October 25, 2011

Pre-Bowling: Advantage or Disadvantage

My wife and I are both from eastern Pennsylvania, but moved to Pittsburgh permanently our senior year of college.  In addition to the holidays, we find ourselves making a few trips across the state each year to visit our families.  These trips make bowling 34 Thursday nights a year a bit challenging, so once or twice a season I take advantage of pre-bowling.

My particular league allows bowlers to throw as many games as they’d like in anticipation of missing a week of league play.  If a bowler is absent and they have banked games, they can be used instead of their adjusted absent score based on their average for that week.  Any games not used for the league must then be paid for at the conclusion of the season, though I only pre-bowl if I know I will be missing a week.

I tend to pre-bowl on Sundays at noon.  Upon my arrival, it is unmistakably clear that the entire atmosphere of the bowling center is different than at 6:30 on Thursdays.  This lead me to wonder: is pre-bowling an advantage or a disadvantage to the bowler? These are my arguments for both sides.


Being the only person on your set of lanes, you are able to bowl at your own pace.  League play can drag on if every bowler is present and sometimes it can be over ten minutes between frames.  When bowling alone, you can immediately throw your next frame as soon as the ball returns, allowing you to quickly try any new adjustments without worrying that you will forget.  Or you can take your time and think through every shot at your own desired speed.  

Also, since you are the only one on the set of lanes, the oil pattern will not change as drastically.  Throughout the course of a league night the oil on the lanes can be pulled into the backend or evaporate, thus changing the way your ball reacts.  When bowling alone, these changes are more gradual and adjustments do not need to be as severe from shot to shot.  In addition, the amount of oil you are faced with during pre-bowling may be more advantageous to your style than it is during league play.  Before league play at my house the lanes are freshly oiled and my ball does not hook very much; however, on Sunday mornings the lanes are a bit drier and the lanes tend to hook more.  Removing the oil takes a variable out of the equation and allows me to focus on my marks, rather than anticipating how the lane conditions are going to deteriorate.

For the most part a pre-bowler can determine what time they are going to bowl, whereas league times never change.  I am much fresher at noon on a Sunday than at 6:30 on a Thursday, after rushing home from work to eat dinner and then rushing to the bowling alley.  Some people have a time of day when they feel their best and bowling at that time instead of whenever a league fits into your schedule can make a big impact on your mental and physical game.  The bowling center might also be much less crowded during the pre-bowling session.  League nights tend to be loud with bowlers yelling and cheering on their teammates or trying to buy/sell 50/50 tickets.  This noise can lead to a lot of distractions and cause you to miss your marks or forget how you wanted to adjust on your next ball.  When pre-bowling, you could be one of only a few people in the entire building, eliminating most distractions.

The end result is a bowler who is in much more control over their environment both on and off the lanes.


While being able to dictate the pace of your game can work out in your favor, some bowlers are unable to restrain themselves from throwing ball after ball with no rest in between.  This can cause you to rush your shots or tire quickly, throwing off your natural mechanics by changing ball speed one way or the other.  If you blow through a game too quickly, you might also overlook that small adjustment that could make a big difference on the score sheet.  League play has built in downtime that allows the bowler to reflect on their last frame and decide if any adjustments need to be made before their next ball.

League play also comes with the advantage of being able to watch other bowlers.  Throughout the night, I spot one or two bowlers that throw a line similar to mine and I watch for their ball’s breakpoint and how they adjust to various lane changes and shots.  This allows me to better predict how my ball is going to react and anticipate what adjustments will need to be made.  When pre-bowling alone there is no reference and you need to make all of your decisions without the benefit of watching, or consulting, other bowlers.

The amount of oil on the lane at the time of pre-bowling is also a double-edged sword.  As I mentioned above, I just so happen to have stumbled upon a time to pre-bowl that tends to have my favorite lane conditions; however, the difference in lane conditions between league play and pre-bowling can also be a nightmare.  For example, if your house tends to put heavy oil down before league play, chances are that most experienced bowlers will have a ball that performs best in that amount of oil.  But, if during the pre-bowl the lanes are lacking oil, that same bowler is now forced to play a huge hook and an unfamiliar shot.  This complicates the entire session, as now the bowler has several more things to consider before and during each throw.

Most of us bowl in a certain league because it occurs on a day and time that best fits our schedule.  That means that we are now forcing a session of pre-bowling into our already busy lives where ever there may be a spare moment, which is not always at the best time for the individual.  When I was in my junior league, the only time I had to pre-bowl was on Saturday afternoon after the very football practice that caused me to miss the league in the first place.  I was always so tired that I throwing the ball inconsistently and making mental errors when considering adjustments.

The change in bowling center environment is also a distraction for some bowlers.  League night is often a time to relax with friends and have a good time, but pre-bowling tends to be all business and probably not as fun.  Also, you might be the only person bowling in the entire center, putting some more pressure on you to not make a fool of yourself in front of the employees.  Or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, you might be right next to a birthday party with a dozen first graders or a group of rowdy teenagers.  I’m pretty laid back and a father, but these can be annoying distractions.  On Sunday mornings when I pre-bowl, the center has two large screens that descend over the far end of the lanes showing NFL pregame shows and games.  This causes some glare near the arrows on the lanes, as well as movement and light flashes I am not used to having in my peripheral vision during my approach.

Where I Stand

I really see pre-bowling as a toss up.  I would much rather bowl during my usual league time and have fun with everyone.  But, at the same time, I know that when I pre-bowl I will have far fewer distractions and usually have favorable lane conditions.  I only pre-bowl when I am out of the city or, in the case of this week, have a work related event.  Pre-bowling is about discipline and versatility.  You must be able to keep yourself in check, making sure to not rush yourself and not change your routine before each ball.  You must also be able to bowl on various lane conditions with different, sometimes challenging, distractions all around you.

Pre-bowling is a simple concept, but as you can see, there are a lot of factors at play.  If you are like me and are usually only able to bowl on league nights you may find yourself slipping into a comfort zone, which could present some of the challenges mentioned above once you step out of that zone.

October 17, 2011

Week 10 Pre-Bowl Recap

Game 1: 249
Game 2: 183
Game 3: 235
Series: 667
Week Avg: 222
Season Avg: 193

This is the second of two weeks that I needed to pre-bowl for my league since I will be unable to make our usual Thursday time.  I will have at least one non-league update in the coming weeks and be back at league on Thursday, November 3rd.


Practice started off alright and I found the pocket fairly quickly. The lanes were what I expected for Sunday at opening: dry back ends with a bit more hook than the usual freshly oiled Thursday night lanes. The ambiance this weekend was a bit different than when I pre-bowled a few Sundays ago. There was a another guy pre-bowling a few sets down to my right and two lanes to my left were a pair a fathers and their 6 year old sons.

I started the first game with a strike and followed it up with a light pocket hit, leaving the 10-pin which I picked up. Using my new philosophy of not second guessing myself I made a quick adjustment by moving back a couple of inches. I came in a little high and left the 4-pin, which I converted, but I also noted that I missed my mark a bit to the left so no adjustment was necessary. I threw a strike and followed it up with another light pocket 10-pin. I picked up that spare and decided to move right a half board on my next shot.  It turns out that was a pretty good idea. I struck out the rest of the game, that's 7 in a row, and finished with a 249.

The next game I started with another strike and then hit high to leave the 7-pin, which I converted. I was a bit shaky after throwing 8 in a row, which is a new personal best, and missed my mark to the left on that shot. In the third frame I missed my mark to the right and hit way light, leaving the 1-2-8. I picked up that spare and decided to move back a little bit more on my next ball. It turns out that I may have adjusted a little prematurely. I hit light and left two 10-pins in a row before striking again. I hit light again and left the 6-10, which I made. Another light hit in the eighth frame left the 10-pin, but I barely missed it to the left this time. I noticed the tape in my thumb hole was inching out of the top and was effecting my grip on the ball. I decided to change the tape and struck in the ninth frame. I picked up another 7-pin spare and then moved back up the couple inches I adjusted in the fifth frame before my next ball. I threw a strike and finished the game with a 183.

The third game started out great and I struck the first six in a row. I got a little nervous at the start of the seventh frame and missed my mark to the right. The ball came back, but not enough, leaving the 2-pin. I picked that up and then made two 7-pin spares and a 10-pin spare in the ninth frame. I left the 10-pin again in the tenth, and much like my open in the second game I barely missed the pin to the left. I finished the game with a 235 and a 667 series. Its always rough opening in the tenth frame, and its even worse when you are throwing a great first ball. However, I left feeling pretty happy with how things went and I know its going to be a long few weeks until I get back on the lanes.

Lesson Learned

Wow, that was the best I have bowled in a long time.  I almost never throw that many strikes, and to only have two opens the whole series was a real confidence booster.  The lanes were the exact opposite of Thursday night in that they were very forgiving. If I missed my mark by a board to the right or left, I could still count on a solid pocket hit.

So where did the second game go wrong? After coming in really light I decided to move back on the approach a few inches. This helped, but I overlooked two key elements that also effected that shot. The first was that the tape in my thumb hole was bunching up and causing me to not get a snug fit in the ball. This was causing the ball to come off my hand a little early, thus losing revs and hook in the backend. The second issue, somewhat related, was that I was missing my mark to the right. I say they are related because the thumb is what directs the ball to the target, so if the thumb is coming out early that means the ball is going to miss right. Also, by losing revs on the ball, it didn't have enough bite to make up the difference of boards missed in the backend. Once I fixed the tape, the problems disappeared and I quickly adjusted back to where I needed to be.

Its hard to see something as trivial as three pieces of tape ruin a potential 700 series, but it did teach me to be observant of my equipment. If something doesn't feel right, fix it right away or else your game will suffer and you might even hurt yourself.

That being said, as I left the center on Sunday I had a big smile on my face. I just set a new personal best 8 strikes in a row and followed it with another seven in a row later in the series. I also threw a new season high game and series . . . and totally impressed some 6 year old kid.

October 14, 2011

Week 8 Recap

Game 1: 204
Game 2: 186
Game 3: 193
Series: 583
Week Avg: 194
Season Avg: 189

Note: Week 9's recap is already posted because I prebowled those games on October 2nd. Week 10's recap will be posted early next week as I will be prebowling those games on Sunday.


There were only five bowlers on our set of lanes this week and we finished about an hour earlier than the week before. The games moved quickly and there wasn't much time between frames to contemplate adjustments. Practice went fairly well, but everyone was sticking at the foul line on the right lane. As a result, I slowed my approach so I wouldn't wipe out in front of everyone.

The first game started with two light hits, but I picked up the spares. I moved back two inches and found the pocket. I struck and spared pretty regularly with only a missed 10-pin preventing a clean game. I noticed that there wasn't much room for error on the lanes early on. If I missed my mark to the right the ball would hang out there for a long time before snapping back at the very end. If it found the pocket after that it was usually too steep an entry and wouldn't carry. If I missed my mark to the left it would hold in the middle of the lane and barely hook at the end. This worried me a little bit because that is typically a problem that could leave splits, but luckily I managed to avoid those and hit on the left of the head pin. These issues were a result of the oil being carried down the lane and into the backend. With a full compliment of bowlers, this is usually overcome early on or even in practice. Since we had five bowlers, with only two throwing my line, it was a struggle well into the second game. In the tenth frame I threw the first two strikes and then hit light again leaving the 4-8. I finished with a 204.

The second game started with me missing my mark to the right and leaving the 1-2-8. I picked up two that frame and stayed clean until the fifth frame, where I barely missed a 7-pin. From there on the oil in the backend began to ease up and the lanes became a little more forgiving. I struck out in the tenth frame to win the game for the team and finished with a 186.  It wasn't enough to advance in the brackets and to make matters worse, I pulled the winning 50/50 ticket that just so happened to belong to the same fellow who beat me.

I started the third game with a strike/spare/strike/spare and then threw a turkey. I could do no wrong on the right lane, but the left lane saw me come in a bit high so I moved up the two inches I adjusted in the first game and was hitting fine. In the eighth frame on the left lane I thought I had a great shot, but I left and missed a solid 4-pin. I struck on the right lane in the ninth frame, giving me at least eight strikes in a row on that particular lane. In the tenth frame I came in just a little high, and left the 4-9 split. If this sounds familiar, it should. I did the exact same thing in the third game last week and, just like last week, missed the 4-pin to the left by a hair. I finished that game with a 193 and a 583 series. That split cost me another 200 game and a probable 600 series.

Lesson Learned

I took last week's advice and made a promise to myself that I wouldn't second guess any decision on a shot. If I thought I should make an adjustment, I committed to it without backing out at the last second. I thought it worked out well and will continue to trust my judgement on reading the lanes.

My biggest problem last night was inconsistency in hitting my mark, a common problem for me. Early on I attributed it to worrying about falling down due to the tacky approach. Once that issue was gone, somewhere in the middle of the first game, I had no excuse but poor concentration. I noticed on one or two occasions I wasn't following through on my release, causing me to miss my mark to the right. On a few other occasions I noticed I was over-rotating my wrist, causing me to pull my shot to the left. Luckily I am able to diagnose these problems and can feel when a shot isn't right, but I need to work on preventing these issues from cropping up in the first place. Hopefully better concentration on my target will force me to follow through with my release on every shot, extending my arm out past my mark. Its something to work on this Sunday when I prebowl for week 10.

First Quarter Season Review

Last night was the end of the first quarter of the season. While ultimately successful, I feel that the first quarter was a bit under average for me. I hit a point in the middle of the quarter where I was missing easy singe pin spares, and while I am still missing the corner pins and the 4-pin from time to time, I think this has gotten better. Missed spares are definitely a big part of why my average is not currently in the 190s.

On the positive side, I threw eleven 200 games in the first quarter. That is 45% of the games thrown with at least one 200 every week. Also, my lowest series is a 521. I am usually good for a handful of 400 series a season, a trend I am hoping to overcome this year.

I am on the upswing coming into the beginning of the second quarter.  Hopefully I can relay the positives from my last few outings into boosting my average back to the 190s.

October 7, 2011

Week 7 Recap

Game 1: 181
Game 2: 207
Game 3: 181
Series: 569
Week Avg: 189
Season Avg: 188


All eight bowlers were present and right handed, so once again I knew going into the night that reading the lanes was going to be an important part of the evening.  I threw three frames of practice, and although I didn't have a good pocket hit I was fairly confident going in that I knew where I needed to be to start the game.  I also had a chance to shoot a 7-pin and a 10-pin, which is always nice.

The first game began with a few light pocket shots, but I was able to pick up my spares and move on.  I left an 8-pin on one shot, but I misplayed my second ball, which slid down the middle of the lane and missed the pin about two inches to the right.  I moved right a board for my first ball, but that adjustment wasn't enough.  I picked up that spare and on the next ball I moved back a little bit, but that also wasn't doing the trick.  I left a 2-7 split and chopped the 2-pin head on for another open.  When I missed my mark a board to the right, the ball would hook earlier and come in too high and if I missed my mark to the left it would skid through a lot of oil in the middle and not really break at all, so I wanted to keep my mark where it was for the time being.  I managed to keep it clean through the game and had a 181.

The second game started with a ten pin spare.  I was now coming in too high from where I was, so I knew I had to make an adjustment back the other way.  Before the second frame I thought that given how high I came in on my last ball that I should move left a board and up about an inch.  At the last second on the approach I second-guessed myself and only moved left a board.  As a result, I came in high leaving the 6-7-9-10 split.  To make it worse, I missed my mark to the left on the spare shot and only picked up the 9-pin instead of the whole three pin group.  I moved up a little and the next shot was better, but now it was coming in a little light.  The next frame I decided to slow my ball speed just a  bit to compensate for that extra board I needed for a good pocket hit.  It was like magic.  I fired off a few strikes and single pin spares, including a strike the first ball of the tenth frame. The next ball came in a little light leaving the 7-pin, which I barely missed in the gutter.  It actually popped out of the gutter and knocked it down, which is like adding insult to injury.  I finished with a 207, but that open in the tenth cost us the game.

The third game started with a turkey, which I promptly followed up with a 7-10 split.  I took the 10-pin on that shot and spent the rest of the game battling with drying lane conditions.  From the last half of the second game through the rest of the night the ball would hook a little more on each shot.  At first I stayed where I was and adjusted back to my normal ball speed, but after a while that wasn't enough.  I was hitting the pocket, but the 10-pin was calling my name.  Luckily I didn't miss that shot all night.  I had a strike or two mixed in, but in the tenth frame I left the 4-9 split as a result of a very high pocket hit.  Instead of going for one, I tried to make the split and missed the 4-pin just to the left.  I finished with another 181 game and a 569 series, averaging one pin over my current 188 average.  Luckily the last game was enough to win us the game and series, and win me the brackets for the night, putting some money in my pocket.

Lesson Learned

This week I bowled against the best guy in the league, who averages about 210.  We both anchor our respective teams and are very similar in our approach to the game, the way we throw the ball, how we adjust to the lane conditions, we were even throwing the same exact line last night.  The main difference between us is consistency.  Bruce very rarely misses his mark on the lanes, while I tend to miss my mark at least two or three times per game.  With my spare shooting troubles seemingly overcome for the time being, this is one of the biggest roadblocks in my game.

Bruce was up on me by two pins after the second game, but closed out with a 212.  His 602 total was under average for him, but he didn't really seem to mind. Throughout the night I noticed he was battling the same problems as me.  Once we finished, I was talking with Bruce and another bowler in the league, Mike, who averages about 195, about what our "go to" adjustment is for leaving the solid 10-pin.  Bruce preferred moving one board left because he felt that even if he came in light initially, the 4-pin was an easier spare and eventually that shot would start to carry.  Mike preferred to speed up his delivery so that the increased ball speed would allow less time for the ball to hook.  Bruce and I both expressed concern that changes in ball speed, while potentially effective, are a last resort for us due to the possibility that the synchronization of the entire delivery would be effected.  As you may have noticed by now, I prefer to move up on the approach a couple of inches so the ball has less room to hook into the pocket.  If I am already moved up and still coming in high, then I move left.

After talking with these guys for a while, my confidence in how I read the lanes and adjust skyrocketed.  I am totally in sync with what these guys are doing, and its really just a matter of trusting myself.  I second guessed myself in the second game and it cost me last night.  But I think now that I had this little chat, I feel ready to trust my instincts from now on.

October 3, 2011

Week 9 Pre-Bowl Recap

Game 1: 180
Game 2: 196
Game 3: 203
Series: 579
Week Avg: 193
Season Avg: to be determined 189

Every season I find at least one week that I am unable to attend bowling at its normally scheduled day and time.  Luckily, I am in a league that allows people to pre-bowl.  I will be pre-bowling for weeks 9 and 10 the next couple of weekends, which is good for you because that means twice as many posts the next two weeks.  Its also good for me because I will have the opportunity to work out any issues that arise on Thursday night.  And don't worry, I won't leave you high and dry in the two weeks I miss.  I'm planning an appropriate post on whether pre-bowling provides an advantage or disadvantage for a bowler.


Everything is different on Sunday at noon when compared to my usual league time of 6:30PM on Thursday.  For one, the center is really quiet.  There weren't any other people bowling on my side of the center, but there were plenty of people milling around waiting for the start of a bowling/Steelers game watching party.  Apart from the ambiance of the center, the lanes are always much drier on Sundays.  I knew I would be playing a bigger hook, and found a decent line standing four boards left of where I was on Thursday and shooting one board left of the second arrow.  Unfortunately I was having a difficult time hitting my mark and found myself either coming into the pocket about two boards too light or hitting the left side of the headpin.  Luckily, this allowed me to shoot a 10-pin and a few 7-pins before practice was over.  After throwing the equivalent of a complete game of practice, time ran out and I was confident that as long as I hit my mark I would have a decent shot at striking.

I started off the first game with a few light hits and a strike, but converted my first three spares.  In the fifth frame I missed a 7-pin because I missed my mark to the right.  I managed to stay clean the rest of the game, converting several more 7-pins and my best friend the 10-pin.  I even made the 3-10 split.  My spare shooting confidence was returning and I finished the game with a 180.

The second game started pretty similar to the first.  I had a couple of spares and a strike, but I was still missing my mark about a board to the right or left and that was making a big difference in the backend.  I tried moving a half board right to force myself to throw over my mark and I tried moving back a few inches to give the ball more time to react; however, as I would later realize, the real battle here was with my mechanics, not the lanes.  After missing a 7-pin in the fourth frame I decided to move my mark an inch closer to me.  This worked for a while and I was striking a bit more and not coming in as light in the pocket.  I either struck or had a nine-count spare through the rest of the game and finished with a 196.

The third game started about the same with a spare and a strike.  In the third frame I hit way light and left the 2-4-8.  I made a bad decision on how to approach the shot, thinking that the ball would still hook in the middle of the lane because of how dry the lanes were closer to the gutter, and just barely kicked out the 2-pin.  I spared and then missed my third 7-pin of the day.  On that shot I realized that I wasn't getting nearly as much lift on the ball as I usually do.  The ball was just falling off of my hand with less revolutions, thus causing the ball to list lazily into the pocket rather than grabbing the lanes and driving through the rack.  I really focused on staying behind the ball and getting good revs from then on and I struck in the sixth and seventh frames.  I made a 10-pin in the eighth frame and then struck out, throwing a 203 and a 579 series.  Its over what my average is right now, but by the time these scores are applied in week 9 I hope my average is somewhere closer to that.

Lesson Learned

My spare shot confidence is back! I hope this carries into Thursday night, as my scores were greatly improved because of it.

Its easy to think there is some adjustment you can make in body position or that a change in your target will correct any issue you might have.  If you have been bowling for a while, muscle memory tends to take over much of your approach and release, so nine times out of ten that is correct.  But there is always that one time where something in your mechanics is the problem, and you need to be able to identify that quickly and be able to distinguish those problems from those attributed to the lanes.  During this outing, I was trying to use lane and body adjustments to correct a mechanical problem.  My follow through and ball release were lazy, causing the ball to have less revolutions and less power in the backend.  Once I was willing to look at what I was doing, instead of how the lanes were reacting, I was able to quickly diagnose the problem.  By concentrating harder on my release and my hand position as I let go of the ball, my inaccuracy seemed to disappear as well.

Its amazing how our minds work.  If we concentrate especially hard on one aspect of our mechanics, the rest all seems to come together.

Do you have any tips on how to identify whether a problem is caused by body mechanics or the lanes?