Bowling has always appealed to me. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the time to devote to really learning to bowl. I mean, I can hold my own with other non-bowlers. I even took my girlfriend to the bowling alley a couple of times and managed to not make a fool of myself. I’ve always been athletically inclined, playing sports all the way through high school and college.
I never considered bowling to be a game that was heavy on technique. It was just a game you played, as much for the socializing and camaraderie as for the game itself. Which is why I was thoroughly deflated when I tried to play with buddies of mine who had been playing for a long time. I had just assumed my athleticism would carry me through. It turns out that I was clueless to the nuances of bowling technique. My competitive nature rose to the challenge. I found an instructor and went to work.
To learn the best bowling techniques as a beginner I turned to many resources and, for better or worse, started with the most fundamental aspect of the game: the equipment.
Golf shoes are a must. The highly polished floors of the lane and the approach area are slippery. The soles of golf shoes help one to glide through the approach and the rougher heal aids in stopping at the foul line. Street shoes will damage the finish in this area.
The bowling ball must fit the hand properly, as well as be the correct weight for optimal bowling. A general rule of thumb, according to some experts, is that the ball should not exceed 10 percent of the bowler’s weight. (Personally, I did not find this to be a useful guide.) The thumb should fit snugly into the hole but have room to turn. The middle fingers should fit into the holes exactly and there should be a slight space between the palm of the hand and the ball.
I invested in a 14-pound ball with a polyurethane covering. The plastic balls available in commercial centers do not work as well for hook shots, I learned (more on that later).
The ball should be held with both hands, the bowling hand held close to the body, just above waist level, and gently supported by the other hand. The player should stand erect, knees very slightly bent.
There are two approaches to shooting a straight ball (the name of this basic shot): the four-step approach and the five-step approach. To determine starting position, the player should begin at the foul line and, facing away from the pins, take four and a half or five and a half steps, depending on the approach chosen. This will bring the bowler to a line of dots that are meant to indicate where he stands. There is a dot on every fifth board. You want to stand with the left foot lined up with the middle dot. The half-step is for the slide: on the last step, the left foot goes forward and the right slides behind the bowler’s body four-step approach is the more common. In executing this approach, the player “pushes off,” moving the right hand and right foot forward in synchrony. (I’m right-handed, so these instructions are for right-handed bowlers. For lefties, everything is reversed.) The half-step mentioned above is for the “slide” as it’s called. On the last step, the left foot is forward and the right foot slides behind the bowler.
The swing should be timed with the movement of the feet, the bowling arm lowering and moving slightly forward in a single, flowing movement, as the right foot steps forward, then going backward for the back swing, then forward for the release.
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As the arm comes forward from the backswing, the ball is released when the arm is lined up with the ankle. The thumb is the first finger to release from the ball. The arm continues forward for the follow through. During execution of this movement, the shoulders remain square and the wrist and forearm face forward firmly (no twisting action here). The bowler’s aim during the approach and release is between the second and third arrows, markings painted on the lane to line up with the dots at the starting point. As a lane is 18 meters long, aiming for the pins places too much distance between player and target. The arrows are painted at four meters from the foul line, making for an easier mark to aim for.
One of the biggest mistakes beginning bowlers make, and I was guilty myself, is to aim for the pins. Accuracy is greatly enhanced by aiming at the arrows. This one change made a significant improvement in my game almost immediately.
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I must confess that I had never paid attention to the dots, the number of steps I took as I approached or even moving my arm and foot in synchrony. I had always just played the way that felt right to me. And, it had served me well, except for those situations where one or two pins was left standing. My second shot tended to be hit or miss, and I now know that this was due to my lack of technique.
For a right-handed bowler, the surest way to hit a strike (knock all the pins down) with a straight ball is to hit pins 1 and 3, called the 1-3 pocket. For left-handed bowlers, you would want your ball to hit the 1-2 pocket. But, what if you don’t hit a strike? Maybe one or two balls are still standing. The technique for this situation is called the 3-6-9 Rule. For every ball to the right, we position ourselves three boards to the left. For every ball to the left, we position ourselves three boards to the right. Our aim remains the second arrow.
I must confess that my biggest challenge is timing. As someone who considered himself athletic, it is frustrating to say the least. At times, I feel that my coordination has abandoned me entirely. Step forward with right foot, bring right arm down and forward, left foot forward, right arm moving back… It is like trying to dance with a girl without stepping on her feet. I’m happy to say that that feeling is disappearing with practice.
More Advanced Bowling Techniques
- Hook Ball
- Curve Ball
- Back Up Ball
The hook shot is the one that most consistently produces strikes. My own experience (once I regained my coordination) has supported this. In this shot, the hand and wrist are turned inward, facing the body. During the follow-through, the hand is in the handshake position.
The curve ball is an exaggerated form of the hook ball. However, it is difficult to control and therefore, if not executed properly, it allows too much room for error.
The back up ball, as its name implies, is rarely used. The shot is executed from left to right, in exactly the opposite order of a straight ball (which would mean that a left-handed bowler would shoot it right to left).
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Next Steps and Where to Purchase Equipment
When you’re ready to make the leap, you can read these articles to learn what bowling equipment we recommend for every different kind of player and choose what suits you better. We try to review the best bowling equipment in the market every few weeks to keep up-to-date with the current trends.