The steps to sweet success: there’s no easy path, but taking the right turns on your bowling journey could result in a successful career in the sport – Lane Logic

Kim Adler

MANY BOWLERS HAVE ASKED me over the years, “What does it take to become a pro?” While it’s a complicated question to answer–a top professional has so many layers of experience that have been built upon over many years–if you’re wondering how you can start on the same path, here are some of my guidelines.


Just like in so many other sports, children have a developmental advantage over adults. They can learn the basics quicker, their muscles are more resilient, and their brains are not filled with the baggage of negativity (“I can’t because …”).

When starting children out in bowling, there are only a few hazards. Children can learn about the pressure to perform way too early if parents push them too quickly. I have seen examples of this premature pressure many times competing in junior pro-ams, both as a junior and a pro.

A child with potential is a wonderful sight. A child with potential, constantly looking to his parents for approval after every shot, leads me to question why he or she is bowling.

I was lucky in this area, even though I was one of the children looking back to her dad after each shot. At age six, I cried when I made a great shot or a bad one. To be honest, I cannot believe my parents didn’t pull me out of bowling at that age, with such reactions. To a stranger, I never looked like I was having any fun–but my father knew I was driven by competition, and competitive drive was something we shared.

A second hazard would involve equipment. I occasionally see wrist devices on young arms, and old grips on fast-growing children. Many times, if a bowling glove is used before the muscles can build and get stronger with growth and age, it will be needed unnecessarily in the future. Early reliance on devices becomes a crutch that can never be discarded. Also, when children outgrow a grip or ball weight, they are cast adrift. A solid foundation of basics cannot be built in a child who has relied too heavily on outside aids, and bad habits can creep in.

Again, I stumbled into some luck here from the ages of six to nine. I used the same plastic ball, with maybe one grip change, even though I was growing. I also did not fit into a pair of bowling shoes until I was nine. During third grade, not only did I get a new ball with a new grip, but I also slipped into my first bowling shoes, and my 123 average shot up to a 154.

My biggest advantage was good junior coaching, which let me build a solid bowling foundation: the four-step approach, spares, playing angles, and concentration basics such as looking at a target.

Do you have no hope of becoming a pro if you’re no longer a child? Are you out of luck if you are just “young at heart?” Of course not. But you must learn to think like a child. Check your ego at the door and accept that you have much to learn. Enjoy the small successes, and know that there is not only one way to reach your goals.

While I’ve outlined some developmental suggestions above, this was not my exact path. Learning to bowl is like learning English: There are many rules, but even with all the rules, there are many exceptions.


Simply put, bowl. Bowl as much as you can. From the ages of nine to 22, I bowled everywhere and every way I could: Saturday morning junior leagues, city and state tournaments, the Junior Bowlers’ Tour, practice with Dad, practice with friends, practice by myself, junior bowling camps, weekend women’s scratch tournaments six hours away from home, three adult leagues per week, U.S. Open and Team USA qualifiers, ABTs, 600 club tournaments, Women’s All-Star Association tournaments, PWBA regionals. You name it, I bowled in it.

It was expensive, yes. I come from a working-class background, and bowling ate up all my income. But I loved it. I worked in two bowling centers to get in some free practice. I worked two jobs at once to allow me afternoons to practice with my coach.

The more you bowl, the more experience you pick up. You experience different lane conditions, waiting through long tournaments, the pressures that come with stringing many strikes together, and encountering many, many people with many, many philosophies on how to succeed as a bowler.

You might think that I just tasted success after success from age six on, and off I went to become a pro. But that wasn’t the case. Along the way to professional success, I opened in the last five frames to lose my first U.S. Open qualifier, had an entire season or two of regionals when I did not even come close to making money, and many tearful, six-hour car rides home with my coach from disappointing tournaments. I was only good enough to bowl in the handicap division of Junior Bowlers’ Tour tournaments, but I bowled them all the same.

Practice on all lanes at all times of the day, because even in your home center, there is a time when every lane is at its absolute lowest-scoring. Practice passionately! Learning to string strikes is important, but what I see from newcomers on the PWBA tour is a lack of experience on the more difficult conditions.

Does your center lay a sport pattern? Practice on it. (Did I mention practice?) League, tournaments … it’s all practice for a bigger game, the biggest, most important level you can compete on: the pro tours.


Do you know what the radius of gyration is within a bowling ball? What you use sandpaper for on your equipment, and when you can use it? Can you explain the detailed differences among your different pieces of equipment? How do you clean your equipment? What is differential?

Every professional I know can answer these questions. In 1991, when I was a rookie, there still were ladies on the PWBA tour who did not know how to sand their own equipment or work out their own bowling ball. Not so in 2002. You must have a working knowledge of your equipment, lane surfaces, and lane oils–and how they affect your game. Spend time with different pro shop operators to pick their brains.

There are also publications that will give you an entire list of balls with their actual specifications. Most bowling balls come with a “spec sheet” that also will give you these numbers. Learn what these numbers mean in relation to your game. For example, Kegel Company’s lane oil, both Offense and Defense, react differently for me on a lane when I bowl.

These are some of the types of notes I keep, and in the process I create a kind of flow chart for possible balls, surfaces, and hand positions I might use given the type of oil.


In 1991, when I decided to bowl on the PWBA tour, I could only afford to bowl in a dozen tournaments. We had saved some money, and frankly, I didn’t expect to make any money in my first year. I started with $5,000, and it cost somewhere around $1,000 in expenses to bowl a week on tour.

In raising money, don’t be afraid to be creative. I sold shares in myself and accepted any dollar amount. My friends would see me coming and would run in the other direction because they knew I was going to ask them for money! I got lucky that first year and broke even for my investors, so they would “let the money ride,” tournament after tournament.

Get all the experience you can closer to home before investing in national tour experience. Bowl every PWBA or PBA regional you can, because many times you will be competing against the national tour regulars at less of a cost to you.

Live cheaply. In 1991, I had a roommate, stayed at the least expensive motels, and often ate in my room to save money. I also bowled in every tournament qualifier possible. Many times, a center will give away free spots to a national tournament through its own qualifier and also give you money for expenses on top of that. I bowled my first U.S. Open in 1987 as an amateur, after having won a spot in my state qualifier.

You can also learn a great deal from just watching a PBA or PWBA tournament in person. Again, this was another lucky area for me to gain some knowledge, because for 20-some years there was a PBA stop virtually in my backyard in Windsor Locks, Conn. I watched all the greatest and the greatest-of-the-moment make their adjustments and live their joys and defeats–and spend their money to allow me to learn!


You must use your eyes not just to bowl, but to watch. When you are done with your own bowling, locate,someone who is doing well and ask, “Why?” Don’t head quickly to the door; stay awhile and understand why you were not successful that day. I traveled with my ex-husband/coach Pete Couture to PBA regionals in the Northeast for years and took in every experience I could.

I see the “eye” as a natural ability (but with today’s technology, it’s a skill that can be developed) to see a ball in its path and know if it is the right reaction. Many never develop this “eye” before attempting the PWBA or PBA tour–and pay dearly for it.

This term also relates to finding the “sweet spot” for strikes on the lane; many times there is more than one place to get to the pocket, and you must choose between two or three options for the most success.

Those with the “eye” choose the correct option more frequently–and thankfully, the “eye” can improve as you gain more experience. Examples of players with the “eye” are Del Ballard Jr., Carolyn Dorin-Ballard, Bill Spigner, Couture, Parker Bohn III, and Chris Barnes. Interestingly, they are all tops in the sport as competitors, and as teachers.


You must be mature, open-minded, pragmatic, cautious, patient, assertive, and flexible to compete on the PWBA and PBA tour successfully. A smart bowler knows that a 230 average in a home center still may not be enough to compete against the best.

Bowling week-to-week is stressful. There are travel arrangements to be completed, schedules to be maintained–and all of it in addition to your bowling. You must be ready to accept long hours in the center, and, like any job, you have many moments when you really don’t feel like working. But you must–it’s all part of your job.

However, you must also take the free moments to enjoy and relax and experience a unique life that most do not have the opportunity (or choice) to have. You must be aware of the gift you have been given, the chance to compete in a sport for a living, and not take it for granted. Keeping it all in perspective helps you to maintain a mental balance, which is so important while competing and in your decision-making.

I have seen many competitors come and go, but those who continue to be the most successful have used the tools I have outlined in their journeys through professional bowling. Without any one of those tools, I would not be where I am today.

RELATED ARTICLE: Creativity in action.

THINK SOME SUCCESS ON tour has cut into my creativity when it comes to raising funds? Not exactly.

When I decided to sell space on my bowling skirt on eBay, I would never have imagined the attention it would attract. Maybe I would have dreamed of that much attention and exposure, but expect it? Not in my wildest dreams.

Last August 17, I submitted an auction to eBay for potential sponsors. I asked $4,000 to start the bidding, and 10 days and 37 bids later, Pacific Pools won my skirt space by placing a winning bid of $14,389.89.

The thousands of dollars are great, but the media exposure the auction got me was even better. Dozens of newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV stations covered the auction, including USA Today, Bloomberg News, Florida Today, The Associated Press, and The Miami Herald. Talking with the “Murray in the Morning” syndicated radio show about the auction has led to a regular nationwide gig on that program. In just one month, my eBay auction was viewed 7,690 times.

Since the auction, at least one other PWBA bowler, Carolyn Dorin-Ballard, has run her own similar one. I think that’s great. Any bit of attention we can garner on tour makes the PWBA a stronger and more popular tour and a more valuable commodity.

Kim Adler is a top PWBA bowler, with 15 career titles and 21 perfect games. To ask her a question, visit her Web site,

COPYRIGHT 2002 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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