There are many potential pathways in bowls. Some bowlers enjoy the recreational side, while others like to push themselves competitively. Some don’t even stop there! With programming for officiating, coaching, and club development, the possibilities for progression and involvement in this great sport are endless. BCB spoke with two ambitious bowlers about their advancement in the sport and competitive experiences.
Darryl Fitzgerald is the National Development Coach for Team Canada. He made the progression from competitive bowls into coaching in 2007, and has helped tons of young bowlers succeed in competition. Owen Kirby is one of these young bowlers, who has been working with Darryl to improve his skills and achieve his competitive goals.
Q: How did you first start in bowls?
I first started bowling with my Dad and his group of work friends at the Kitchener LBC around 1995-1996. It was casual and he thought I’d enjoy trying it out, and I really wanted something that my Dad and I could do together. I got hooked almost instantly and kept coming back to learn more, plus those guys always bought pizza! Eventually we moved over to the new greens built at Heritage Greens LBC and from there I played more and more. I learned a lot from advice given by experienced players and picking up things as I went. I didn’t really start playing regularly until 1997 and didn’t get into Provincial level competition until 2005.
I was introduced to bowls when I visited my uncle in the 2011 nationals in Willowdale ON. The following year, my father and I went to the Kitchener LBC and there started our adventure into the world of lawn bowls. I was new and had many different people giving me tips on how to deliver a bowl. My initial delivery was slamming my knee into the green; that has certainly changed since then!
Q: When and why did you make the jump to coaching?
My move to coaching was mainly to fill a void I saw in my local club and district. I received some coaching when I started from some great experienced bowlers, but no one was a dedicated coach that could get me to the National level I wanted to reach. I started in 2007 by taking the first level of the NCCP pathway for Club Coach. I used that to coach some juniors and run things around our club. In 2013, I was starting to get a lot more requests to help novice bowlers and juniors like Owen. By 2016, I went to my first World Junior Competition and I took the next stage of NCCP to do Competition Coaching. By 2019, I was a Certified Performance Coach.
Q: When and why did you start working with a coach?
Darryl and I first started coaching around the 2014 season. Darryl was offering coaching to members of our club and surrounding clubs at the time. I took this as an opportunity to expand my knowledge of the game as well as my skills. Darryl and I eventually moved to more individual coaching sessions. Once I started doing more individualized sessions, I found that my game drastically improved. I wanted to pursue coaching with Darryl as my interest in the competitive side of bowls grew. I wanted to improve as a player and to reach my goal at the time of winning the U18 and U25 championships as well as perform well at the 2016 NAC event.
Q: How did you first meet each other?
I met Owen in 2012 at a Junior tournament I set up and ran, as our juniors had no real local events going on. Owen came in from Kitchener and he was ½ or even less of his height now – a quiet, young bowler. We didn’t talk much, but a few people said he was a bowler to watch. In 2014, when he asked for my help and we started working together, he was obsessed with bowls and had goals of winning U18 and U25.
I met Darryl in 2012 at a Junior tournament at Heritage LBC. 2013 was when I competed in my first national/major championship. The following seasons in 2014 was when coaching began with Darryl.
Q: Can you describe your coach-athlete relationship?
Owen and I are good friends and he has been a great player to work with. We have a more unique relationship as we were friends first and then coach-athlete second, so we have more than just bowls, reports and training – it’s a good friendship. I like to think I know Owen fairly well and we can relate to each other as peers on the green as well as coach and player. I think that’s what has made our work together more meaningful as well as so successful.
Darryl is a good friend of mine and a great coach. If there ever was a current coach & player to take instruction from Darryl Fitzgerald needs to be in the conversation. Having known Darryl before he became a coach, this made the transition to a coach-athlete relationship very smooth. He understands me as a player and a person and I think that adds a special layer to our situation as a coach, athlete and friend. I have found him to be supportive in times of accomplishment and in times of defeat; the highlight being the U18 championship when we held the trophy up together.
Q: What are some of your highlights from coaching?
I have a couple highlights from my time as a coach. Working with Owen is one of the top ones, as his work, determination and my time spent helping him has meant a lot to me personally as his friend, but also validates everything I do as a coach. His hard work and focus eventually led him to the amazing feat of not only winning the U18 championship, but the U25 championship the very next year. Not something many junior bowlers can say they have done, and I couldn’t be more proud of that. Also, my time supporting the Youth over in Australia was amazing. The World Junior and World Youth events gave me a special moment to bond with some talented up and coming bowlers, many who are now on the Senior National Squad. Any time I can connect and help a player in any way, big or small, is special and I cherish every moment I am out there on the sidelines supporting them. I was able to be there when Pricilla Westlake won Canada’s first ever World Youth Gold Medal, something I will never forget.
Q: Do you think you’ll make the jump to coaching some day?
Right now, my focus is to be the best player I can be, and hopefully achieve my goals in competitive bowls. I feel coaching requires a certain character; you need to possess a deep knowledge of the game and have the experience of top-level competition. Anyone can become certified, but it takes a lot of dedication, hard work, experience, and knowledge to be a great coach.