Welcome back to the Round Table. As I write this I’m gearing up for the USBC Open Championships in Reno. I hope you will stop in and say hello while you’re there. This month, our expert panel of coaches discuss two topics that should help all of us improve our games. The first question deals with ball speed and the second with equipment choices.
Editor’s note: The format of The Round Table column consists of posing technical questions submitted by readers to several top bowling coaches and educators and having them respond in “round-robin” style.
I know that my ball speed is slower than most other bowlers, especially the pros that I watch on television. I would like to get your advice on ways to help generate more ball speed. It seems that when I try to do it, I just end up overthrowing the ball and I see my accuracy and shotmaking suffer.
Be sure that ball speed is really what you need. The surface of the ball, the volume of oil on the lane, and the lane surface all can affect ball speed.
The first thing you need to do is to make sure that you have a rhythm that can help you generate the speed you want. A common mistake is that bowlers will put the ball into the swing late thinking this will help them incorporate more leverage to increase the speed. In reality, it has the complete opposite affect.
Not all players need to have a high ball speed. Speed is relative to the amount of revolutions you put on the ball. In my opinion, it’s really better to make sure you have control of the speeds you generate naturally.
Overthrowing the ball when trying to increase ball speed is a very common problem. Most people try to throw harder by using more of their upper body, as opposed to letting their legs do the work.
The best way to properly increase speed without overthrowing the ball is by speeding up your footwork throughout the approach. A faster approach will increase momentum and allow for the upper body to stay relaxed during the swing. This change in foot speed may cause your timing to feel a little off, so lowering the ball in your setup position should shorten up your swing enough to get the coordination of your feet and swing back together. This will take some practice but, once accustomed to the change, should feel effortless and accurate.
The key here is to generate ball speed naturally with a swing you can repeat. I cannot stress that enough. You want to develop a loose, natural armswing. Start by relaxing the muscles of your arm so that you don’t “resist” the flow of momentum in your swing. Tension is so often the root cause of poor ball speed and inconsistency. When you loosen up the muscles of your arm to let the ball swing, you gain momentum in your approach and the result is more ball speed. Again, it’s not about adding muscle (which is what led to your inaccuracy); it’s about removing muscle to create a relaxed and repeatable swing.
Also consider your ball weight and ball fit. Not many pros throw 16 pound equipment. With today’s core technology, consider rolling a lighter ball. It takes a lot of strength to let a heavy ball swing into a big arc. Sometimes using a ball that is too heavy will result in a smaller swing which will lead to less ball speed. Do not underestimate ball fit! With a poor fit, energy is wasted trying to hold on to the ball and much speed is lost. A poor ball fit requires excessive grip pressure which leads to a slower, muscled armswing.
The optimum range for ball speed will vary among bowlers, mainly in response to each individual’s rev rate, equipment choice, and the amount of friction on the lane. The comparison of your ball speed to that of the professionals you see on the PBA telecasts and the desire to match those ball speeds, may be an inaccurate assumption for a couple of reasons.
On the whole, most players on Tour possess a much higher rev rate than most league or amateur bowlers. A higher rev rate needs to be complemented with greater ball speed to achieve the desired ball motion. Secondly, the ball speed recorded on the telecasts is read very near the release of the ball. Conversely, the reading at your home center occurs about 50 feet down the lane at the scoring scanner. At that distance the ball has probably slowed down by about 2.5 mph or so. So, you are comparing ball speeds at two drastically different locations, making the comparison inaccurate.
In your attempt to increase your ball speed, you stated that you tend to lose control and accuracy of your shots. It sounds like you are trying to achieve greater ball speed by pulling the ball forward from the top of the backswing in an effort to “force” extra speed. This pulling motion from the top will affect your accuracy.
In your next practice session, try letting your lower body movement and momentum help you attain more speed. Try moving back slightly on the approach and work on gradually increasing your foot speed to the line. Feel your feet drive you forward into your slide a little more aggressively. This should make it easier to maintain accuracy as you begin to get that extra speed from your lower and upper body.
Timing and other factors also play a role in attaining more ball speed efficiently. If you continue struggling with this, I suggest you find a qualified coach/instructor in your area, set up a video lesson, and have your timing and other facets of your game analyzed. Proper timing, armswing direction, etc. will make it much easier to increase your ball speed effectively without a loss of accuracy. There really is no substitute for efficient motion. It’s the reason the pros are able to increase their ball speeds, maintain accuracy, and still look effortless in the process.
I feel like I’m a decent bowler and average 220+ on a THS and close to 190-200 on many sport conditions. That being said, I feel like I’m a novice as far as knowing about equipment and ball reaction. I tend to buy new balls that I see work well for other bowlers instead of knowing what’s right for me. What are some of the most important aspects of equipment that I should learn and focus on to become a smarter and more effective bowler?
The best thing to do is to be honest about your game. That may seem like a rude comment but it is not intended to be. The reason I say that is because I see many bowlers drill balls in an attempt to cover up weaknesses. You must know what in your game you do well and what needs work. Many bowlers have only high friction equipment in their bags because they are only looking for the most overall hook potential.
Oil patterns constantly change starting from the very first warm up shot until the last shot is thrown. The surface of the ball controls when it slows down. The more you use the ball’s surface to control where it slows down, the better your choices will be in picking out the proper surfaces and cores in your equipment selection.
My suggestion would be to keep it simple. Most of the best players in the world use only a couple of different layout techniques for the majority of their equipment. Granted, if they need something specific, they certainly have the means to try it. But for most of their arsenal, you will see a lot of the same drill patterns, just on different pieces of equipment. Find two or three layouts that work best for your game and then stick with those on any new balls you may drill.
So, what new balls should you drill? Well, research the balls you have liked in the past and see what their manufacturing specs are (RG, differential, out of the box surface, for example). More than likely, you will find a pattern with those balls in relation to RG and differential. If you typically like higher RG balls, stick with higher RG balls, or vice versa. Know what specs fit your style of play. This will increase your chances of making sure that your new ball is suited for you.
Buying balls that look good for others is a common mistake. Selecting the right ball depends on many factors: ball speed, axis of rotation, rev rate, lane conditions and surface, and how you like to play the lane, for example.
In selecting the proper equipment, the most important factor to consider is coverstock. This, followed by the proper core characteristics, will determine how soon or how late the ball will roll. So, identifying the appropriate ball surface and core make up 75-85% of the equation. From there, ball reaction is fine-tuned by the layout, which includes pin placement and mass bias considerations.
Find a knowledgeable pro shop operator who understands these factors, will watch you bowl, and takes them into consideration when choosing and drilling a ball for you. This should include getting your positive axis point. This will enable the professional to not only choose the right ball for you, but also be able to lay it out with a drill pattern that will enhance your game.
For a bowler at your relatively high level of play, it’s about giving yourself some equipment options and looking for the right ball path shape that will allow you to hit the pocket more consistently, especially on the sport patterns.
One of the most common mistakes I see league bowlers make in reference to equipment and ball reaction, is their desire to see the ball “go long and snap hard” on the backend. That may be the most common phrase that pro shop operators hear and is one that will lead to inconsistency, especially on tougher conditions.
In searching for the correct ball or ball reaction, most of the pros and elite level amateurs tend to start with a benchmark ball or a ball that has a very smooth, arcing, predictable shape. This is just the opposite of what most league bowlers tend to want. A benchmark ball allows the player to control the pocket (hit it more often), giving them more opportunities to strike and leaving less pins to shoot at when they don’t. They can tweak the strength of the back end reaction for carry through equipment choices, surface choices, or release changes.
For bowlers bowling in sport condition leagues or tournaments following this game plan may be the most beneficial choice you can make in seeing improvement on these tougher conditions. Equipment choices that give you a drastic angular change of direction at the breakpoint will usually lead to frustration. Look at the most successful players on tour, WRW, Norm Duke, and Chris Barnes, to name a few. These players all have different rev rates, yet they all seem to seek out that smooth, arcing, continuous ball motion into the pocket.
As far as equipment options, I think a player at your level should have a minimum of three options in equipment choices, four if you count a plastic spare ball, which I also would recommend. Have one ball that gives you an even arcing motion (earlier rolling), one that gives you an arcing motion with strong continuation on the backend, and one that gives you more length, with a strong, angular back end reaction.
Another factor that may help you become a more effective bowler and increase your equipment options would be to understand how surface changes affect ball reaction. A ball with a polished surface will react quite differently than that same ball with a dull 500 or 800 grit Abralon surface. You can add versatility to those three balls you have in your arsenal with different pad grits. Do some experimenting. Generally speaking, the duller the surface, the smoother the shape; the shinier, the more skid and snap. As far as types of equipment or specific drillings, I would suggest you visit a knowledgeable pro shop operator in your area who knows your game.