Bowling is currently benefiting from a growing number of highly qualified instructors. Proper coaching and instruction have been the catalyst for the growth of golf and tennis. These two sports, along with bowling, are not instinctively natural. They can only be improved by proper instruction. Unfortunately, in the past bowling has not been as eager or as aggressive in the promotion of the game through proper instruction as golf and tennis have been.
Youthful American bowlers are currently posting incredible scores. Yet, I believe we still have a lot of room left for educating and advancing our sport. Our youngsters are achieving these feats under less than difficult conditions. Furthermore, they have hardly matched these record-setting scores under properly supervised lane conditions.
On the other hand, teenaged tennis players and golfers are getting worldwide attention. One individual in particular, America’s golf female whiz kid, Michelle Wie, substantiated her worthiness by holding her own against many professional players prior to turning pro. Fortunately, bowling is now taking great strides toward matching golf and tennis in proper instruction and coaching.
The bowling game has undergone radical and revolutionary changes during the past fifty years. Gone are lanes constructed from hard woods coated with lacquer and shellac materials. They have been replaced by synthetic lane surfaces. Wooden and rubber balls have disappeared like dinosaurs and been replaced by polyester and urethane materials.
Wooden bowling pins have been coated with plastic materials and rounded at the bottom. Lane maintenance has become a science. With lane machines so sophisticated and multifaceted, lane men can create virtually any scoring condition.
Consequently, successful coaches are forced to abandon many older methods of instruction and either create or utilize proven contemporary methods in order to keep pace with the modern game. One thing is certain; there is no absolute single method for teaching proper bowling execution.
Bowling instructors use various methods for communicating, transmitting, and imparting their coaching systems. Many of them use action cameras. Others invest in sophisticated computers, while others, like myself, rely on their eyes. In any event, all these methods of instruction have produced successful results.
During the era of rubber balls, renowned coaches like Lou Bellisimo, Frank Clause, and Bill Bunetta taught thousands of bowlers around the country. Not too surprisingly, all became ABC Hall of Famers. However, the inaugural inductee into the newly created Coaches Hall of Fame, Dick Ritger, MUST be regarded as the preeminent bowling instructor in bowling history. Ritger, a 20-time PBA champion, gave up the tour while still competitive to spread the bowling gospel all over the world.
Although Ritger bowling camps have been staged throughout the country for many years, Ritger is best recognized as the ONE American individual who imparted his knowledge and systems to bowlers in Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, South America, and throughout North America.
During the 70s, 80s and early 90s, Tom Kouros lent his knowledge and expertise to many professional bowlers. He also wrote one of the best-ever selling bowling instructional books, Par Bowling. Kouros also spent considerable time working with bowlers in Malaysia. In fact, the World Bowling Writers have named their annual coaching award after Kouros.
During this same period, Fred Borden coached some of bowling’s top professionals and, along with Jeri Edwards, conducted hundreds of bowling clinics, here and abroad. Borden, through the auspices of the USBC, is credited with forming a coaching program that has produced thousands of bowling instructors. He and Jeri Edwards also coached Team USA.
The late 90s saw the emergence of many coaches who honed their skills by virtue of cameras and computers… you might say the New Breed. This new group of instructors/coaches uses sophisticated equipment to pinpoint every movement in a bowler, from the approach to the follow through.
These coaches all utilize digital video coaching software. I am not privy to all the great coaches in the country but here are a few of the most elite: Mark Baker, Ron Clifton, Bill Hall, Bill Holt, Susie Minshew, Bill Spigner, Joe Slowinski, and Del Warren. One of my most satisfying memories is having had the privilege of coaching Baker, Spigner, and Warren when they were on the PBA Tour. All three are ranked among the most elite coaches in the country. I also coached Mike Shady when he was on the PBA Tour. Shady is quietly building a reputation as one of the elite coaches in the country.
Bowlers Journal annually lists the top 100 coaches in the country. I’m certain they are all very capable and easily accessible in every area of the nation. It would behoove aspiring bowlers to seek out a coach instead of practicing the wrong things. Remember, practice does not make perfect unless you are practicing the proper execution.
Additionally, good coaches are often capable of teaching proper drilling procedures, the reaction of bowling balls on certain conditions, and above all, the art of shooting spares.
Coaches utilizing computers can pinpoint mistakes and greatly improve a bowler’s game. However, there are coaches who rely on keen eyes and, in many cases, are just as effective.
I have retired from coaching but, during my career, I utilized an Improvement Worksheet, a document that included all of the components required for effective shotmaking and proper execution. Each component is individually assessed, with writing spaces alongside each area to reflect the suggestions and actions taken to address the areas of concern.
As I watched the student, I tried to impart necessary suggestions for producing the most effective methods for proper execution. At the same time, I reflected the changes that we made, along with the mistakes and errors that had to be avoided on the Improvement Worksheet. These concepts could be incorporated into any bowler’s individual style. The sheet could be carried easily and referred to during practice and competition.
The areas I assessed and what I was looking for in each area of the Improvement Sheet are:
- Stance and body position
- Free armswing
- Approach (steps one through four or five)
- Knee bend
- Release point
- Follow through
Stance and body position
Assume a comfortable stance, knees slightly bent, ball positioned about waist high, with elbows nested against your hips. In order to eliminate any muscle pressure, the weight of the ball should be resting in the non-bowling hand.
Alternative #1: Bowlers can develop a free armswing by gently pushing the ball up and away OVER an imaginary bar (about three or four inches above the starting position) in order to create a ball-weighted swing. In order to achieve gravity in the swing, push the ball beyond the first step in a four-step delivery or the second step in a five-step.
Alternative #2: Bowlers can decrease high backswings by holding the ball lower and shoving the ball upward with both hands. This will generate a softer and lower backswing.
When the ball reaches the peak of the pushaway, disengage all muscles in the bowling arm and let the weight of the ball fall from gravity. Make certain the entire swing is generated from the shoulder point, with little or no muscular force. (Referred to as a pendulum swing)
The first step is based on a four-step approach. Assuming you are a right-handed bowler in a four-step approach, the pushaway and the first step MUST be activated simultaneously. More importantly, the pushaway should extend beyond the first step in order to create gravity in the swing. If a bowler utilizes a five-step approach, take a short first step, pause slightly, and then proceed into a four-step approach.
The second step should be slightly longer.
The third step should be very short and very quick. Also, try to assume a sitting position. This will greatly aid a deep knee bend and help develop a strong power step so that you can drive off the ball of your foot into a strong slide.
The fourth step is the slide step and should be activated off the ball of your foot. It is absolutely imperative to slide in line with the previous step in order to maintain balance and keep from falling off the shot. This maneuver will fill the gap left open following the position of the previous step. It is also advantageous to slide with the heel left of the toe. If the toe is pointed away from the targeted area, the shoulders will open up and result in a sidearm swing.
This is generally covered in the 3rd step. It is extremely important to keep this step short. Keeping it short will enable you to descend more easily into a sitting position.
In order to achieve a proper release point with a proper hand position, start the forward swing with the ring finger leading the downward motion of the swing. Maintain this hand position to the flat plane of the swing, approximately three to four inches behind the heel. At this juncture, the middle finger should be at a 6 o’clock position.
For those seeking greater revolutions, open the hand more on the forward swing by pulling the thumb farther away from the palm. At any rate, maintain this position until you are ready to release the ball.
Rotate the middle finger from the six o’clock to the three o’clock position; no more than that. Clear the thumb slightly behind the ankle. Make certain the thumb NEVER rotates past the 12 o’clock position. Do not try to lift and turn the ball. Accelerate the hand/fingers and drive the ball INTO the lane from the lowest possible position.
In order to execute a quality follow through, do not try to lift and turn the ball. Deliver the ball with an outward motion, INTO the lane, and continue the follow through with a fully extended arm. Follow through from the SHOULDER, not the forearm. DO NOT bend the elbow intentionally. Also, and most importantly, NEVER allow your follow through to end up inside your face. In order to prevent pulling the shot, send your fingers to the breakpoint and make every effort to flatten your arm in the follow through, regardless of how high or how low the follow through may be. ALWAYS REMEMBER, the fingers impart revolutions on the ball, not the arm!
The principles behind a well-executed shot, admittedly, can be taught by capable coaches who apply various effective systems. The foregoing has worked for my students and me and provided positive results in a relatively short time. As the old adage goes, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
Image Credits: Camera image (©iStock.com/Kuzma) and bowling pins illustration (©iStock.com/cuteimage) are licensed for use by BTM and are the copyrighted property of their original creators.