Turning the ball early and over-turning the ball are two of the most common performance failures by aspiring bowlers. As I travel the country giving bowling lessons, I have come to realize that at least half the bowlers afflicted with early turn are already aware of it. Most of you early/over-turners know who you are. You have been told repeatedly by coaches you have visited and you have been powerless to fix it. My goal in this article is to teach you how to fix it and, if you are successful, please pass this info on to your coach so s/he can help the next person.

What is early and over-turn?

Turning the ball early means the bowler’s hand takes a position on the outside of the ball too soon after the peak of the backswing, robbing the bowler of revs and accuracy. Some bowlers manage to get their hand on top of the ball at the peak of the backswing, but start moving their hand to the outside of the ball as soon as it starts to drop.

Other bowlers keep their hand on the outside of the ball throughout the entire swing, which puts the hand on the wrong side of the ball at the top of the backswing. Imagine the front tires on your car turning totally sideways when you were trying to go around a turn and you will get the idea.

The good and bad of early turn and over-turn

Turning the ball early puts the hand on the outside of the ball as it descends from the top of the backswing. This is a very weak position and is not very conducive to creating the revs needed to be competitive when the oil on the lane gets above a minimal amount. Bowlers who turn the ball early are usually much happier when the lane man forgets to oil that day. That’s pretty much the extent of the good.

There are bowlers who are strong enough to produce a lot of revs despite early turn, but most of them have to hit up on the ball late in the swing. This lofts the ball into the air which creates its own problems on flatter oil patterns, but not so much on easy house shots.

Turning the ball early can also interfere with your swing path, often resulting in a pulled shot that sends the ball down the highway to Splitsville, a place none of us want to live. When a bowler’s hand starts to move to the outside of the ball shortly after the top of the backswing, it naturally wants to force the swing inward as it progresses toward the bottom of the swing and the release point.

You can test this theory yourself by simply holding an imaginary air ball behind you at the top of your swing. Place your hand in a position where it would be directly on top of the ball or slightly to the inside (palm facing out more) of the ball. Then just relax your arm and let it fall freely. The air ball should fall in a pretty straight trajectory to the bottom of the swing where the ball is to be released.

Next, hold your air ball again at the top of your backswing, but move your hand to a position on the outside of your imaginary air ball. Once again relax your arm and let it fall limply to the bottom of the swing. You will see that your swing will move from right to left for a righthanded bowler. That’s the road to Splitsville….population Big 4.

I know that swing paths are not that simple and that there are a lot of things that go into the eventual ball path, but the positive forces that try to keep the ball on the proper line can be overwhelmed as soon as you start adding muscled force to the swing….and almost everyone does.

Any added force in the downswing will force a hand positioned on the outside of the ball into a right-to-left trajectory. Think of it this way. The swing path will try to follow the direction the palm of your hand faces until it gets near the release point, then that rule changes.

I will get more into that in part two when I cover over-turning the ball in more depth. The good part of over-turning is that it has its place on some lane conditions. Turning the ball early often leads to over-turn so, for bowlers who suffer from both, you may kill two birds with one stone.

Why early turn is so hard to fix

As I stated earlier, at least half the bowlers I encounter who turn the ball early are well aware that they do it, especially if they have had any formal coaching. They have been told over and over again to “stay behind the ball”, yet they just can’t seem to do it.

Even on shots on which they are absolutely positive they stayed behind the ball, they got the same result. As I have stated before in previous articles, muscle memory can be so stubborn and resistant to change, that it will actually lie to you. Your muscles are actually telling you that you stayed behind the ball, even though you didn’t change a thing.

The problem is that once the ball goes by the leg on the way to the backswing, the arm and hand seem to go numb to any feeling that would tell the bowler what they are doing. You really can’t feel what your hand and arm are doing and since all the important stuff is happening behind your head, you can’t see it either. Everyone behind you can see it and if you place a video camera behind you it can see it as well, but that doesn’t help you very much.

If you only had eyes in the back of your head, you could see what you were doing wrong, in real time, which in turn would translate into a “feel”. If you could only feel what your hand was doing, you could fix the problem. I am not suggesting that the next time you find a genie’s lamp on the beach you should use one of your three wishes for eyes in the back of your head! I can’t give you eyes in the back of your head, but I can come close.

Eyes in the back of your head

Your head comes with a swivel and we can use that swivel to help you see what your hand is doing, and develop a feel that you can use to solve the problem. Here’s how.

Take your ball up to the foul line and do a few standing practice swings, but don’t let go of the ball yet. As the ball swings back turn your head and actually follow the ball with your eyes to the top of the swing. Watch the ball swing up and back down a few times before you actually try to change anything. This will get you used to swinging the ball and turning your head at the same time. You can develop a nice rhythm between your arm and head after just a few swings. Remember, we are doing this while standing still at the foul line, not while making an approach. You can do that at your own risk later if you wish.

After a few swings, try to position your hand at the top of the swing so that it rests on top or slightly to the inside of the ball (palm out like in photo A), then make the hand stay behind the ball as it falls toward the release point and roll it down the lane. You may see a totally different ball roll right away from what you are used to, but don’t focus on that right now.

photo a

Eyes in the back of the head

Keep focusing on your hand at the top of the swing and don’t take your eyes off your hand until it has reached the bottom of the swing. Watching the ball swing up will give you much better control of your hand since you can actually see what the hand and ball are doing.

If you are still unclear about where your hand should be positioned at the top of the swing, go online and search for any number of professional bowlers. Look at the placement of the palm of their hand at the top of the backswing. You will see their palms in various positions, from on top of the ball, to facing out, but none of them will have their hands on the outside of the ball.

In your search for professional bowlers to mimic, I will submit that Bill O’Neill, with his hand simply on top of the ball or very slightly inside, is much easier to copy than open palmed bowlers like Tommy Jones, especially if you have a few miles on the odometer.

Using planned failures

After you have made a few successful swings and managed to keep your hand on top and behind the ball for the full swing, it’s time to plan a few failures. This means that you actually want to make your hand go on the outside of the ball and keep it there until the bottom of the swing, just like the old you.

photo b

Planned failure

It’s a good idea to make yourself do it wrong for two shots, then do it correctly for three shots. By purposely mixing in good and planned bad shots, you will start to feel the difference. In photo A, my friend Mike Masingo is demonstrating “eyes in the back of the head”, by positioning his hand a little on the inside at the top of his swing. In photo B, Mike is doing a planned failure, which puts his hand too far on the outside of the ball.

Once you start to feel the difference, try to do about five good swings for every planned bad swing. As soon as you think you have the “feel” between the two hand positions, start looking down the lane instead of behind you. Developing that feel for the difference is the real key to long-term success. You can’t use the eyes in the back of your head forever.

Make very slow approaches

Once you are competent at doing swings and releases at the foul line, it’s time to engage the feet. Do not under any circumstance think, “I’ve got it now”, and do a normal approach because you don’t got it (excuse my grammar). I have been through this with an awful lot of bowlers and very, very, few of them can take a normal approach and actually throw the shot any way but their old way. Muscle memory is just too strong and it will take over. You will do what you have always done and, if you take short cuts, will likely fail forever.

Different people can do different things, so I can’t say exactly what should come next and expect every reader be able to do it. If you can take just one or two steps and do a swing and release, then do that. Engage the feet as little as possible at first and keep everything slow. Always remember that speed triggers muscle memory, so the slower the better.  Even when you feel you are ready to graduate to a full normal approach, keep it slow at first.

If you are not good at just taking one or two steps, try taking very tiny, slow steps from just a few feet from the foul line. Taking a small number of steps or very tiny, very slow steps will allow you to turn your head and watch the swing if you need to. (By the way, you will not be very accurate if you need to turn your head and watch the swing, but you don’t care where the ball goes after it leaves your hand).

If you have developed the needed feel and can stay on top and behind the ball without turning your head that is great, but don’t allow more than two or three failures that were not planned out of five approaches.

The plan is to work your way further and further from the foul line as long as you keep getting good results, always keeping everything slow. You may have to throw a lot of practice games like this before you are able to do full speed normal approaches. If you have too many unplanned failures, then start backtracking. Don’t be afraid to start all the way back at the foul line again. I think every new practice session should be started from the foul line, working your way back, until you are absolutely sure you have it under control.

Video bonus

I am so intent on trying to stamp out early turn that I created a video on YouTube to help give you more visual assistance. To view it, click here.

Ron Clifton

About Ron Clifton

Ron Clifton has been coaching at the professional level for 15 years. He conducts “Advanced Bowler Training Clinics” across the U.S. and is the inventor and manufacturer of Ron C’s Magic Carpet for thumbholes. Ron can be found on the web at www.bowl4fun.com.