Oli Collins, a young talent from Ilminster BC (Somerset), has been making waves in 2023 with his remarkable achievements in the sport. From success with the England Under 18 side to his trophy haul at the Aviva National Finals, Oli shares his insights into his recent triumphs, his bowls journey and his aspirations for the future.
Oli’s recent success in winning the National Junior Pairs, alongside Liam White, was a dream come true. The joy of achieving a national title was heightened by the thrill of being able to watch the match back on the live stream to relive the experience and watch how the game developed.
He expressed his joy, stating, “Winning the National Junior Pairs with Liam White was a dream come true. Reaching the National Finals for any bowler is an ambition, winning a national title is something most can only dream of.”
Coming back to Victoria Park the following week for the U25 singles, Oli faced tough competition throughout to reach the Final, losing out to winner Tom Holmes (Herefordshire). It was an experience Oli describes as unforgettable.
“Returning to Leamington the following week for the U25 singles, I knew I was going to have to fight off some fierce competition and had a lot to live up to having won the National U25 Pairs title the week before.
“I knew I had a lot of support behind me from Ilminster Bowls Club and Somerset and I was in constant contact with Liam as he enjoyed watching me progress through the rounds. I tried to recreate as much as possible from the week before, even down to my match preparation, socks and the flavour of ice cream I had between matches!
“I couldn’t believe it when I reached the Final. Playing Tom Holmes was a great experience and one I will never forget, especially as my younger brother Ize has now adopted Tom’s hairstyle ever since seeing him at Leamington.”
Reflecting on his efforts at the 2023 Aviva National Finals, Oli stated, “Coming away from the Aviva National Finals with a national title and a finalist’s plate in the same year was a memorable moment.
“I hope it has inspired someone to give bowls a go and for the Somerset junior players to enter the National Competitions, as it does prove dreams can come true.”
Oli’s journey into bowls began at the age of 7, guided by his Grandad, known as ‘Papa Smurf’. The connection to Ilminster Bowls Club, with its history of nurturing talent, inspired Oli to follow in the footsteps of international bowlers like Louis Ridout.
“Luckily my friends supported me in playing the sport and I was able to play bowls alongside tennis and hockey,” Oli tells us.
“I had to make a decision about which to pursue and commit to and chose bowls as it was something that I could enjoy with my Grandad, who I was extremely close to.”
Reflecting on his decision to focus on bowls, Oli shares, “Choosing bowls was the right thing to do, and although I enjoy the singles play, playing as a team is wonderful.
“Being able to play alongside my Grandad was truly special and we loved entering the Family Pairs.
“Since he passed away, my Grandma has had to step in and despite her commitment, enthusiasm and often best back woods, we haven’t been able to reach Leamington in this competition but as she says, there is still time, and her relentless optimism is wonderful to see.”
As a part of the U18 International Squad, Oli experienced the pinnacle of representing his country in August. The ethos within the team, fostered by managers Nicola Bowe and Mal Evans, played a crucial role in the side bringing home the title. Oli describes the experience as “incredible”.
He adds, “Being selected as part of the squad was something I had aspired to, and I was thrilled to be selected. Wearing the England kit was a very special moment for me.
“Winning the title was a momentous occasion, and it was wonderful to be able to share this with the team.
“Being part of a team like this, my England teammates have become friends, many of whom can be seen playing at Leamington at the National Finals, which is a testament to their abilities.”
For Oli, National Competitions offer the highest platform for bowlers. The unique atmosphere at Leamington motivates him to push his limits. Oli shares, “Playing at Leamington means so much to any bowler, and I know I am lucky to have played on a number of occasions.
National Competitions also provide the opportunity to play against players in other counties and increase the number of high-level players you encounter and can learn from.”
Oli acknowledges the pivotal role of his coach, Mark Denslow, in his success, expressing deep gratitude for the guidance received. Despite Mark’s passing, his impact on Oli’s game remains immeasurable. Oli reflects, “I owe a lot of my success to Mark and his coaching, and I wouldn’t have achieved what I did at Leamington last year without him.”
The unwavering support from family, especially his Grandad, and the encouragement from Ilminster Bowls Club and Somerset continue to be instrumental in Oli’s journey.
“I will always value the early encouragement and hours of practice my Grandad encouraged me to do. Papa Smurf is always with me, as I now choose this as the logo on any new woods in his memory.”
With the support from his county and Somerset Under 25 manager, Ed Hopegood, Oli hopes to see other juniors progressing in the game.
“The support and encouragement from Somerset that the junior players receive is wonderful and we have several junior players who are playing at a high level. I wouldn’t be surprised if other Somerset junior names are added to the U25 singles or pairs trophies in years to come.”
Looking ahead, Oli has set his sights on representing England in the U25 and Men’s teams. Learning from experienced players at Ilminster Bowls Club during the indoor season, such as Louis Ridout, Jamie Chestney, and Perry Martin, is a key part of his strategy for improvement.
Oli was also inspired by Devon’s Sophie Tolchard, whom he met when he was 10 years old and held her Commonwealth Gold medal from Glasgow 2014.
Oli envisions reaching the highest levels of the sport. He shares, “Once you have had the opportunity to represent your country, you want it badly again, and this is something I would aim for in the future.”
Fuelled by his parents’ strong work ethic and encouragement to be the best that he can be, Oli says, “I have learnt that effort reaps reward, and commitment and determination play a huge part in success.
“Hard work and hours of practise are the only way to succeed and grasping any opportunity to play with and watch the best is vital to develop in any sport.
“I view every game as a learning opportunity and always try and take something away from every match. Ultimately, you need to play with and against the best to aspire to be the best.”