||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:
NOT A GOOD IDEA STUFF
- 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.
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
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
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.
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
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.