Welcome everyone, to my new blog. My goal with these weekly entries is to provide insight and advice based on my own experiences as a bowler. As both a high-level coach and a formerly high-level bowler, I can say without doubt that it’s always easier to observe and help from the coaching standpoint than it is to solve your own problems on the lanes. This is why the best in any sport have coaches that help them in and out of competition, depending on the rules. My hope is that this blog will serve as a template for your own self-reflection while also offering some key takeaways from each week of bowling.
While my skills as a bowler are not what they were when I was highly competitive and practicing several times a week, I’d like to think that my knowledge and experience have offset this a bit, and for this reason, this blog will focus on my experiences week in and week out, as a recreational player—albeit one with an advanced knowledge of the game. I finished last year with an average of 228, which is about where it’s been in recent years.
If you’ve read the intro piece, you’ll know that my league bowls on a house shot, so it’s a fairly easy scoring environment. Having bowled on lots of different house shots, I can say it’s a bit harder than some of the drop-dead easy ones I’ve seen, but it’s still pretty forgiving. One thing I’ve noticed over recent years is that it has tended to favor straighter players, so I’ve tried to adapt my game to play straighter angles in the track area, instead of hooking the ball more from farther inside like I used to do. Time will tell if this strategy will pay off this year. As far as I know, they haven’t tweaked the pattern or changed the oil being used.
So, how was my first week? Better than expected, and probably better than I deserve.
Yup. I was not ready for league play to start. I definitely didn’t listen to Jordan Vanover or his great advice, but it’s not too late to get my game back in shape quickly. I’d gotten two balls drilled to go along with my well-used Black Widow 2.0—the Track Stealth and the Ebonite Game Breaker 4 Pearl—but they were in boxes until Monday afternoon when I put them into my bag. I bowl without finger inserts and I only put tape in the holes before league started. While there are always dreams of taking a ball out of the box and bowling 300, this likely doesn’t happen too often in conjunction with not having thrown a ball in four months. My goal for the night was simply to get comfortable, shake off some rust, and learn what these new balls do.
Like many readers, I ordered the Stealth due to the BTM review. It was an excellent review for a type of ball that I tend to like—smooth, controlled—and it’s black. I much prefer darker, solid balls to bright flashy ones. Of course, I had no idea what it would be like for me. It was a bit smoother than I expected, but that’s why I ordered the ball to begin with, so it’s hard to complain. And, my release was rusty and not great, so I’m going to reserve judgment on my ball reaction until I feel like my game is back in shape. Many bowlers make the mistake of expecting their first night to go way better than they deserve, or they assume it will go terribly because they haven’t practiced. My mindset going in was to have an open mind.
Open mind bowling
As I said, I really just wanted to see what would happen and get a feel for my swing and release after a long layoff. I wanted to see what these balls would do, but I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions. I just wanted to adapt to whatever was in front of me. As it turns out, practice showed me one important thing: I was spinning the ball more than usual. Knowing I’d put exactly zero time into my game, this wasn’t much of a surprise. Here is where being a coach comes in: I desperately wanted to “fix” my release, but I also knew that if I tried to do that while bowling, I would probably bowl terribly. So, I decided to just adapt to it and move farther outside to compensate for the lack of hook my game was creating.
The lights come on
Game one started with me standing on 18 (which meant I was sliding on 23) and looking at around the eight-board downlane. I rarely look at anything but my breakpoint, though I’m vaguely aware of what board I’m crossing, and align myself with a board in mind. Of course, I was not sharp, so where I hit at the arrows was a bit all over the place, especially to start. Luckily, the Stealth was exactly what I wanted to see. The ball reads early enough and is smooth enough that my strategy of playing straight and staying out of trouble worked out well. I also had someone come to ask me later on that night if I was throwing urethane—that’s how straight I was playing. I’m hoping that as my release gets back into shape, I’ll see more hook and a bit more definition in the shape, but as it is, the ball worked great. I stayed out of trouble for a clean 220 game and threw my GB4 Pearl on the fill ball to see what it would do.
This is where things started to get interesting. I could see my Stealth starting to labor a bit toward the end of game one, and I was outside of most of the bowlers on the lane. We were bowling against my brother’s team and they had three higher rev players and a lefty bowling. Normally, I’d change hand positions to come around the ball at bit more and help my Stealth retain a bit more energy for downlane. But, as I said, I was already spinning it more than I wanted, and coming around the ball more didn’t seem like a great option. So I stuck with what I was doing, started with a strike, and then proceeded to get three nine-counts that were increasingly weaker. Finally, I struck with another weak hit and decided to change to my GB4 Pearl.
Weird, right? I changed off of a strike. But here’s the thing: it wasn’t based on the result of the shot so much as the accumulated information from the past few frames. The ball was clearly laboring, the good shots weren’t striking, and the mediocre shots weren’t striking. I wasn’t getting less than nine, but I had no faith I was going to be able to string any strikes together, so it was time for another new ball that I’d thrown precisely three times before making the change. Again, I was completely unprepared and do not recommend this approach in any way.
So I throw my GB4 Pearl, and it does what I expected. It gives me some more length and a stronger motion downlane compared to the Stealth. The way I’m throwing the ball, I find I can play almost on top of my line with the Stealth, which makes me very happy. Considering I wanted these bowling balls as a one-two punch, I want them to be close together in terms of overall strength so ball changes won’t also require a drastic line change. It’s also worth noting that I did exactly what I said I tend to do in my recent Coach, I’ve Got a Question article: I did not throw a single shot with the Crown Factory Compound box surface. I immediately prepped this ball by hand to 1000, 2000, and 3000 grit. I really don’t like polish very much, which we can get into some other time. Anyways, after a couple of good shots and a couple of not-so-great shots, I manage to stay clean for 213, but I got smoked by my brother and everyone else playing farther inside than me. I decided to take a step left, slow down, and hook the ball on the fill shot. It was a high strike, but I had made up my mind that I would do this in game three. This shot was more of a test of where to stand.
So far in the night, I’d played the two lanes the same. I was bowling on 61 and 62, which almost always plays tighter on the right lane. Flatter sport conditions can see a difference of up to five boards on the fresh, and I’ve seen bowlers playing them 10 boards different later in blocks. The topography is exacerbated the farther you go inside. It’s one of the tougher pairs in the house. On house shots, the difference is usually closer to two or three boards, but I’d been playing so straight the first couple of games that I hardly saw a difference, but now I was covering boards…
Based on my fill ball, I move another board left on 61 so my feet are on 25 (sliding on 30), and I go high again for another lucky strike. Knowing that I’m about to throw a ball on the right lane that usually plays tighter once you open up your angles, I decided to actually move a board back to the right on that lane, so I’m sliding on 29. I guess right for a strike. Going back to the left lane, I move another board left and go flush for a triple. This is where I’ve learned through bowling experience and through coaching lots of players that you always need to treat your pair as two unique lanes. It would have been really easy to play these lanes the same, and potentially blame any kind of wonky reaction on my out-of-shape game. Instead, bowlers need to blame the lanes as much as possible, particularly when you are well acquainted with a particular center.
So I start striking, get a few lucky hits, and end up shooting 279. My only miss was a 2 pin that I left, where else but on lane 62.
Wrapping it up
Obviously, I’m thrilled with the results of the night, but I know I got a bit lucky and that it had more to do with my mindset than my actual execution. My goal was to respond to whatever my game and the lanes allowed me to do, and stay out of trouble. Recognizing that the lanes looked like they wanted me to play farther inside, I took a chance going there despite the higher risks. I would have been happy with any kind of decent third game, let alone a big number I wasn’t expecting. It’s also worth noting that I had a clean series. Despite not bowling all summer, one thing that can remain constant about a person’s game is their spare shooting if they have a straight swing and a system they have confidence in. I’ve shared my system for spare shooting here, and I firmly believe that anyone can improve their game with this kind of approach.
Hopefully, I can make some time to practice this week and shake off some more rust so I can be sharper next week to get a better read on my equipment. The results will not necessarily be any better, but the execution definitely can be.