November 25, 2013

Week 12 and a Pre-Bowl

Last weekend I completed my third pre-bowl for my anticipated paternity leave in December. I was throwing the ball pretty well, at least as far as accuracy goes, but a lot of solid pocket hits left corner pins and anything high in the pocket left a split. I threw a 201, 188 and 181, but I thought my performance was better than what my series showed.

On league night I fared much better, throwing a 219, 213 and 241. I started the night with five strikes in a row and was immediately in the opposition's head. My teammates could hear them talking about my average and how easy I made it look. Anytime I can make the opposing team focus on my play instead of their own I know I must be doing my job.

Overall it was a pretty laid back night until the tenth frame of each game. The result of every game fell to my last frame and I was able to deliver all three times. We swept the third place team by a total of about 30 pins. Our team has been doing pretty well lately and I hope we can keep the momentum up as the position round closes in.

The last half of the last game did get pretty interesting for me, though. After a week of cooler temperatures we had a bit of a warm spell. I had tape in my thumb hole from the previous week and left it in to get more loft on the ball earlier in the night. The result was that my thumb began to swell from the increased pressure and friction and by the seventh frame the hole was too small even after I took the tape out. Each throw was a crapshoot as to whether the ball would come off my hand at all. Luckily I was able to strike until the tenth frame. The first ball in the tenth stuck more than the others, missed my target right, and left the 2-4-5. I needed to pick up the spare and get six pins on last ball to win the game. I picked up the spare and decided to move my last shot to the center of the lane to make sure I wouldn't gutter on the last ball.

It was a scary situation, one I hadn't dealt with before with the C-system. The weather has been cold the last few days, so hopefully I won't have the same problems tonight.

November 18, 2013

Cold Weather & Sore Thumbs

If you live in an area that sees a lot of fluctuation in temperature as the seasons change it is likely that you will experience a change in how your ball fits your hand. In colder weather our fingers get a bit thinner and when it is warmer they expand. I luckily do not experience much change in my finger tips, but I do see and feel a change in my thumb.

A few weeks ago the Pittsburgh area finally realized that it was autumn and that it had some catching up to, dropping from days in the 70s to days in the 40s and nights in the 30s. With that drastic temperature change came a quick change in my thumb size. It also just so happened that this change occurred when I had to use a ball I don't often throw and so I was a little slow to pick up on what was happening. The ball was coming off my hand early and so I subconsciously began to squeeze it during my follow through, which resulted in this:

That is a blister that developed from the friction of squeezing the ball for three games. It stings, but doesn't hurt, and usually heals up enough in 7 days that some New Skin can be applied pain-free. In about 10 days it is completely gone. If you ever develop something like this check your fit because you are most likely squeezing the ball.

An easy fix here is to apply a piece or two of tape in your thumb hole. Always be sure to place the tape in the back of the hole instead of the front to avoid altering the span. Another quick trick if you don't have any tape is to blow into the hole before inserting your thumb. The little bit of moisture provided by blowing into the ball will cause your thumb to grip the inside of the hole without you having to squeeze the ball.

Off the record, or as off the record as I can be on a blog, alcohol consumption could help as well. As you may have noticed, drinking alcohol gives you a warm fuzzy feeling because it dilates the capillaries and brings more blood to your skin. This also has the effect, along with the added liquid, of swelling your fingers and thumb. Short of having your ball plugged and redrilled every time you need to change your fit, though, this is one of the more expensive options available.

November 15, 2013

Week 11 Recap

This past Monday's performance was average. Literally. A 609 series in a week where my league average is 203. My first game wasn't great, a 170, which wasn't really indicative of how well I was throwing the ball. I had two splits and a single pin miss that killed that game. I alternated strikes and spares for a majority of the second game. I finally was able to double late and finished the game at 215. I followed that up with a 224.

I did manage to determine that my previous troubles we more with my follow through than my speed. As long as I come through my shot after the point of release I am much more accurate. It is something that is usually automatic, but it seems right now I need to spend some time focusing on that part of my game. I easily resolved the speed issue, which was a contributing factor to an extent, but now that I have slowed my feet I am throwing more consistently and am balanced at the foul line.

As my wife's due date quickly approaches I still have a couple pre-bowls to bank in preparation for league paternity leave. I also wouldn't mind building on my current average to bring a bit of stability to my scores now that the backslide has ended.

November 8, 2013

Week 10 Recap

I tried to avoid thinking about bowling, or more likely over thinking, all day Monday. When I got home from work to an empty house I gave myself a little pep talk to try to get myself out of my funk. I know I am a better bowler than what I was the past three weeks, no matter how down I may have gotten and no matter how much I questioned my skill. Monday night was a chance to take back some control and to do that I decided to focus on two things: slow down my approach just a little bit and make sure to follow through on every shot.

The games weren't flashy: 191, 221 and 214. But I was consistent and barely missed my mark. I simplified my game and everything fell into place. I opened twice in the first game, leaving a 4-6 split and missing on an easy 4-pin. In the second game I started with seven straight spares including four 10-pins. The oil started to carry down the lane and I had difficulty striking in my adjusted line. Once I started coming in high I moved back to my original spot and struck five in a row to finish the game.

I started really well in the third game, but am still having some difficulty with the transition late in the night. The ball ran high in the ninth frame and left another 4-6 split. I adjusted in the tenth frame, but the ball still ran on me and left the 3-pin. I overcompensated to shoot the spare and missed right. I hate opening in the ninth frame, not to mention the tenth, so it was definitely a bitter end to an otherwise successful night.

The real test will be to stay positive and on the upswing as we approach Christmas. I'd really like to finish this year over 205 and to do that I will need to eliminate most of the sub-600 outings.

November 7, 2013

A Lost Bowling Blogger and Blue Oil

Last week I was shocked to learn that Matt over at Bowling Roller Coaster decided to pack it in after a few great years of updates. Matt was one of the first people to read this blog and offer comments and I enjoyed reading about his bowling journey. Matt, I hope you are still reading and I wish you all the best. I'll be keeping Bowling Roller Coast in the blog roll and I hope some day it will be reactivated.

Now, onto some happier bowling news: blue oil! I was actually thinking about the possibility of visible oil patterns earlier last week before the announcement that the WSOB would be using blue oil for its televised finals and was shocked to see it had come to fruition in less than a week's time (you're welcome!). The visible oil will allow television viewers the opportunity to see how a sport pattern looks and breaks down throughout a PBA stepladder final. Of course some are already complaining that visible oil patterns are the end of bowling as we know it by taking one big variable out of the equation and letting the bowlers actually see the transition. I think it is the exact opposite. This is the PBA's way of telling the couch-riding bowlers at home who think they could do better to shut up.

photo from

If all goes well, though, I see a great future for visible oil. Whereas the PBA is using the blue oil as a way to emphasize difficulty, I see this invention as a teaching tool. All junior leagues should utilize the blue oil as a way for youth bowlers to learn how a typical house pattern looks and breaks down and how these changes affect their balls' reaction. While the colored oil is not good at showing the amount of oil in each area, it will still give newcomers one less thing to try to understand when learning about patterns. This philosophy could also apply to Sport leagues, perhaps by using blue oil the first week a new pattern is used.

One of the great difficulties of bowling is that we don't see the variables that effect each throw. Imagine golfing on a course where all 18 holes are in the exact same place, but the trees, sand traps and water hazards are invisible and move around each shot. This new oil will let bowlers and non-bowlers better understand the changes that take place during a game and, perhaps, give us all a greater appreciation for how we read and adjust to these changes when we can't see them.

November 4, 2013

Week 9 Recap

I knew it was going to be a bad night before I stepped in the alley last week. As I approached the front doors another league member pronounced "There'll be no oil tonight!" Apparently the machine broke down right before the lanes were to be dressed for league so we were bowling on a day's worth of breakdown.

I threw the C-system in practice with hopes that I could play further inside, but after ten minutes I could tell that I would need to go to my bag and pull out the Python. It was another terrible performance, but I can't really blame the lanes for this one. I was inconsistent. I could hit my mark no matter how hard I tried (perhaps I tried too hard?). When I did hit my marks I was great, confirmed by my 216 second game that followed the 146 opener. Whatever mojo I had going into the third was quickly cast aside and a 175 was all I could manage.

I need to break out of this free fall. I thought I was better than this, but last month's 769 series seems like a distant memory, a fluke. I'm running out of ideas on how to correct missing left. I've tried not bending over so far, staying behind the ball, keeping better balance, but once one thing goes right another seems to be thrown out of sync in its place. I think I just need to simplify my game, boil it down to the bare bones. Just follow through on every shot and don't worry about anything else. Let it come back to me. Let it build around the one good thing I can control and do well. I've got the muscle memory, I just need to figure out how to push the reset button and start all over.

October 22, 2013

Another Paternity Leave Pre-Bowl

It is sort of difficult expecting a baby in the middle of league season. Our first was born in June and my wife actually bowled an entire season while pregnant. Our second is due on December 22nd, but you never really know when the baby might get sick of her current abode and decide its time to venture out to see the world. To be a good father and husband I am planning to take at least a month off from my regularly scheduled league nights to help out with the baby and our 2 year old. As a result, I need to roll off for at least four weeks of bowling so I don't leave my team high and dry and also to get in a good number of games to make this year's average comparable to last year's. I need to get these pre-bowls in now in case the baby decides to come early. Since I don't know the exact week the scores will be used it makes the recap format a bit more challenging, but I'll give it a whirl.

On Sunday I threw my second week of paternity pre-bowls. I wanted to shake off the collapse of Monday's performance and so I really focused on finishing balanced at the foul line and following through over my target. The result was a 224, 212 and a 213. I haven't thrown many average 600s this season, everything has been well over average or well under, and so this was a pretty good outing.

The lanes were a bit dry, but were manageable and even a bit forgiving when using the Python. The only problem I have discovered with that ball is the fit of the thumb hole. When I play three games with it I get a pretty bad rub on the outside of my thumb just below the knuckle. I lose a layer of skin, it gets red and irritated, but always heals up enough so that I can throw a layer of New Skin over it before the start of league next week. It typically only happens when I need to use some tape, but its not an issue of the ball being too tight. Its very odd and the only solution may be to just have the thumb redrilled, but since the ball was already resurfaced due to the machine damage from last season is it really worth it or should I just buy a replacement. So many decisions.

My biggest concern during the outing was spare shooting . . . again. I missed a 10-pin in the tenth frame of the first game and the first frame of the second game. I also miscalculated on an adjustment to pickup the 1-2 in the tenth frame of the third game. It has been both poor decision making and poor execution all happening at the most inopportune moments. If I'm going to continue my success on the lanes and maybe even get better I will need to improve my spare shooting and become more consistent in my overall play.

October 18, 2013

Pre-Bowl and Week 7 Recap

On Sunday I went out to bank a few games for my upcoming hiatus when my daughter is born. The lanes were not as dry as last week's pre-bowl, but they were definitely not treated after a long night of open bowling. Luckily I was throwing a much better ball and was able to put together my first average series of the season: 237, 191 and 192. My spare shooting was still sub-par, though, particularly the 10-pin.

On Monday, then, I had some confidence that I had shaken the troubles of two weeks ago. My first game, a 225, pretty much confirmed this. Though a missed 9-pin near the end of the game did give me some cause for concern and was an omen of things to come. The following two games saw me revert back to being unable to hit my marks. I was constantly missing left and was bitten by splits a few times. I threw a 172 in the second game and a dismal 155 in the third, a new season low. A positive is that I made all but one of my corner pin shots and I was much better at spare shooting overall.

Outside of weeks 2 and 3 I have been unable to string together consistent good performances, which was a key to last year's success. Being unbalanced at the foul line has been a big part of what is dragging down my game. I wasn't able to correct it on Monday night and I will have to shake it off and get back on track my next time out. I probably should have switched down to the Python after the first games as the oil was getting a bit unpredictable at the end of the first game. In the end, though, if I can't hit my targets it doesn't matter what ball I'm using out there.

I have to miss the next league night and have scores already on file, another 552 matching this week's performance, but will be back on the lanes on Sunday to pre-bowl another set for later in the season. I thought that throwing 3 extra games a week would help me break out of these problems, but I feel like what I need right now is a break.Hopefully scaling back to 3 games this week will put me back on track.

October 9, 2013

Week 6 Recap

Game 1: 268
Game 2: 245
Game 3: 256
Series: 769
Week Avg: 256
Season Avg: 212

Coming into the night my goal was to keep my head down and hit my mark on every shot. After my last three outings I just needed to simplify my game and let the rest fall into place. I threw quite a bit of practice and felt pretty comfortable, like I was still loose from throwing on Sunday. Also, the line that was working best for me had me throwing right over the second arrow which gave a clear mark to hit on each throw.

My first shot hit a little high to leave the 4-pin, which I spared. Then I threw the next seven strikes in a row before another high hit left the 4-7, which I also spared. I struck out in the tenth for a 268. The second game developed the pattern of a double followed by a spare through the front eight frames. I broke the pattern with strikes in the ninth and tenth frames before leaving the 10-pin. I missed right on my spare attempt for my first open and my third 245 of the short season. The third game started with another double. I left the 6-10 twice in a row, chopping the 10-pin on the first attempt and converting on the second. I was able to strike out for a 256 and my new high series, 769.

During my first game I knew I was going to have a big night. I just felt on. My only two shots all night that missed left went Brooklyn for strikes. I kept my head down and I never felt more focused. And I've never thrown that many strikes. The two opens stung a bit, especially given how obtainable an 800 series could have been, but I kept my cool and I'm happy to report I am out of that slump.

It doesn't happen often, but I could feel the eyes at my back throughout the night. People were watching and it felt great. I don't think I'm arrogant or anything like that, but man does it feel good to be noticed for the right reasons. I got a few comments about a 300 game in my future and the possibility of going pro which I always dismiss, especially the latter, but coming from people who are around bowling a lot it tends to carry a bit more weight with me than the random comments from some kid while I am out practicing. With this consistency and focus maybe that 300 isn't so far away.

The thing I look forward to the most after a big night is telling my dad. I'm 28 years old, married with a daughter and another on the way, but he is the first person I think about when I'm doing well. I bowl because of him and he helped me get to the level I am at today. He is always so excited to hear about these nights and is so proud that he brags about it to his teammates on Thursday nights (one of which is my little brother who isn't a bad bowler in his own right). When that perfect game does come I know who is getting that first phone call.

For now, though, I need another good performance before my turd of a pre-bowl is used on October 21. The team struggled early on, but we've taken 12 of 14 possible points the last two weeks. A few more big nights and we are in the running as the first half comes to a close around Christmas. Personal slumps and triumphs aside it is a team sport and anything can happen.

October 7, 2013

Week 8 Pre-Bowl Recap

Game 1: 179
Game 2: 172
Game 3: 201
Series: 552
Week Avg: 184

And the song remains the same. Coming into the alley on Sunday I had one goal: get out of this slump. I knew I was missing my mark to the left because I was unbalanced at the foul line, but I still wasn't very clear on what exactly the problem was. I needed to diagnose and resolve this issue if I was going to bowl better.

The lanes were dry, untreated after a night of laser light bowling. I moved down to my Python and just for fun at the end of practice I decided to throw my plastic spare ball. Surprisingly it hooked quite a bit and I was able to cover about 12 boards in the backend. I was basically able to throw my preferred line for a fresh oil pattern with my most reactive ball with my non-reactive plastic ball.

I started the first game with a turkey and then missed my mark left in the fourth frame, but I finally found the problem. I was looking up before my ball crossed my target, pulling my head up and causing me to miss left. i focused on keeping my head down the rest of the day and I only missed my mark a handful of times after that. I chopped my spare in the fourth but had a pretty solid game until the ninth and tenth frames. I left pocket 4-6 and 8-10 splits killing my chances at a 200 game.

The second game started with a double before the wheels fell off again. This game I missed four spares, including three single pin leaves. Not corner pins either, a 6-pin and two 8-pins. I finished a bit stronger to salvage another game in the 170s.

The third game was better. Not too many strikes, but I kept it clean. After four straight pocket hits couldn't carry the corners I moved down to the plastic ball and played over the 8-board which gave me a better entry angle and better carry. I squeaked out a 201 and I was thrilled.

For the most part I came in and did what I set out to do. I diagnosed a problem and I fixed it. I tried to make the best of a bad situation given the lane conditions and I suppose I was lucky to escape with a 550+ series.

The next issue to tackle is my lackluster spare shooting. Now that I can hit my mark, it should just be a matter of concentration and execution. I know how to line up for spares, now I just need to get it done. We'll see how things pan out tonight.

October 4, 2013

Week 5 Recap

Game 1: 166
Game 2: 159
Game 3: 205
Series: 530
Week Avg: 176
Season Avg: 204

This week was awful and I was really down after a pretty poor performance. My timing was off causing me to be unbalanced at the foul line which then caused me to miss my mark left on most shots. No matter what I did I could not consistently deliver a good shot. I wasn't getting good carry when I did hit my mark and I missed a few easy spares. It bothered me. I thought I was better than that. I thought I was capable of making adjustments and fixing problems. I thought wrong.

I've bowled poorly before, but this was the first week that truly bothered me. I put off writing this post all week and considered giving up the blog altogether. Who needs to relive failure over and over again? Well, successful people do, that's who. That is how they learn. That is how I will get out of this free fall.

Let's be honest, two stellar weeks so early in the season put my average well above my abilities. Seeing that big number next to my name was exciting, but it made me believe I was better than I am. I made an naive goal of not bowling below a 550 this year after completing my first season with no 400 series. The last two weeks have grounded me, though, and I'm determined to not let my average get below 200. I know I can do that, I just need to work on a few things.

A few days removed from the unpleasantness I can see a bit clearer and find some positives. I know what my problem was, I just need to fix it. I think it is a matter of posture and following through on my shots so some practice should clear that up. Also, the lanes were dry again this week but I was able to move left, find some oil and return to the pocket so long as I hit my marks. These are steps in the right direction.

I've composed myself now and have some confidence back. I can fix this. I am pre-bowling on Sunday to start banking games for my paternity leave in December so I can get to correcting my game soon.

Until then I just need to stay calm and get through this little slump.

September 26, 2013

Week 4 Recap

Game 1: 219
Game 2: 192
Game 3: 158
Series: 569
Week Avg: 189
Season Avg: 211

Welp, reality hit me hard this week and the fantasy I was living on the lanes quickly came to an end. It has been feast or famine for me through the first four weeks of the season and this week was famine time.

Right away I got off to a rough start in practice. A recent cold snap here in western Pennsylvania caused my thumb to shrink a bit and I had to put some tape in the ball. It took a few throws to get my grip right and I never really threw a good ball during practice.

Not to be discouraged I made a guesstimate as to where I should stand to start the first game, moving my body and mark a board left from my usual line. Luckily it worked great and I started the night with a 5-bagger. In the sixth frame I missed my mark right by a board and the ball just hung out the length of the lane to leave the 1-2-8, which I chopped for an open. I struck again in the seventh frame and threw a couple spares and a strike before leaving an 8-10 split my second ball in the tenth frame.

The second game started with two opens, a missed 10-pin and a split. I struck in the third and had the ball hang out on me the next two frames to spare and split for another open. Instead of fighting the lanes which were running high when I hit my mark and hanging out when I missed slightly I decided to make a ball change in the sixth frame. The change worked great and I was in the pocket the rest of the game with five strikes and two nine counts.

The third game presented the same difficulties as the others. Accuracy was the name of the game and I just didn't have it Monday night. When I hit my marks I was in the pocket, but the Python wouldn't carry the corners. When I was off my marks the ball held right and I would leave pretty large groupings on the deck. Two bad opens, including a missed 7-pin, left much to be desired and I was lucky to escape with a 158.

I thought the oil played like a shorter version of the Shark sport pattern this week. Left of the 10 board was hooking pretty well, but anything to the outside of 9 wasn't coming back. Unfortunately I didn't have this epiphany until the drive home after the damage had been done. I probably should have stood at about 28 and played over 12, further inside than usual but the ball was moving well in the backends and would have produced good carry. I'm having a hard time picking up on how to apply my previous experiences to the changing conditions I've faced so far this season and it is something I will need to get better at quickly if I want to continue improving.

To make matters worse, I was not throwing a good ball this week. Adjusting to different fits was a concern every time I changed balls. My thumb was loose in the Python and when I switched back to the more snug fit of the C-System I was holding onto the ball way too long. The quick change in weather really had an impact on my thumb size and I'm looking forward to a more stable climate once autumn and winter kick in. The fit problem pulled me into a downward spiral of timing and balance issues that really did a number on my third game. Instead of trying to battle the lanes and my physical issues I should have just concentrated on fixing my game and let the lanes come to me in time.

As a great man once said, "A bowler's mind divided cannot strike" . . . or something like that.

September 20, 2013

Week 3 Recap

Game 1: 231
Game 2: 203
Game 3: 245
Series: 679
Week Avg: 226
Season Avg: 218

We finally had the whole team together this week and our opponent had four of five bowlers so we expected to be in for a long, but competitive night of action.

The lanes played pretty close to where they were the week before; however, most everyone was playing left of the second arrow and so I really only had to contend and adapt to whatever changes my ball made to the oil conditions. I struck right away and spared in the second frame before shooting the next six in a row. In the ninth frame I left a 4-7-10 and missed my mark on the spare attempt for a big open leading into the tenth frame. I managed to spare and strike in the tenth for a 231 game, but the open foundation frame really stung.

Throughout the second game I was struggling to find a new line that would carry. After starting with a double I came in high in the third frame and started to leave single pins. I scattered a few strikes in the game to keep within striking distance. I needed good pin count in the tenth frame to pull off a team win and a solid pocket hit left the 8-10 split. That is already the second game this year that was within my reach and I let it slip away.

The last game was much stronger. I was not going to let that second game happen again. Two members of the opposing team rolled off one game so they could leave early, so there were seven of us on the pair and the pace picked up a bit, which had the potential to screw things up. Luckily it didn't. I doubled, spared, and then threw my second six-bagger of the night. I left the 7-pin on my first ball of the tenth frame and another errant spare attempt officially cost me a 700 series.

I left the center pretty disappointed, but the drive home gave me some time to realize that I've reached a point in my game where I can be really upset about leaving three opens and averaging 226 in a night. This was the first time I ever came close to throwing back to back 700 series and I really wanted that. It was also unfortunate that one open fell in the ninth frame and two others came in the tenth. If any of those come earlier in the game I may have reached 700 and possibly won the team a game.

The season is still very young, but I'm getting a little concerned that my mental game suffered slightly over the summer. I spent a lot of time working on the details, but I really only threw five regular games and didn't have a chance to get in a pressure situation. Last year if the game was in reach I could go out there and get the job done, but so far that hasn't been the case this year. Hopefully it will come back to me as the season progresses.

September 11, 2013

Week 2 Recap

Game 1: 236
Game 2: 234
Game 3: 245
Series: 715
Week Avg: 238
Season Avg: 214

When we arrived at the lanes this week we found out that they filled our team with a nice couple that were in the league last year. From a pacing stand point this was a relief. It should also make for a fun and more competitive season. One of our regulars had scheduled vacation this week, though, so we will have to wait until week 3 to get the whole team in action.

This week was the complete opposite of week 1. The lanes were being oiled as I walked in the door and so they played pretty similarly to the majority of last season. I was also a bit more focused this week and made a conscious effort to make better decisions and adjustments.

After starting the first game with a couple of light pocket hits I moved a half board right in the third frame and really never looked back. After a strike in the third and a missed 10-pin in the fourth (my only open of the night) I struck the next six in a row and spared to finish the tenth frame for a 236.

The second game was pretty similar with a spare or two breaking up a string of strikes. I shot a 234 in the second. I started the third game with two more spares and then had another six bagger. I started running a little high and so I moved up a few inches on the approach, but never really got back to form to finish out the evening. I needed to strike on my first ball in the tenth to get the win for the team, but I left the 4-pin. I spared and left the 8-10 to finish the game with a 245 and a 715 series.

If there is such a thing as an effortless 700 series this was it. As long as I put the ball between the second and third arrows it was a strike. When I did leave something it was a corner pin and when something was a bit off it was easy to identify and correct. My one shot outside the pocket was a Brooklyn strike.

This was probably the most consistent high series I've ever had and despite the success I never found myself feeling rushed or nervous. I've finally thrown enough bigger names to stay calm and focus on the task at hand. I can now act like I've been there before because I have; now its just the matter of getting up to that next level where I start to feel the butterflies again.

Nights like this are fun, but they make for a terrible weekly blog post, don't they?

September 4, 2013

Week 1 Recap

Game 1: 180
Game 2: 222
Game 3: 168
Series: 570
Week Avg: 190
Season Avg: 190

Our team is down to three bowlers this season with two "Vacancies" filling in the fourth and fifth spots. It might fill in in the coming weeks, but for now we might be looking at early nights all season long. This will put a lot of emphasis on quick decision making and also run the risk of a faster pace than is really needed. We will have to be mindful that we are bowling at a pace that works best for us, or else we'll be putting ourselves at a disadvantage every week.

Unfortunately one of our bowlers had to work and so we were down to only two bowlers for opening night. The lanes were a bit drier than I remember seeing seeing all last year. Perhaps the center forgot leagues were starting that night. It took some time, but by the end of practice I thought I had found a line that worked well for me . . .

I was so wrong! I started the first game of the season with four straight splits. A 4-6, 5-7, 8-10, and 3-10. Luckily I managed to convert the last one. There were even a few pocket hits in there and I think the other team started to feel bad for me. All I could do was laugh, really. I switched down to a weaker ball and managed to throw a turkey and spare out for a 180 game. The three straight opens killed me.

As the first game wore on I started coming in a bit light. I thought that this was being caused by the front end oil being pushed further down the lane so I decided to go on the offensive. I switched back up to the C-System and was able to throw my preferred line for most of the game. By the end of the game the oil was gone and I switched back down to the Python. I left a 3-9-10 in the seventh frame, but managed to convert the spare and finish with a clean 222.

The third game was a lot like the first. Some mixed success, but overall I wasn't very comfortable. I left two additional splits this game, converting one of them. I missed a 10-pin on my last ball in the tenth frame for my only non-split open of the night. It was a hard fought 168 to be sure, but I was thankful to escape with that and live to fight another day.

I know what you're thinking because I was thinking it to: "Zach, this summer you practiced playing all those different lines, why didn't you just do that?" I did move left a bit to catch some oil in the middle of the lane, but either the ball wouldn't grab or I wouldn't get good carry when I did hit the pocket. Could I have fine tuned a better line to the pocket that was more successful? Probably. Actually that is most likely what I will do from here on out.

But my thinking was this: I carry two different balls for a reason and with my style of play these conditions seemed better suited for the Python. I transitioned from ball to ball without any issue or "lost frames," so I think the summer practice did help me in that regard. Plus it was week 1 of 34, if I am going to start experimenting this was the perfect time to do it.

I think it is important to look at the positives from this week's outing. The first positive is the seamless transition from ball to ball that I mentioned before. The other big one is the successful implementation of the offensive strategy I outlined above. In the second game I read what was happening on the lanes and worked the oil to benefit me. Without that big game I don't know how this week would have turned out, but I think it would have taken more than the Labor Day break to recover.

August 26, 2013

Sandbagger Prevention League Results and Thoughts

I’m not gonna lie: managing the Sandbagger Prevention League was a lot more time consuming than I anticipated. I was basically managing seven leagues all at the same time and these silly things called work and life kept getting in the way. But I finally have results for our 27 week season. Thanks again to all that participated.

The final scratch averages were as follows, with Sam as our simulated sandbagger:
Matt 1
Matt 2
Matt 3

The goal of the SPL was to identify a league in which good bowlers were rewarded, sandbagging was not beneficial, and not so good bowlers were kept in competition so they would be driven to get better.  As a baseline our eight bowlers participated in a scratch league with predictable results as follows:
Matt 1
Matt 2
Matt 3

The scratch league results are nearly identical to the list of averages. Sam and EBH swapped spots, but their averages are only a pin off so I think that is negligible. While sandbagging is clearly not beneficial in a scratch league, we also see that poor bowlers are kept well out of competition with everyone else. Scratch leagues are great for advanced bowlers or groups at a similar skill level, but they are not for an all-inclusive league.

Using the same scratch scores I broke our bowlers down into two divisions based on average. Sam and EBH dominated their division and Matt 1 and Matt 2 ran away with theirs. Two rounds of divisional brackets were used to determine the division champions. The winner of each division then bowled head to head to crown a league champion, with the championship match being 100% handicap based on the higher average of the two bowlers. EBH defeated Matt 1 for the league title.

Another scratch divisional league awarded 1-4 points based on how the bowler’s series ranked within their division in addition to one point being awarded for each game won in head to head play. I didn’t use the brackets to determine the division champions this time and so the bowler with the most points in each division squared off for the league title: Sam and Matt 1. This time the better bowler prevailed and Matt 1 was the league champion.

Competition was pretty good within the divisions, especially the top tier division with the three Matts and me. Only 19 pins separated the best and worst averages and most matches were pretty close. The lower division had a greater disparity between the best and worst averages and the standings were not as close as a result.

Next I tested the traditional 100% handicap league with the following results:
Matt 1
Matt 2
Matt 3

The best bowlers came in first and second, but the worst bowler finished third. A skilled sandbagger could also take advantage of this league to climb the standings. These results are not overly shocking because the better bowlers averaged so much higher than the worse ones and so the large skill difference negated the benefit of the handicap. I am also not a skilled sandbagger and had a difficult time plotting Sam’s results to cheat the system.

Another 100% handicap league assigned one point per game won in head to head competition, but then also awarded 1-8 points based on how the bowler’s series ranked that week. Using the same games with this small scoring change resulted in the following standings:
Matt 1
Matt 2
Matt 3

The mid-level bowlers were particularly punished here because they lacked the benefit of a high skill level and a high handicap; though, competition between bowlers of comparable skill was much better. A combination of awarding points based on how a series ranks each week and the division format could render a pretty competitive league.

The same two league styles were also used in an 80% handicap based system to see if a lower handicap would alter the results. The regular league results were as follows:
Matt 1
Matt 2
Matt 3

And the league that awarded 1-8 points based on series resulted in the following:
Matt 1
Matt 2
Matt 3

The straight 80% and 100% handicap league kept the closest competition with 57.5 points separating the first and last place bowlers. While the scratch league results came the closest to reflecting the bowlers’ skill levels, the 80% handicap league that awarded series points also came pretty close.

The Takeaway

There is really no way for a bowling league to fairly compensate for a 100+ pin difference in average between bowlers.  As a scratch league the lower average bowlers are more likely to feel that they can never catch up to the high average bowlers, probably resulting in them quitting instead of using it as motivation to get better.  In a handicap league the better bowlers are essentially punished for their skill and mid-level bowlers become fodder for those with high averages and high handicaps. When you factor in prizes for winning the league, most improved average, etc., the temptation for sandbagging is pretty strong. I know, no groundbreaking results here.

The divisions within a scratch league idea did work out pretty well, though. When bowlers averaged within 20 pins of each other their point totals stayed close while still reflecting the bowlers’ skill levels. The ability to advance to a higher division could serve the motivator role without being too overwhelming. If payouts are kept within divisions they will be a bit smaller which in turn could further discourage sandbagging. This could be tweaked to work at the individual and team levels.

Now there seems to be a growing divide among bowlers, at least if you can trust those on Facebook groups as a representative sample. I’ve seen many conversations where good bowlers belittle the accomplishments of others in house leagues, essentially stating that it isn’t real bowling since the ball does most of the work. I disagree to an extent, the ball doesn’t throw itself down the lane, but there is most definitely a difference between accomplishments on a THP and sport patterns.

I think there is a great desire for bowlers to try out the sport patterns, but the USBC and local centers do not make them easy to come by (at least not in Pittsburgh). A drive needs to be made to make USBC sanctioned sport leagues the norm in league bowling. This gives good bowlers the motivation they need to get even better and provides practical experience for tournaments. House leagues still have their place at the junior level and in beginner leagues since they are a great way to learn bowling basics. Much like junior bowling, I think the introduction of coaches at beginner leagues for those that wish to utilize them would also help push new bowlers to improve. The scheduling of coaches could be the responsibility of the local USBC chapters and could also help promote the various coach certifications.

As it stands there is no set milestone in place, other than honor scores, to entice the majority of bowlers to improve. If they do not set personal goals then they are perfectly content showing up every week to go through the motions. If the USBC can include minor ways to reward good bowling, like becoming eligible to move into a higher tier league (i.e. graduating from a THP beginner league to a sport league) then perhaps the talent pool will improve so that handicaps are no longer required to “level the playing field,” effectively eliminating the sandbagger to a dark place in bowling’s history.