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III. Bowling Techniques

The Mental Game
Converting Spares
Adjusting to Lane Conditions
Adjusting your Approach
Finding the Line

A. The Mental Game

Probably one of the most misunderstood and ignored areas of bowling is the mental game. Just what is the Mental Game? To excell in ANY sport, you must not only possess the physical ability to accomplish the task, but also have to possess the right frame of mind. This not only includes when you are excelling, but more importantly, when you AREN'T excelling. The ability to react, adjust and overcome your problems applies not only to bowling but to life as well.

Pamela Fitts (L621035@LMSC5.IS.LMSC.LOCKHEED.COM) best decribes it:

There are five basic components that make up a Successful Mental Game:

Life can be stressful. Competition in itself brings with it it's own acute stress. These 2 factors often translate into poor perfomance during competition. The use of relation tapes can help alleviate the stress caused by outside influences. To reduce pressure during actual competition, try deep breathing exercises. Breathing excercises can be effectively utilized to eliminate nervousness & promote successful performance. Breathe deeply, hold it in for a few moments, then slowly exhale. this should be performed a few times while waiting to bowl.

Self Talk Each of us has that little voice in the back of our mind that either offers encouragement or negative thoughts. Generating a positive mental attitude takes conscious thought and effort, & a good way to do this is to talk positively to yourself. Often negative talk is demonstrated by the way a bowler reacts. If a bowler has hands clenched, teeth together in a tight grimace, eyes downcast, it is reasonable to assume negative thoughts are going through the bowler's mind. It is said that a bowler's worst critic is himself! If this is the case, the individual should view self criticism as positive suggestions toward improvement & growth, not self recrimination.

Self Imagery A bowler should be thinking of a clear mental picture of the path the bowling ball will take down the lane. This is the 1st stage. After the Line in the Mind is visualized, (s)he should develop a clear mental picture of actually executing the necessary motions to realize the end goal of making a strike or converting a spare.

Self Imagery Is Basically Visualizing The Act Instead Of The Result. You should imagine yourself performing the actions & achieving the proper angle necessary to make the strike, instead of imagining the ten pins falling down at the pin triangle.

Concentration During actual competition, you should have your mind focused on the game itself. You do not need to be unsociable with your friends during compettition. After all, one of the greatest motivations to bowl is the resulting fellowship with other bowlers. Some bowlers need to "get into themselves" in order to compete successfully; any distractions will inhibit their performance. Others only realize their optimum potential when they are relaxing & having fun with their friends at the same time. Keep you mind focused, but you do not have to block out the world, if that is not what you need to bowl your best competition game.

Self Confidence Confidence = Competence. If bowlers possess the knowledge, & have practiced & trained their bodies to translate this knowledge into proper actions, they will possess confidence in their abilities. Yet self confidence is also a direct result of the other 4 facets of a successful mental game we just covered. If you:

(Special competition section) Determining Optimum Arousal Levels Arousal levels refer to the emotional states a person may be in at the moment of competition. Many people mistakenly think that the higher the arousal level, the better they will perform. This is Not thecase. A person can become overaroused, a state often referred to as being "psyched-out" or over motivated. An OVERAROUSED person experiences poor performance because:

If a person is UNDERAROUSED, performances will also be poor because:

How can you find your Optimum Arousal State? When you have played a successful game, take the time to review how you felt during competition, & how you feel, now that it's over. This is the state you should strive for. Not too hot, & not too cold; psyched-up, but not psyched-out.

Good bowling, friends! Ms.Fitts

B. Converting Spares, How Do I Do It?

Probably the most commonly asked question about bowling is how to convert spares. There's alot of controversy about which is more mportant, getting spares or getting more strikes. The average bowler, through the course of an average game will have the opportunity to convert spares twice as much as the probability of getting a strike. Regardless of the skill level of your bowling, missing spares will definately lower your game and most likely, affect your attitude. Obviously there is nothing more frustrating than stringing three or four strikes and then following up by missing several easy spares.

Pamela Fitts (L621035@LMSC5.IS.LMSC.LOCKHEED.COM) provides the following tutorial on almost any condition you may encounter to convert spares. Although the tutorial is directed toward the newer bowler, the advise she offers is applicable to the most experienced bowler.

This mini-tutorial is for the newer bowler, who has a consistant armswing...

The 3-6-9 System. This is the standard method for converting spares. The success in using it is based on these points: bowlers need a consistant delivery; bowlers can roll the ball where they are aiming; bowlers start their first ball deliver from about the same place on the approach each time; and bowlers usually aim for the 2nd arrow as their strike target. When preparing to convert spares, bowlers move a certain number of boards right or left, depending on which pins remain standing. Adjustments begin at the starting place for the strike ball delivery. The pin closest to the bowler is the key pin. It governs decision making. It must be the first pin hit. The exceptions to this, of course, is when 2, 3, or 4 pins stand side by side. For instance, when the 4 - 5 pin spare is standing, the key pin is where the 2 pin would've been standing. The 3-6-9 system is applied like this for right handed bowlers. When the key pin is the 2 pin, bowlers move Three boards to the right, & roll the ball over the same target area used for the strike ball. When the key pin is the 4 pin, bowlers move Six boards to the right, & roll over the same target used for the strike ball. When the target is the 7 pin, bowlers move over Nine boards to the right, & roll over the same target for their strike ball. When remaining pins stand to the right of the head pin, adjustments start, not from the strike ball position, but from the position where the 10 pin spare is converted. Through trial & error, bowlers will move about 15 boards left to find the starting place where they can roll the ball over the 3rd arrow, & consitantly knock down the 10 pin. This is your Starting board. Now, use the same 3-6-9 system. When the 6 pin is the key pin, move Three boards to the right of the 10 pin starting place, & roll the ball over the same 3rd arrow.

    Right Handed Bowler for Pins Left of the Center
     2 pin is the key pin = move 3 boards right
     4 pin is the key pin = move 6 boards right
     7 pin is the key pin = move 9 boards right

    Right Handed Bowler for Pins Right of the Center
     10 pin is the key pin = 3rd arrow, find the board
     6 pin is the key pin = move 3 boards right
     3 pin is the key pin = move 6 boards right

    Left Handed Bowler for Pins Right of the Center(straight roller)
     3 is the key pin = move 3 boards left
     6 is the key pin = move 6 boards left
    10 is the key pin = move 9 boards left

    Left Handed Bowler for Pins Left of the Center(straight roller)
    7 is the key pin = 3rd arrow, find the board
    4 is the key pin = move 3 boards left
    2 is the key pin = move 6 boards left

2-4-6 for left-handers. Left handed bowlers who start from the far left side of the approach cna use the 2-4-6 system. When the key is the 3 pin, bowlers move the TARGET two boards right. When the key pin is the 6 pin, move the TARGET four boards right. When the key pin is the 10 pin, move the TARGET Arrow six boards right. Move the target, but keep the starting place constant. Right handers who like to play this outside line, like the 5 board, can use the 2-4-6 system.

Additionally, the following insight into adjusting your mark to pick up most (if not all) common spares was provided by Steve O'Brien (

If you have been missing spares recently, try this method. Its called the 3-6-9 method. in order for it to consistently work for you, you need a consistent delivery.

Here is how it works: If you leave the 2 pin, move 3 boards to the right on the approach and release the ball over your strike target.

If you leave the 4 or 8 pin, move 6 boards to the right on the approach and release the ball over your strike target.

If you leave the 7 pin, move 9 boards to the right on the approach and release the ball over your strike target.

Now for the 3,6,9,and 10 pins: Find where to stand on the approach for the ten pin, after you have found this postion you can use the system to convert the 3,6,and 9 pin.

If you leave the 6 or 9 pin,move 3 boards to the right on the approach and release the ball over your 10 pin target.

If you leave the 3 pin,move 6 boards to the right on the approach and release the ball over your 10 pin target.

This method will work on all lane conditions barring excessive oil that has carried down from the headers to the mid-lane or extremely dry conditions. You may have to adjust it to a 4-8-12 system on extreme oil. As long as your hand position is consistent at your release and your ball speed is the same, this should work about 95% of the time.

Hand position is critical to a proper release and roll. You've heard of "6 o'clock" and "9 o'clock" and a myriad of other hand positions. What does it mean and how does it affect your game?

George La Belle ( provides the following information on adjusting your hand position to the lane condtions to get the maximum roll and reaction out of your ball.

The art of changing hand positions is almost gone these days, but it is very easy to master with the proper practice technique. I simply turn my forearm 'till my middle finger is at 6 o'clock and keep it that way all thru the delivery. At the point of release I try to think of letting the fingers go and the middle finger going "through" my target.

To practice it, go to the lanes and throw at the 10pin on your first ball, the 7 pin on your second. (forget strikes for a couple of games - BTW NEVER score when practicing! Work only on a technique or timing or some aspect of your game; the score is meaningless in a practice session. With automatic scorers, get a pair and don't enter your name - just count total frames)

Once you've got the corners down, move 3-1/2 boards for each pin from the corner (for simple spares). I shoot the bucket with a strike adjustment.

Lane conditions and different ball "feels" will no longer be a problem, and you'll be confident of picking up simple spares!

C. Adjusting to Lane Conditions, How?

Ok, you have the attitude, you have the equipment, you even memorized Pam Fitts tutorial on converting spares. How come you STILL can't bowl in that (&*&((*&^!! house in your area? Adjusting to the ever changing lane conditions are a constant challenge to every bowler. Unfortuately, there just doesn't seem to be enough frames left to recoup after you've finally found just the right spot to string those strikes.

How can you adjust more quickly to a lane that never seems to be the same from game to game? Professional bowlers need to adjust very quickly to any lane condition. They cannot affort to waste even a single frame trying to find "their mark". How do they do it?

The following is a response by Carl fogelin(CarlFogelin@nmr1.Cyanamid.COM ) to a poster that asked that very question, "How do I adjust to oily and dry conditions?"

1) Don't change the arrow you aim for, if you're changing your starting board. As it was taught to me, bowling is a game of triangulation. By keeping the arrow you aim for the same, you get more consistant.

2) If you hit left of the head pin, move left. If you hit right, move right. Again, back to the triangulation. If you were to draw a line between where you start and where you want your ball to hit the pins, your arrow is probably a fulcrum point.

3) You might consider shifting your line. Shifting means you change to a different arrow and move your starting position an equal amount of boards. This effectively changes your shot from an inside to outside (or visa versa) shot (i.e., your line is the same, but you are working with a different part of the alley).

4) If you are using a hard plastic ball (i.e., alley ball) and you throw a hook, the effects of the oil can be really hard to overcome. If the above suggestions don't work, you might consider buying an appropriate ball.

Now, an example of dealing with oil would probably be appropriate. I'll use my style and apply the above suggestions:

I own a Pearl Red Hammer, finger-tip grip with inserts, drilled with 1 oz side weight, reverse pitch thumb -- basically its a balled drilled to curve. I use this ball in medium to dry conditions, but I could adjust for oily. I'm a right handed bowler. My normal shot is: I stand on the 2nd dot (10th board) with my left foot and aim at the 1st arrow (5th board).

Assuming that I had to bowl in the oily conditions you're talking about, my guess is that I would be lucky if my shot curved 2 boards. That means my normal shot would probably hit between the 3 and 6 pins. I would first try and use the same 1st arrow (#1), but move my starting position at least 5 and probably 7 boards to the right (#2). This should pivot my shot over to the 1 and 3 pin pocket. Now, with my luck, I'd probably be still hitting light and should move a couple more boards to my right. The problem is that I don't have the room -- I'm already throwing over the gutter. However, if I shifted my line (#3), that problem would go away. So, I would change from #1 arrow (5th board) to the #2 arrow (10th board) and move my starting position from board #3 to #8. Then I'd adjust this new line as appropriate.

D. Adjusting Your Approach

Another common problem among fellow bowlers is the lack of consistancy in their approach. I was told once that "if you start with bad ingredients, you'll bake a bad cake". The same holds true with bowling. If your approach is inconsistant, or you cannot adjust your approach position or speed, you severely limit your ability to adjust to ever changing lane conditions. So, you've got your new ball, your new shiny shoes and that dandy new bowling bag yet you still can't seem to get that ball further down the lane before it breaks or, the ball seems to just roll way too fast and never gets the chance to break into the pocket. What to do?

Jerry A. Jelinek (ak331@cleveland.Freenet.Edu) provides the following lesson that was taught to him:

Here is a helpfull tip on footwork and making the ball react earlier and later on the lanes.

On Sunday I was practicing with a friend of mine. He is a senior bowler who tried the tour in the early sixties. He was taught by one of Clevelands greatest bowlers, Steve Nagy. Needless too say, I respect his judgement alot.

I use a conventional four step approach. I usually start almost on the back of the approach, so I usually take long steps. He had me move my feet closer to the foul line. To find this new starting point, he had me start at the foul line and take 4 1/2 normal walking steps. This is a technique I have read about, and seen many newer bowlers use, but up until Sunday had never really tried it myself. This new starting point was a good foot closer to the foul line.

Well low and behold, with this new starting point, my feet were obviously slower, shorter and the ball reacted earlier. He described this as the "normal rhythm of walking". By starting further back on the approach, I was not using the normal rhythm of my body. I was able to start further back on the approach to make the ball go longer, or move my feet up on the approach and make the ball hook earlier.

Last night in my travleing league, we went to a very tough house for righties. The lanes are dry in the heads, and the ball just dies by "rolling out" on the back ends. The only place to play the lanes is deep inside of 15. This doesn't allow the ball to roll out. Well I used my Crush/R from around the 16 board with almost no belly and straight at the pocket. I was able to start with my feet closer to the foul line and throw the ball slow. This kept the ball in the only oil that was on the lane. With the knowledge I had from Sundays practice, I was able to make the ball react nicely when my feet were close to the foul line. The ball hit very hard because it would "ride the oil" and finish flush in the pocket.

By the end of the night the inside shot had dried up. I moved my feet back on the approach and played my normal shot. Just as the doctor ordered, the ball hooked later and still crushed the pocket. I shot 680 on a shot were righties struggle to shot 600.

Thought others might use this helpfull tip to move the break point of the ball.

The second part of the approach is your "drift factor". In other words, most of us don't walk a straight line to the foul line. Most of us tend to "drift" either to the left or to the right. The most severe cases have the bowler ending up in the exact same spot at the foul line no matter where they start out at. Ok, so you're drifting, what can you do to adjust or compensate? One way is to use the arrows to "aim".

Steve O'Brien ( provides the following to help you adjust your game to your "drift factor".

Hey yall, i just learned about this network today and thought yuns could use a little tip. try this system next time you go to practice. It's the system as taught by dick ritger ( the fifth all time winningiest pro with 20 victories) i was taught these methods when i was 13 and improved my average by over 40 pins in just two years.

The first thing, you must find out in order to use this system is how many boards you drift on your delivery. I'll decsribe it as though your a right handed bowler. put the inside of your left foot on the 20th board ( center dot) and make your normal delivery. Look down at the foul line and notice what board the inside of your left foot is on. It's probably not the 20th board (center dot). Determine how many boards you drifted and in what direction. If your drift exceeds 4 boards, work on getting it less than 4 boards.

Next you must determine how far to the right of your left leg you release the ball. It's typically 6,7,or 8 boards. how do you determine this? Put a piece of paper over the tenth to 20th board at the foul line. Stand at the foul line with the inside of your left foot on the 20th board. Assume your release position and swing the ball back and forth 3 times. On the 3rd swing release the ball and notice what board it indented the paper. How many boards to the right of the 20th is this.

Now your ready to learn how to play the 10-10 or any other straight line.

Heres an example: assume you drift 3 boards to the right and release the ball 6 boards to the right of the inside of your left foot.

Then in order to play the 10-10 line, you must stand on the 19th board on the approach. 10+3(drift)=13 13+6(release)=19

Just remember that if you drift to the left it would be -3 therfore you must start on the 13th board. 10-3(drift)=7 7+6(release)=13

Good luck and i hope this helps in your alignment. If you would like me to write more instruction on angles, alignment ,ball weights, spare methods,etc respond to this article.

E. Finding the "Line"

Another common question is, "How do I find the line?" You've got your mark, you're adjusting to the lane conditions but it doesn't seem to help, the lanes are against you. No matter what you do, your ball drifts too high or crosses over. What can you do to get "back in the groove?".

Daniel G. O'Brien ( provides the following useful tips:

The 20 board is my favorite line...I just wish I could play it more often. Around here, almost *always* the best shot is between the 5 and 10-boards. I find it easiest when playing a deep inside line to use a heavily polished ball. My favorite is a Nitro with lots of Finesse-It polish (see discussion in this group last week on Finesse.) You may even be able to play deeper than the 20 since the ball will slide longer.

If you're not used to playing that line, it may be hard to tell yourself that it's possible to hit the 20-board and get a strike.

You will be afraid of leaving a big, ugly split - that's why the tendency to get the ball too far out to the right is there.

As for the approach, I like to think about keeping my elbow in close to my body - It helps me to walk straight and stay left. But the real trick, not only for the 20-board but for any mark, is to _EXTEND_ your arm on the follow-through out _OVER_ the line, not just straight up in the air. If you extend, you should be able to hit your mark without messing up your backswing, footwork, etc. I know, easier said than done, right?

Hope this helps...

Finding the "Zen" of bowling is also elusive, in the following article, Bernie Cosell provides some thought provoking and valuable insights into assessing what to do when things go wrong.

Dry and wet are, for the most part, independent of 'line'. Loosely speaking, there are two aspects of lane condition which you have to content with: the front-to-back distribution of oil, and the left-to-right distribution of oil. The absolute AMOUNT of oil generally doesn't matter as much as the _pattern_, and primarily it is the left-to-right distribution that will determine where the 'line' is.

What you're striving to do is play the lanes so that your ball has a proper reaction pattern [this is the front-to-back aspect] and where you can get a little margin for error by some help from the oil [this is the left-to-right aspect]. What equipment you have available, how proficient you are at throwing the ball in different ways [raising and lowering your track, varying the speed, etc] will affect your ability to take advantage of the oil patterns you are confronted with. This is one of the reasons why you have to understand your own game and your own capabilities, and why the result will be that you occasionally have to play a line different than the 'conventional wisdom' proper line for the lanes.

My own strategy is that I think that getting some 'help' from the lanes is more important than the reaction profile, so I'll try to find the line which gives me some margin for error... what this means is that an area of the lanes where if I miss my mark a little bit to the right, the lanes will 'help' and my ball will hook a bit extra; similarly, if I pull the ball a tiny bit the lanes will help and my ball will 'set' a bit and hold pocket. the problem, of course, is that my ball may well have an AWFUL reaction in this area of the lane, but whatever I do in that region I'll get a lot of help from the lane doing it over and over and over, frame after frame.

So what I do after I decide on what area of the lane to play is begin juggling to find a combination of equipment and technique that will work on my chosen line. As I said, the more equipement you have and the more skilled you are, the more ability you'll have to be able to find [or make] a good reaction in the part of the lane where the shot is best.

How do you know when to change your line? I think this is a VERY difficult and subtle question, much much harder than the original question [of finding the line in the first place], especially if you consider it with its dual: how do you know when to change balls/release/speed/etc. The first and *MOST* important principle is *NEVER* make a correction based on a bad shot. This implies that you have to be a good enough bowler to (a) know what a good shot is, and (b) be able to analyze your own throw and tell if it was 'good' or not. So.. before you can worry about any of this stuff you have to practice enough so that you are a steady, self-aware bowler and you know when you're making correct shots.

So you're not scoring, what do you do? Well, you need to understand WHY you're not scoring: is the ball reacting badly, but you still seem to have good area? Then stay where you are and change equipment. If the ball seems to be reacting OK, but you're having trouble getting a *consistent* reaction [_ONLY_ looking at the good shots, of course], then it might be time to try a different line. One easy thing to do is to move a few boards left or right and see how that area 'feels'. With some experience, you should be able to do this fairly reliably [that is, if you're playing the X board, you should learn how far to move your feet to play the X+2 board].. even if the lanes vary some, because the change is small yo ushould stay around the pocket. Deciding to make the 'big leap' is very very hard, and i think not worth worrying about too much [other than spending an hour in practice to get it figured out, of course..]. Yes, once in a while in the middle of a league the lanes will change enough that the savvy bowler moves 15 boards and shoots lights-out, but that's outweighed [IMO] by the overwhelming majority of the time that a BIG change like that just leaves you totally lost and having _noplace_ to play on the lanes. If you're thinking about this, don't be afraid to give away a few pins: if you leave a 4-6, give away the extra pin and try a strike ball on a new line instead of shooting for the 4-pin... if you're shooting a count ball inthe 10th, try a new line with it [basically Parker Bohn did that on TV this afternoon when he threw a strike ball at a 4-6].

Bernies response (above) solicited the following response and advise from Jerry A. Jelinek:

Bernie gives a excellent set of conditions to judge how to play the lanes.

Here is some more helpfull tips. Bernie hits on the key to becoming a better bowler:

What you're striving to do is play the lanes so that your ball has a proper reaction pattern [this is the front-to-back aspect] and where you can get a little margin for error by some help from the oil [this is the left-to-right aspect].

This is a excellent point. Bowling is simple when you find a area of the lane where you can maximize your error. If you watched bowling Saturday you saw the pros bowling on a tough condition. Why was it tough? The bowlers seemed to have a "dry" back end - meaning the ball would hook hard at the 40-50 foot mark. The bowlers seemed to have a fair amount of oil outside and drier inside (this I saw and represents a "reverse block").

Ok we have looked at the conditions and still ask why did the pros struggle. Only one answer, they didn't have a large margin for error. If they increased speed or tried to hook the ball farther outside. The ball would hit more oil and die. If they slowed down or moved further in, the ball would hit dry boards and hook to early. The same priniciapl applies if you are a 150 bowler or a 220 bowler. The more margin of error if you have, the higher you will score.

Bernie makes some more excellent points:

My own strategy is that I think that getting some 'help' from the lanes is more important than the reaction profile, so I'll try to find the line which gives me some margin for error... what this means is that an area of the lanes where if I miss my mark a little bit to the right, the lanes will 'help' and my ball will hook a bit extra; similarly, if I pull the ball a tiny bit the lanes will help and my ball will 'set' a bit and hold pocket.

But how do I find this "magical" error zone. Practice, Practice PRACTICE! There are some excellent books to help you decide on practice techniques. I go back to my favorite "Knowledge is the Key" by Fred Borden. Another book which is good is "Bowling 200+" by Mike Aulby and Dave Ferraro. What I like about the later mentioned is a neat practice technique.

The Dots Game

Take any piece of equipment you have, say a Columbia Yellow Dot. There are a set of dots at 7 foot from the foul light (can't remember how many. Maybe 15 or so) Use the dots of your side of the head pin (right of the 20th board for righties, left of the 20th board for lefties). Pick the furthest right dot. Throw your ball. When you get a double, move to the next dot. Count how many shots it takes you to use the same piece of equipment to get doubles on each dot. After you have done this, pick another piece of equipment, say a Fab Blue Hammer. Repeat the game. This game is a excellent way to learn how to throw each piece of equipment you have to hook and go straight. This is tough, but a excellent learning tool.

How do you know when to change your line? I think this is a VERY difficult and subtle question, much much harder than the original question [of finding the line in the first place], especially if you consider it with its dual: how do you know when to change balls/release/speed/etc. The first and *MOST* important principle is *NEVER* make a correction based on a bad shot.

Bernie makes another good point. (I'm not a big Bo Burton fan, but he does emphasise this in his bowling theory).

Another good technique to know when to move is by watching bowlers you know and see how they adjust. I'm lucky enough to bowl with 2 Cleveland Hall of Famers. I use their knowledge to my best advantage. Both have similar games to mine, so we feed off each other and how we feel the lanes are acting.

Also as you begin to get better, you begin to have different pieces of equipment which react differently. Each piece will have its own characteristics and thus will work on different lane conditions.

Again "Knowledge is the Key".