Summer is for “real” bowlers

The fall/winter leagues have wrapped up and we find ourselves looking at summer again.  Summer is the time for "real" bowlers. That’s because "real" bowlers bowl year round, not just when the weather is bad. If you are going to be bowling this summer, why not work on your game. Summer is the perfect time to see if we can make some improvements. Open lanes to practice on are easier to find just about any time of the day. Most summer leagues are not as serious, so if your average slips a little as you learn new things it's no big deal. The summer league average does not even go into the average book.

The first thing you should do is ask yourself a few questions. The number one question is, “Where do you want your game to take you?” This will be very different for every bowler. Some bowlers may just want to raise their average. Some may want to be high average in their league or the whole center. Some bowlers may want to try some tournaments for the first time or even bowl in PBA or PWBA events. Bowlers that already bowl tournaments need to examine what they need to learn to start winning or to get more checks.

    If your goal is to raise your league average and you average less than 170 then you most likely need to work on your basic game. First, have your pro shop check the fit of your ball. It is very hard to make good shots with an ill-fitting ball. If your ball fits properly, then work on developing a free arm swing and walking to the line in a manner similar to the way you normally walk. Most sub-170 average bowlers tend to “throw” the ball. This is normal because we learn to “throw” other balls in other sports. In bowling, however, it is far better to just give the ball a good push from about waist high and let it swing freely from the shoulder as we walk beside it on the way to the foul line.

    Another common problem I see is that bowlers are taking too many steps before they try to move the ball. As bowlers get better, a good coach can fine tune their timing to fit their arm and leg length, but it’s best for most sub-170 average bowlers to adopt a textbook type of timing. This means while using a free armswing, the ball should drop into the swing at about the same time you take your first step in a 4 step approach.

    Another common problem for sub-170 average bowlers is trying to hook the ball too much. Hooking the ball is easy but it requires the proper technique. If you don’t have the technique then you are only hurting your game trying to do it. Ease up on trying to hook the ball so much and see if your scores rise. If you want to learn to hook the ball this summer, find someone that can teach you the technique. If it is physically hard to do, then you don’t have the technique yet. Working on simple basics will help the sub-170 average bowler the most. Getting the basics down will help prevent so many wild shots that lead to hard-to-make cluster spares, splits and poor pin count. Having a more consistent strike ball will help with spares too. I suggest investing in a plastic ball for shooting at spares.

    Bowlers in the 170-190 range may need to work on spares the most in order to raise the old book average next year. Bowlers in this average range are starting to throw more strikes. There is nothing more fun than throwing strikes, so that is what gets practiced the most. Often they need to be working on making more spares. Each spare missed costs the bowler 10 pins. So if you are in this average range and you are missing more than 2 easy spares in a 3 game set, then you need to work on your spares. Spares are often taken for granted because they seem simple. If they are so simple why do we miss them? I suggest learning how to throw your strike ball straight or use a plastic ball for shooting at spares. This will take the lane condition out of the game. Stop hooking the ball at opposite side spares. If you are right handed for example, and you are hooking the lane to make the 7 pin, then stop it now! If you have any hopes of traveling around and bowling tournaments one day, you will die if you are hooking the ball at your left side spares. That’s because on some lane conditions, the ball will hook a bunch and on others hardly at all. On some lane conditions, it may do both.

    If you fall into the tournament bowler category, you may have to look a little deeper at yourself to determine what you need to learn in order to excel. The most common problems I see with tournament bowlers are things like: (#1) Not being able to read lane conditions or the ball itself. (#2) Not being able to keep up with lane changes. (#3) Not understanding the importance of breakpoints and how to use them. (#4) Not having enough versatility in their game. This last one is a biggie and very broad. It includes being able to hook it or throw it straight, changing the axis rotation, tilting at will, and being able to throw it harder or softer with less or more revs. I could go on and on. Today’s game when played at a high level of competition requires a lot of knowledge and the skill to do many different things.

    A good tournament bowler pays attention to the smallest things so he can be ready to make small adjustments to keep the strikes coming. When you are driving your car you see it veer to one side or the other, you slightly steer a correction to keep it centered in the road. Keeping with the car analogy, many tournament bowlers wait until the car runs off of the road before they try to steer back to center.

    The lane changes slowly over time but most bowlers don’t see it until they are already in trouble; then they have to make big moves to keep up. Sometimes they can get back on track and sometimes they are lost the rest of the day. Learn to watch EVERY ball roll down the lane. Learn to pick up on the ball's axis rotation. Notice when, where, and how quickly your ball gives up axis rotation. Watch the ball CLOSELY from the breakpoint to the pins. That last 20 feet or so of the ball’s travel is telegraphing back vital information. Watch the ball until it falls off into the pit and notice where it was when it fell. Try to always know which pin fell last when you throw a strike. Every great tracker in the old west knew there were signs out there; you just have to see them and understand them.

    The easiest way to learn all these new things is by finding a good coach to work with over the summer. For the price of a bowling ball or two, a good coach can teach you more in one summer than you could likely learn on your own in several years if at all. I know good coaches are hard to find, but they are out there. If you ask around you will hear some of the same names come up over and over. Don’t worry about coaching certifications; most of them are meaningless. Just try and find a coach that has coached people at the level you want to get to.  If you are looking to bowl the PBA or PWBA, then find a coach that has helped bowlers get to that level. It will make the trip much easier. Remember we don’t know what we don’t know. Sometimes it takes someone else to show us.

    Let me know how my tips work for you by emailing me at

Bowl great!

Ron Clifton