Breakpoints and Drawing Lines on the Lane
( Part 3 )

by Ron Clifton

    This is the last of a three part series about how to find your breakpoint on the lane and how to use it as part of your targeting system. Part One discussed how to find your breakpoint and how to train your eyes where to look in order to pick up where your break point should be. In Part Two we learned to pick a spot at our breakpoint and draw a line back through our target, continuing back to where we are going to lay the ball down at the foul line. Part Two also discussed some of the reasons why I think this type of targeting system is so important.

    It takes two points to make a line. That is why we use the breakpoint as one point and a target somewhere much closer to us as the other point. If you only consider one point, say the 3rd arrow, then that point can be crossed in any direction. With todayís lane men using the oil pattern to manage scores up or down, the path your ball takes through the oil can make a huge difference. Some people may be tempted to just go ahead and look at the breakpoint as their one and only target. If you are bowling on a typical league shot where you have a lot of oil between the 10-boards, and your only concern is that you hit the 7-board at the break point, you could get into trouble. Letís say you throw one ball that crosses the arrows at the 12-board and one ball that crosses the arrows at the 9-board and both balls nail the 7-board at the breakpoint. Those two balls will have completely different reactions. The ball that crossed at the 12-board traveled through deeper oil for a longer period of time. The ball that crossed at the 9-board got out of the deep oil much sooner and hooked much more. The problem is: if you were only targeting the 7-board at the break point, you may never know this information. You will just think that you canít get a consistent reaction.

This is a graphic of a typical oil pattern used in most leagues. The darker the blue, the deeper the oil. The deeper the oil, the slicker the lane. The red and yellow lines show two different ball paths. They each hit around the 6-board at the breakpoint, but the red line goes to the pocket and the yellow one hits too high. If a bowler only uses the breakpoint as a target, he or she would never know that there were varying this much at the arrows. The bowler would think he was getting an unpredictable ball reaction on what looks like two balls that nailed the target. Actually, the yellow ball leaves the heavy oil and gets into the thin oil much sooner than the red ball. The yellow ball grips the lane early and goes high while the red ball hits the pocket. This example can also show you that it can be dangerous to play too close to the oil line.   


It takes two points to make a line. A single point can be crossed in any direction. Here is an example of a bower using a point at the 7-board, 40 feet down the lane and the 3rd arrow.

I see this a lot in league: a bowler uses only the 3rd arrow as his target; he throws the yellow ball, nails the 3rd arrow and gets a strike. He then throws the red ball. That shot also nailed the 3rd arrow, but leaves the 10-pin. The bowler feels he was robbed. Both shots looked great to the bowler. The truth is, this bowler never paid attention to his breakpoint. The yellow ball that struck hit the 8-board at the breakpoint and got outside the river of deep oil (dark blue) that runs from 10 to 10. This allowed the ball to get a good grip on the lane and have a good entry angle for the strike. The red ball looked great to the bowler but it never got outside of 10. The ball traveling through the heavy oil never had a chance to get a good grip on the lane and had less angle on the pocket.   

    In Part Three, I will mostly focus on the ball from the breakpoint to the head pin. This is the most critical part of the lane when it comes to throwing strikes.

    We need to carefully watch our ball roll all the way down the lane, but we really need to pay attention to the ball during the last 20 feet of travel: from the breakpoint to the head pin. On a freshly stripped and oiled lane, this is the point on the lane where the ball is no longer skidding through the lane oil and is rolling on a dry surface. How our ball reacts to that surface will determine our strike percentage. Here are a few things to look for: 

    If you throw a hook ball, then you apply axis rotation (side turn) to the ball when you release it; thatís what makes it hook. Depending on many factors, your ball will maintain or give up a little axis rotation as it easily skids through the first 40 feet of a freshly oiled lane. I believe that to have a consistently high strike percentage, your ball must give up a good amount of axis rotation between the breakpoint and the head pin. This can be done a little at a time as the ball approaches the head pin or nearly all at once just before it hits. Many of todayís balls are so strong, they get to the breakpoint and refuse to give up any axis rotation. In other words, the ball wants to just keep hooking and hooking all the way through the pins. This looks great from the settee area but it will not produce the most strikes. A ball that refuses to give up enough axis rotation will be hard to control and will tend to cut through the pins leaving too many 4-pins, 9-pins and 8-pins. I call this giving up of axis rotation ďburning upĒ. To make an analogy, look at your car; it has a built-in safety feature called caster. If you turn your wheels to the left (like the side turn or axis rotation on your ball) and let go of the steering wheel, your wheels start turning back straight on their own. Your car, just like your bowling ball, would be harder to control if you let go of the wheel and the car just kept turning sharply.

    We need to watch our ball closely that last 20 feet to see that it gives up the right amount of axis rotation. If the ball is too strong on the back end, we need to change to a weaker ball or a weaker hand position. If the ball is still too strong on the back end, then you may need to play deeper and cover more boards to make the ball burn up more.

    If the ball burns up too much it may fail to turn the corner or hit the pins too weakly leaving 10-pins. Going back to the car analogy, itís like we are making a sharp turn but let go of the steering wheel too soon. The wheels straighten up too soon and we donít make the turn.

    A ball that maintains its axis rotation, but fails to make the turn is most likely skidding; the ball has enough axis rotation to turn the corner, but canít get enough friction with the lane surface. Going back to the car, it would be like trying to make a sharp turn on an icy road. You can turn the front wheels to the left all you want but the car will not make the turn. It will just keep skidding straight.  It is very hard for some people to tell the difference between a ball that fails to hook because it is skidding and a ball that is burning up too much. This is especially hard for people that have a lot of axis tilt. If the ball fails to turn the corner due to skidding, then you need to slow it down, scuff the ball, go to a stronger hand position, change your line, or switch to a stronger ball.

    Every time a ball is thrown, it will track some oil into the breakpoint area all the way through the pin deck. After a few games, you may start to notice your ball is not hooking as strongly or tends to wiggle the last 20 feet; this is called carry down. If you are carefully watching your ball roll the last 20 feet, you will pick up on this and start adjusting sooner. Bowlers who donít pay close attention to their balls at the breakpoint will waste several shots before they start to understand what is happening. If you see the ball start to wiggle and you start leaving 10-pins then the ball is hitting skinny streaks of oil caused by todayís high flare balls. If you see that start to happen, then you need to adjust your line slightly to see if you can go around the wiggle spot.

    Admittedly, some of this is for the advanced bowler and I am only scratching the surface when it comes to ball reaction. But even if this is over your head at this stage of your game, I suggest you save these coaching tips and reread them as your game advances.

Bowl great!

I can be contacted through email at rclifton@triad.rr.com