Para bowls star reveals special pre-game ritual

·3-min read
Commonwealth Games - Glasgow 2014 XX Commonwealth Games - Glasgow, Scotland - 1/8/14 Women's Pairs Lawn Bowls - Final - General View from the final Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Paul Harding Livepic (Action Images)

Before Julie Thomas rolls her first ball at the Commonwealth Games, you’ll find her listening to pre-recorded messages of herself, writes Tum Balogun. 

It’s a pre-game ritual that has stood the 55-year-old in good stead.

Three British Isles championships, multiple Welsh crowns, a UK title, and a Commonwealth bronze have all been secured whilst adhering to this positive self-talk routine.

She said: “Somebody suggested a long time ago that it was better to listen to yourself than a hundred people because you listen to your own voice more.

“So, years ago I started just recording a positive message to myself, in my own voice telling myself little things.

“About when I played well, positive things and things I need to remember to do so I always play that to myself before any game.

“It doesn’t matter what level - I play it to myself before any kind of bowls game.

“And then I’ve got a few songs that I like to listen to as well.”

“It seems to work so I’m not going to stop doing it,” she added, ahead of her second Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this summer.

The first - in 2014 - came just three years after suddenly losing her sight and, after an unimaginably difficult six months, turning to sport for purpose.

Thomas, who was a primary school headteacher, would never have appreciated her prodigious talent if not for the life changing incident. The Welsh athlete believes the sports’ simplicity is key to its broad appeal.

She said: “I needed something to do, and I became chairperson of a local vision impaired charity because I needed something to focus on.

“And as part of that we were looking at activity and sport, trying to help people's health and wellbeing and things like that.

“So, we decided for a year we were going to look at different activities, some of them sporting, some of them just healthy activities.

“Things like gardening, then we looked at walking and then we looked more at things you would genuinely call sport and one of them was bowls.

“Because I was chair of this charity it was a case of ‘if you don’t do it, you won't be able to get other people to join in.’

“I was a little bit reluctant thinking ‘how am I going to do this? I can’t see the ball; I can’t see the jack you aim at.’

“But you know, I was there for about ten minutes, I did a few ends, and I was completely hooked.”
With the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games set to inspire people and communities across the country this summer, Thomas hopes sharing her story will give others motivation to get involved in sport and turn their dreams into reality.

Initially she trained at West Glamorgan’s visually impaired club under the tutelage of then Wales visual impaired bowls manager, John Wilson.

The budding star quickly joined a sighted bowls club and is now a member of Port Talbot’s Ladies, regularly playing, and beating, fully sighted opponents.

This summer, Team Wales, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will compromise over 200 athletes, and having secured her place on the squad, Thomas is eager to capitalise on a full training cycle to achieve medal success.

She said: “I remember telling people when I got selected [for the 2014 CWG] ‘are you being real?’, I was constantly pinching myself because it was such a quick thing.

“Most people have been playing since childhood and they’ve built up to it but for me I got into elite sport quite late.

“I was absolutely thrilled and delighted that I was going but I still went through something like a dream-like thing.

“‘Am I really here? Am I really going?’ It was all very surreal - even when we were standing on the podium with a medal.

“This time round I’m much better prepared, I’ve been focused, we’ve been planning for this Commonwealth Games.

“Mentally as well I'm so much better prepared and I know what to expect.”

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