Archive for September, 2009


Scoping Out a New Bowling Alley

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This fall I got a group of my coworkers together to bowl in a league at a house I’ve never bowled at before. I always like to check out a center ahead of time and there are some things that I look for that will help prevent me from making mistakes and allow me to take advantage of all that is available at the new center.  Here are just a few things I’m looking for when I’m scouting out a “new to me” bowling center.

Lane Markers. Some of the newer Brunswick lane surfaces have markings beyond the standard arrows to help with targeting.  If you see these markers it’s easy to watch the ball’s breakpoint and determine how far out or in you need to keep the ball.

Dots. When lining up on the approach it’s common to use the dots as reference points.  Some centers have one set of dots, others have two and though it’s rare, some centers actually have 3.  It’s important to know where you line up in relation to foul line distance so you can start from roughly where you expect to be.  Also be sure to reference everything from the center dot.  Some centers have 5 dots, while others have 7 and if you reference off the left or right dot you can be a whole 5 boards off where you thought you were.  Don’t laugh, I’ve seen this happen countless times.

Carry. Different centers carry 10 pins differently. You will find that being a pinch light might afford you some great carry, while being dead flush sticks you with a dreaded corner pin or worse and 8, or 9 pin. Maybe one center will get a lot of messengers while others the pins just seem kind of dead. This is good to be aware of as you my find odd leaves at a lively house, or better yet find that whatever garbage you left behind gets hit in some odd fashion.

Also some centers just have some characteristics on spares that are just different.  A spare that carries differently in some houses is the 1-2-8.  You are going to want to be pretty high on the head pin or slightly crossing over to carry this spare, but you’ll find in some houses you can carry this shot consistently by hitting it with a light pocket shot(though I don’t recommend you aim this way, it’s just nice knowing you have some insurance if you completely mess up and get the ball too far right).  In some houses though you’ll notice that it won’t carry the 8 pin out.  My point is just to understand that just because it works in one house doesn’t mean it will work in another.

Lane Oil Breakdown. Different centers will oil with different patterns, different volumes of oil, different types of oil and put them on different kinds of lane surfaces. With all the variables in this equation the one thing I like to do is go in after a league has been bowled and see where playable areas of the lane still exist. This will give me an idea where I could end up playing toward the end of a league block.

Ball Returns. I am fortunate that my home center has ball returns that are not on the approach. I often take this for granted as it’s easy to play really deep angles whether you are on the left lane or the right lane. If I wanted to play really deep inside at a facility with the ball return on the approach I would have to practice walking around the return and get to where I wanted to be. So pay attention to ball returns, especially at houses where the shot tends to breakdown after only a few games, or if you know a large amount of games will be bowled on them before you are done.

Approaches. Some centers have wood, while others have synthetic approaches.  They both have different characteristics and it’s important to be ready in the case that you would need to slide more or slide less.  Whether it be interchangeable soles, a shoe brush or some other means to get the slide you need, make sure you are prepared.

Now there are more things that can help or hinder your game from center to center which are less critical, but still important to be aware of.  Ideally you would bowl at a center just to get a feel for simple things like ball return height, approach height (is there a step up, or do you walk straight out on the lane), lighting and reflections on the lanes.  If you are aware of all these little things before you start bowling, you will feel more comfortable and better prepared.

Maybe you are flying across the country to bowl in a national tournament.  What if your thumb swells or shrinks because of humidity or elevation changes.  These things happen, and if you are not prepared with tape or a tool to workout your thumb you can really make a long trip a total waste of time.

All of these aspects can be applied to a tournament, league or casual bowling while you are trying to impress your friends and show them you totally know how to dominate bowling.  Regardless of the reason, take some of these things into consideration when you are not at your home center.  All bowling centers are not equal.

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Introduction to Reading Lanes

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The other day one of my twitter followers asked a question about reading lanes. I’ll try and give you my take on reading lanes, which is a fairly simple outlook. I think people in general tend to over-complicate it. I’m warning you in advance that this is probably a bit advanced for some, so if you are a beginner, just try and take something away from it. And this isn’t the holy grail of reading lanes, but this is what I’ve come up with from my experiences.


The first thing I’ll do if possible, is find out the pattern length. From there I can determine where my ball should be at the end of the oil pattern. You take the pattern length and subract 31 from it. So say you are bowling on the cheetah pattern (36 feet) you would then know at 36 feet down the lane your ball should be around the 5 board. Now notice this is not the breakpoint, but the exit point of the oil. The breakpoint is typically closer to the headpin for longer patterns, and closer to the channel on shorter patterns. This is why typical house shot patterns tend to fall into the track area with break points just outside of 10 board because they are usually not all that long or short.

So once I have an idea as to where I should be playing, I will take my benchmark ball and play 3 different angles to attack the pocket. I’ll get my ball through the exit point using the formula above and use 3 different points at the arrows to get an idea as to how the pattern might play. Typically I’ll use the 5,10 and 15 board (1st, 2nd, and 3rd arrows) to see what kind of ball reactions I’ll get.

From there I will decide if I have a good shot with the benchmark ball or should switch to something more or less aggressive. If I see my ball is going too long and not making it back to the headpin (indication of heavy oil) I’ll switch to a duller(sanded) bowling ball that will help me generate some friction. If I only need a pinch more backend I will try and manipulate my release to create some revs, but typically I’d rather keep a neutral hand position in my release, especially if the pattern is pretty tough. So a ball change is typical for me.

Now if the benchmark ball is hooking off the lane, I’ll move deep inside and see if I can keep it in the oil. If not I’ll switch to something highly polished to get through the heads. Though this is not a rule, typically a shinier ball will help get through the front part of the lane and store some energy for the back end. If the back end is just a bit unpredictable, you may want to move in really deep with a duller ball that will use up some of that energy earlier.

And once I’m dialed in and hitting the pocket consistently (carrying the 10 and the 7 pins is also a good sign) I’ll stick with my ball and line and adjust my feet accordingly based on how the lanes play. On sport conditions you can often make parallel moves to the right, while on house conditions it’s typically larger moves with your feet and smaller moves with your target.

Quick Bowling Tip: You can actually do all of the above in practice and be lined up in time for when the lights go on. Be sure to mix in a couple of spare shots during practice as well because you don’t want to be shooting at a corner pin for the first time when it actually counts.

So in summary, get your benchmark ball out. Throw it at different parts of the lane. Determine if it is hooking too much or too little.

Too much hook – Move left with the feet or change balls to something less aggressive (polished)
Too little hook – Move right with the feet, change balls to something duller/sanded, use a more aggressive hand position (cup wrist, tuck pinky, spread index finger wide)
Just right hook – keep doing what you are doing and hammer the pocket as long as you can. When you roll a 300 leave a comment below and I’ll give you a virtual high five!

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Keeping Your Cool

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A lot of bowlers seem to get frustrated easily. All it takes for some is just one bad break and they are upset for the rest of the night. Sometimes even professionals are guilty of the random outburst.

Hopefully you’ll think twice before you kick the ball return, punch a bowling locker, or use your favorite hand gesture. Bad things happen, and sometimes it can seem like nothing will go your way. It is those that stay positive and keep their head in the game that will prevail time and time again.

I’m moving this weekend so I’ll be brief this time as I need to finish packing. Have a great weekend and enjoy your labor day (especially if you get the day off).

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