This article was written by Ron Clifton for Bowling This Month Magazine and may not be copied or reproduced without written consent from Bowling This Month.


The Six Basic Fundamentals Part 1

A foundation for Youth, Seniors and everyone in-between


Coaches in every sport will tell you that you must have the basic fundamentals of that sport well-in-hand before you can learn the “fancy stuff”. Trying to perform the “fancy stuff” without good fundamentals will cause your scores to go down; not up.

Anytime I give private lessons or coach at a clinic, I always ask the bowlers if there is anything special that they would like to learn. Although the answers I get vary greatly, the top two most requested lessons are higher rev rate and more hook. I always try to accommodate but some bowlers are just not ready to learn advanced techniques because they have too many flaws in what I call the “Six Basic Fundamentals”.

In this series I would like to share with you my list of the six basic fundamentals and visit each one with some detail. This will allow you to examine your game in each category and discover where your weak points lie. It is a good idea for even the best players to run through the list of basics now and then, just to make sure their total game is in tune.

The six basic fundamentals for bowling:

1.      Ball fit and weight

2.      Armswing

3.      Footwork

4.      Timing

5.      Release

6.      Finishing position.


All of these six basic fundamentals work together to produce one complete bowling machine; much like the engine, steering, brakes and wheels make a car into a transportation machine. Take away any one of those vital car components and you basically end up with yard art. The same applies to bowling; your scores will suffer for every weakness found in each of the six fundamentals.


Special exception for youth bowlers

Youth coaches listen up! It has been my experience that the newer youth bowlers that come up to me asking how to “throw a hook ball” will learn how to “hook it” whether I think they are ready or not. I can talk until I am blue in the face about the virtues of learning the fundamentals and how throwing a straight ball is best while they are learning to no avail. As soon as I turn my back they will be out on the lane trying their best to hook the ball because that is what the “big boys do”.  

Well a few years ago, I decided that if they are going to learn to throw a hook no matter what, I may as well teach them the right way. So far it has worked out well. I teach them to throw a simple hook without a lot of hand action and they are happy, at least for a while, and seem to be willing to learn more and bowl better in the process. I am not suggesting teaching the newest youth bowlers how to hook the ball during the first lesson  but as soon as they start asking you may want to consider giving in a little.


Interconnected fundamentals


Most bowlers have no idea how interconnected the six fundamentals are and how much one affects the other so I will offer a few examples:  

·        Armswing affecting footwork: If in your pushway you move the ball too far to the right, your next step (footwork) must go to the right as well to keep you balanced; otherwise the ball’s weight will pull you over. This causes the approach to drift off to the right, which means you are walking INTO your armswing which is usually bad. Some bowlers can subconsciously sense they are drifting off to the right so they try to compensate on the next step by stepping to the left. This usually results in an approach that wobbles like a duck and an unpredictable armswing.

·        Footwork affecting armswing: If any footstep moves left or right when the swing is in motion, it will change the swing’s path. The swingpath plays a large part in determining the direction the ball will go after it leaves the hand. Professional bowlers often take key steps out of line to purposely change the ball’s swingpath. This works very well when done correctly, but it’s not something I’d recommend to someone just learning the fundamentals; that comes under the category of “fancy stuff”.

·        Timing affecting footwork: Putting your ball into the swing too early will cause the feet to chase the ball. In this case, your footwork will never match up properly to your armswing, unless you have arms that are too long for the length of your legs…which some people do. Bowling balls are so heavy (even the light ones) that once they are in motion, each step must be in the right place at the right time or the bowling ball can pull you off line.. Good timing is especially important for smaller junior bowlers (or even smaller adults) because the balls weight is a higher percentage of the bowler’s body weight. The “timing” relationship between the armswing and the footwork is very critical when attempting to build a great striking machine.

·        Release affecting armswing: If you let go of the ball too late, the release will pull the armswing inward causing you to miss your target line to the inside. If you have ever had a ball hang on your thumb and noticed it jerk to the left (right handed), you would have experienced an extreme example of a late release that pulls you off-line. The type of release you perform also affects your follow through direction.

·        Finishing position affecting release: If you finish with your nose (yes that thing that sticks out from your face) too far forward you will be in a poor leverage position and your release will be weak. If you finish with your nose too far back you will tend to “grab” the ball and again produce a weak release.

·        Ball fit affecting armswing: If your ball fits poorly, forcing you to squeeze the ball to keep from dropping it, your armswing could suffer any number of disorders including bent elbow, a mechanical stiff swing and a backswing that is cut off prematurely. 

·        Release affecting ball fit: I bet this one seems backwards to most people but it’s true. The details of your release such as, how much you grip the ball, where the ball leaves your thumb in the swing and how you turn the ball should have as much to do with the pitches drilled into your ball as any physical characteristic of your hand. I am not a big fan of drilling pitches (or other drilling tricks) to “force” a bowler to perform certain releases, but pitches should be changed as bowlers progress in their release skills. Many times bowlers have a hard time progressing at all in their release skills until, for example, thumb pitches are changed.



Ball fit and weight…a fundamental?


You may be surprised that I would consider ball fit and weight as one of the basic fundamentals of bowling. After all, ball fit is not something you physically do when you bowl; it’s just the way the ball fits your hand. Trust me; the way your ball fits has as much do with how well you could possibly throw it as any of the other fundamentals. If you don’t believe me, pick up one of the 16 pound house balls off the rack that has three seemingly giant thumbholes and try making a few quality shots. Throwing a ball that is ill-fitted or too heavy will destroy most of the other fundamentals I have listed.

Ball weight is especially important for smaller youth bowlers. If you consider a 100 pound youth bowler throwing a 10 pound ball, that’s 10 percent of the youth’s body weight. That is the equivalent of a 200 pound man throwing a 20 pound ball. I dare say that most of us would be hard pressed to throw a 20 pound ball and be expected to execute the six fundamentals at a very high level. Of course the house ball is an extreme example, but I see balls thrown daily that were supposedly professionally drilled to fit the bowler that are so far off that I can spot it in the armswing in seconds.


It is for this reason I would rather see youth bowlers take their time when thinking about moving up in weight. I know it is hard for us adults to watch our sons and daughters hit the pocket with their 10 pound balls and get rewarded with 5-10 splits when they could be getting strikes with a heavier ball, but developing their game for the future is more important than score when they are young.

Many senior bowlers will discover that they can actually perform much better and produce higher scores if they will give up the 15 and 16 pound balls they have been bowling with for 30 years and give 14 pounders a try. Modern resin bowling balls are so powerful that 14 pound equipment gives up very little (if anything) in carry percentage to the heavier balls. The lighter weight is not only easier on the body parts, but many seniors can benefit from the added speed they can generate with the same amount of effort. Basic physics dictates that lighter balls are easier to spin, so seniors will see a small increase in rev rate as well. Ball weight and fit can play a huge roll in the quality of the armswing and release, so don’t be too stubborn to try out a lighter ball.


Believe me; I could go on and on about how every move you make affects the next move you make. I will explain further as I go through each of the fundamentals in detail starting with Part Two of this series.