Originally published in Bowling This Month
“Skill” is the ability to carry out an action automatically without active conscious control. An indicator of skill competence is performance of an action without the need to consciously think about how the action will be performed. When a person has skill competence for a given task, it is no longer necessary to think about the execution of the skill via its separate partial sub-operations.
Successful bowling, of course, requires competence in countless complex skills. One of the many jobs of the bowling coach is to develop and use the most effective methods of skill training on our students so that their learning processes can be accelerated as much as possible.
In this article, I want to analyze the process of learning and the implementation of one specific bowling game skill. Namely, we will examine the line-of-sight construction skill of the bowler. Line-of-sight construction is a skill that allows the bowler to envision the launch trajectory of the bowling ball on the lane. We’ll start with some background and with a description of why this skill (as well as other similar skills) can be so challenging to teach. Finally, we will give an example of a new method of line-of-sight training that I’ve been using successfully with my own students to accelerate their development.
Background and motivations
Throughout my career as a bowling coach, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of bowlers. This includes players at the novice level all the way up to the national team level.
Additionally, I have a significant amount of experience coaching deaf bowlers. One of my students is a medalist in the Deaflympics and numerous of my other deaf students are European Bowling Championship winners. Recently, one of my female deaf students won a Gold medal at the 3rd World Deaf Bowling Championships in Bologna, Italy in August 2015.
Working with bowlers who have different types of thinking skills has motivated me to seek out improved teaching methodologies for our sport. The task of building an efficient training process for deaf bowlers, for example, has been very non-trivial. This led me to deeply analyze the process of bowling skill learning from the perspectives of cognitive and educational psychology.
This process uncovered psychological regularities of the bowling training process. Developing an understanding of these regularities has resulted in me adjusting my training methods for improved efficiency. This has led to significant accelerations in skill mastery for players of all types.
Line-of-sight construction is one particular bowling skill that can be challenging to teach to both deaf bowlers and many non-deaf bowlers alike. Let’s start by taking a close look at this skill and the current methods of its teaching.
Line-of-sight construction: one of bowling’s fundamental skills
Bowling is a complex skill that involves perceptual, intellectual, and motor abilities of the player. In these ways, it is quite similar to other complex skills, such as learning to control an aircraft, for example. The ability to:
- construct motion paths,
- control physical efforts,
- feel position in space,
- make quick decisions about the current situation,
- perform standard operations, and
- know and apply correctly a set of rules
All are features of both bowling and controlling an aircraft. Many complex activities in a wide variety of disciplines share these same characteristics.
In bowling, line-of-sight construction is an important skill related to targeting that must be developed by bowlers of all levels. This skill is chosen as an illustration due to its importance in the overall structure of the bowling training process.
The ability to envision the line-of-sight on the lane, to keep it in the mind during the bowling approach, and to subsequently analyze the delivery with respect to the line-of-sight allows the bowler to effectively solve a wide range of tasks, such as:
- positioning himself in space and correctly performing the physical game elements relative to the given line;
- making a correct analysis of the accuracy of a delivery and of the dynamic characteristics of the ball motion on the lane;
- making decisions on the necessary changes in ball trajectory and then rapidly implement them;
- and much more!
Thus, the described skill of line-of-sight construction is one of the basic skills of our sport. The degree of its mastery defines the speed of a player successfully training the rest of the skills of bowling. It can be an indicator of his success as a whole on the lanes. In fact, the development of this skill is one of the first tasks facing a coach while training a new player in our sport.
Bowler skill level vs. line-of-sight construction skill mastery level
While preparing this article, I have performed testing of bowling players on their mastery of line-of-sight construction skill and found correlations between the players’ success on the lanes and the extent to which they’ve mastered this skill. Here are some brief details of the results of this study:
- Entry-level bowlers: Often cannot imagine and describe in words the ball trajectory on the lane; are not visually concentrating on the point of sight during delivery preparation and execution; often use hitting the pins as an accuracy criterion; have no clear image of the line-of-sight.
- Mid-level bowlers: Can describe in words the ball trajectory on the lane; are concentrated on the point of sight (sometimes excessively) during delivery preparation and execution; use assessment of hitting the point of sight as an accuracy criterion; the line-of-sight image is in the forming stage.
- Advanced bowlers: Can describe the ball trajectory with precise detail in any area of the lane; are concentrated on the line-of-sight duringdelivery preparation and execution, with the ability to change the visual concentration to various points of sight along the line; use assessment of hitting the line-of-sight as an accuracy criterion detailed in various zones of the lane; the image of the line of sight is clearly formed in the visual imagination of the player and is used with no effort during delivery preparation and execution.
As the results of this test show, there is significant correlation between overall bowler skill level and line-of-sight construction skill level.
Current methods of line-of-sight skill training
All existing targeting systems in bowling are built on the principle of line-of-sight construction on the lane. Differences in targeting systems are only in using different markers as the coordinate system for the line of throw construction (targets, pins, breakpoints, exit points, laydown points, starting position of the player, and so on). The final aim of all systems is a line construction on the lane surface and in the approach area.
Operating with initial data in accordance with the theory of the throw line construction voiced by the coach, the player must use abstract logical, spatial, and visual imagination to construct the throw line on the lane and in the approach area. The player must then hold his concentration to perform a delivery, controlling his own movements and the subsequent movement of the ball relative to this imagined line.
If it is necessary to change the ball trajectory, the player (using information provided by the coach) must recalculate the coordinates of the required markers and construct a new line. This is not an easy task. The main problem is in the constant interaction of abstract logical and visual representation types of thinking.
Even when a player is given initial information in the form of visual images and tips from his coach, the transfer of these images to the real lane is always performed in the mind of the player. In such a case, it is impossible to avoid the process of personal interpretation.
Solving this problem, we are increasingly becoming dependent on the features and level of a player’s abstract logical thinking and the abilities of his mental apparatus regarding the interpretation and transferring of the abstract logical concepts into symbols and images used by visual and representation thinking.
If the player is talented in this respect, we get the correct image in his mind and we get it very rapidly. For other players, perhaps even those who are more gifted in physical and coordination abilities, this task may be very difficult. It may either take a long time to perform, or it may not even be solved at all.
“So what?” you might object to me. “Successful bowling is about survival of the fittest; the most talented players will succeed and thrive!”
In my opinion, the difficulty of solving this problem for the player is not so much due to the level of the player’s ability. Instead, the difficulty is caused by the method of supplying the initial information and the proposed algorithms of solution. Too large of a role of abstract and logical thinking in the described processes can be destructive.
We as bowling coaches are a lot like a teacher who tries to solve the problem of constructing and fixing in a pupil’s visual memory the image of a 90 degree angle. Doing this using only a verbal description is quite difficult. Even if the teacher is permitted to draw two randomly-arranged straight line segments and then explain in words how to form a 90 degree angle from them, it is still an incredibly difficult task.
Alternatively, just draw two perpendicular lines, show the angle, and then add any verbal description for better understanding. The result is instant and the student immediately understands the concept of a 90 degree angle!
A proposed new technique for bowling line-of-sight construction training
I will now introduce a new method of line-of-sight construction training that I have used with great success with many of my students. The method involves using a device to create and consolidate in the spatial and visual imagination and in the memory of the player a bright image of the line-of-sight in the real playing environment during delivery preparation and execution.
While training using this device, there is no need to describe the line image using objects of abstract logical thinking, and, as a consequence, there is no need for any interpretation by the player.
This patent-pending device utilizes a luminous bar (3 to 5 meters high) installed above the lane in a vertical position. Depending on the particular training task, it can be installed in the targeting area, at the exit point, at the breakpoint, or as close as possible to pins. Reflection of this bar creates a bright and clearly visible image of the line-of-sight on the lane. This bright reflected line on the lane is used to train and consolidate the required skill of constructing the line-of-sight by the bowler.
The property of the reflected line to change its position while the player moves left and right, as well as the possibility to change the initial position of the device, allows the bowler to almost intuitively understand the process of adjusting the line position on the lane.
Since this training technique so directly demonstrates the concept of line-of-sight and its fundamental properties, it is even effective on players who haven’t yet developed advanced abstract logical thinking abilities, such as children.
Besides the basic training function of teaching a bowler how to construct the line-of-sight, use of this device has generated four important additional benefits:
- Hitting or nearly hitting the line visible by the player is only possible with correct technical throw execution.
- The possibility to assess visually the dynamics of the line-of-sight movement along the lane by the player during the delivery creates conditions for more effective correction and monitoring of the spatial and technical elements of the approach. This creates a very effective instant feedback system for the bowler.
- It becomes possible to see a diagram of oil application on the lane and its variations, because due to different oil amounts in different areas of the lane, the reflection coefficient of the light source varies. As a result, the thickness of the oil in different zones and the dynamics of its changes during play become visible to the bowler.
- The reflected light line creates the possibility of performing a visual assessment of lane topography. The curvature of the reflected line shows the deviation of the lane plane from the horizontal plane.
Here are some additional videos of the lighted bar in use during training, both as viewed from the coach’s position behind the approach and as viewed through the eyes of the bowler.
The practical use of this technique has shown that it has high efficiency. The image of the line-of-sight is quickly fixed in the visual memory of the player. After just a few training deliveries, it is not difficult for most players to use this image, even in the absence of the training device.
Mastering the line-of-sight construction skill has become much faster. Testing has shown that the time duration of mastering this important skill is reduced significantly (sometimes by an order of magnitude) through the use of this device and this training method. Additionally, the skill is successfully mastered by players regardless of the development of their abstract logical and visual representation thinking.
Often, after a month of training using this technique, entry-level players show a skill mastery level comparable to that of advanced players. This allows them to progress more quickly in their future training.
Practical considerations and next steps
Some of you might be wondering about the practicality of the above-described training method. It is true that it does require some special equipment. Also, like all things that happen beyond the foul line, use of such equipment requires agreement and cooperation with the bowling center owner.
As of now, there is no commercially-available “off-the-shelf” luminous bar line-of-sight training system. However, it is a fairly simple design that can be constructed from components that are readily available. It can be installed on the lane in about five minutes and removed in three minutes. Also, I have built and used a version of this system that is fully portable. Development of a ready-made system that can be purchased by coaches is a possibility for the future.
I hope you have enjoyed this introduction to some of the challenges in bowling skill training and that I have opened your eyes to the opportunities that exist in developing more efficient training methods for our sport. As previously mentioned, I have studied the theory of effective learning and skill development for bowling extensively. I have many other ideas in different areas of bowling skill development, such as timing training, swing direction training, ball reaction understanding, and more. I hope to share them with you in upcoming articles.
Finally, I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions, as they will be very beneficial in helping me decide on content for future contributions.