Most bowlers enjoy the fact that their game needs continuous adjustments and self-improvement throughout the life of your bowling career. Much of that is done on a trial and error basis that develops sensitivity, confidence, and trust in order to play at your best. However, it is most important to make the learning process fun, not frustrating.
First, let’s look at the strike game and spare game. In my nearly 30 years of teaching, I’ve developed some key principles that I have found hold true whether you’ve just picked up the game or have played it for 20 years:
1. A repeating approach that produces misses of one kind is better than a great-looking approach that produces misses both ways.
2. Do not make unattainable demands on yourself. Make sure your instruction program fits your lifestyle, goals, and the time that you have in order to make the necessary changes
3. Find an instructor that does not teach everyone in the same manner to make all approaches look alike or to have the perfect bowling approach. Consideration must be given for your strength, flexibility, and your emotional approach to the game. Walter Ray Williams Jr’s game is a perfect reflection of his aggressive mindset to compete.
4. Your priorities should be addressed in a cause and effect manner, not necessarily by what is being taught or predominately being used on the Pro Tour. Remember, they are doing calculus and you are still doing arithmetic.
5. Practice alignment and swing path lines during your practice sessions. Practice throwing balls to different targets (pins) to check your setup and alignment tendencies.
6. Make sure you learn a drill for each change you make in your approach and spend a minimum of 25 percent of your practice time throwing shots with the appropriate exercise.
7. Limit your spare shooting practice to short periods of time, such as 20 minutes or less. Focus the time on making the spares, instead of trying to fix the look of your approach.
8. When making changes in your approach, throw shots at less than full speed.
Once you’ve made progress with your delivery and can control the ball direction during your practice sessions, the next step is to take your game to league and tournaments and execute. This transition is a challenge that everyone struggles with on occasion – regardless of age.
I’m of the opinion that tension, both mental and physical, must be addressed. World-class athletes from all sports say that tension is the most damaging factor in the ability to execute at one’s highest level. Here are some tips for handling these challenges head on:
1. Play bowling with motion and rhythm, not by mechanics and positions. It’s ok to practice swing mechanics and positions during your practice sessions, but thinking about it when playing tournaments or league will only stifle your ability to produce a consistent motion and rhythm.
2. Grip pressure and minimal tension in your hand, wrist, arms, and shoulders are critical for feeling the swing, the sensitivity for the bowling ball and awareness for its desired path, rotation, and speed. Thinking about your breathing between shots will help you relax and keep damaging thoughts from entering your mind. Make sure you breath deeply and rhythmically. This applies to not only the strike shot, but to the spare game as well.
3. After throwing a bad shot, do not express self-talk as what you did wrong. Such as, “I was too quick.” Give yourself verbal keys that will help you feel what to do to make a better delivery on the next shot. Norm Duke is a genius at doing this. After a bad shot, he always takes the time to feel the correct swing movement before throwing the next shot.
4. Practice your pre-shot routine during your practice sessions by always throwing shots to a target. This creates desired habits without thinking too much and getting too tight in an attempt to over-control the bowling ball or over-power the bowling ball on the lanes. Set your mind at ease so your body can perform.
5. Preparation breeds success. Brian Voss felt he handled the difficulties of tournament bowling by being well-prepared. That gave him confidence and put him in a peaceful mindset in order to compete.
In conclusion, the most important advice I can give you is to enjoy the learning process. Whether you’re 30, 50 or 70+, it is truly a necessary process that will follow you throughout the life of your game.