Darren Burnett, a Scottish lawn bowls champion, has made a lasting impression on the sport with his remarkable precision, skill, and sportsmanship. Throughout his illustrious career, Burnett competed in six Commonwealth Games, where he earned a gold medal in the men’s singles in 2014 and another gold in the men’s triples event in 2018. In June 2023, Darren announced his retirement from international competitions, closing a significant chapter in his career. Now, he reflects on his achievements and shares his passions and pursuits beyond the greens.

What are the standout moments from your time as an athlete in the Commonwealth Games?

Darren: I think I have three standout moments. Walking out at my first Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Manchester in 2002 is something I’ll never forget. The roar of the crowd as we entered the arena was incredible and made me realise just how grand this event was.

Of course, my two gold medals are the highlights of my career. Winning the singles gold at home in Glasgow in 2014 was a dream come true. To achieve that in front of so many family and friends was perfect. The other was winning the triples gold with Ronnie Duncan and Derek Oliver on the Gold Coast in 2018. It was one of the best games of bowls I’ve ever been a part of, especially against the Australian team on their home turf.

That winning moment!

How has your life and career changed since the Commonwealth Games, both in and out of sports?

Darren: I feel incredibly fortunate to have represented my country at six Commonwealth Games. Things started to change after the Glasgow Games. Winning the gold medal in the singles event was a major milestone, and becoming only the fourth Scot to achieve that was a big moment for me. The year 2014 was also special because I won both the World Indoor Singles and the Commonwealth Singles, fulfilling two of my biggest dreams in the sport.

Can you talk about the challenges and victories you’ve encountered since the Commonwealth Games and how they’ve shaped your journey?

Darren: Since stepping back from elite outdoor bowls, I’ve been fortunate to win two more World Pairs titles with my good friend Stewart Anderson. I continue to play at a high level indoors and recently had the pleasure of playing in the New South Wales Platinum League in Australia with Stewart, representing the Carlo Koalas.

Off the greens, I faced a tough period at the end of my policing career due to a serious injury on duty, which led to a long stretch of uncertainty and affected my mental health. I am grateful for the support from my wife Linsey, my daughters Isla and Evie, my extended family, and my colleagues. Professional support from the police federation and NHS mental health services was crucial in helping me turn a difficult situation into something positive. I retired from Police Scotland at the end of February 2023 and am now excited about new challenges ahead.

Have you stayed active in your sport or sports community after the Commonwealth Games? If yes, what role do you play?

Darren: I’ve continued to bowl at a high level, both indoors and outdoors, since retiring from the Commonwealth Games competition. I’ve also started working on my coaching qualifications because I believe it’s important to give back with the experience and knowledge I’ve gained. I hope Scottish bowls can benefit from that experience in the future.

Additionally, I’ve earned several SFA qualifications over the past five years to help me coach and manage my daughter Evie’s U14 football team. I’ve enjoyed the different challenges that this sport brings and have had a great time working with Arbroath Youth FC U14 Yellows, who are having a fantastic year!

How has your view on your sport and accomplishments shifted since your Commonwealth Games experience?

Darren: I’ve always been passionate about lawn bowls, even though it doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves. It’s a unique sport where generations can compete against each other, and the skills involved, like hand-eye coordination, are incredibly challenging.

I’d love to see the sport grow with events like a world BPL-style competition or a Ryder Cup-style event for men and women, divided by Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Tell us about projects or causes you’re passionate about or working on.

Darren: While replicating Australia’s model might be challenging, I’d like to see local bowling clubs collaborate with other sports clubs to create a community sports hub. In my town, our indoor bowling and cricket clubs are next to each other, and I’m exploring ways we can support one another to sustain both sports for future generations.

In what ways have you used your Commonwealth Games experience to motivate and guide the next generation or those facing similar challenges?

Darren: I’ve used my sporting background in my community policing role to engage with local schools and groups. Sports can be a great diversion from ongoing issues, and I believe sharing my journey shows young people that they might be the next rising star. Plus, I emphasise the health and well-being benefits of participating in sports.

Remember, even in defeat, there are valuable lessons that might help you succeed next time.

Looking back, what lessons or skills from your Commonwealth Games journey have been valuable in your life beyond sports?

Darren: The biggest lesson I learned was about respecting others. The Commonwealth Games were one of the few multi-sport events for bowlers, and getting to know other athletes and coaches was invaluable. Working with sports psychologist Simon Petrie helped me understand that it’s often the small gains that lead to success. Those insights stayed with me and contributed to my success in Glasgow 2014.

What advice do you have for aspiring athletes eyeing the Commonwealth Games or other international competitions?

Darren: Sport often mirrors the ups and downs of life, just like my rehabilitation from a shoulder injury. Success in sports comes from how you handle setbacks and disappointments. I always set both short-term and long-term goals to build confidence and achieve my dreams. Remember, even in defeat, there are valuable lessons that might help you succeed next time.

Can you share a personal or professional achievement post-Commonwealth Games that you take pride in?

Darren: Winning awards in sport is always a great feeling, but being recognised outside the sport is even more special. A few years ago, I was honoured to become a club sporting ambassador for Arbroath FC. The club has a strong community spirit, and being a part of that is something I’m very proud of.