Peter Belliss seems to have been around bowls forever. And he has.
When Belliss started playing bowls while he was a fitter at New Zealand Railway’s major workshop in Wanganui’s East Town, he still drove to work at 30 miles per hour … we had yet to adopt the new 50km/hr limit. After a roll-up, If he was lucky, he might have got to see a snowy recording on a black and white TV of Bill Osborne, Wanganui’s favourite rugby son, playing for the All Blacks.
Rugby might in fact have been Belliss’s future … he played with Bill for the Kaierau Club and for Wanganui. Rugby was in his blood – his grandfather Moke Belliss had been an All Black from 1920 to 1923, and captained the team to Australia in 1922. But Belliss was drawn to bowls.
Many bowlers have of course been playing since the 70s, and even before, but no other bowler in New Zealand has been consistently seen at the top level like Belliss.
At the age of 67, Belliss still has plenty of bowls in him. But these days he is focused on two duties for Bowls New Zealand.
Firstly, being a member of the New Zealand Selection Panel along with Phil Skoglund (Convenor) and Marlene Castle. And secondly, being the Head of a National Coaching Team of Gayle Melrose; Richard Girvan; Graham Rees; Evan Roberts; Graham Doreen; Nathaniel Lucas; Sharon Sims; and Rachel Wybin-Curtin.
As a result, Belliss is never far from where bowlers are playing bowls.
Although not playing in the recent Summerset National Fours Tournament in Wellington, he could always be seen hovering about the greens … observing the players who are there or thereabouts on the national scene. After all, there’s a lot of players to keep his eye on – both in the High-Performance Squad and the Development Squad (see below).
As a National Selector and Coach, Belliss has got just one job : ensuring that New Zealand is winning on the international bowling stage. That’s a lot, lot harder than it sounds – and if a simple formula to win could be bottled, then selectors and coaches in all sports would be using it.
“By the time bowlers get in the High-Performance Squad, or even the Development Squad for that matter, they’re very good bowlers,” observes Belliss. “They can win, and do win. Anything. Our job is to get them winning in whatever environment they find themselves, whatever pressure they find themselves under, whatever greens they find themselves on, and whatever the scoreboard says.”
“Our psych John Quinn is a huge part of that. Once you’ve got the skills – and all the players have at this level – the it’s down to the 6 inches between the ears. Our minds have a huge part to play.”
Belliss should know. He’s been in situations many times when sheer willpower has got him though.
“It’s about ‘visualisation’”, explains Belliss. “Visualising yourself winning. When I played Willie Wood in the final of the World Outdoor Bowls Championship in Aberdeen in 1984, I just knew I was going to win. I could see it. I was down on the last end, with one bowl to play. I knew I was going to take his shot bowl out.” (Belliss beat Wood by millimetres!)
“Being able to take the scoreboard out of the equation is key … bowlers can draw the same shot over and over again, but as soon as the scoreboard tells them they have to draw the shot, they can fall to pieces.”
“We also work on the player’s self-confidence,” Belliss continues, “we teach them that they deserve to be there … winning. Particularly in big internationals, up-and-coming players can sometimes doubt their right to be there.”
Belliss realises that there’s all sorts of issues that get in the way of people winning.
One of the big elephants in the room is New Zealand’s relatively poor performances at the Commonwealth Games. “We do really well at World Championships,” says Belliss, “but somehow that doesn’t translate to the Games. Maybe it’s because bowls is part of a much bigger representative team … or that the eyes of the world and the Commonwealth are on the bowlers … or there’s an expectation of medals … whatever it is, we have to solve it!”
The Asia Pacific Bowls Championships will be starting shortly in June on the Gold Coast, and Belliss will quickly find out where the team is at. “This may ‘only’ be the Asia Pacific championships, but there’s a lot of top-level players and countries : Australia; Malaysia; Canada; Fiji; Norfolk Island to name a few.”
Even then, big bowls tournaments aren’t all about great skills and mental strength. “Tournaments are two weeks long with at least 2 games per day,” says Belliss. “you have to be fit to keep your form … it’s no good getting to the business end of the tournament and you’ve done your dash. On top of that you need to be able to deal with the heat; the wind; the rain; and the cold … it’s no good just being a fair weather bowler.”
Belliss practises what he preaches. “I sometimes used to get out on the green with a bucket of water,” laughs Belliss, “and dipped my hand and bowl in the water before I played every bowl. I wanted to get used to playing with wet bowls.”
The New Zealand High-Performance and Development Squads will no doubt take in what he has to say. After all, Belliss’s credentials are impeccable : 3 golds, 1 silver and 2 bronzes in the World Outdoor Bowls Championships; 2 bronzes in the Commonwealth Games; umpteen club, centre and national titles; MBE recipient in 1988; Inaugural Bowls New Zealand Hall of Fame Inductee; and among the first New Zealand lawn bowlers to turn professional (1982).
Good luck, Peter.
New Zealand High-Performance Squad (19 players)
Women (9 players)
Tayla Bruce (Burnside), Jo Edwards (United & Pine Rivers), Kirsten Edwards (Stoke), Selina Goddard (Carlton Cornwall), Katelyn Inch (Oxford & Broadbeach), Wendy Jensen (Orewa), Lisa Prideaux (Merrylands), Sarah Scott (Te Rangi) and Val Smith (United & Merrylands).
Men (10 players)
Seamus Curtin (Stokes Valley), Ali Forsyth (Nelson & Clayton), Jamie Hill (Eastbourne & Onehunga), Taylor Horn (Mangere), Andrew Kelly (Canterbury), Mike Kernaghan (North East Valley), Jordan King (Mangere), Gary Lawson (Eastbourne), Chris Le Lievre (Musgrave Hill) and Shannon McIlroy (Stoke).
New Zealand Development Squad (23 players)
Women (10 players)
Cait Bassett (Burnside), Kimberley Hemingway (Hillcrest & Carlton Cornwall), Clare Hendra (Silverstream), Tessa Hocking (Burnside), Ashleigh Jeffcoat (Frankton Railway), Leeane Poulson (Papakura), Natasha Russell (Merrylands), Bronwyn Stevens (Te Rangi), Nicole Toomey (Victoria) and Debbie White (Hinuera)
Men (13 players)
Sheldon Bagrie-Howley (Gore), Keanu Darby (North East Valley), Bradley Down (Victoria), Tony Grantham (Browns Bay), Richard Hocking (Burnside), Caleb Hope (Gore), Ray Martin (Victoria), Finbar McGuigan (Stokes Valley), Daryl Read (Belmont Park), Alex Reed (Point Chevalier), Blake Signal (Stokes Valley & Nelson Bay), Aiden Takarua (Point Chevalier) and Mark Watt (Nelson Bay).