Lawn Bowl Lawyering

Lawn bowling is a precision sport that requires a lot of coordination of different parts of the body and the mastery of multiple simultaneous actions. Herbert Tsoi, a probate lawyer and devotee of the sport for four decades, says it is a “precision game” along the same vein as snooker or darts.

“There is a lot of tactics involved in how to read the head and play strategic shots. Then there is the joy of successfully delivering a shot as I would like to, the joy of participating in a good game and the joy of the camaraderie of the team,” explained Tsoi, a partner at his own law firm of Herbert Tsoi & Partners, who has been a lawn bowler since 1978.

Tsoi picked up the sport following his return to Hong Kong after receiving his legal training in London in the 1970s. For Tsoi, lawn bowling became a four-decade-long hobby that he not only enjoys but also actively promotes and coaches.

All Started in the ‘70s

Tsoi originally wanted to learn how to play golf but, knowing that it would take at least 20 years before he could become a member of the golf club in Hong Kong, switched to lawn bowling. Lawn bowling is a quintessentially English sport, so it made sense for a British-trained lawyer to take it up.

His ties to the sport came from his legal work.

“In 1978, I was handling a long case and one of the clients was a Hong Kong resident who had emigrated to Australia. He was a lawn bowler and he started playing on the lawn bowl green in Victoria Park,” Tsoi remembered.

“He soon got a following of those who were interested in the game and he decided to form a lawn bowling club with Victoria Park as the home green. I asked him about the game and soon started learning lawn bowling from him.”.

It surprises many to learn that lawn bowling has always been a favorite game in many of the membership clubs with sporting facilities in Hong Kong.

“The Hong Kong Cricket Club, the Kowloon Cricket Club, the Hong Kong Football Club, the Kowloon Bowling Green Club, the Indian Recreation Club, just to name a few,” Tsoi says.

“In the 60s and the early 70s, the players in Hong Kong were of world class standard, winning medals and even gold medals in the world championship and the commonwealth games,” he said.

Out on the Field

After playing for half a dozen times, the friend who introduced Tsoi to the sport rang him up one Friday afternoon and told him that he was short a player for a league game the following afternoon. He asked Tsoi to stand in.

“I said ‘yes’. I remember how I made a mess of it, but I became a reserve player for the Victoria Lawn Bowls Club,” says Tsoi, whose memories of his start in the sport are still vivid.

At the time, Tsoi was learning the basic techniques of the sport, improving his skills and participating in competitions. He soon became one of the regular players of the Victoria Lawn Bowls Club (“VLBC”). He has only played for VLBC since then.

“I used to practice on Sunday mornings in our home greens in Victoria Park. However, league games are now played on both Saturdays and Sundays, so we also need to practice on Thursday evenings to prepare for the games,” said Tsoi.

Tsoi manages to take time off for lawn bowling despite his busy schedule.

“If you block out a time slot in your diary and try to stick to it, then it will work,” he says.

While the sport requires a lot of concentration, Tsoi sees it as an opportunity to take his mind off work for a few hours.

And to play better, Tsoi realised that just practicing lawn bowling was not enough. He also spent time swimming to train his coordination and balance and to increase his stamina.

“You would be surprised to find that participating in a lawn bowling game which lasts for three hours with the players standing around doing nothing most of the time can be quite tiring,” he said.

From Playing to Coaching

After years of practicing and playing, Tsoi has become a Grade II national coach, thanks to his pursuit and commitment to the sport.

Just as he continues to expand his horizons as a lawyer, he has not tired of increasing his knowledge and expertise in lawn bowling. He regularly takes exams and gets new accreditations that can take him to the next level in the sport.

When he got his start in lawn bowling, the Hong Kong Coaching Committee (“HKCC”) was assisting each National Sports Association to set a standard for coaches with courses and tests leading to an official accreditation. The HKCC aimed to develop coaching education and accreditation programs in Hong Kong.

“I always enjoy attending courses on any subject to increase my knowledge and I don’t mind taking examinations. I attended the courses and passed the examinations for lawn bowling coaches. I eventually received the accreditation,” Tsoi explained.

Another reason Tsoi went for the accreditation was that lawn bowling clubs must be able to organise introductory courses and give training courses to recruit new members.

“My lawn bowling club does not have its own club premises, and our home green is the lawn bowling greens in Victoria Park. I was one of few senior members of the club who was taking up the responsibility of nurturing and recruiting new members,” Tsoi recalled.

While the highest grade of coaches is Grade III, Tsoi says he is content with his current Grade II level.

“To achieve that, you must have regularly participated in the top tier of open competitions in Hong Kong or have represented Hong Kong in international competitions. I have never been that good,” he confessed.

Tsoi remains active in the lawn bowling community. He serves as the honorary legal advisor for the Hong Kong Lawn Bowls Association (“HKLBA”), even though he is not directly involved in the management of the association.

“Coaches in Hong Kong must attend Continuing Coach Education Activities for the required number of hours in order to have their accreditation renewed. I have been giving lectures on the laws relating to sports to the coaches for both the HKCC and the HKLBA as part of the education activities,” Tsoi explained.

A Popularised Game

A lawn bowler for over 40 years, Tsoi has seen the sport evolve in terms of environment and participants.

“The game is usually played in the open air and on a natural lawn, but it has evolved a lot that now we have artificial greens and indoor bowling. The Hong Kong government is trying to provide a lawn bowling green in each district, with some being indoor and outdoor artificial greens,” he said. “We also have a couple of greens with real grass.”

Tsoi also noted that lawn bowling is no longer an expat-exclusive sport played in private clubs.

Today, the Men’s League has grown from two divisions to nine with 96 games played every weekend during summer. In 1978 when Tsoi first started playing, there were only two divisions of 10 teams each.

“That would mean 192 teams of 12 persons each competing every week. I am glad to see that lawn bowling is getting popular and I hope that Hong Kong bowlers will continue to collect gold medals in international games,” he said.

Get More Lawyers in

As lawn bowling was gaining popularity citywide, Tsoi thought of popularising the sport in the legal community, particularly during his term as president of the Law Society from 2000 to 2002. He set out to form a Law Society Lawn Bowling Team.

“The Law Society has two different roles – looking after regulatory and compliance matters relating to our members and also the interest of the profession like a trade union,” Tsoi explains.

“I was thinking whether we could form an interest group and then enter a team into the Lawn Bowls League,” he adds. “This would be a good platform for solicitors who have similar interests and hobbies to meet and participate in activities not related to professional business.”

In the legal profession, Tsoi said, there are many lawn bowlers. Former Law Society president Donald Yap and Patrick Chu, senior solicitor are both strong players. He has also met a few judges and barristers during the league games.

But a lawn bowling team formed solely by lawyers proved to be a challenging goal. Most lawn bowlers were already members of their club teams and it would be difficult to pluck them out from club teams that they enjoyed playing in.

“Nevertheless, I am glad to see that the Recreation and Sports Committee of the Law Society is serving the purpose that was in my mind,” Tsoi says.

And after years of playing the sport and working as a lawyer, Tsoi has found that some of the lessons he picked up lawn bowling also apply to his legal work.

“You always need to keep good control and a cool head in any situation,” he says.

“I learned how to motivate team members during the game instead of just blaming them, and how to observe the behavior of members of other teams carefully. You need to apply what you find praiseworthy in other teams and avoid what you see as defective or undesirable,” Tsoi said. “It is always easier to spot faults in the behavior of others than to realise your own faults.”