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Coping with Differing Lane Conditions

by John Williams
(BTBA National Coach)

LAST month I wrote amongst other things about the use of more or less 'lift' and the 'friction factor' when coping with different lane conditions. This month, I would like to progress a little further.

Firstly, it is important to understand that whilst anyone can have fun and enjoy bowl- ing, to really progress in your ability to score well you need to understand that the sport itself is far from simple.

OK, you can pick up a bowling ball, step on to the lane, face the pins, walk and let go of your ball, hoping to knock pins down. Indeed, that is precisely what most beginners and a great many 'open' players do. And why not? After all, they will not have had any previous advice nor tuition.

Understanding and playing lanes is really a complete art in itself. You have worked so that your approach (walk), pendulum swing, body position and balance are good through- out and your release and follow-through is good and consistent. But you are not scoring well and, in consequence, you become fed up and dispirited.

It might be that you are not physically well or mentally not tuned in to the job in hand, then you put it all down to just 'one of those days'. Or you may decide that the lanes do not suit you and, more often than not, blame the bowling centre for having bad lane conditions.


I would like to suggest a simple method of coping with the main conditions and adjust- ing when you are not 'making the pocket'.

In previous articles I have pointed out how conditions are nearly always changing due to the amount of linage (the number of games already having been played on the lane), atmospheric conditions within the cen- tre, type of lane dressing, method of dress- ing, time of day, etc.

Actually, lanes can vary from game to game and, sometimes, within a few frames. There is often a difference as to how the changes are dependent on where the lanes are situated within the bowling centre.

Again, a considerable change can be found from one centre to another. Whether you are bowling in the morning, afternoon, evening or late at night can make a great deal of difference.

Different brands of bowling balls react in different ways on similar conditions, so there is so much to be aware of and to understand. Many times you must have seen a bowler who looks good during the approach and delivery, but doesn't score so well as bowlers who may not inspire with their approach, style, etc. The latter probably understands to a better degree how to cope with the chang- ing conditions.

Let's think about the main basic conditions you may encounter on the lanes: Very Oily, Medium Oil, Dry and Patchy, so let's go through a normal routine.

You have picked up your bowling ball from the return with both hands at the sides of the ball, ensuring you cannot get your thumb and fingers trapped between your ball and one returning. You move to your stance position, determining where you are going to place your feet in relation to the two lines of location dots on the approach so that you can line up your target with your eyes, then making sure you know on which board this start position is, because you will want to make your foot adjustments from the origi- nal position.


We will start off with freshly oiled lanes. Because of the amount of oil (lane condition- er) there would be a considerable skid (slide) element and your ball might be late in hook- ing, or not at all. The same problem could arise with oil build up because there has been little linage, or humidity is high in the centre. Clues to look for would be if your first ball consistently misses the head pin on the right if you are right-handed, or to the left for left- handers, and when you ball comes back there is a good oil track on it.

Do not think that you are necessarily bowling badly, or the lanes do not suit you. Firstly, make a simple adjustment on the approach. Bearing in mind that the board you noted as your guide board for your foot position in your stance, right-handers try moving your feet to the right, say two or three boards, but keep to your same target.

Left-handers should try moving the feet stance position to the left, again keeping the same target.

By moving outwards, as it were, you will be moving your angle line for right-handed bowlers further to the right and left-handed bowlers will be moving the angle line further to the left, thus causing the ball line to finish at the pin deck closer to the head pin and, hopefully, into the pocket itself.

However, if by the initial move the ball does not arrive in the 1-3 pocket for right- handers, 1-2 for left-handers and right-hand- ed back-up bowlers who should be using the left side of the lane, and hit the head pin dead on the nose or crossed over, then the original correction movement was too great. In this case, you need to move back a half or full board towards your original position.

On the other hand, if the original move of two to three boards was not sufficient to bring the ball back into the pocket, then you would have to move your feet position out a little further.

In all these moves you must be aware of the number of the board which you have moved to and also that you hit your target (arrow). If you are not consistent in hitting your target, then any corrections you make will be worthless. In fact, you will be trying to make corrections on faults and will become hopelessly lost.


Maybe you are confronted by dry lanes and then your ball can hook too soon because it grips the lane much earlier. Right-handed bowlers could miss the pocket and even cross over the head pin, going too far left. Left- handed and back-up bowlers may be missing their pocket and crossing over to the right. If this is the case, then the simple correction is to move the foot position towards the centre of the lane, keeping the same target and rolling the ball out towards the target, thus creating a greater angle to the Strike Zone. As before, the movement of the feet in the stance position may be a board, two or three, or even more in some circumstances. This movement will be determined by the number of boards you are missing your pocket zone by.


Let's now consider conditions in between, oiling in moderation. The corrections required may be as little as half a board or one board movement of the feet in the direc- tion I have previously mentioned, depending whether it is an over reaction or under reac- tion of the ball.


Finally, you often find the lanes are in a 'patchy' condition. These can be caused by the earlier linage, the types of ball used, as reactive resin balls will soak up oil as well as remove it, the heat content in the ball, dry- ness or humidity in the atmosphere and even draught can cause problems.

These conditions can confuse bowlers, certainly beginners, and just changing the start position will not necessarily bring the answer. In fact, when these conditions exist, probably complicated adjustments will be needed, for instance: change of ball, change of line, using more or less lift, side rotation, loft, etc.

But providing you have a good and con- sistent physical game, then you can build your knowledge by learning from instruc- tors/coaches, reading good books, watching top bowlers, attending courses and, most of all, gain experience by practice in all the above situations, learning all the time so that you will be able to make a quick appreciation of what to do.


Serious regular practice on as many different conditions as you can find in as many bowling centres as you can visit will gradual- ly build a picture for you as to how your bowling balls react. That will then be your personal computer for you to draw on instantly when required.

Be aware that the conditions during league and competition play, which you adapt to at the time, seldom maintain the sameness throughout the play period. Be alert to changes as they happen.

Extract taken from World Of Tenpin May 1995