Bowling Etiquette: 8 Simple Rules


I’m not going to lie to you, etiquette is a really difficult word to spell. So much so that I was tempted to call this article bowling courtesy, but then I realized I didn’t know how to spell that either. Anyway, so this will inevitably turn into a long rant on respecting the sport of bowling, so if you aren’t in the mood, I suggest you scroll down and click around to find something else to read. If you are still on board lets dig in.

I remember the first thing my Dad taught me about bowling and it wasn’t what ball to throw, how to throw it or anything of that sort. It was something called lane courtesy. He told me to check to the left and right to see ensure nobody else was going before I lined up to bowl.

I think this kind of thinking is absent from today’s game. I see time and time again people bowling who don’t understand the basics. I’m betting it’s not even their fault, as they just probably were never taught. So I’m always indecisive as to whether to sound snobby and try and educate or to just deal with it and try and sneak my shots in when I can. Sometimes I do the former, but other times I do the latter. What do you think is the right thing to do in that situation?

Let’s talk etiquette. Websters dictionary defines…, just kidding this isn’t a research paper. Etiquette is a fancy word that basically takes into account the general consideration of other people. When you are bowling there is a few things you need to in order to avoid interfering with others.

Stay off the approach unless you are bowling. If it’s not your turn, get off the approach.  If your ball is finished knocking pins over, get off the approach.  If you need to mentally regroup for any reason, whether it be a distraction, or anything else, get off the approach and start over.

Who has the right of way? Much like pulling up to a stop sign at the same time as another car, getting up to the approach at the same time as another bowler is inevitable.  In bowling there is a simple rule, the bowler to the right has the right of way.  And if you are thinking you can get setup on the approach to bowl at this time while waiting on the other person, please refer to rule number 1 (OMG are you seriously on the approach right now!)

Other good tips, and by tips I mean rules:

Stop running out shots. People are getting set to bowl next to you, and it is destracting.  If you have the approach all to yourself and you want to be ridiculous, then by all means go for it.

Do not bring food or drink anywhere near the bowling approach. You will inevitably spill it and that leaves a sticky situation. It can actually turn quite dangerous if someone takes a bad fall from sticky shoes.

Be ready to bowl when it is your turn. Try and time your trips to the bathroom and snack bar accordingly (i.e. right after you complete your frame).  Now if you gotta go, you gotta go.  I don’t want to hear about any accidents as a result of this rule.

Don’t use profane language. I see this a lot in youth league especially and sometimes it’s from the kids and sometimes from the parents.  I sometimes curse like a sailor(typically not bowling related) but I’ve been pretty good lately at keeping myself in check.  You should try and do the same.

bowling-foul-fowl-language1The pin doesn’t care what you have to say

Keep the spare ball off the ball return. Sometimes the ball return is crammed with bowling balls.  If you have more than one on the rack keep your spare ball off to the side so it doesn’t jam up the ball return.

Be Ready. When it is your turn to bowl, get up there and be ready to bowl.

Shut Up. Don’t talk to someone who is about to bowl.  This is a time where concentration is key.  If you don’t let them focus on their bowling they will inevitably falter.

I hope I have inspired you to share the rules of the game, and by that I mean the rules that extend beyond foul lines, ball weights and scoring.  I also hope that you will personally take responsibility for your actions on the lanes.  There are some grey areas to bowling etiquette that we’ll discuss in later articles, like burning up someones oil with a super sanded ball so you eliminate their chances of scoring.  Do you have a bowling etiquette “rule” you’d like to share?  Leave a comment below.

On a side note, fall leagues are forming really soon, so get down to your local alley and sign up today.

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!

Printer Friendly Printer Friendly


  1. Calvin says:

    I know what you mean about the first thing you learn being lane courtesy :) When I was 11 and signed up for a bowling league the guy working there informed us about it. I bowl in Jr Majors now and everyone knows to be wary of all the new Preps who have moved up for their first year of Jr Majors. They tend to be the ones who’ll walk up on someone.

  2. With lane courtesy I only run into these problems with open bowling, especially with younger kids, which is why I try to get a pair a couple lanes away from someone. If an adult is with them I will mention something to them if it gets to be a problem. Most of the time the adult will pull the kid(s) aside and say, let him [me] go first, when they see that I am taking the game seriously.

    One little trick I like to do with the gangsters that don’t care and are unsupervised is drift to their part of the lane and stay there (following through). Also running out your shot in their lane, blocking their shot if you want to, but make sure it is a good shot when you do that so you can cheer and scream, “YES!” and do a little fist pump when you strike! The fist pump and cheering and the loud high-five to whoever is there with you is the key. Make sure they know you are there and that you are in charge, they will quickly learn to let you finish your shot. I’ve been known to hit the inconsiderate teenagers with my ball in one form or another. I don’t suggest doing that though. If you don’t get lane courtesy basically do what the article says not to do if you want any type of courtesy.

    And I know the article isn’t about that but I thought I would share a tactic of getting courtesy if asking politely does not work. Asking politely first would be preferable.

    But majority of the time with league I usually give the adjacent bowlers the right away, basically because I don’t trust that they will keep out of my peripheral vision and I most always let the person(s) return back to the ball return before I do my thing. Often, as mentioned, people run out their shots, as if it will matter. I don’t usually liked to be bothered on the approach during league. Let me go up there and concentrate, right? Some of the bowlers don’t like that I take my time when I need to, but who is the one with the high strike percentage and spare marks? This kills two birds with one stone too. One, I score effectively, and two, they get frustrated and annoyed which only hurts them and their teammates.

    Another thing to note is not to hit things; ball returns, scoring monitors, slamming chairs or the seating or anything of that nature in any fashion; it causes distraction and can damage the bowling center’s property. If you must destroy things or yell and cuss, try to wait until someone is not in their approach, especially if it is in a critical, must strike or mark moment in the tenth frame. Just because you opened in the tenth and might lose does not give you the right to slam things with or without the intention of distracting your opponent.

    Courtesy should be the first fundamental in bowling, but most certainly before learning how to throw the ball. … Driving reference: one learns the rules of the road prior to getting any sort of driving permit and hitting the roads, right?

    That is all, cheers!

  3. Shredder says:

    Reading this i finally took a break from this work. I have a hardware store, and i get kinda stress throughout the day =) your site just bought me a few minutes of relax ^__^ I wish i could find a rss feed on your site, so that i could subscribe for some more. Ill be sure to come here more often from now on ^__^

  4. I live in the Midwest so we are obligated to bowl as children. However, I miss bowling. Reading this makes me want to rent a lane.

  5. Gayle Leeber says:

    Nice read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that.And he actually bought me lunch as I found it for him smile Therefore let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch!

  6. Scott Alexander says:

    My most important bowling etiquette rule is this:

    Do not stand on OR anywhere near the approach when a bowler who stands far back on the approach is still in the first phase of their shot preparation. In other words, if you are in the line of sight of bowlers who are getting ready to walk off with their throw, then you’re in the wrong.

    And unlike other posters here, the ones who seem to have the worst problem in understanding proper bowling etiquette is the older bowlers (not all older bowlers, but a far much greater amount than the younger bowlers). These bowlers most likely do not care that they are bothering you by not leaving the approach between their 1st and 2nd throw in a frame or that they walk up next to you when you’re about to throw.

    There’s the rule of bowling when it’s your turn to bowl. Well I’m not going to go up and bowl if somebody is standing on or near the approach when it’s my turn to throw. I’m also not going to stand around for 2 minutes while waiting for inconsiderate bowlers to the left and right to allow me to bowl. If that breaks some sort of rule with the USBC, then there needs to be some amendments made for that rule.

  7. […] been told to keep it down or use your own ball. As with all sports, bowling has a set of rules of etiquette to follow. Nobody likes having to contend with players who undermine these rules. Therefore, […]

  8. Ed Andrews says:

    Bowler to the right courtesy rule: Dad taught me way back in the olden days the ( all things equal e.g. the racks come down at about the same time)the bowler on the right has the right way, except if a spare shot is involved. If I had a full rack he had me yield to the individual shooting the spare regardless of right or left and I have always expected the same of others. May I have your thoughts on this practice? * I started league bowling when I was 15(1953)with my dad and uncles and never had an issue on the lanes until yesterday in a senior league!

    Thank You Ed (technology helps keep us old guys going!)

  9. John doe says:

    Nice one. You always post clear and nicely researched post. Tasty one. Will try as well as recommend to friends. I got this article from google

  10. ina antons says:

    I have a question about how long should it take a person to throw there
    ball when they get up to bowl. we have a person taking at least 60 seconds or more every time they bowl. this is after they are on the approach and have there ball in there hands ready to go. This gets very frustrating at times. Just wondering if I am the only one this bothers.

Leave a Reply