After getting a beautiful, crashing strike on the previous frame, you walk up to the ball rack and grab your ball, stare intently at the pins, and throw a ball that cruises to the left and knocks three pins down. It seems like you did everything the same as you did on the previous shot...stood in the middle of the lane...concentrated on where you wanted to throw the ball...aimed the ball as you released it...yet the results were vastly different. There are a few things you can do to put yourself in the best position to duplicate those nice shots. These improvements fall into two facets of your bowling game: physical and mental. The following tips will help you minimize some of the variables that influence how you throw your ball, increasing your consistency and raising your bowling average.
Physical - Delivery of the ball
- Hold the ball to the outside of your body. Your throwing arm is a pendulum that starts at your shoulder. If you hold your ball in front of your chest at your setup, the ball has to swing around your hips to get behind you, instead of moving in a straight line going back and forth, which is optimum for consistency.
- Keep that elbow close to your body. As you swing the ball, if your elbow gets away from your body, it puts several release points in play as you let go of the ball. With the lane being 60 feet long, it only takes a small deviation in the angle of your arm to your wrist to send the ball off its mark. If you stand up with your arm hanging down at your side and your palm facing forward -- the way it is when you release a bowling ball -- you can feel your elbow lock into place as you raise your arm with your elbow close to your body. That locking action will produce similar shots repetitively.
- Exactly mark where your feet are at your set up. Whether it's a strike or spare shot, in order to be accurate you must be aware of the location of your push-off foot (the foot you push with as you begin your approach) by placing the edge of it on a specific board on the lane to line yourself up for a shot. Where you place it will be addressed in the mental tips section.
- Finish your shot near the foul line. You will never see a pro who releases his or her ball several feet behind the foul line. The lane is already 60 feet long...why make it even longer and harder? There are two rows of dots on the approach of the lane that you can use to mark how far you are from the foul line at your setup. Take notice of where your feet are located at your set up, then after you release your ball, look down at how far they are from the foul line. If you are more that 5 or 6 inches away move up a little at your set up on your next shot until you get yourself in that range. It can mean the difference in a pin being knocked over on a close shot.
- Groove your timing. Shot consistency is tied closely to the timing of the ball release as you approach the foul line. If you get to the foul line with the ball too far advanced in the swing your balance will be carried forward awkwardly. If the ball is too far behind, you'll have to "pull" on the ball to have it catch up with your body which does not promote a consistent shot. Pushing the ball away from your body as you start your first step, instead of walking a step or two before starting the ball, is a sure way to start the swing at the exact same place each time and is a great foundation for the approach. Speed up or slow down your steps on the approach when you practice so that as your slide foot nears the foul line, you feel the ball coming past your thigh.
- Let the pendulum do the work. Get away from the mindset that you are throwing the ball at a target. Instead, promote the feeling that as you push the ball away from your body, gravity pulls the ball down and back, then the motion of the pendulum carries the ball forward and all you have to do is let your arm follow through as the ball rolls off your fingers. Make sure to let your arm follow through up toward the sky in line with your target to finish off the shot. Build muscle memory by standing still with your ball hanging straight down at your side, then let the ball start swinging back and forth in a straight line, concentrating on the feel of the ball going to and fro on a true, linear path.
Mental - Lane management and spot bowling
- Give yourself an angle to the pocket. Although you can get a strike by hitting the head pin square-on, it is not a very high percentage shot. Hitting the pins in "the pocket", which is the gap between the head pin and the next pin on the right (the 3-pin) for right handed bowlers, and the next pin to the left (the 2-pin) for lefties, will strike with the most consistency. If you are a righty, stand on the right side of the approach and roll the ball from the right edge of the lane by the gutter on an angle toward the 1-3 pocket. This tip is for bowlers with a ball that rolls straight or has a small hook in it as it goes down the lane.
- Shoot cross alley at the corner pins. When you are left with the 6 or 10 pins to pick up a spare (which are the ones on the far right of the rack), or the 4 or 7 pins (which are the ones on the far left of the rack), you will increase your pick-up percentage by simply setting up with your feet on the side of the approach opposite that of the pins and rolling the ball diagonally down the alley. This gives you the optimum angle at the pins, reducing the ball's chances of falling into the gutter.
- Use the arrows on the lane to target your shot. Most bowlers that put side spin on their ball so that it "hooks" or curves as it travels down the alley use the spots or arrows on the lane to aim their shot. There are benefits to spot bowling for the straight ball thrower: the arrows are much closer than the pins so they are easier to see and hit as targets. You will have to work out the specific stances for your unique body and approach, but the basic theory is that when you set your feet at a specific spot on the approach and roll the ball over a specific arrow on the lane, you can predict where the ball will finish.
For example, the strike shot described above in #1 -- if you're a righty -- would have you place the outside edge of the right foot on the edge of board 5 on the lane (it is one of the boards with a dot on it 5 slats in from the right edge of the lane) to mark where you stand on the approach. You then start your shot with your eyes focused on the second arrow on the lane and stare at that mark as the ball rolls over. If the ball finishes a little to the right of the target, then move your right foot to the right by a board or two (to boards 3 or 4) at the setup the next time this shot is practiced while using the same mark. Note the finish of the shot -- whether it is on target yet or further adjustment is necessary. If the ball were to finish to the left, hitting too much of the head pin, then on the next shot move your feet to the left, on boards 6 or 7, while keeping the same arrow as your target. Note the result.
- Think about those errant shots. If you are seeing your shots missing to the left (for a righty), you are pulling the ball across your body instead of grooving that straight back-and-forward arm pendulum. This is usually the result of either trying to muscle the ball or poor timing on the approach. If you find your ball missing to the right, there is a good chance you are swinging the ball behind your body on the backswing or are letting your elbow fly away from your body on the forward swing, which tends to send the ball weakly to the right. If the ball is missing on both sides of the target, you have to get back to grooving that pendulum and stop throwing the ball at the pins.
- Stay loose mentally and physically. At your setup, clear your thoughts and just focus on your mark. Let your breathing slow, take in that last breath and hold, letting that be the trigger that starts your approach with no other thoughts except keeping your eyes trained on your mark.
In the movie "Caddyshack", Chevy Chase is tutoring a young caddy on how to make putts while blindfolded. "Be the ball, Danny, just be the ball," he prompts. There is an element of Zen in bowling; the quieter you can make your mind, the less there is to mess with your shot and the more you will find your consistency improve along with those scores.