Transcript: Talking bowls with Barrie Lester

YourLifeChoices spoke with bowls champion Barrie Lester about a series of informative videos for beginners and seasoned bowlers that he has produced with Apia.

Barrie Lester has won titles at the Commonwealth Games, World Bowls Championships and Asia Pacific Championships is sharig his knowledge in a partnership with APIA’s Good Life website.

Is bowls the biggest participation sport in Australia?

It’s definitely up there – around 600,000 or 700,000 participants. I play fairly regularly on the weekend and we would have 300 or 400 come through across Friday to Sunday no doubt.

The perception is that bowls is for the elderly but there is barefoot bowls and younger people are having a lot of fun.

Barefoot bowls started in St Kilda Bowls Club in Melbourne. They closed their doors and called an emergency meetings and said, “So what can we do to open the doors back up to attract more players in the future?” They said let’s just open the door back up for everyone, let them come in barefoot, singlet, T-shirt, whatever, and give them a go and that’s how barefoot bowls started back in the late 90s

That was a very brave moment.

Yes, and now with COVID, I think people see bowls as a really safe environment, the space, the club, the mature people. Getting out and doing something like barefoot bowling is even more popular at the moment.

That sense of communication and contact is just so important as well.

It is, it really is a great sport for that because, one – you’re outdoors and even in England and some of the colder countries around the world they’ve got a lot of indoor facilities so you’re still active. Bowling greens average 38-40 metrse long; most games go for 2–3 hours, so you’re up and down the green and clocking up kilometres and your body starts to gain a little bit of strength and fitness from it – both cardio and strength and conditioning. So if you look at all the muscle groups, like your abductors, your glutes, thighs, lower back, your abdominals, that whole area, when you’re delivering a bowl is getting a workout. So then you become stronger and fitter in those areas and it’s just great for your wellbeing.

How did you get involved in lawn bowls? Was this an early age thing Barrie, or something along the way?

My great grandfather played bowls and he introduced my father to the game. I didn’t see bowls as something I’d really get serious at, but I did like to go down to the club and watch my family play. And at around 13–14 years of age I was thinking I’ll give it a go at some stage later in life. But my dad rang one night and said, “You’ve got to come down and fill in. We’ve got a player missing from our night competition.” I went to fill in and everyone was so welcoming and just made me feel fantastic as a young guy. I broke my arm about 12 or 18 months later playing football, so I thought I’d go back to bowls, give it a go for a while. I had this desire as a kid, I wanted to be an Australian representative in sport – Australian athletes were my heroes on TV. I’d do anything to play for Australia in sport and bowls started to take me on that journey. But I knew I had to work hard, so in my late teens and early 20s, I started to fulfil some of those goals.

What colour jacket to you get if you play bowls for Australia?

The most prized possession I do have is from when I represented Australia in the Commonwealth Games. You get a blazer that you get to wear to the opening ceremony, with the coat of arms and the Commonwealth Games written on it and so on. So that’s my prized possession, something I’d never separate with. But it’s amazing when you get your Australian kit, and that’s part of it as a kid seeing them on TV with all the amazing outfits being able to wear the coat of arms and the Australian flag. As a kid I was very competitive playing every sport or everything I did I had to try and win. But if I could go back in time I’d probably concentrate more on having a bit more fun and worry about the wins later in life.

In Australia you can virtually go anywhere and there’ll be a bowls club to welcome you in to have a game.

Yes, it’s such a large sport. From a club point of view there are quite a few thousand clubs around Australia; I think there’s around 600 clubs in New Zealand. Then you’ve got the real powerhouse states – New South Wales 700-800 clubs and Victoria about 550 clubs. But then you’ve got retirement living now which focuses on wellbeing, with bowling greens, tennis courts, gyms. So, when you look at the retirement living now that’s really boomed in the last 20 years. A lot of them have bowling greens too, so there is the ability to bowl pretty much everywhere. Add to that another great initiative that Bowls Australia put into play five or six years ago – Jr Jack Attack. It’s a modified junior kit made for schools. Kids can play in their classrooms or their sport halls so really bowls is everywhere you go.

Where’s the most bizarre place you’ve ever played bowls, what country?

The most picturesque and memorable place was in the hills of Wales. You have to go off the beaten track and around these tight winding roads in the countryside to a place called Llangadog, Wales. It’s a little town that centres around a bowling club made out of real old stone and it was just green hills everywhere and just beautiful landscape and so that’s the place that always stands out.

I guess the most unique places are sometimes the closest to you. Down in Tasmania there are some beautiful places tucked away in the mountains there. And then you go out into the western parts of Copper Coast, South Australia, a place called Moonta and they’ve got an unbelievable facility there. Wallaroo has an indoor facility, so really, it’s amazing where you can travel and see that there’s a bowls club everywhere you go.

You’ve got this series of videos giving tips and techniques for beginners. How many videos do I need to look at?

We’ve teamed up with APIA and we’re invested in really trying to get the message out there that bowls is really good for your health and wellbeing. These videos really cover a lot in those areas. We talk about the exercise involved, the ability to be outside, we speak about the mental side, sense of feeling that you belong at the bowls club, social, making friends, these videos cover a lot of things. I think one of the best things in some of the videos is, you can be a beginner looking for more information, it really covers a lot of areas, or you can even be an advanced bowler that might look at some of these tips and say, ‘I think Barrie’s onto something there I might take it on board’.

How do we see those videos?

The best way is to go to the Bowls Australia website or the APIA website – and one thing I really enjoyed about stakeholders like APIA coming on board is that they see the benefits of people getting involved in bowls has so many different factors. It might purely be just to get out of the house, or it might be looking to make new friends, or it might be looking to increase fitness. It really does cover all those areas. We’ve got people playing bowls from their early teens right through to their 70s, 80s and 90s and we’re really concentrating on that healthy lifestyle.

It’s multi-generational, a lot of sports are not, and as we hopefully climb out of this pandemic, breaking isolation and getting out and about, and moving and laughing and having fun sounds like a recipe for success to us.

Yes, absolutely. For a lot of people, once they give bowls a go they’re in this sport for life.