Approach a New Season Realistically – getting ready for bowling season

Jeri Edwards

It’s great to be charged up and optimistic about the new league season, but don’t set yourself up for disappointment before you’re back in the bowling groove

IT’S THAT TIME FOR SUMMER CLEANing. It comes every year about now–and it’s an exciting time. The promise of a new season always brings renewed hope for accomplishing greater feats. The greatest challenge is to be prepared to the best of your ability when the first night of league arrives.

Picking up the game again will be easier for the bowlers who continued to play through the summer because they’ve kept their “feel” through constant reinforcement. For many, though, the bowling ball has collected dust and sweated it out through the heat of the summer, never once visiting the bowling center. In either case, spending some time in preparation for the upcoming season can be very beneficial.

It’s important to approach the start of league with reasonable expectations. Revisit your basic fundamentals: timing, armswing, and release. You also should note that the summer is a slower time for proprietors; renovations and changes in procedure may have taken place during this time. And new ball introductions are at their peak, enough to confuse even the best of bowlers, so be ready to make your decision: to buy or not to buy.

If you can find the time, it would also help to spend some time in practice getting your feel back. In those sessions, make a concerted effort to work on your 7-pin and 10-pin spare conversions. If you make your spares, your scores can never get too ugly.

Great expectations

Each year when bowlers return to their teams to begin their season, there is an excitement in the air. You get to see your teammates, share some summer stories, and dream about the upcoming year. This could be the year that your team wins the league or that you shoot a special 300.

Goals and plans are great motivators, but also take care to keep your expectations reasonable at the beginning of the season. If you haven’t picked up a ball since last April, it would be unreasonable to expect a great outing on your first night of bowling. It does happen for some, but it’s the exception, not the norm.

It’s just plain difficult to repeat shots when you haven’t been practicing. You’ll experience many different timing sequences, swings, and releases when in fact you’re just attempting to execute the same shot each time. When this happens, it can lead to confusion because you’ll get different ball reactions.

Do your best to observe whether you threw the shot with balance and some semblance of feel, and if you didn’t, make an adjustment where needed. If you’ve made a bad shot, laugh out loud and realize you may make many more of them before the evening is over. Go on to the next shot and focus on a favorite “key”–whether it’s a timing key, a swing key, or a release key–and do your best to find one that helps you repeat shots for the night.

If you expect a lot more than this, you can set yourself up for a great deal of stress. You’ll feel too much pressure to perform at your best level for the night.

Build your basics

Timing is probably the biggest key to great bowling, and timing is a lot about feel. When you spend time away from a physical skill such as bowling, your feel suffers. In fact, even the ball that fit you perfectly when you spent $200 on it last spring may feel so bad on your hand it may feel like it was drilled for someone else.

Getting your timing feel back is just a matter of repetitions with the correct plan. Your timing starts with how you move the ball into the swing in relation to your feet. After a layoff your footwork often will get lazy, and that makes good timing very difficult. Make sure your footwork tempo stays upbeat on your first night of bowling.

A good drill for timing practice is to use your left hand (for right-handed players) to control your start. This may sound silly, but your left hand can help you control your timing.

Start the drill by throwing a couple of shots with your normal motion, just to get a feel for that. Next, delay the ball into the swing slightly by keeping your left hand on the ball a little longer. This means you will have to have your left hand under and to the side of the ball. This should make your timing a little later and will probably make your tempo seem a little slower. Do this part of the drill for a few shots.

After the late side of the drill, it’s time to test the early side. To do this, you’ll use your left hand to gently but firmly push the ball downward into the swing. This means your left hand will need to be on top and to the side of the ball in your stance position. With this motion, your timing will be earlier, and it will probably make your tempo seem a little faster. After going through this drill, you may be surprised that your “normal” timing feels better a little later or earlier. When you talk about accuracy, your swing itself plays a big part in your success. Your swing direction makes a big difference in the direction your ball travels.

Swing is a lot about feel, too. Most bowlers have little understanding of where the ball is after it passes the hip on the way to the top of the swing. It’s important that your swing stays in line as it goes to the top of its arc, but many people get the ball too far inside their shoulder on the way to the top. This is easy to do, because the ball feels lighter as it gets nearer your center of mass. However, no matter where your swing is as it goes to the top, focusing on the downswing can help you perform better.

Especially at the start of the season you want to keep the thoughts simple. So the simple, effective thought is to make sure your armswing stays close to your body on the forward swing. If you can get a feel for it, it means the upper arm works slightly to the inside and the ball in the socket of your shoulder feels like it rotates slightly inward. This helps keep the swing on line, and it works it into a position of strength at the release point.

If you let the upper arm work away from your body, your swing will not stay on line–you’re likely to fly your elbow much more easily. This will result in many errant shots and weaker releases. So focus on keeping your forward swing in close to your body for better accuracy and power.

Your release is affected by your timing and armswing. For the first few nights of bowling you may want to focus on getting a particular feel at the release point, but often you’ll be busy just getting a feel for your timing and armswing.

One thing to check is your wrist band, if you use one. Make sure that the metal is shaped in the correct manner and that the padding is still fresh at the pressure points. There are many great wrist supports on the market, and they’re good tools for the “smart” bowler. The beginning of the season can be an ideal time to wear a wrist band because it can effectively “quiet” your hand action, keeping it steady and making your release more consistent at a time when consistency isn’t a strength in your game.

Beyond the obvious

Knowing that you’re not at the top of your game when you come back for a new league season after a layoff is a given. What may not be so obvious are the things that may have gone on in your local bowling center over the summer that could affect your perception of the lane itself as you go from your stance to the foul line.

Many proprietors use the summer to do renovations. This may mean a change in the lanes, the masking units (the artwork above the pins that hides the machines), the ball returns, the monitors, the side walls, or even the ceiling. Therefore, when you go into the center, be observant and get accustomed to the new look and feel if you need to.

All lanes are certified to be a certain length and width, but not all lanes look the same. If you’ve ever bowled in an arena-type setting, you know that when the ceiling is much higher than normal and there are many lanes on either side of you, the lane looks longer than if you’re in a center with a low ceiling and a small number of lanes. The changed in perspective affects how you “see” the lane, and you need to get used to it so it looks all right to you.

On top or this, the lane surface may have changed. If you bowl on a wood surface, the lanes may have been resurfaced over the summer. If the wood looks very light in color and shiny in comparison with the end of last season, you’re probably bowling on a resurfaced lane–the lane will be smoother, and the oil will act differently. On synthetic lanes, new panels may have been installed. Again, a fresher surface will react differently than the old surface.

Another change may be in the lane conditioner the center will be using for the new season. Just as the manufacturers of balls come out with new equipment each year, so do the manufacturers of lane conditioner. Each conditioner has its own “personality” and characteristics. You won’t be able to see the difference in conditioner–too bad they aren’t colorcoded!–so you’ll have to pay attention to your ball reaction from frame to frame and note any differences.

Finally, a change in the oiling pattern may have been chosen for the new season. There may be a heavier concentration of oil on the outside boards this year, or maybe there will be less oil in the middle of the lane.

In any case, do not lock yourself into thinking that you will always play a particular center a certain way. If you do, you run the chance of hurting your performance because you have blinders on.

Bowling ball considerations

It’s always a good idea for you to have your grip checked at the beginning of the season and to do some maintenance on the surface of your existing bowling balls. The start of the season is also when many new bowling balls will be introduced–many bowlers are in the market for a new piece of equipment at this time.

If you’re planning to purchase a new ball, spend some time doing your homework so you can make a wise decision. Many of the manufacturers have a wide variety of choices, so it’s important for you to decide what it is you need the ball to do.

At the start of the season, it’s probably a good idea to bowl with your “old” ball for a couple of weeks to see what it is doing. This gives you a little more information about what you need a new ball to do. And talk with your pro shop operator–he’s your best source of information, and he can answer questions and help you understand your options.

Find time for practice

The Cutting Edge Pro Shop proprietor Don Hogue tells his customers to practice two times a week at the beginning of the season to get “reacquainted” with their ball. This is great advice. Just getting back into the swing of things takes some time, and the extra practice will pay dividends.

In your practice sessions, it’s important to spend some time on your spares. If you convert the majority of your spares, your scores usually aren’t horrible, and your mental attitude stays stronger. And make a special point to shoot your 7-pins and 10-pins–if you know what the corners are doing, that will give you a little read on what the middle of the lane is doing also.

Most people shoot their 7- and 10-pins “cross alley,” meaning they use a diagonal ball path to convert the spares. However, another option for shooting the 7-pin is becoming increasingly common among right-handed bowlers. Today you may see more righthanders than ever lining up a target somewhere between the 5th and 6th arrows. The advantages of this shot are that it’s a much more direct approach and it takes the middle portion of the lane out of play. If you play in a center where there is a large amount of oil in the middle of the lane, or one where the track is very “spotty,” this may be a viable alternative.

If you decide to develop this shot, you’ll need to slide somewhere around the 32nd board and adjust from there. Everybody has different walk patterns, ball rolls, and visual perceptions, so you’ll have to experiment to determine what works for you. In any case, having another way to shoot your 7-pin will improve your versatility and confidence.

Here’s to another season–good luck, and great bowling!

COPYRIGHT 2000 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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