Tips for Improving Your Bowling


What's Your Pre-Shot Routine?
There are a lot of things we need to understand about our bowling when we are competing. But, we don't want to get bogged with over-thinking when we are playing. We need to have a couple of things we think about for each shot. They can be simplified to our pre-shot routine and our post shot routine. Once we start our approach we need to let it fly to the finish.
The pre-shot routine can incorporate a number of things which you want to make consistent. A pre-shot routine is something that happens automatically.
1-Plan your shot out in an imaginary on deck circle before you even pick up your ball. Parts of this are where am I going to stand, look and the type of shot I want to roll.
2-Picking up your ball and cleaning it.
3-Drying your hand before you put your hand in the ball. It's normally best to get to your starting position before inserting your hand into the ball so it's not in there too long.
4-Wiping off the sole of your shoe.
5-After setting up for your shot, take a slow deep breath through your nose and as you start to exhale go.

These are just some examples. Focus on developing your own but make sure it's consistent and helps you get in the right frame of mind to make your shot.

The post shot routine is important as an evaluation of the shot and the building block for your next shot. After you roll the ball stay in your posted finish position until the ball goes through the pins regardless how you felt you rolled the ball. I see many bowlers after they feel they rolled the ball poorly just turn around and not look at the shot. Take that extra second after the release to watch and then think back to the feel of the shot so you can relate the feel to what the ball does, be totally engaged in every shot until the pins fall.

Pay Attention to your Footwork, It's Your Foundation:
One of the most over looked parts of our bowling game is our footwork. Your feet are the only part of your body that comes in contact with your environment. They set the foundation for the rest of your game. Not paying attention to your footwork is like trying to build a house without a foundation. There are 5 things to consider when working on your footwork.

1: The number steps to take. For most bowlers four or five is normal. Very few reach any level of success using three because it's difficult to coordinate the swing with the steps. Some use more than five but they are just used to get the body moving. However many you take timing is based on the last four steps.
2: Length of steps. As a general rule of thumb you want each step to be progressively longer with the last step being a slide. There are a lot of exceptions to length which is dictated by the length of the swing. For many a shorter second to last step is very good and this is called the pivot or power step. This step is shorter which allows the second to last steps leg to push the body forward easier into the slide to create a more powerful finish. Experiment with lengths to figure out which length feels the most natural.
3: Speed and tempo of the steps. We want each step to get progressively faster. The steps build moment so you can propel the ball down with lane with enough speed to knock the pins down. We want our steps to have a consistent tempo, rhythm and speed shot to shot.
4: Direction of steps. Ending up on the same board you start on is the best. The direction they take to get there is important. We like to think about walking on a balance beam on the way to the foul line. This makes you walk straight and keeps your feet under your body for a solid foundation for your approach.
5: Type of steps are referred to as the incline of the steps which means how they make contact with the approach and how they leave it at the completion of the step. We want heal to toe steps where the heal makes contact with the approach first then rolling to to the toe which then pushes the body forward, just like a normal walking step. The only one that is different is the last step which is a slide where the toe makes contact first and then the heal, it's your landing. Taking that last step heal toe is like crash landing which is stressful and makes for an abrupt stop, sliding glides you to a stop. Sliding makes it much easier to release the ball because it actually gives you more time besides being smoother.

Pay attention to your footwork, it's your foundation.

How Do I and Why Do I Need to Change my Hand Release?
As your game progresses you need to start thinking about using more than one release. The bowling ball is a major asset to playing lanes and being able to play more than one angle. But the big thing is when your lane play abilities become better, the rotation you put on the ball becomes a very important part of being able to get the correct angle into the pins relative to the angle you need to play on the lanes.

We ultimately will need more than one release for different types of lane conditions. All releases start with the hand behind the ball in the down swing. As the ball starts to enter the release zone just as the thumb starts to exit we need to be thinking about the rotation we want to apply to the ball with the fingers.

Looking at the hand from a rear view think about the rotation you want to apply to the ball based on looking at a clock. The examples will be for right handers and left handers will have to reverse it.

For maximum rotation you want to think of your fingers being at about 8 o’clock and rotating to 4 O’clock, which is 4 hours of rotation. This type of turn provides a lot of side roll/axis rotation. This type of release will make the ball slide further down the lane, roll later and spin more. This type of release is best for when moving in toward the center of the lane and swinging the ball. The extra skid and axis rotation will help the ball recover better.

Medium hand action is where the fingers turn from about 7 o’clock to 5 o’clock, 2 hours of rotation. This is good for average types of lane conditions and playing medium angles on the lane from about the 8 board to the 12 board.

The third type of release is minimum hand action. This is where the fingers turn from 6 o’clock to 5 o’clock, 1 hour of rotation. This type of release is best on fresh conditions playing anywhere from the gutter to about the 8 board. The trajectory of the shot will be down and in.

You should practice this first without bowling just to get an idea of the positions you want your hand to be in and the amount of turn you want to apply. Use a small ball (or a nerf size football) and position your hand in the position of the release you want to try. Roll the ball on the floor or into a wall to simulate the release. This will give you an idea of the feel so when you try it on the lanes you have a good mental picture and feel of the release. Not everyone can do all of the releases, but expanding your releases as much as you can and understanding what you are trying to do and when to use it will go a long way to playing the lanes better.

The Mental Game:
In bowling we need knowledge of the basics: equipment, lane play, spare shooting and an understanding of our physical game. Once you have the knowledge of the basics then the important thing is to have a good mental game.

To me everything about the sport revolves around the mental side of the sport and once you have an understanding of the fundamentals of the game, the mental side gives us the ability to reach our potential. No one out there can hinder your performance, you are out there alone and the only one who can affect you is you. Many times we are our own worst enemy.

Bowling is all offense, you can’t physically affect another players performance except by you being the best you can on each shot and never show that you are upset or not confident that you will make your next shot great. So the basic things we are up against on every ball we roll are the lane and us. We are solely in charge of ourselves and how we react to the environment around us.

I see it all the time when an opponent gets a lucky break. It affects the bowler they are bowling against. In bowling my belief is that everything equals out. Everyone gets breaks, just as everyone gets bad breaks on a seemingly good shot. Bowling is a marathon and there are many ups and downs during a season. You need to keep your mind focused on the next shot you roll regardless of the situation. Take every shot as a building block for the next shot. In league play we only bowl 3 games but we have 30 frames every night. A league season runs about 90 games so you have 900 frames to roll in a season, our job is to be ready to play every frame and not get caught up in the results of one frame.

The big key is to have a consistent mental plan of attack on each shot. It’s amazing how many things can go through your head during the delivery of a ball. I have even found myself thinking about my strike shot while delivering my spare shot and many times I will miss the spare. You need to clear your mind of all the "junk" when delivering the ball. Make your decision on where and how you want the ball to travel, line up for it, get started, clear your mind, and let your well-practiced form and muscle memory take over during the approach.

Practice with Intention:

You get out what you put in, right? But, are you putting in the right things? Are your practice sessions as efficient as they could be? I want to bring you a few things to think about the next time you hit up the lanes for some practice time. Be sure you go in with a plan. There is no sense in rolling in the bowling center (pun intended) just trying to keep score. That's exercise. Be sure to know why you are spending the time there. Otherwise, it will turn into wasted time or even worse- you could go backwards in your game. Things to ask yourself before you go practice. What will you work on today? How will you work on it? What will determine if it was a positive practice session?

Always have intention. Is it your swing you need to work on? That's hard to do yourself. Having a practice partner will make it much easier to assess how things are going. You can ask a friend to videotape you from the back to determine if your swing is straight or a bit behind your back. This is something that is super hard to know without actually seeing it. That brings me to my next point. VIDEOTAPE YOURSELF! This is the easiest way to assess where you are at. Are you drifting too much? Are you popping up at the line? Videotaping yourself will allow you to look at your game objectively and with a different perspective. My favorite video analysis app is Coaches Eye.  There are equally good programs on line that can be downloaded.  It's a personal preference.   I use it every single time I coach someone. It allows me to slow down their game and really look at it in pieces. I really love it!

And the last thing to be aware of at practice is when to finish. If you practice too long you could develop bad habits out of fatigue. If you practice thoughtlessly and just to "get a practice session" in, then you waste your time and you don't get anything out of it. Be mindful when you practice and be aware when it's time to go. I can practice sometimes for 45 mins and get a better session out of it than when I'm there for two hours. It's all about quality. Not quantity.

May your next practice session be more efficient.

Breaking Bad Habits:

I hear it all the time when I coach people. "Ohhhh, I've done this for years." I always think the same thing. "Well, then it's time to change!" Because- you CAN change. You know that, right? You have to be open minded and willing. But, you can. I know. Because I've seen it with my own eyes. It takes hard work and repetition but you can change any bad habit.

Here's what you need to know.

It won't be comfortable. A lot of time when you work on a change in your game you will feel uncomfortable and awkward. Totally normal! If it feels good then you probably still have that bad habit within your game. It should feel weird. Embrace the weirdness. :)

You have to be in the conscious mind. You can't just push play and expect it to happen. (That's your subconscious and ideal for competitive situations.) You must be super aware and conscious.

You must repeat it the right way. Over, and over, and over! There is no getting around this. If you are trying to incorporate a new good habit into your game you must repeat it. A lot.

Just like everything- this leads back to practice. What are you working on these days?

Being Coachable:

The one thing you MUST be is open-minded when working with a coach. You don't know how many people have said to me, "oh, I've been doing this 40+ years so I don't think it's going to change." Well, newsflash- YOU CAN CHANGE. At any age and at any level. But, you must be willing to. Are you willing to change? 

So many people feel like "if it's not broke, don't fix it." That mentality will only get you so far. It's risky being willing to go backwards before getting to where you need to be but sometimes it's necessary. Don't be scared to take a few steps back in order to move 38 steps forward. 

You have to be willing to do the same thing over and over. Getting rid of bad habits is all about created new "good" habits. How do we do that? We must repeat the correct behavior over and over and over. It gets boring, I'm not going to lie. But, again, if you want to take a bunch of steps forward you must repeat, repeat, repeat. 

In my sessions I will focus on drills. When you do drills you can break down your game into smaller segments and isolate problem areas. Then, we do the drills over and over and over. That's the only way to learn. There are no short cuts. 

Be honest with yourself. If you make a bad shot, you have to own up to it. Being honest with your shots will allow you to understand your game better and you'll be able to make great moves when you need to. Making a move off a bad shot is never a great idea. 

To sum it up, there are qualities you must have when getting the most out of your coaching sessions.
1. Be open-minded
2. Be willing to repeat over and over and over.
3. Be honest with yourself. 

​Super important that you have a coach behind you.

The Lane (a.k.a. the canvas):

One of my colleagues and I were talking with a proprietor at a tournament he was hosting and wanted to see good scores but his lane surface was in really bad shape. My friend told the proprietor point blank, “You can’t paint the Mona Lisa on a piece of toilet paper”. Though he was saying that in jest, there actually is a lot of truth in that statement in that a painting will only look as good as the quality of the canvas that it’s painted on.

There are various types of surfaces in bowling. The most common lane surfaces are wood and synthetics. Wood has been around since bowling basically began. It is a softer surface in general and is coated with a finish to help protect oil from penetrating the surface. Over time, the wood lanes need to get recoated since the impact of the balls will eventually cause the finish to crack and it will also need to get resurfaced since the ball impact does create indentations in the wood, especially the first 15 feet of the lane where 95% of the shots are released. The longer the lanes go without being recoated/resurfaced, the more the ball will hook as the ball sees the excessive friction created from the scratching of the finish by the balls and the ball impact to the front of the lane and the ball track on the right-hand side.

Synthetic lanes first came out in the late 1970’s by General Electric and they were called Permalane. This was the first synthetic and it was a much harder surface than wood. The idea behind synthetics was to develop a surface that didn’t need to be resurfaced so the proprietor could cut down on the need to resurface and recoat on a yearly basis. It was a much harder surface than wood so at the time the bowling balls didn’t hook as much with all other things being equal in regard to lane conditioner application. Due to it being harder, the ball didn’t create as much impact/wear with the synthetic lane compared to wood lanes assuming the amount of lane conditioner used on both was the same. This was a good thing and originally synthetics were said to last 20+ years. This may have been true at the time, but as bowling ball technology developed we later found out that synthetic lanes wear the same way as wood does, just over a much slower rate.

The lane still technically lasts 20+ years, but after that, ball reaction doesn’t look anything like it did when they were first brand new. These days, we are seeing ball reaction to change significantly after 8-9 years and sometimes even sooner depending on the lineage of the center and quality of the maintenance. So if you’re bowling on synthetics and they’re more than 8-9 years old, expect a little more hook in the right-hand ball track and in the lay-down area (heads) than you would on a newer synthetic.

Another thing about the lane is the topography or how level the lane is from foul line to headpin and from side to side. The topography of the lane has a big effect on ball motion in that gravity can help steer the ball away or toward the pocket depending on the shape from side to side. The lane can help slow the ball down a lot more or a lot less depending on the shape. Often you will not know what the topography of a given lane is unless you have a device like the Kegel LaneMapper which takes precise readings every couple of feet to give you a clear picture of what the shape of the lane is like.