Introduction to Reading Lanes


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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