Bowling is a game of risk; it is a game of decisions; it is a game of character; and it is a game that expresses your personality. Every shot offers you choices. As you well know, every single choice you make has consequences for how the pins fall and for how the lane sets up for your next shot.

Every ball moves the oil line…if only fractionally. Every subtlety of hand position changes the roll, tilt, and speed of the ball. Every decision, conscious or unconscious, to control your swing or to “let ‘er go,” affects everything. Whether or not you like to walk a little bit on the wild side may have more to do with whether you are a stroker or a cranker than your age or physical condition.

“Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast.”
—Tom Peters

Risk is a part of bowling, for sure. Actually, it is a part of just about anything in life. You decide how much, how far, how deep – in life, love, business, and, of course, on your very next shot.

For many people the word “risk” itself has many negative connotations. It can indicate danger, uncertainty, and potential failure. Yet, on the other hand, risk can lead to the big hit, the big win, and a liberating sense of courage and mastery over your game.

How about you? Will you do what you need to do to win? If you intend to run with the big dogs, you are going to have to swing for the fences occasionally. No looking around or looking back. Live or die (figuratively speaking), are you willing to do what is takes to really get something done? We shall see.

This month we are going to talk about risk. There is more at stake here than meets the eye. Your willingness, or not, to respond to the demands of situations, sets both the floor and the ceiling on your potential for success. Yet, we are here to eradicate ceilings. So, let’s get started.

Smart risk – dumb risk

“The most intelligent risks are those where the potential downside is limited, but the potential upside is virtually unlimited. Those are the risks you should jump to take.”
—Jon Abraham

A willingness to take risks willy-nilly is not necessarily a great thing. All risks are not created equally and some of them are just plain dumb. It depends on the situation. Big risk in bowling can look like a lot of things. Here are some examples.

  • Moving way inside on the lane and lofting over the gutter cap
  • Moving way outside and playing the one board
  • Similarly, moving an arrow or two in either direction
  • A radical ball change to something that goes down the lane extra long, or conversely, a ball that picks up super early in the midlane
  • Altering your physical game in some fundamental way

Whether or not to take these, or any other, risks is almost formulaic; you should take only those chances where the likely downside is limited and the potential pay-off is unlimited. It’s funny. Most bowlers are pretty good at avoiding really dumb risks, yet conversely, players can be really lousy at taking the intelligent ones. So, in a sense, the really stupid risks are those where we fail to take the right ones. You have to ask yourself, are you one of those people who mentally catastrophizes the worst-case scenario if you really go for something? Like instead of a one-time shot-change experiment when you are not carrying the rack well, you think about blowing your score, missing the cut, or looking stupid. If so, maybe it’s time to turn off that part of your mind and hang out with the winners. The truth is that the biggest risk of all is to play the game with abandon, to truly believe in the effectiveness of what you are doing. Oddly enough, the point is to hope and pray less and to increase your actual faith in what you can do.

Can you become a better risk taker?

“Are you placing enough interesting, freakish, long shot, weirdo bets?”
—Tom Peters

“You are probably going to have to take some risks in the next tournament block, maybe some big ones.” If your coach said that to you, what would you feel inside? There are really two schools of reaction here. One is a tightening in the stomach and a twinge of something like anxiety. The other is an eager sense of interest and excitement. The freedom of knowing you get to dance on the edge is the best…if you are this sort of person.

There is something to remember here. Everyone’s edge feels the same. Whether you are uncomfortable playing the twig, lofting the ball, moving way inside, or whatever, when you bump into the edge of your comfort zone, you feel it. Taking risks can be tough. Yet, without doing so, your bowling—and your life—will not take a step up.

A question is whether risk takers are born or made. It is true that thrill seekers and roller coaster riders seem to have some brain neurotransmitter differences from others. And there do seem to be personality types that are more drawn to novelty and risk. But in all things human, each individual can stretch upward and outward to do better and to do more.

Your inner daredevil

“Your brain can figure out a problem or five; what your brain can’t do is solve the giant, unnamed, shadowy mass of fear between you and your goal.”
—Nate Steere

Everything in bowling is not a big risk. What we are shooting for here is to broaden the possibilities of what, where, and how you play when you are on the lanes. In order to help you with your willingness to take on the risks that you could, when the upside can really pay off, here are four steps to initiating your inner daredevil:

See past the risk to envision the amazing thing that can happen. Before you make your move, you have to see the potential awesome result that will be part of the payoff. The more detail you can see in your future results, the better. See it, feel it, own it.

The reason for this is threefold. It is said that when a person has a strong enough “why,” the motivation for the “how” becomes powerful enough to act. Secondly, seeing the payoff keeps your mind on the positive, and away from drifting to the negative. Lastly, once you visualize the risk you are going to enact, everything about you moves in synchrony toward that overall goal.

See what is in your way. You know what you’d like to do. There is always a reason you haven’t done it. At first it may just be a vague feeling of resistance or dread. But if you honestly let your mind think about what you are intending to do, you will see what holds you back.

If you are going to risk changing something you need to get specific about what is blocking you. Whether you are changing lines, balls, cadence, or hand position, you need to know what you have to do to push through. Once you have done that, you can develop your strategies for overcoming your own resistance.

Go from neutral to drive. Some would say that this is the hardest step of all. You have to pull the trigger. There is a moment in all things where you go from neutral to drive. Even on every “normal” shot, there is the shift from being in stance with the ball in your hand to pushing away into action.

“A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one would find fault with what he has done.”
—Cardinal Newman

Anything difficult in life is like this, whether you are asking someone out on a date, getting onto a roller coaster ride, or transforming your five-step approach into a four-step.

What makes this step so awesome is that at the core there are no shortcuts, tricks, or tips that are past your raw willingness to take action. This is the step that draws from the hero part of you. The mouse part never wants to change strategies.

Enjoy playing to win, instead of playing not to lose.

“Do you want to be safe and good or do you want to take a chance and be great?”
— Jimmy Johnson, Super Bowl Champion Dallas Cowboys Coach

The willingness to play a game of risk can be incredibly fulfilling. Sure, there are no guarantees with any of this, but at the very least you give yourself a puncher’s chance to win. You also get to hang out with the bold souls who play a warrior’s game.

Once you get into the habit of limitless possibility, the exhilaration of bowling this way becomes addictive…in a positive way. Your risks fall into just a few categories; they involve lane play and learning or playing in new physical ways. The other big one is really letting it go without fear of how things are going to turn out.

Fears that block players are also fairly limited – looking stupid, failing to score, not wanting to experience the feelings of failure that can come from really going for something – are all queued up on the best seller’s list.

The attitude of a champion

At the end of the day it depends on which attitude is going to run you. You can choose the ride of your life or you can buckle up, put your helmet on, and watch other athletes do stuff on television. If you take the ride, have a gas. The game of risk is the best game in town!

“To win without risk is to triumph without glory.”
—Pierre Corneille

Some source material drawn from Steere, N., Take Risks: 4 Steps. Askmen.webarchive

Dean Hinitz

About Dean Hinitz

Dr. Dean Hinitz is a clinical sports psychologist in Reno, Nevada, a bowler, a former competitive gymnast, and a black belt in Japanese-style Karate.