July 26, 2013

Keep Calm and Keep Bowling

On a whim this week I decided to check out the US Open standings. I was pleased to see that a former teammate and competitor from my junior days, Jacqui Reese, was competing. I was even more pleased to see that coming into Friday's match play she was tied for seventh, four spots away from making her first television appearance. After dominating the Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley women's bowling scene for about eight years it is great to see her excel at the highest level.

It was really a pleasure to watch Jacqui's junior career and if you were smart enough to really pay attention you could really learn a lot from how she approached the game. We were in the same Saturday morning and summer doubles league for a few years and I was lucky enough to bowl on her team for the junior team tournament back in 2002/2003. You could never tell how well Jacqui was bowling just by looking at her. Some bowlers wear their performance like a mask: if they are doing well they are all smiles, but if they are doing poorly they look angry or defeated. Jacqui had one look while she was bowling: determined. After every shot you could tell that she was analyzing what she just did and thinking about the next throw. It was very methodical, professional even, and it is the epitome of how a good bowler should concentrate on their game.

It took a long time for this lesson to sink in for me. When I was doing bad I felt even worse. I'd get mad. I couldn't concentrate. I couldn't make adjustments. The whole outing was a bust. I spent a little over two years away from bowling when I started college and when I came back I had a new attitude. I decided to take the Jacqui approach, at least for the most part. I refuse to let my performance get me so upset that I can't concentrate or make adjustments. I've said many times that every game, every outing, is a learning experience and you need to seize that lesson as it is happening rather than reflecting on a poor night of bowling once it is over. A bad week at league can stick with you the rest of the day, which is why leagues take place at night (this is contrary to the popular belief that we bowl at night so we can work during the day), but while you are in the moment keep your calm, remember what you know about how to adjust, and keep trying until you find what works.

I can't argue with the results. I averaged somewhere in the 181 range when I finished juniors. Once I made an effort to keep my composure I jumped into the 190s and have been on a steady increase ever since.

So good luck through the rest of the tournament, Jacqui, and thanks for being a great role model.

Keep calm and keep bowling.

July 19, 2013

Summer Practice Session #3

This past weekend I decided to hit the lanes for some more practice. I wanted to work on my timing when adjusting ball speed and also getting a few more revs on the ball by rotating or flicking my fingers at the point of release.

After being away from the lanes for four weeks the rust was quick to show. During my warm up in the first game my timing was completely off and I felt a bit uncomfortable. I had a difficult time hitting my mark and a lot of the little things I managed to correct over the last year and a half had returned. It took some time to reteach myself to not dip my shoulder, keep my back straight and follow through my shot, but I got back where I needed to be by the end of the game.

Once I was back in shape I started out by trying to add some more revs on the ball, hoping that this would help me out when the ball seemed to hit a bit flat or there was oil farther down the lane. At the point of release I would pull my middle finger up toward my palm and my ring finger out toward the back of my hand. Its not a dramatic movement, but that quick flick of the fingers at release did add a few more revolutions on the ball. I got the idea from an article that said to practice tossing a tennis ball win the air and make it spin without turning your wrist. One nice attribute of this technique is that it did not affect my accuracy and when I am bowling really well I feel I do this naturally. It is something I need to focus on a bit more, but with time this may become part of my regular release or at least a regular go-to adjustment.

Next I wanted to try increasing ball speed by holding the ball higher at the start of my approach. My problem with increasing speed in the past is that my timing would become erratic and as a result I could not consistently hit my target. I usually hold the ball at about waist level, so I decided to try lifting it up level to my chin. It was awkward at first to be sure, but I eventually got the hang of it. It will definitely take some practice to get used to the change in stance and even more practice to be able to change back and forth between my normal approach and this adjusted one. One thing I like about this bowling center is that it tracks your ball speed. My normal delivery is typically 15.6 mph (I checked back in a post from last summer and it was the exact same speed), but the change in height only increased the speed to just over 16 mph. Is this slight change in speed significant enough to risk feeling uncomfortable and missing my target? At this point I'm going to say "No, it isn't." I have proven that other small adjustments, such as moving my body up/back/left/right, are just as effective and serve the same purpose as changing ball speed. They also do not carry the increased risk associated with not being comfortable with an adjustment. I think this season I will push the speed adjustment further down on my adjustment list, reserving it for situations for when all else has failed.

For my last game I tried one of my new favorite practice methods: throwing over each of the right four arrows for a strike. I struck on each with the C-System and then started to work my way back right with the Python until I ran out of frames. I like this game because it really lets me see what my ball can do on every part of the lane and allows me to see how each ball compares in those areas. Another benefit is that it forces me to play areas I don't usually consider, so if I ever face a particularly challenging lane condition I will be able to play these lines with confidence.

While my scores were a bit lower this session, I think over all it was very beneficial. I learned some things about what adjustments will work and what will not so that I can be prepared for the upcoming season. I think I can get in at least two more sessions before the start of league, so from here on out I plan to play real situation games to fine tune my decision making. I want to start this season throwing as well or better than I was at the end of the last one, and so far I think I have put myself in a good position to do just that.