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Bowling Basics: Starting Tips for the Beginner

Updated on May 19, 2015


The game we know as bowling today is just as much a result of evolution as it is an invention. The rules and regulations associated with the game we know today were established in the late 19th century, more specifically, 1895. Since that time, it has expanded into every continent, and is now one of the most popular leisure and sporting activities in the world.

The primary athletic attributes it calls upon are precision, vision, and projective accuracy. Of secondary importance is endurance and strength. This article will give you an overview of the various aspects of what you will need to have, and what you should focus on developing as a beginner or novice level.

Bowling is a fun and relatively inexpensive sport.  Behind the fun, there is a science and art to getting good at it.
Bowling is a fun and relatively inexpensive sport. Behind the fun, there is a science and art to getting good at it. | Source

You Must Buy Your Own Ball

Every bowling alley will have plenty of house balls available for your temporary use. However, if you wish to improve your game, having your own ball is absolutely essential. The ones you see on the racks at the alley are usually donated by bowlers. There are various reasons these balls will not get you far on the path to improvement.

First, they have already seen better days, and will likely have developed scratches and tracks that fit the previous owner's preferred rotational track. The likelihood that your roll will be exactly the same as the previous owner is very slim, and the embedded tracks will affect your ability to perform your own roll on the ball. This is especially true for soft shelled balls.

The second reason has to do with the drilling of the finger holes. Finger holes are drilled to fit both the width of the bowler's finger, and also the hand length. Even with people whose hand has the same overall size, the variances of finger length to palm length ratio may be different. The odds of both your finger length and grip width matching up is also very slim. And a grip where you don't have to squeeze hard is essential for a good release.

Third, if you are a beginner or novice, you probably do not know much about the different brands and makes of balls and their performance characteristics - the shell hardness, whether it has side weight, its hooking index. When you go to the pro shop to buy your ball, the owner or employee will be knowledgeable, and will be able to guide you towards a ball fit for a novice.

If you have not yet purchased your own ball, and are using a house ball, you may or may not know that 16 lbs. is the maximum weight for a bowling ball. The lightest is 6 lbs. If you are not sure which weight you should use, this is a good guide. Extend your bowling arm straight out, palm up, and place the ball in your hand. If you can hold the ball up easily, it is too light. If your hand drops quickly, it is too heavy. If you have to struggle to hold it up straight, it is the ideal weight for you. Of course, if you can hold a 16 lb. ball up easily, you can't go any higher. Small children may not be able to hold even a 6 lb. ball. However, there will not be anything lighter, which is why small children often roll the ball between their legs with both hands. Most adult males will be able to use a 16 lb. ball. It is usually women and children that will fall into the in between weights.

Bowling alleys can vary widely in size, and general lane conditions.
Bowling alleys can vary widely in size, and general lane conditions. | Source

Buy Your Own Shoes

The importance of foot comfort and proper fit is often underestimated and not talked about as much as it should be in the realm of bowling. Your slide is an important part of your approach, and a quality shoe that fits you well will help ensure that you get a proper slide. House shoes are usually as substandard in performance as they are in appearance. If you are on a budget, or just do not wish to spend that much money on both the ball, the carrying case, and your shoes, prioritize buying the ball first, if at all possible. You can get by for a time using house shoes, but get them as soon as you can.

Your Approach

The importance of a good approach cannot be overstated. This is akin to the windup for a pitcher in baseball. This is the base of the motion chain involved in bowling. A poor approach will lead to a poor swing, which will lead to a poor release, that will result in you completely missing your aim.

In your strides to improve, I would recommend you do several practice sessions at open bowling, focusing solely on your approach. Don't worry about how many pins you knock down, just concentrate on maintaining your approach.

Your approach should be smooth, fluid, and deliberate. This is where and why the ideal ball weight is essential. If it is too heavy, you will not be able to keep your swing under control. You will end up torquing your shoulders, and throwing yourself slightly off balance. The weight of the ball must be under the complete control of your arm at all times. Smoothness and fluidity cannot be overstated. Any sudden, rough, jerking movements can throw your shoulders out of balance and force you to miss your aim.

You Must Learn to Throw a Hook

Turn on ESPN or a network when a professional bowling tournament is taking place. Go to a bowling alley when there is a league bowling and pick up their weekly league sheet at the counter. If the league consists mainly of bowlers with high averages, go and observe them. None of them will be throwing a straight ball. None of the professionals on television throw a straight ball. Some of these people may have only a slight hook, but there absolutely will be a hook in their delivery.

There are advantages and disadvantages to throwing a large hook or a bend versus a small hook. However, there is absolutely no advantage to throwing a straight ball. You need angular momentum turning in to the pocket - which is the space between the head pin and the two or three pin, depending on whether you are left or right handed. When the ball hits the pocket, there will be a slight deflection, altering the path of the ball. This is especially true the lighter the ball is. A straight ball hitting the pocket has a much higher likelihood of being deflected away from the five pin directly behind the head pin. It also will result in inferior pin action around the outside and corner pins, increasing the likelihood of splits, and/or leaving the 7 or 10 pin. Angular momentum going towards the pocket will make the ball carry through the middle pins, allowing them to knock down the end pins.

Having your own bowling ball is important to improving your game.  It is fitted to your hand, and you will be familiar with its behavior.
Having your own bowling ball is important to improving your game. It is fitted to your hand, and you will be familiar with its behavior. | Source

Line of Sight - Look at the Arrows

A common mistake made by beginners and novices is that they throw off their aim by looking in the wrong place. It seems logical to look at the pins when you are delivering your shot, because they are your ultimate target.

However, this is incorrect. While you want to knock down the pins, you need something closer to learn to aim for in order to make sure your ball will go to the right eventual target. Enter the arrows in the middle of the lane. Bowling is a game of projection. You project the speed, angle, and rotation necessary to get the ball to the pocket. The pins are 60 feet away, while the arrows are only 15 feet from the foul line. Projecting your shot from a closer immediate target will make things far easier in the long run.

Spare Conversions Are Just as Important as Strikes

We all know, even the greatest bowler of all time does not get a strike every time, in every game. Therefore, in order to reach and maintain a high average, learning how to pick up spares is just as important as developing a good, powerful strike ball.

If you bowl a clean game, which is a game where you leave no open frames, with ten spares and no strikes, and get a decent pin count on the first ball, you can actually get a higher score than bowling a game where you get six strikes and four open frames. What separates the bowler with the 210 average from the 190 average is usually strike frequency, but what separates the 150 average bowler from the 190 average is most often spare conversion.
An open frame, especially in the ninth or tenth frame, can be a score killer.

A basic rule about picking up spares is it should be done cross alley. If you have the 6-10 spare, do not attempt to throw a straight ball near the gutter. Instead, stand to the left side of the lane, and aim for about the third arrow on the right. The further right you have to aim, the further left on the lane you should stand, and vice versa.

If you have three pins next to each other in a line, like the 2-4-7, aim between the 2 pin and the 4 pin, to "cover" the spare. Do not aim for the right side of the 2 pin. If your angle is just a bit off, the 4 pin will not deflect correctly and will miss the 7 pin. Always "cover" your spares, with the exception of splits, where covering them all is not possible.

© 2015 Cerebral Aspect


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