Latest Tips Archive
(previously posted tips from coach Ron)
Strike For Show, Spare For Dough
I have discussed spares in a previous Latest Tip, but spares can’t be talked about enough. The path to success in our sport is with the second shot of a frame. Everyone can strike - you’ve all done it many times. Not that impressive to be honest. But a bowler who can spare consistently with precision, knowledge, and purpose has my full attention. If you are in league or a tournament and striking a lot, you are not the only one. But who amongst you is going to make the majority of your spares? That is the bowler who is left standing at the end. Look at the top pros and their spare percentages. It is off the charts. They will all tell you how much spares matter. Do yourself and your game a favor - spend more time practicing spares in your trainings. Practice is not for score, so shoot a spare shot on your first ball, and then a strike shot on your second ball. That way you are guaranteed to get 50% spare shots and 50% strike shots. It will certainly pay off for you when you need it.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
If you are a passionate bowler, you probably work very hard on your game. Maybe too hard sometimes? Remember, balance is the key to many things, and in this case I am not referring to your balance at the foul line. Marathon practice sessions, or over-training, can be very detrimental to your progress. Although your intentions are great, your improvement and results may not be. Try to keep your practice sessions on the lanes to 60-90 minutes if you are by yourself. This is more than enough to accomplish the goal you set for that day, while at the same time not allowing you to bowl so much that you reach the point of diminishing returns. And bowling balance means more than just keeping your on-lane time in check. It also means working on the other important parts to being a complete bowler - mental game, equipment knowledge, physical fitness, and others. Take a close look at how much time you spend on all these parts of the game, and evening them out a little more will probably make your passion pay off quicker.
Give That Brain A Good Workout
In previous tips, we have talked about specific skills to start putting into your game (diaphragmatic breathing, visualization, pre-shot routine, music, etc.). But have you taken those skills to the lanes in your practices? Remember what controls your body and your muscles - your brain. You can work every day on your physical approach, but if you don’t develop some good mental game skills, that flawless physical game may become flawed in competition. Make it a point to devote at least one practice session per week to your mental game. Maybe in this case you actually keep score so you can simulate a competitive environment as closely as possible. It won’t be exact, but it is certainly better than nothing. Doing this consistently will allow your physical approach to stay more consistent when you need it most.
Less Is Definitely Better Than More
As bowlers, we are a couple of things (insert you own funny label here…). I was talking more about being over-thinkers. That is the one thing most bowlers would agree to call themselves while they are competing. And we all recognize it is not helpful to our cause. So, why do we do it? Probably because it gives us more of a sense of control, and we don’t have the discipline or means not to over-think. Your goal should be to find a non-bowling thought that relaxes you and that you can focus on while on the approach. This could be music in your head or any other thought that quiets your brain and lets your body do what it knows how to do. Or if you must think about bowling, allow yourself to have one ‘approach thought’, or the one thing you want to make sure you do every shot that league night or tournament. It could be smooth swing tempo, staying down at the line, keeping your eyes on your target, etc. Just make sure that whatever thought you use, it is simple so that you can think less, not more.
How Lucky Are You?
Well, if you are a bowler, more than you think. Besides the obvious of being a part of one of the greatest sports on Earth, you have a tremendous amount of the good stuff. Most bowlers would disagree with this statement, but the truth is that there is very little actual bad luck in bowling and a ton of good luck. The reason bowlers would disagree is that generally they remember all the ‘bad breaks’ they got during a given league night or tournament, and at the same time, were not aware of all the ‘good breaks’ they got. Bad carry is synonymous with bad luck in our sport. Bad carry is the bowler’s fault but also within the bowler’s control to fix it. I always tell bowlers that when they can’t carry, look in the mirror - it’s no one else’s fault but your own. Take responsibility and then take action! Move, change balls, or both. Stand on your head and throw the next shot. Just do something different! Or when you throw your next shot not having changed anything and you leave the same corner pin, welcome to the Club of Insanity - doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Keep Your Eyes On The Prize
I’m fairly certain that most of us have played other sports besides bowling. And in those other sports, there was most likely either a ball to make contact with or a target some distance away that you were aiming for with your specific sport’s ball. How many of those other sports would you consider ever taking your eye off the ball or the target? I am guessing none of them. Then why do we do it in bowling? I have seen it (pun intended) be a big problem that plagues a lot of bowlers. And sometimes they don’t even realize they take their eyes off their target. Whether you target the arrows or somewhere else on the lane, your eyes should be focused like laser beams on that intended target from stance to finish through release and follow through until your ball passes over said intended target. With a good physical game, this will be what mostly determines how accurate you will be. Without good eye targeting, you are bowling blind-folded.
Breathe, Just Breathe
It is amazing what a really good, simple breath can do to your mind and body. Many times as bowlers when we feel the pressure coming on, our heart rate and/or breathing quickens. Take a moment before going up to your pre-shot routine to take a couple of diaphragmatic breaths - inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. This athletic way of breathing quickly relaxes the body and can lower the pounding heart rate. Take a few more of these breaths during your pre-shot routine, and lastly, after your stance is set and you are ready to deliver the best shot of your life, take one last diaphragmatic breath, and start your approach motion on the exhale. You should feel the positive effects and the relaxation almost immediately. Breathe, just breathe…
Have You Scratched The Surface Of Your Game?
There are many keys to success in competition - physical game consistency, accuracy, adjustments, solid mental game, blah, blah, blah… The one key that is severely underused is changing the bowling ball surface. Altering the surface of a bowling ball changes the distance the ball travels before changing direction. Most people believe it is about making a ball hook more or less. It is actually about making a ball hook sooner or later. If you can control the distance of your bowling balls in competition, you have a chance to win. If you can’t, you don’t. Lower numbers make a ball hook sooner and higher numbers and polish make a ball hook later. One important rule to note here is that in USBC sanctioned leagues and competitions, any and all surface changes have to be completed before the first ball for score is thrown. There are to be no more surface alterations to any balls, including those that weren’t even thrown in practice, after the first ball for score is thrown. But in practice, have at it! Not enough bowlers and coaches take advantage of this rule and of this very important way to get matched up better to the lane environment that day.
Food For Thought
All bowlers have that one tendency in their games that if they don’t revisit every now and then in practice, it will come back to haunt them at the worst possible time. It is dangerous to think that timing or swing tendencies won’t ever come back. One way to lessen the chance of this happening to you is to create a “practice sandwich” in training. Here’s how to build this delicious treat… Have a goal for each and every practice you have. Goals could include playing new lines, working on new releases, making a timing or footwork change, etc. The goal is the meat of the sandwich. Your physical game tendency is the bread. Start your practice with 5-10 minutes of working on the bread. The bulk of the practice is the meat. And then finish the practice with 5-10 minutes of the bread again. You want to “sandwich” the goal for that day between two short sessions of working on your tendency so that it remains fresh and doesn’t get out of control in competition. Try it - it may be the best sandwich you ever have!
Join The Party!
Have you ever gone to your local bowling center on a weekend to practice only to find the lanes crawling with kids, noise, and presents? Your first thought was to exit so fast you would leave a trail of dust like the Roadrunner. Next time, stay. Think about how much you could challenge yourself in this environment. First of all, the lanes probably don’t have fresh oil, so you can learn to adapt and adjust to a difficult lane condition. And second, what better way to practice your mental game? And to make it even sweeter, ask to be put as close to the party as possible. If you can focus and make good shots through all of that zoo-like atmosphere, what could ever distract you during a real tournament? It is not very often you can challenge yourself during practice to be able to work on your mental game, so here is your chance. Don’t take the easy way out in practice - party it up! So to speak…
Stay In The Moment
How many times while bowling have you caught yourself 5 seconds into the future? Let me phrase that another way… How many times while bowling have you been thinking about the result before you even let go of the ball? Ahh, now you are nodding your head up and down. It is easy to get caught up in the score watching and thinking about what you need to get a particular score. Or thinking about striking or sparing before you even take the first step of your approach. Of course we want to strike or spare - that is the goal of bowling. But thinking about the result doesn’t put your mind where it needs to be to make those results even possible. Make sure you are staying committed to the process of throwing a good shot. If you do this, you give your desired result a much better chance of happening. Remember this phrase - Stay in the moment. Reminding yourself of this will keep your focus where your focus needs to be. The results are a culmination of all the things you do well in your process of delivering a good shot. So, why would you take your focus off that? Hopefully your head is nodding up and down again. Stay in the moment, stay in the moment, stay in the moment.
Let The Music Move You
Raise your hand if you have ever caught yourself thinking of too many thoughts on the approach… Wow, that is a lot of hands! Truth is we have all been guilty of that at one time or another. And how does that usually work out for us? Not good, not good. So, how do we stop doing that? Try something we all love and enjoy everyday - music. Think of a song in your head right now…. Hear it? Now, play that same song in your head while you are on the approach and all the way through release. This is a great way to quiet your conscious brain and let your trained body take over. Listening to music in your head while you are bowling prevents you from over-thinking, and wouldn’t we all like to do less of that! Treat this as a new skill and be sure to practice it in your trainings before using it in league or tournaments. And remember, Dancing With The Stars is not watching, so don’t get carried away!
We all try to make it to the bowling center to practice as often as we should or can. But sometimes it just isn't possible. Life can get in the way. But you can still practice at home. Make sure you have seen a good video of yourself bowling from either the back or the side view. Watch this video over and over again. Then, when you are in a quiet place with no distractions, play your bowling movie in your head. By doing this you are building the neural pathways that build the brain/muscle memory we need to effectively repeat motions, and you are also building your confidence in your game. A good 10-15 minutes of visualization can be almost as effective as actually going to the bowling center to shoe up and practice. Visualization is effective before tournaments, to hone new skills you are working on in training, and to keep sharp during times of no practice due to injury or other commitments. Give it a try - it may be the best movie you ever watch.
Is Your Routine Routine Enough?
If we watch athletes in other sports, and many of those in bowling, there is a specific and unique pre-shot routine that occurs before every shot. You see it with basketball players at the free throw line. You see it with golfers before they hit their shots. Bowling should certainly be no exception. And hopefully all of you have some sort of pre-shot routine that you use, but do you use it every shot, every day? It is easy to compose your own mental and physical routine you are going to go through before a shot, but do you stick to that routine when you are angry, when you feel a pressure shot coming on, or when you get distracted? A good mental and physical pre-shot routine gets your mind and body ready to execute your best shot possible, so it certainly makes sense that you should go through this routine especially at times of anger, stress, or distraction. Spend some time refining your unique routine and practicing it in your trainings. Then be sure to let it help you by going through it routinely every single shot no matter what the situation is.
Go For The Goal!
Have you ever gone to your bowling center to practice and bowled three games for score? Of course you have. Every bowler has at some point. What did you learn? What did you improve? How did this make you a better bowler? Blunt questions, I know, but necessary ones. Other than inflating your ego because you bowled a great three game set, you probably got nothing out of your time. Make your practice time much more effective by setting goals for each training. Score keeping is not a necessary part of a good practice day. Working on specific skills to improve your game is. Choose one or two items in your game you are working on, and devote all of your time and attention that practice day to making them better. When you are focusing on one specific skill, evaluation of the shot should be based solely on that aspect. By doing this, you increase your general focus skills while also increasing your proficiency in that one item of your game. Let the score watching happen when it really counts - league night.
Wait On The Weight
It’s the laws of physics, not the laws of bowling. And as we all know, the laws of physics rule the world. The proper bowling ball weight is a big topic in our game. And usually, people tend to use a ball that is too heavy, thinking that it will knock down more pins. That would be true if it were thrown at the same speed as the previous lighter ball was, but normally this is not the case. Think about it - you are throwing a round object 60 feet to knock down almost 40 pounds of wood. That ball better have some speed! For youth and seniors, this is even more important. If you are debating between two different ball weights and you just can’t decide which one is better for you, go with the lighter choice. This will allow you to maintain good physical mechanics and give you the ability to throw it at a higher, more optimal speed to maximize pin action and carry.
Have A Game to Spare?
You probably don’t walk into leagues or tournaments thinking, “I sure hope I get a lot of spares today.” Well, you should. You are going to throw your fair share (or more hopefully) of strikes. But, what separates the winners from the losers usually comes down to spare conversions. Even in today’s game of higher rev rates, stronger bowling balls, and higher scores, this still rings true. If you look at the best players in the world, you will not find any poor spare shooters. It isn’t possible to be a consistent champion on challenging lane conditions without a solid spare game. Practicing spares is certainly not glamorous or fun, but it is definitely necessary to being a champion. Being good at any sport requires sacrifice and hard work that is usually not much fun, but just ask yourself one question.... “How much do I want this?”
The Fit Is It
The tools of any sport have a big impact on success or failure. It is not only about the athlete. And our main tool in bowling is our bowling ball. And the most important factor with the ball is how it fits your hand. The dynamics of the ball won’t much matter if you can’t repeat shots and throw it very well due to an improper fit or one that hasn’t been updated lately. However, with a really good fit, you can release the ball much more consistently and with minimal effort. This will, in turn, give your ball maximum reaction. An old but true saying is, “You can’t out bowl a bad fit, and I can’t out coach a bad fit.” Be sure to get your fit checked regularly by your pro shop professional to make sure it is always current for you and maximizing your athletic efforts.
Quality, Not Quantity
It is not a new phrase - I can’t take credit for it. But, it still carries a lot of truth. I certainly advocate practice on the lanes to improve the skills you are working to make better. However, doing a three hour practice marathon is not going to be as effective as you might think. Your body and brain are getting tired before you realize it, and then sloppiness takes over. I would much rather you practice three hours, but do one good hour three times a week. You will see much better results in your practices, and ultimately, in your leagues and tournaments. Plus it is usually easier to commit to an hour on a given day than it is to commit to three hours. So, do yourself and your game a favor and remember the old adage - Quality Truly Is More Important Than Quantity.
Your Opinion Counts
Whenever I work with teams, the most common problem I encounter is lack of communication. And the most common reason for this is a seemingly paralyzing fear of being wrong. Communicating the right information to your teammates is as simple as talking about what you see and about what you feel. How could you be wrong on those two things?? The best teams in any sport have open and constant communication with one another without judging or blaming each other when things don’t go well. Nothing is perfect, including good team communication. But without it, success is almost impossible. So, open your mouth and start spewing out that information to your teammates that you normally keep inside. You will soon see how productive it is and how much more fun it makes bowling.
Emotions Control Motion
How much time can you honestly say that you put into mental practice in your bowling game?
When you go to practice at your local center, you are most likely working on physical skills, spare shooting, lane play, etc. But what do you think controls the consistent motion of your body?
You got it - the brain. There are many facets of the mental game, and emotional control is a large part of it. Sometimes getting too excited about a performance can be more harmful than getting a little angry over a bad shot or a bad game.
The key is to keep all emotions, good and bad, to a controllable, minimum level. This will keep your mind calm to allow you to make better decisions, and it will give you the best chance at being more consistent with your physical game.
Slowing Down Is Not The Answer
One of the most common pieces of advice we hear in bowling is to “slow down.” Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, this advice usually is not the best. Slowing down not only doesn’t fix the issue, but more importantly, it reduces ball velocity, energy, and ultimately, pin carry. Speed is the number one factor in pin carry in our game, so why would we want to reduce that? I know I don’t! Find another solution to what is troubling your approach other than slowing down and you will maintain the velocity your bowling ball needs to knock down all that wood, your scores will increase, and so will your enjoyment!
Keep It Simplified
When working on changes in your game, it is very easy to get overwhelmed by having too many thoughts on the approach. As much as possible, work on no more than two things in a single practice session, and ideally, on only one. The more repetitions you put into one single thought and skill, the quicker it becomes more natural and automatic. Combining skills too early typically leads to frustration and delayed improvement. So, set a goal for your next practice session to get better at your timing, or your footwork, or your swing, or whatever is ailing your game. If you focus on only one thing (with no regard to scoring), you will come out of that practice session better than when you went in.
Free Swing? Mostly...
I think we can all agree that a free bowling swing is good for everyone. However, it cannot be 100% completely free, and for those who try, they probably encounter a few problems. You are holding an object that weighs up to 16 pounds in your hand, so there will inherently be some tension. But the goal is to minimize that as much as possible. If the swing is made too free, the two most common issues become early timing because the swing is too fast for the feet, and a wrist that flops around and doesn’t stay firm during the swing and release.
The Foul Line is Your Friend
Or more correctly stated, the foul line area is your friend. There is so much information available there that we consistently miss. How often do you look down after a shot to see what board your slide foot is on? Do you know how much lay down distance you have between your slide ankle and the bottom of the ball at release? Without these two pieces of information, it is impossible to be sure that you are playing the line you think you are playing. But, if you know this stuff, you can check to see if it matches up to the target and/or breakpoint you are trying to play. Oftentimes, bowlers are off by a few boards and this can make for confusion and frustration.
Don’t Bench Your Benchmark
Every bowler should have a benchmark, or medium, ball in their arsenal that is used to ‘read’ the pattern in practice. This is the ball that should always be used to start practice in any tournament, regardless of pattern. This ball should be smooth and predictable, and one that works on a variety of lane conditions. This ball will give you the best read as to what the lanes are doing that day. Then you can ball up or down depending on what it tells you. Starting with your most or least hooking ball can pin you in a corner, physically and mentally.
Maximize Your Area
There is no such thing as perfection, so stop trying for it. The goal in your bowling should be to throw great shots. And another goal should be to find the most area you can and use it! Every lane pattern and lane surface has ‘area potential’. It is your job as the bowler to find and maximize it. You do this by making the right decisions on ball choice, angle, speed, release, etc. If your opponent seems to have more area than you, don’t get angry - get even by doing the things he or she is doing better than you at that moment.