Rolling and bowling

For people with a physical disability, one of the most fun sports out there is lawn bowls. Chris Patton explains why he’s a fan

In lawn bowls, you are not restricted by a need for physical strength, running ability or lightning reflexes. The sport relies on rhythm, muscle memory and concentration. Primarily, you need to be able to swing your arm in a pendulum motion, but even quadriplegics, without the grasping ability to pick up and hold a bowl, are able to compete with the aid of a helper and a bowling contraption that fits across their wheelchair, allowing them to select their line and speed of delivery. People with cerebral palsy, leg and arm amputees, people who have had polio, wheelchair users and others can – and do – play the sport.

The objective of bowls is to roll biased balls so they stop close to a smaller ball called a “jack”. Each end (rolling all your and your opponents bowls in one direction) is played on a bowling green (a flat piece of prepared lawn), divided into rinks of about 5m wide, and the length of play varies considerably within defined boundaries.

This type of bowls is usually played at the local bowling club, along with able-bodied bowlers. Historically many older men and women have played the game, often after retiring from more physically demanding sports. But more youngsters today are taking it up with great success, and the diversity of age, sex and inclusion of disability is unrivalled by any other sport. There are many variations in format, and bowlers can play socially, in club and district competitions, and in league against other clubs.

To get started, you need to find your nearest bowling club. With more than 400 bowling clubs in South Africa, chances are there is one close to you. Go to the Bowls South Africa website and look under Districts. Wheelchair users will need to acquire wide inflatable wheels to ensure they do not damage the surface of the green, and people who use crutches or walking aids will need to have this equipment similarly modified. But for bowlers with disabilities who aspire to higher honours, an annual week-long national tournament for bowlers with visual and physical disabilities is held, at different host venues. Competing bowlers must be classified depending on the nature of their disability;for physically disabled bowlers this is determined by your balance and strength. To find out more about Physically Disabled Bowls SA, contact

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