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Some top bowlers open their shoulders strongly during the backswing. Credit a good hip-pivot.

"IT'S ALL in the swing." "Good footwork sets up the rest of your game." "Groove your swing, and many strikes you'll string." "You dance with your feet...bowling is no different!"
As you can probably tell from this collection of bowling platitudes, there is strong argument among many top instructors over which is more important, the swing or footwork. Understandably, then, these two subjects generate the most attention in any instructional format. Nevertheless, other body-related factors come into play in the shot-making process, and they too must be given due consideration. Let's discuss one of them, aligning the shoulders.

Many bowlers have improved their game tremendously by adjusting the movements and positioning of their shoulders. On the other hand, many have realized poor results when "tampering" with their shoulder movements unnecessarily, or in the wrong manner. Therefore, all of us should be alert to the critical role played by the shoulders in proper bowling execution. If the shoulders are not properly aligned, the chance of a successful shot is greatly reduced.

In the stance, the shoulders start out squared to the target in a level position. As the approach begins, the bowling shoulder will drop to some degree (as might be expected when one arm controls the weight of the bowling ball), and the bowling shoulder will open to some degree, thus trailing the opposite shoulder throughout the backswing.

Basically, in the shot process, the bowling shoulder reacts in two ways... it opens slightly in the backswing, or it opens dramatically in the backswing before moving back to a squared position throughout the downswing.

Technically, an instructor is prone to advocate the more standard procedure, which is allowing the shoulders to open only slightly throughout the backswing. And, in fact, those who do open the bowling shoulder imperceptively (perhaps 10 degrees) constitute the majority of players, and are credited with "playing by the book."

On the other hand, some outstanding bowlers open their bowling shoulder strongly during the backswing, then close it back to its original alignment (in the stance) at some point previous to the release. Witness Pete Weber and Nikki Gianulias, for example. This practice is known as "hip pivoting."

Aside from keeping the shoulders relatively squared to the target throughout the approach, these bowlers successfully pivot from the hip to open the shoulders strongly in the backswing, before hip-pivoting back strongly in the downswing to again square their shoulders to the target.

One of the advantages of a well-executed hip-pivot and shoulder turn is that it appreciably increases the ability of the bowling shoulder to move into the shot, thereby providing more impetus and strength to the release, which, in turn, results in a stronger ball roll.

Also, one must realize that a number of bowlers, because of strength and other physiological factors, find it difficult to demonstrate an optimum swing and release when attempting to keep the shoulders relatively squared to the target throughout the approach. For these reasons, an instructor's insistence on the exclusive use of this technique would not serve all students well. Yet, caution must be exercised when using the hip-pivoting method. Keep in mind that however far the hips are allowed to pivot, the shoulders must return to a squared position at the point of delivery. Opening the shoulders to facilitate
the swing and leaving them open to any degree at the point of release most often leads to pulling the downswing and follow-through across the body.

In recent years, one school of thought contends that allowing the shoulders to remain open at the point of release - thus requiring the bowling arm to move toward the center of the body at the release point - is the natural way to bowl. Though most agree that it is, indeed, the natural way to bowl, it is, nevertheless, the incorrect way.

Among other things, allowing the arm to move inward during the release and follow-through sacrifices an appreciable degree of accuracy that is afforded by a 90-degree release (the ideal relationship between the line from one shoulder to the other, and the line between the bowling shoulder and the extended arm and hand in the follow-through), while, at the same time, lessening the overall action of the ball by limiting the ability of the hand to move strongly through the ball. I would point out that this is one of the
prime reasons why bowling is referred to as an "unnatural sport."

Admittedly, the relatively recent introductions of dressing patterns (oil displacement) and highly sophisticated bowling balls have "clouded" the issue. To be sure, certain lane conditions and equipment can abort the requirement of a 90-degree release, by allowing a weakly-released shot to garner a once-unattainable strike.

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