Monday, March 24, 2008

What do I do First? Next?

Create a checklist for your pre-shot, set-up and approach.

I suggest your pre-shot routine contain: (as you no doubt do now) a mental review of the last shot on a particular lane (specifically, what did the ball do on this right lane (or left lane)), were you satisfied with the reaction and how you threw the ball, do you need to make a small adjustment, which ball will be thrown and can you picture, in your mind, the path through your target to the pocket? Next, pick up the ball you've chosen and wipe it free of oil and obvious dirt. Take a deep breath, exhale.

Whether your pre-shot or set-up contains putting your hand in the ball, do it. Feel the grip, is it FREE of grip pressure? No change in tightness of the holes, not experiencing any swelling, stickiness or slickness? Proceed to your set-up. Return to the starting point on the approach that gives you the best opportunity to roll the ball on the path you've chosen. Get into your stance, take a deep breath, exhale, feel some flex in the knees, observe the correct distance between your shoes (one or two boards, a couple, always see exactly the same distance). Make sure your feet, therefore your body, is aimed to allow the swing path you plan for your arm and the ball. Get the ball positioned (hand under, to the side, whatever), as you take another deep breath. As you exhale, relax then move into your first step.

You've started your approach, all the practice and league games have taught your body to throw a bowling ball, let your body do the job you've taught it. Micro managing any part of your approach begs for glitches, this is the time for execution not planning or readjustment.

Focus on your target and see the ball pass through (over) it. Look down at your footwork, is your slide foot at the point you planned (expected), are you in balance? Opposite foot up or on the ground? What is normal for you? If you put the ball on the target, executed the shot as planned, checked and your slide was on the money, look up, because the ball is hitting the pocket just the way you wanted. X. Now, this is bowling, not one shot perfection like golf, get up and do it again, and again, and again....

What does College Wrestling have to do with Bowling?

I spent most of the weekend observing the NCAA Division 1 College Wrestling Championships in St. Louis MO. Some of these dedicated young men completed careers that started in a kid’s club program 10, 15, 20 years ago, as early as the age of 4 or 5.

Though I've seen my own boys experience the camaraderie of sports teams, successful wrestling teams often have lightweights (103 in High School, 125 in College) quick as lightening throwing themselves all around to heavy weights (capped at 285 in College) that sometimes barely can move each other (but often can lift and throw each other). Yet, the vastly different sized athletes have one thing in common; they must win, to win as a team.

But each match is a 6 to 7 minute (plus) battle (sometimes WAR) with occasionally no clear winner. The referee must determine if the match was executed according to the rules. The referee determines penalties, evaluates intent, measures degree (sometimes of injury or likely injury). What does College wrestling have to do with Bowling? First, NO referee in Bowling (just a foul light).

I observed athletes (late teens to mid twenties) maximizing years of weight management (controlling their body weight) to utilize the most size, strength, and agility for their weight class. When did you last hear of a bowler working out?

These kids, molding their bodies with weightlifting/weight training, hours of drilling and live wrestling to achieve for themselves the best possible physical shape, flexibility, and stamina.

Once the physical aspect is addressed, think about understanding and mastering the myriad of wrestling techniques to take down, turn to the back, escape from or control an opponent. How many bowlers do you know that have more than one hand position to release the ball with? Or, a bowler that starts at one place and never moves, all night long, no matter what the ball is doing, or how the lane is influencing the action.

I have seen young men end their careers, inches, seconds, heartbeats away from achieving an NCAA Individual National Championship and straighten up and shake their opponent’s hand, often with a word of congratulations. How can these young men stand the heartbreak? How do they overcome the injuries? How do they stand the frustration? How do they overcome the disappointment? How do they tolerate when, occasionally, one of the aforementioned referees makes a bad call, giving a Championship to one instead of the other? How can a Bowler complain about ANYTHING?

Whatever the cause (some suggest Title IX, lack of fan $$upport, liability, some people just don't understand) wrestling at the highest levels in the U.S. is NOT expanding and flourishing (while it continues to expand and flourish at High School and lower levels). Bowling is the #1 indoor activity in the country. Bowling leagues, organized competition, have diminished dramatically in the last 10 years. I'd love to know the answer to the question "Where have all the league bowlers gone?"

We certainly don't have to train hard. We can buy "tools" (balls/equipment) that improves our ability to compete. We control our environment with those "tools." Our environment has gotten easier and easier. We don't have to be big and strong (Pete Weber, Norm Duke, Carolyn Dorin-Ballard), or small and agile (Mika, Walter Ray Williams, Jr., Steve Cook) to play at a very high level.

Whatever it is about wrestling, that has the athletes love it so much, we need a little in Bowling (or maybe a little more). But, I'd guess that the true greats: Dick Weber, Earl Anthony, Walter Ray, Don Carter, Petey, Duke, (the list goes on and on) would have been great wrestlers too.

I have had the pleasure of seeing some truly amazing bowlers bowl, and they were flawless. Not just pretty solid, or better than average, FLAWLESS. Years after his retirement, Earl Anthony, working for a lane supply company, showed how it was done. After YEARS in retirement, each delivery was identical, each slide was exact, each ball struck. I'm pretty good, he was god! WOW!

So, if you come across any wrestlers ask them to join a bowling league. Or just compliment them on the tremendous drive it must take to compete in their sport and take them out to eat (most have to cut weight so they don't eat too much at any one time!). Good Bowling.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

From A House Ball To What?

If you learn to throw a curve with a basic plastic ball, you've actually learned to hook the ball. If you can hook plastic you can hook anything.

Bowling balls are tools.

The more expensive the ball, the more it can do (the more it will do whether you want it to or not). When you learn with a performance ball, you learn what the ball can do, not what you can do to a ball.

Learn what you can get a ball to do, and you will NOT be a straight ball bowler anymore.

Have the store/ball driller look at how you roll a houseball, get an idea of what you do by observing your delivery and ball track on the ball. That should help the driller get an idea of what your general game is about.

As a pro shop operator and ball driller, my job is to make bowlers better. Since the bowling ball technology explosion, I've noticed many a bowler wanting to knock down more pins but with out the objective to be better, just better equipped. Better equipment is a very short term, quick fix.
Lanes change, other bowlers get in the way, etc. what to do next?

The frustration from being unable to control the lane either translates to a bowler becoming a ball-a-holic, buying new balls at every opportunity (something some stores LOVE), or just feeling so incapable that even though you've invested in top flight equipment, you've not improved your physical skills, so you don't improve significantly as a bowler, and you quit.

One of the reasons I do this, is to help others enjoy a sport I love, but a sport that demands more than just the latest ball. Tiger Woods didn't become a superstar because he got old enough to buy really expensive clubs!

Unfortunately, to use another golf analogy, bowling centers are putting out lane conditions that are way easier then they used to be, much like a green tapered into the hole like a giant funnel (we'd have a great short game then). Some centers put out lane conditions that funnel bowling balls to the pocket (head pin).

So, what I've seen lately, is the right ball, directed to the pocket by easy lanes, translates into (some) good games. But the wrong ball (maybe even the same ball), on different lanes (a ball hooking a little too much or not quite enough), a bad night and someone with a decent average looks like a beginner.

If you can't figure out what to do other than change balls, your not a bowler, just someone who bowls.

The membership organization of bowling (in the USA), the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) is pressing forward encouraging bowling centers to make available coaches to its bowlers. Even the bowling proprietors organization (Bowling Proprietors Association of America, BPAA), is encouraging a concept being called The Skills Center to encourage players to upgrade their skills not just equipment.