boulevard Club. Man was I hooked.
Yes, hooked. So how do you get kids these days hooked, in a time when digital games are the order of the day? Bear with me while I relay a little story.
During the 80’s and 90’s I was National Coaching Chair. I was also on the National Team as a player and a coach. Our coaching committee was given the task of writing the Bowls Technical Manuals for levels 1 through 3. We did a lot of stuff, and were proud of our accomplishments.
About half way through that time period, 3M who sponsored the National Coaching Programs (all sports) asked us to nominate a bowls coach from across Canada for a Coach of the Year award. It had to be a coach who represented dedication, knowledge, enthusiasm, and most of all the Code of Conduct.
At that time there was a rather old bowler from the Hamilton area, Jack Robertson, who I had been in communication with on several occasions. At one of the coaching clinics I had put on he asked about youth bowling, as he had a couple of youth at his club who he felt had some potential. I gave him a book entitled, “Every Kid Can Win!” It wasn’t about winning the most numbers of games. It was about providing opportunity and encouragement.
As Jack would tell me during several ensuing conversations, “You know, Dan. There are two things kids just really want. They want to have fun, and they love to eat food!” I thought this was priceless — and so true. Please remember that as you run your youth programs, fun and food will win the day. Let the kids have fun. Let them make up different bowls games so they don’t have to get mired in the ‘regulation’ games we often stick them into. Let them prepare the menu of the day! Let them take ownership of their time in bowls!
Anyway, when the opportunity arose to nominate a coach for this award we nominated Jack Robertson, octogenarian, and a man who thought nothing of driving his two protégés to tournaments around the province.
Jack often got around using a cane. He wore a cervical collar. He loved the game and he loved to coach. Jack won the 3M Coach of the Year Award that year and in true Jack fashion declared, “I don’t deserve this. You have done much more than I have.” Not in my books. Jack was a true coach. His two protégés? John Devonshire and Dave Anderson, both of whom went on to represent Canada at various times.
Imagine where they might be if Jack hadn’t found the secret to youth bowling — Fun & Food!
* It has been a real honour to interview my brother Dan, to tell his ‘story’ through 52 years of bowling. Dan this past March was inducted into the Cobourg Sports Hall of Fame.