Donn Sherry is a member of the Nanaimo Lawn Bowling Club and is a para-coach who works with visually impaired bowlers. In this post, Donn shares his experiences as a para-coach as well as some of his highlights over the years.
My name is Donn Sherry and I have been a member of the Nanaimo LBC since 1985. I was one of only three novices at that time so received very little coaching other than playing games. I soon realized that there had to be a better way to get bowlers started so I enrolled in the NCCP Coaching Program and eventually completed the Level 3 Theory section. For several years I was the head coach for our club and also for the North Vancouver Island District of Bowls BC.
Our local club has had an active group of visually impaired bowlers since the early 1980’s. In 1987 Mona Haddad, who was in charge of the group, knew that I was a teacher and had the summer months off and invited me to come and help. I have been doing my thing ever since even during these pandemic times.
There were not a lot of specific instructions given at that time as to how the director should help the visually impaired bowler, so i began with the lessons we give to regular bowlers and looked for the extra things the VIP bowler might need. I began giving short courses to those who were working with VIP bowlers and also to the bowlers themselves. I visited several clubs around the province. On one occasion I was invited by ASRAB to do a two day course at both Edmonton and Calgary for both bowlers and directors. They seemed to have been well received. In 1996 during my term as chair of the Canadian Blind Sports lawn bowling commission, a group headed by Ruth Hudson of Nova Scotia published the CBSA Lawn Bowling Coaching Manual. Many of our directors found this to be a useful tool.
When working with a VIP prospect, the coach needs to sit down and talk with that person to find out what they can see, what help they think they need, and the best way to provide that help. Once on the green, the regular lesson material needs to be included while making the adjustments needed because of their limitations of sight. For most beginners, we start from a fixed position on the mat. Just like sighted bowlers, line of aim and weight control are the basis for a successful bowl. A bowler with partial sight might be able to see the centre string and be able to pick their own line of aim. Another might want the director to stand in front and indicate the spot they should aim at, or they might prefer that the director stands behind and adjusts the direction of the arm swing. Weight control is a lot of practice. We use distance markers on the side of the green from 21 to 35 metres at 2 metre intervals.
When working with a VIP bowler who cannot see the head, I use the clock system to tell the bowler where the bowl has come to rest in relation to the jack. For example, 1 metre at 7 o’clock or 3 metres at 1 etc, with 12 o’clock being long and 6 being short. Given time and practice, I hope for the bowler to be able to call their own shot.
My overall philosophy is that I am acting as the eyes for the bowler and not as their brain.
My highlights in chronological order:
1989 – at the IBBA World Championships in Zimbabwe I was the director for Cheryl Ward (BC) and Roger Maddix (PEI) who won Bronze in B3 Mixed Pairs.
1993 – at the IBBA World Championships held in Victoria, I was the draw master and director for Elaine Smithson who placed 5th in the totally blind section.
1994 – Victoria Commonwealth Games were the first to have visually impaired bowlers included. I was invited by Bowls Canada to assist at the Canadian team training camp and to work with Tracy Manca and Al Hanet, the Canafian VIP participants.
1995 – at the Paralympic Qualifying tournament in Aylesbury England, I was the director for Elaine Smithson who is totally blind. She won Bronze and qualified to attend the Paralympics.
1996 – the Paralympic Games were held in Atlanta, Georgia. This was the first and only year Lawn Bowls has been included in the Paralympics. I was the director for Elains Smithson who placed 5th in her competition. It was great to be a part of the opening and closing ceremonies.
1997 – at the IBBA World Championships held in New Zealand I was the director for Ed McMillan who was paired with Helen Kilgore of Alberta in the B2 mixed pairs event. They tied for 1st place with Australia and were awarded Silver based on points for and against.
2017 – at the IBBA World Championships held in South Africa I was the director for Gus Thorne who placed 5th. Gus is totally blind the result of a motorcycle accident and was a former student at my last school. You never know.