Sunday, October 21, 2007

Something Cool!

I just bought a new ball yesterday (more about that once I've bonded with it), but a new feature that was available is a removable thumb plug.

It's a two-piece system with two cylinders: the outer one is glued into the ball in the same way that any other thumb plug is done. The inner cylinder holds the grip. You unlock it by twisting it 90 degrees, and put it back the same way.

Why is this cool?

Two reasons:

One, say you're working with a ball, and put in tape FINALLY getting the right feel. Then you end up in a situation where you have to change balls (e.g., for a edge-spare, etc.). Getting the other ball taped in exactly the same way is not quick or really feasible, but with this handy-dandy contraption, you'll have the same thumb fit
for both balls.

The other situation I thought of is if you absolutely need an adjustment in how the thumb is drilled for a change in release. You can use different plugs (slightly bigger or smaller, slight change in thumb pitch) for different circumstances. If you have three plugs and four balls, it's like having twelve balls in your arsenal at any given time!

Here's the manufacturer's page.

Something that would help... :-)

OK - there are times when it would be nice to make adjustments AFTER the release!


Wow - one of my recurring nightmares... :-)

Well, at least he still won...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

For Pete's Sake - SLOW DOWN!

The last two lessons I've had have been extremely interesting. Last week I was 10 minutes into one of the best sessions yet, and I threw my back out (ouch!), so we turned the rest of the hour into a discussion ABOUT bowling instead. So that was cool.

Today, I've had another great lesson. I'm FINALLY starting to see my release "work" and my follow through is not too bad. What feels like me topping the ball apparently isn't - so part of the problem is that I've been holding back on getting around the ball at the point of release worrying that I was forcing too much spin on it.

However, the biggest change has been that I'm going far too fast getting to the foul line. This has always been an issue because it seems counter-intuitive to me for two reasons. First, momentum is carried to the ball when you go from your approach to stopping at the foul line, so one would THINK that speed means more momentum, and greater ball velocity means more kinetic energy put onto the pins. Second, getting to a stopped position in advance of the ball should mean that you can come through your shot more.

But it's not as simple as that because, well - timing is everything. You can beat your arm swing to the line, but then you run the risk of forcing the shot. Also, overcoming all that inertia is tough and what typically happens is that you'll start rise into your shot.

If you're rising into your shot, odds are you're rushing to the line. SLOW DOWN! :-)

So, I really forced myself to slow down on the last two steps - not so much that I exaggerated it, but enough that it SEEMED a little more "leisurely" than I would have usually taken it.

Big improvement - the release started happening more in synch, and my follow through was greatly improved.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Something to Try if Your Shot is Veering Off...

I've been working on my release for months. I'm a slow learner. :-)

Anyway, one of the problems I encounter is that while I'm trying to get my thumb out of the ball in time and then get my fingers around the ball, I end up either dipping my ball-side shoulder which sends the ball out away from the pocket, or bringing my palm over the ball which sends it "Brooklyn".

Working with my coach yesterday, he suggested something that has worked fairly well.

When you get into your set up stance, relax your ball-side knee so that your body shifts placing your head over the same vertical line as the ball. This also has the effect of getting your hip out of the way which lets you actually keep the ball closer to your body AND stay in line with your target. You do have to be careful not to turn it into a lean as you approach the foul line.

(Diagram to come.)

Something That Bugs Me About the USBC

So, in their training manuals for coaching, they almost universally discuss topics from the perspective of right-handed bowlers, only once in a while mentioning left-handed bowlers as an afterthought.


The concepts are the same - just the positions are mirror-images of each other.

To get around this, I try to use "ball hand/side" and "non-ball hand/side". That way any instructions use the same language regardless of the handedness of the bowler.

Maybe we can update the outdated manuals with more consistent terminology in future revisions.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

This is just a test to see how video works.

Just a test to see how video works. Thanks to my coach for being the guinea pig. :-)

I received a digital video camera for my birthday. Wanted to see how well it'd work in the bowling alley. Hopefully, we'll be able to make some short videos that highlight some of the things to watch for.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Chameleon PBA Pattern

So, my PBA Experience league has started (yay!) and we've started out with the Chameleon pattern. During the Summer, I enjoyed this pattern but this time around I find I'm struggling.

It's a 39-foot pattern which is around what most "house" patterns are. The oil is much heavier out on the edges than house patterns though - there's where the challenge is because you can't play the edges as consistently as you might expect. I generally play a "down and in" game, so it's mostly the case of finding the right angle into the pocket, making adjustments as the oil shifts.

What I'm finding difficult is that if I try to "ride the cliff" of oil out around the 2nd arrow (board 10), the trajectory of the ball sends it Brooklyn (across the head pin). Moving towards the center doesn't help as much as I'd like since then the ball is traveling through thicker oil and skids further out (esp. as more carry down is laid out) and I can't establish a consistent angle into the pocket. That leaves an outside shot (as many as 10-12 boards out, moving my target 5-6 boards) and finding the sweet spot through experimentation (not a great strategy when you're 6 frames in on the second game and it's a close game!).

But that's the fun and challenge of sport bowling!

Asking Santa for Beginner Bowling "Stuff"

Well, I saw Xmas decorations today for the first time this year (yeah, it's not even October yet!), so, now's as good a time as any to talk about the sorts of things you might want to pick up for yourself (or better, have someone get for you) in terms of bowling gear.

First, there are bowling balls. I could write several articles on this (and at some point will), but let's talk about what you might look for in a "first" ball. Here, the overriding consideration is comfort which largely comes about just from having a ball drilled to match your hand. Of course a well-fitting ball will also defintely improve your game too - it's not uncommon for someone's average to move up 10-20 pins after switching from a "house" ball to one of their own.

Many bowlers are tempted to get something that "looks cool" or matches their personality in some way. Of course that has nothing whatsoever to do with your game, but it can make it more fun. Almost all of the "fun" balls share the same characteristics: symmetric core, plastic coated, etc. What that means is that there's usually nothing about the ball that intrinsically makes it arc (bank, curve, etc.) other than your own release (which most beginners haven't mastered) but as I said before the main reason for beginners to get a ball is to have a piece of equipment custom-fit instead of having to deal with whatever ball you can find on the rack each time you bowl.

OK - so what weight should you get? I find many people shy away from heavier balls because they're not used to them. This often means that they haven't developed the right arm swing because they feel the ball either because their timing is off or because they're putting muscle into releasing the ball. The unfortunate trade-off here is that the more mass the ball has, the more momentum it carries down the lane (which can be adjusted through altering the ball speed). So what you'll see is that with people using light balls (under 14 pounds) hits that might've been strikes aren't able to transfer momentum from the ball to the pins to knock them all down and you're left with 8- or 9-drops instead.

One test for working out the right weight is to take a house ball of known weight, put your fingers in the holes, but hold the ball supported in your palm. If you can hold it there for several seconds without discomfort (from gravity) then it's not too heavy. Ideally, adults should try to have a ball that's a least 14 pounds. Kids may need a lighter ball - there's a "rule of thumb" of "weight equals age", e.g., 10 pounds for a 10-yr old, but that's really just a very rough suggestion.

Where to get a ball? If you're just aiming to get a plastic ball, then you can get great deals online (eBay, etc.). Take your ball to your local pro shop and have them fit it to your hand.

OK - let's talk about shoes. You can get shoes for as low as $30-$40 which is a great investment since they'll pay for themselves in shoe rental fees within the course of a bowling season. Most are made for both left/right handed bowlers, and nowadays there are lots of styles to pick from.

However, I would definitely recommend the STS line from Dexter. They're expensive ($150-$200) BUT that have a great feature: the soles and heels are removable (they're attached with Velcro), which gives you two advantages. First, you can change the sole/heel combination for different slides (great when you bowl in more than one house), but more importantly, you only have to replace the sole or heel when they get worn down - just order a replacement for $15-$20 and slap it on. That way a pair of shoes will last for several years and will be nearly "new" the entire time. They're also wider which gives you a more steady balance at the foul line.

You'll want to keep your soles CLEAN. Get a wire brush or 50-weight sandpaper and frequently check to make sure that dirt hasn't accumulated on the soles. If you want a lot of slide brush "up and down" from the toes to the heel. If you want less slide, brush "side to side". Also, definitely get show covers! Damages from spilled liquids can not only ruin your shoes, but also can cause you to fall on your face on the approach (and remember to take them off before bowling too).

What else is important? Something to clean your ball. There are lots of lotions and polishes - ask your pro shop guy for recommendations as to which is best for your ball on the conditions you bowl on. Having a few bowling towels are great - you should try to wipe off the excess oil before each shot. A bowling bag is nice because it help you keep everything organized.

I didn't mention wrist braces. Over time I've come to the understanding that they're more of a hinderance than a help UNLESS you have a medical condition that requires the support. If you have a problem with your wrist breaking, it's something you can work on both through some wrist exercies with 5- or 10-pound dumbells and also by adjust your hand position to work against the break. The brace makes it harder to break your wrist, but there are times you WANT to slightly loosen your wrist for certain conditions, plus having the brace on moves the ball away from the surface of your palm, giving you less control over the release. Right now I'm bowling for the first time in years without a brace, and my game hasn't suffered - in fact I'm finding that my accuracy and consistency has improved.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bowling Point Systems - Who's Winning?

Another thing that differs from league to league is how they handle wins and losses. You might hear that a league uses an "eight point system" or "seven point system" or a "match point system". You'll DEFINTELY hear people asking each other "How many polints did you take tonight?"

The 7 and 8 point systems are the easiest. For each game, whichever team has the highest total handicap score for their players gets two points. Why two? Because it's easier to deal with in the case of a tie - then each team gets one point. So, three games times two possible points equals six. The last one or two points comes from whichever team has the highest total handicap score for the night. Rankings in the leagues are based upon cumulative points over the season.

That might be easy to calculate but it can be insanely frustrating when one of your bowlers has just had one of their best games ever, or even an entire night of bowling WAY over average to discover that the team took few or even NO points! In 100% handicap leagues this can happen if one team is "giving pins" to the other because of a handicap inbalance (all low average bowlers on one team versus higher-average bowlers on the other). If the low average team has an "OK-to-good" night they could collectively swamp higher-average bowlers who are bowling at or just above average, even if one team member has a great game. Hmmmmm.

The other system - match points - is a LOT more complicated but really makes things more competitive and rewarding. In this case the line-up of bowlers on each team is more important because now you're both playing as part of a team and are also competing against someone on the opposing team directly: player one vs. player one, two vs. two and so on.

For each game, a point is awarded to each team member who beats the person "across" from him/her in the roster. Usually the rosters are ordered in increasing average, though some leagues let team captains adjust the order themselves. Like the 7 and 8 point systems, points are also awarded to the team as a whole for each game. At the end of the night, individual totals are compared as well as team totals. The number of total points varies from league to league depending on how many points are assigned for each of these things, but usually it's one point for each player vs. player for each game, one for player vs. player overall, two points for team game, and two or three points for team overall.

So, for a three-person team that would be 3 people x 3 games + 3 people overall + 2 points x 3 team games + (say) 3 team overall = 9 + 3 + 6 + 3 = 21 points for the night. Similarly a 4-person team would have 12 + 4 + 6 + 3 = 25 points for the night. The effect of this more-complicated system is that it's MUCH more difficult for one team to walk away with all of the points on a night. So, while the newbie team vs. the old timers might go 8-0 for the newbies if they have a good night, in a match point system good individual games will tend to "win back" points making that 8-0 win into a 16-5 or 14-7 win. This also has the effect of making the rankings TIGHTER - so that the teams up at the top of the rankings are so far away that no one can catch them.

This past summer I was in a PBA Experience league, and at the end of the season was in 4th place. In the last week, we played the position round against the 3rd place team, captained by my coach. It was a match point league, and as it ended up, I was playing against my own coach! We had a great night (well, my team did), I beat my coach 4-0 for individual points, and we ended up jumping over third place to 2nd to finish the league! In a more conventional point system we could've found ourselves locked out of 2nd place or even 3rd.

So once you have your bowling "feet wet" and might be shopping for a league, make sure to find out what point system they use. The more complicated ones might sound scary and confusing, but they'll also give you more opportunities to score some memorable victories!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

OK - so how do I know where to aim?

One of the first things you want to establish is a "home" position on the approach. From here you'll make any alterations for attacking spares, or adjusting to changing lane conditions.

Going back to the diagram of the lane markings:

you'll recall that the lanes are 39 inches wide, and each board is about one inch wide, so there are 39 boards across with #20 being the center board (#1 is on the right for right handed bowlers, and on the left for lefties).

The basic rule-of-thumb for beginner bowlers is to set up around board 15-17, trying to put your ball such that it rolls over the third (from the gutter, in) arrow. So, how do you "set up"?

For a four-step approach, if you're right-handed you put your NON-BALL foot "on" board 15 (it will have a dot) such that the inside edge (facing your other leg) is also along the crack between board 15 and 16. Your BALL foot should be 2 inches apart (two boards!) and half-way "back". In a five-step approach, swap the roles of the ball and non-ball foot. (In case it wasn't clear, by "BALL" foot, I mean the foot on the side of your body that's has the ball: right foot for righties, left foot for lefties. I try to use ball and non-ball so as to avoid having to give separate references for each handedness).

Here, the set up for a left-hander is with white feet, for a right-hander, grey.

Next, as you complete your delivery, follow through with your ball arm such that the ball "goes over" the third arrow. If things are aligned for your stance (and ignoring horrible lane conditions) you should hit close to if not in the pocket.

Some things might require additional alterations. First, if you have a small or large frame then board 15 might not be the best fit. Move inward if you have a larger frame (if the ball is crossing the head pin too much, i.e., "going Brooklyn"), or out if you have a smaller frame or the ball isn't reaching the pocket. You might also be drifting (I'll tackle that in another post).

With some experimentation you should find things centering around one particular board, and can use that as your "home" position for pocket-target shots. From this, every single adjustment can be made - for spares, splits, and to handle changing lane conditions. Try it out!

What's with all the Dots and Arrows?

You've seen them every time you get up to bowl: dots and arrows are EVERYWHERE, but no one ever told you what they were for! They probably have something to do with aiming, but since you're just looking at the pins and hurling the ball at them, you don't know how to use them!

Aha - well, they ARE incredibly useful, and once you understand what they're all about, you'll finding yourself relying on those lane markings more and more.

First, even the approach itself has information you can use. Let's start there. Every lane on EVERY bowling alley has common characteristics. One of them is that the boards are (on average) one inch wide. There are 39 of them from the edge of each gutter. If you're one of those people who like to think in terms of the properties of odd numbers, it means there's a central board: #20.

NOW, unfortunately, there are two ways of numbering the boards. Right-to-left and left-to-right. Most people go right to left, because they're right handed bowlers. Left-handed bowlers tend to place board #1 as the left-most board and work from there. For EVERYONE though, board 20 is board 20. Yay. If you look at lane close up, there will either be five dots on the deck or seven (that difference depends on which lane manufacture built your bowling center and to some extent when it was done). Each of these dots are five boards (so about five inches) apart, and mark boards numbered 10, 15, 25, and 30 (or also 5 and 35). At the foul line, the same dots usually appear on the same boards. The dot on board #20 is sometimes slightly larger, making it easier to find your place.

These are the map of the lanes for showing the location of the dots on the approach. One set is mid-way so you can use them to set yourself up with the ball, the other set is just at the foul line. This allows you to either check to make sure you're not drifting during your approach, or to set up deliveries that aren't parallel to the pins.

But the dots on the apporach are a tool, even for the most inexprienced bowler. Why? Because it allows you to set up in the same place when you want a consistent delivery (typically for strike shots applying no adjustments). By being as consistent as possible you'll improve your game. So, with a little practice to find the right "spot" on the approach based upon where the dots are, you can be more confident that you're starting off right.

Out yonder - on the lane - there are seven arrows. They are on the SAME boards as the dots, centered on board 20, spaced 5 boards apart. They're another important tool because they tell you where to aim. Most beginner bowlers tend to look at the pins setting up the and executing the delivery - that's natural since they're the ultimate target. However, the arrows give you an advantage: they're only 15 feet away, whereas the pins are 60 feet away! So, your targeting precision is greatly increased using the arrows for targeting instead of the pins themselves, especially for picking up spares. The right combination of starting position and target, in combination with making adjustments for lane conditions, will increase your chances of making any spare or split (some like the 7-10 will still fall under "slim" :-) but you'll have that more of a fighting chance).

There are other markings too - small dots closer to the gutters - five on each side. They're also for setting targets, typically for more advanced targeting using angles.

Most of the medium- and high-average bowlers use these markings as fundamental tools. The more you learn, the more you can compete on their turf. :-)

More to come.

So - what's a handicap?

Almost as soon as you get close to a league that's about to get started bowling, you'll overhear the word "handicap."

Other sports like golf also have handicaps.

In bowling, it's a way of fudging the scores to put everyone on (nearly) the same playing field so that a team made completely up bowlers with higher averages than most of the people in the league can't overwhelm the competition and win most of the prize money. So in "handicap" leagues (as opposed to "scratch" leagues), everyone's score is adjusted upwards a certain amount based upon your average.

Three numbers go into the calculation: your average, an upper limit set by the league, and a percentage that determines how "flat" the playing field is intended to be.

The upper limit usually corresponds to some average that no one in the league is expected to exceed (although it does happen). Something around 200 is common. (If someone's average does reach above the limit then their handicap defaults to zero.)

The percentage is also set by the league. If it's set to 100% then everyone - no matter what their average is - is basically playing against their average. If the team's total points are X above their combined averages, then X has to be higher than how well the other team did collectively. This is even more important in "match" style leagues (see the posting on point systems), since there each player is also competing against a single play on the other team TOO!

So, if your average is 120, and the league gap is 200 with 100% handicap, then your handicap is 200 - 120 (x 100%) = 80. Someone else with a 180 average would be 200 - 180 (x 100%) = 20. That means for every game, 80 is added to your score, and 20 for the guy/gal with the 180 average.

So then why would any league want to set the percentage to less than 100%? Well, while the complete handicap makes things average neutral, since there's a limit to how much your score can go up at any point in the game given whatever circumstances exist, it is much easier for a low-average bowling in a 100% handicap league to pull ahead of a high-average bowler, since there are far fewer opportunities to get more pins.

Say for example we have two people, one with a 120 average, and the other with a 180 average. A person can bowl 120 with just a few marks in a game:

8- [ 8] 7/ [ 24] 62 [ 32] 9- [ 41] 8/ [ 60] 9- [ 69] X [ 87] 53 [ 95] 8/ [112] 71 [120]

in this case, one strike and 3 spares. So there are six frames where opens, were they converted to spares would give 0-10 pins extra, but mostly in the 6-10 count range. If you work things out, basically it ends up that for each extra mark, you gain 10 pins (for spares). So, to have a "really good game" 20-30 pins over average (or more!), you just need to go from three marks to five and STILL have four open frames in a game!

The 180 bowler has it harder. To get 180, you basically can only afford two - MAYBE three opens in a whole game.
But the "ten pins per converted open" still applies. With eight marks - there isn't much room to get those 20-30 pins, unless spares start to become consecutive strikes (which both increase the score and forgive remaining open frames) and that means cutting down the number of balls thrown (i.e., opportunities for good shots --- even 180 bowlers have issues they're working on!).

So let's say that the 120-bowler has a good game and scores 150. Your handicap (from above) is 80, so you've shot a 230 game. The 180 guy also had a good game - 208! His handicap is only 20, so that's 228. He just LOST by 2 pins despite beating you by 58 scratch!

In a 90% handicap league, you still end up with a much higher handicap: 200 - 120 (x 90%) = 80 x 90% = 72 (fractions are truncated). For the 180 bowler: 20 x 90% = 18. Now your score is 150 + 72 = 222, and his is 208 + 18 = 226 and now he's won by 4 pins.

If most of the people in a league are beginners or low-experience bowlers, then 100% handicaps are easier to use, and don't have much of a effect against the higher-average bowlers (also adjusting the cap can loosen or tighten things). For a wide variety of bowlers in a league, I'd suggest a 90% handicap - it doesn't overly hurt the low-average bowlers because over time they tend to advance in average more quickly (look how many first-year bowlers win "Most Improved Average" awards!) and start to "catch up" to their more-seasoned competitors or team mates.

It's NEVER Too Late to Start Bowling!

I didn't get into bowling until I was almost 40, when I joined my first league.

The funny thing is that I've been bowling off and on since I was a kid. In fact, my home town had the three most-popular "kinds" of bowling in the US: "ten pin" (big balls), "candlepin" (little balls), and "duck pin" (huh? - unless you've spent time near Baltimore...). But I wasn't an athlete by any standards - basically I was a nerdy geek (and still am to some extent). I think before I joined a league I had only had one turkey (three strikes in a row), and I think my highest game was only in the low 140's. My brother on the other hand, played on the high school bowling team, and went on (while we were in our early-to-mid 20's) to win tournaments, etc.

When I told him I had started bowling again more frequently, and was thinking of joining a league he asked "What's your average?" I told him around 110, and his response was "Yeah, you were at best a 120 bowler as a kid - you'll always be a 120 bowler..." OUCH! I don't think he intended that conversation to be much of a pep talk, but it had that effect, since my reaction to his comment was along the lines of "You unbelievable bastard - I'll show you - whatever it takes, I'll be better than you!" (He's my younger brother BTW.)

It's now five years later, and arguably I'm the better bowler. I think. But I've discovered MANY more reasons to get into bowling than sibling rivalry.

So anyway - if you've been bowling a few times, and enjoy the game itself (as opposed to just the social aspects of the event), why not join a league? Most people think they're not good enough, but I've bowled in leagues with people whose averages were as low as 85 (on my team!) and had a great time. Plus, your average will definitely improve from interacting with more-experienced bowlers, and even a little investment into having a basic plastic ball drilled to fit YOUR hand will give you a jump on your average (hint: check out eBay --- you can get a ball for $20, and only have to pay a pro shop to get it drilled!).

There are many kinds of leagues! For absolute low-average beginners, I would recommend a 100% handicap (don't worry if you don't know what that means yet!) league. Most places have men's or women's leagues or mixed - pick the social situation you like best. Even though it's already mid-September, a lot of leagues will still have vacancies on teams, and "vacant bowlers" affect a team's performance - so beginner or not they'll be REALLY GLAD you showed up (instant friends).

Give it a shot - let me know what happens!

Hi - I'm Bob and I'll Be Your Online Bowling Coach Today!

I've been meaning to set this up for a while. So, there'll likely be a lot of posts all at once. My hope is that they'll mostly be small "digestible" postings on a specific topic, or a news item (probably mostly milestones on my own progress, but I'll justify that choice later!), or whatever seems relevant.

Every time I try to write another paragraph here, I keep going into something that would merit a posting of its own. So, maybe it's better to get started with that process.

Anyway, if bowling is on your mind, then I'm glad you've stopped by! Maybe we'll learn from each other, and who knows - if I ever actually make the leap into tournaments, we'll end up on opposite lanes...