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Coaches' Corner SUSIE MINSHEW
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Articles Swingin'
Consistency is what we all say we want. So if your average is 168, that means you want to consistently shoot 168, right? Of course not. What you really want is to consistently knock down a lot of pins with as few balls as possible.

Improving your level of consistency can improve your game and your scores. Shooting 206 isn't very helpful if your next game is 141. You should be able to avoid disastrous scores and not feel like that 206 was an accident! There are numerous ways to become consistent. The amount you bowl is one. The bowler who practices twice a week and bowls in a couple of leagues is obviously going to be sharper than the once a week bowler.

There are many facets to your game that breed consistency and one of the most important is your armswing. An armswing which is parallel to the target line and close to your body is critical. Anytime you let your armswing get outside your shoulder, you will have only arm with which to deliver the ball. Most of the power in bowling comes from your legs. Failure to use them negates your greatest strength factor. Besides, using only your arm to throw the ball makes you a lot more tired a lot more quickly.

There are lots of different swing patterns that can get the job done. Different styles require different swings. In today's game you'll often see people following through in front of their face without having pulled it! Chris Barnes, Norm Duke, and Jason Couch all do it. There is so much more to this that it has its own section in the chapter entitled The No Matter Whats.

Strokers keep their arm close to their body, elbow in, forearm flat and straight toward the target line. Par bowlers generally have very little lateral movement in the backswing while lower average bowlers tend to vary a lot. The idea is to keep your arm under your shoulder. You don't want your arm away from your body. The old towel under the arm trick still works. Place a towel under your arm and deliver the ball. The towel shouldn't fall out until you have completed your follow through if you have a horizontal swing (more on horizontal vs. vertical swings later). Keeping the direction of your armswing parallel to your target line is the most efficient, error free, repeatable way to consistency and accuracy.

This is not to say the swing should never loop away from the body or be tucked behind your back. As a matter of fact, many successful bowlers do this. Doing this well means that in the 'realignment phase' they get the ball under the chin for a powerful delivery. If you loop the ball away from your body or tuck it behind you but manage to realign it with the target path before you release the ball, great! However, this can add a complicating dimension to your game. The simpler your game, the easier it is to repeat shots. The more movements (especially unnecessary ones) in your game, the more complicated things become. This sport is complicated enough without us manufacturing more ways to make it challenging. The less moving parts you have, the less that can go wrong!

As you bowl league, look up and down the approach at the deliveries going on around you. My goodness, there are a lot of ways to get there, aren't there? While you're looking, though, remember these three essentials of an effective swing:

  • The armswing must be in time with the footwork;
  • After the pushoff, the initial speed of the backswing and downswing is NOT manufactured, forced, or rushed - it is produced by gravity;
  • The armswing must be under the shoulder and close to the ankle at the release point.
NOT A GOOD IDEA STUFF

Pushing the ball to the right can cause the swing to go behind your back. When the ball goes behind your back, it forces you to open your shoulder and often will cause you to release the ball right of your target. If you try to line your swing back up, you'll need to get around your hip somehow. Your elbow can fly out to the right causing a severe loss of power or you might walk to the left to clear that hip out of the way.

Pushing the ball left or in front of your body can cause several things to happen. If you don't get your body out of the way, the ball will go out on the backswing. This will cause you to either keep it on that path and miss left or try to realign it and miss right. If you try to get your body out of the way, you'll walk left and if you don't get realigned, will wind up drifting left and out of the shot. Out of the shot means that your sliding step was away from the point of delivery rather than into it.

If you're spraying the ball all over the lane or all of a sudden missing to one side or the other, have someone watch you. They may not be able to tell about your timing but they will be able to help with armswing. Here's how. Have them stand directly behind you holding a pencil up on a line where your armswing would be if it went straight forward and straight back. They'll easily be able to tell if the ball veers to one side or other of the pencil.

HOW HIGH IS HIGH ENOUGH?

What's right for you? Should your backswing be as high as Pete Weber's? Should you open your shoulder like Nikki Gianulias? If it works for King of the Hill Ron Williams, would it work for you? As long as your swing matches your game, you'll be fine.

Your goal should be to have a "free" armswing - one devoid of muscle involvement. Your muscles will contract only so far. If you squeeze or grab the ball in the swing, you're contracting your muscles to do it. If they are contracted before the release point, you've got nothing left to put on the ball. This "free" armswing takes a lot of physical and mental practice to achieve. The results, however, are absolutely worth it.

If you are a player with a free armswing, you can compete on tight or dry conditions. You can play the 2nd board or the 5th arrow. You can make adjustments confidently in your target line more easily and successfully. All this is true because you can get an accurate reading from your ball reaction since it is not hampered by being cut short, dropped, tugged, etc. because of a tight armswing.

I'm not really sure there is such a thing as a totally free armswing. Maybe we just strive for the least amount of muscle involvement so we exaggerate our thought to produce a less muscled swing. I do know that however unmuscled it is must begin in the stance. If you tend to squeeze the ball, go ahead! Just do it before you put the ball in motion. Squeeze it deliberately and then relax your hand and arm. This will remind you of how both a tight and a relaxed arm feel. As soon as you relax, push the ball into your swing. Once it's as far from your body as it's going, let it fall. You paid a lot of good money for that ball, let it do the work! There is no advantage whatsoever in accelerating the swing speed at this point. The important thing is to get the ball on the right swing path at a comfortable pace.

Let's interject something here about relaxing your arm and hand. Grab your non-bowling forearm with your bowling hand. Squeeze. Did you feel your bowling arm get tight? Relax. Squeeze again. Now try to relax your grip with your hand only. It can't be done. It is biomechanically impossible to only relax your hand because the squeezing is performed by the muscles in your shoulder and arm. Now relax your shoulder. Did you feel your whole arm relax? The focal point of a relaxed hand and arm is the shoulder. Thinking of relaxing the shoulder is more effective than thinking "Don't squeeze". Don't is a four-letter word.

HORIZONTAL AND VERTICAL SWINGS

The best backswing is one that allows you to bring the ball into a position to direct the shot accurately with the proper roll and speed. As the ball begins its path upward in the backswing, kinetic energy takes over from gravity and it will continue on its upward path until gravity overcomes the kinetic energy and starts the ball back down. For some of you this means sharply down - a vertical swing - while for others it means mostly forward - a horizontal swing.

People often ask how bowlers like Chris Barnes or Pete Weber get that high vertical backswing. At the end of the push, as their non-bowling hand leaves the ball, it stays directly in front of them pointing downward. This helps get the torso leaning into the shot. The hand and arm sweep back as the swing comes forward. In my opinion the key is the non-bowling hand.

In a vertical swing, the direction of the ball from the top of the backswing is sharply downward. In fact, vertical swingers must wait for the ball to get into the release position slightly in front of the slide foot before applying torque. Remember the towel under the arm trick? For vertical swingers, that towel will drop out at the height of the backswing rather than over the foul line as with a horizontal swing.

Tom Kouros has some great insight about this. To paraphrase, he says a vertical swing has a great deal of gravitational energy and therefore there is more work to do at the release point. There is more natural pressure on the fingers so that the inclination is to rotate strongly with the fingers. A vertical downswing usually requires a solid last step, almost no slide, and a clean, quick release to be effective.

A horizontal swing is effective with much less effort. In this swing the ball usually does not go above the head in the backswing. This downswing potentially creates more power because it gives the hand time to stay under the ball and then rotate and extend at the release point. You'll have a stable throwing base from which to deliver your shot, be more accurate, and most importantly, this delivery has repeatability.

Gravity will begin the ball's downward path. Don't use your arm to drag it down and back. By moving the ball in the pushoff toward your target line, the ball can begin its free fall without needing to be directed by your arm.

WAITING ON THE BALL

Whether you have a vertical or horizontal swing, there is a certain feel you're striving for that is frequently termed 'waiting on the ball'. Waiting on the ball describes the feeling of being at the line ready to deliver the ball but the ball isn't there. It's only for a split second and then it feels as though the ball rolls up into your hand. If you have ever hit a baseball on the 'sweet spot' of the bat or a golf ball on the 'sweet spot' of the club, you can understand the feeling. This is the 'sweet spot' in bowling. It's an incredible feeling of effortless success.

PENDULUM COMMENTS

The acceleration of the downswing is what helps the ball move up into your hand as you prepare to release the ball. After all, in a four-step approach, it takes three steps to get to the top of the backswing and only one to move the ball into position to release it. Therefore, the downswing must be faster, right? There are many bowlers who think this means they should grab the ball at the top of the backswing and heave ho! NOT!! Gravity supplies substantial downswing momentum and it's quite destructive to try to force more swing speed.

If rotation and extension were not important at the release point, everyone would have an armswing like a whip. That is not, however, a dominant style in bowling because it doesn't work. Power from swing speed works well in golf but not in bowling. The bowling delivery must provide the opportunity for leverage to be produced at the release. That can't happen with a warp speed armswing produced by muscle involvement. A bowling ball is quite heavy. If you drag it back and drag it forward fighting gravity and kinetic energy, manufacturing swing direction and speed with muscle, your delivery will be ineffective, inconsistent, and tiring - a 206 one game and a 141 the next.
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