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.