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Coaches' Corner SUSIE MINSHEW
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Articles Bowling Angels
Remember Mildred, your evil non-bowling twin? I first wrote about her in 1994. You've had those days (not nearly often enough) when she's not with you. I suspect the absence of Mildred is the elusive 'zone' we've heard so much about. When you're in the zone, you are acutely aware of the FEEL of bowling. You're more aware of the ball and the lane, your target is huge, the pocket wide. You have the right ball in your hand and you're playing the right line. Actually, in this situation any ball will be the right ball because you are in flow. There are no instructions. You just do it. Every adjustment is the right one. Every shot is effortless and executed flawlessly.

You look back on that time as amazing. In fact, you're always trying to make it happen again. You hum the same tune, use the same ball, wear the same shirt. So, as you also know, it can't be manufactured. You can only provide the opportunity for it to happen. Freeing your mind of extraneous information and clutter is imperative. Like a peaceful lake scene, there is no breeze (Mildred's hot air instructions) and certainly no white caps (Mildred's intense and rapid-fire prodding). This is not to say that your mind is a blank. I don't think that can ever be. There is always something going on up there. The trick is to be sure you're in charge of whatever it is. I think that perhaps our mind has only one track. (This opinion is not related to all the people who tell me I have a one-track mind!) It is just that I think if we program what's in there, unwanted clutter can't get in and destroy our peace and rhythm. For example, use a mantra.

A mantra in this context is the mental repetition of the same thing over and over, maybe even when it loses its meaning. "27 Left, 29 Right, 27 Left, 29 Right…" When this started, it was where I was standing on each lane but after awhile it was just a record playing over and over that filled my head so Mildred thoughts didn't get in there. I filled that one track up with good stuff so that fear couldn't visit. The first tournament I ever won, 'Under the Boardwalk' was playing on the radio as I pulled into the parking lot. It continued to play in my head for the two days of the tournament. (That song has not worked since, by the way). But for that period of time it occupied my mind and allowed my body to bowl. Oh to bottle that magic!

What would really be perfect for the right brain-left brain human that we all are is to think in pictures. If there is a consciousness at all, it is merely a picture of the next shot - not the how to's of that shot. Every shot you have ever thrown is in your head. Every shot you have ever watched on television is in your head. Every shot you have seen anyone throw in league or a tournament is in your head. With that kind of massive inventory, how can you ever doubt yourself???

When you think, "I wonder if I should change balls," who do you think that is talking to you? It's your bowling angels of course! Those wonderful entities who are solely around to guide and love you. CHANGE BALLS. After all, what would happen if it were the wrong move? Oh well, go back to the old ball. It's not like everything was wonderful with the ball you were using. If it had been, you would not have had a thought (your angels whispering to you) about changing to another ball. If, however, you listen and it is the right move, how wonderful! And it's wonderful not only because it was the right move, but because you trusted yourself and your angels. You listened and you learned and I hope you won't doubt that little voice again.

What normally happens to us when we think such a thing is that Mildred construes the thought as doubt. "No, you don't need another ball. Just throw the one you're using better." Well, duh. I guess you have deliberately been throwing the ball poorly or into the weeds trying to challenge yourself. How ludicrous. If you could throw it better you would be.

As I have said in previous articles, I believe practice is a time to focus on the individual components of your game, experimenting with different hand positions or target lines, shooting the corner spares ten times in a row, creating early roll or late roll, working on your speed control. Your practice strategy should be to discover how the little things affect your game.

Sometimes in competition this micromanaging can narrow your focus so that you are highly effective. At other times, however, it is easier to see the 'big picture'. You'll see the whole lane as well as your target and break point. Other times your ball path through the target area to the pins is all you see. It's as though nothing else is visible to you. It is, of course, quite visible. It just doesn't matter. There is no appreciable imprint of the surrounding data on your brain. Your execution is a smooth free flowing approach and delivery. You don't focus on how it happened; you focus on the overall FEEL of the shot, not its parts - sort of like seeing the whole tree, not each leaf that makes it up. Did you pass a red car on the way to work this morning? Probably. Did you notice? No. That doesn't mean the red car didn't exist, just that it didn't matter, sort of like all the extraneous data in the center that tries to steal your focus.

In competition perhaps you should assume you're throwing the ball well. Unless you miss your area by an arrow, you don't blame yourself. You don't make excuses about pulling the ball or missing by a board. You change something. If your move doesn't work, move back. In one shot you have truly determined if it was you or the lane. This is absolutely critical to the 'whoever finds it first, wins' philosophy.

You can't repair your game in competition. Repair kits are available during your lessons with your coach, not in the heat of the battle with the lane condition and pins. If you are pulling the ball frequently, for instance, so what? Move to where you're pulling it! If you can't hit what you're looking at, look at what you're hitting! Move so that your body alignment is with that area of the lane. This will often help you get the feel back that you're missing. If it's not the right move, big deal. What are you going to do, miss? You're already missing. This is a very quick way (only takes one shot) to know if it was you or the lane.

Sometimes we get so caught up in all the myriad adjustments we have tried, we allow the lane condition to take our game away from us. If it's ever happened to you, you know the only way to fix it is to get back to basics. Here is one of my favorite fixes. Remember that on your very first shot of practice for any competition, you just sort of stuck your hand in the ball as you were walking toward the foul line? The ball seemed to know when to get into the swing. You stepped up on the approach and just kept walking. You don't pause or get set or throw full speed. Notice that at this moment your timing is its most exquisite. It should be - you're not thinking about it! Mildred is not being critical or judgmental - you're on cruise control. In flow. You just do it.

When this feeling goes away in competition, go back to that original approach. Don't get set and think too long or stare fiercely at your target determined to really nail it this time - just go. Yes people will think you have given up because you just start walking without your usual preparation.

Look left, look right and when it's your turn, go. Doing this will usually help you get the feel back. Your body knows how to bowl. Get out of its way!

You might also try this. Shoot your favorite spare shot (even if you are on a full rack), the one you seldom miss. When you leave this spare, you don't get that sinking feeling in your stomach. You are quite confident you will make it. You have this confidence because there is no fear. It can be a 2 pin or 3 pin or even a corner spare. Its degree of difficulty for you is infinitesimal. You throw on automatic pilot. The FEEL of this shot can sometimes jar your muscle memory. 'Oh yeah, following through, that's the difference' or 'Speed! That's it. I'm being tentative.' Trust yourself. Listen to your angels. Believe in you.
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