Teaching Old Dogs: Part 2
Last month in “Teaching Old Dogs: Part 1” I talked about getting your balls ready by taking them into the pro shop and having your grip checked. Both your hand and ball drilling science has changed over the years so you need to make sure you are up-to-date. If you’re an “Old Dog” and learned to bowl years ago, it was standard practice to grip the ball tightly, lift the ball for rotation, and throw it out on the lane 2 or 3 feet. This “late/lifted” release required a “reverse pitch” in the thumb hole. “Reverse pitch” means that the thumb hole is drilled into the ball at an angle away from the fingers making it harder for the ball to stay on your hand unless you squeeze it. Most of the people I coach on a regular basis now have “forward pitch” in the thumb hole. Even the ones that said “there is no way I can throw a ball with forward pitch in the thumb.” Just try it and see how it works out.
The next step to bring an “Old Dog” up to date is to free up the arm swing and, in most cases, raise the backswing. There are 4 areas where bowlers destroy their armswings.
1.) Squeezing the ball: If you squeeze the ball, you are creating tension in your arm which will impede a free armswing. This also makes it difficult to perform a consistent release.
2.) Holding the weight of the ball during the stance in your bowling hand: If you hold the weight of the ball in your bowling arm, nearly every muscle in that arm is tense. If your ball weighs 15 pounds, gravity is pulling the ball down toward the earth at a rate of 15 pounds. Your muscles must push up 15 pounds to keep the ball from falling. Plus, you have to use little stabilizing muscles to hold the ball steady as your arm fights with gravity.
Once your muscles flex, it is difficult for them to relax. I suggest that you don’t even pick the ball up with your bowling hand. Use your other hand and just help steady it with your bowling hand keeping all the weight in your non-bowling hand. When you go into your stance, try to hold 100% of the weight in your non-bowling hand and don’t squeeze your grip. . If you are not strong enough to carry all the weight in your weaker hand then just get as much of the weight in that hand as you can.
3.) Holding back the drop: I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said that 90% of all bowlers hold back the drop. The drop is the first foot or so of travel by the ball after the pushaway. This is gravity’s chance to accelerate the ball to a speed high enough to reach the backswing height needed. The biggest reason bowlers hold the ball back was covered in #1 and #2 of this list. If you are holding the ball’s weight in your bowling hand, it is very difficult to totally disengage your muscles and allow the ball to fall at the full acceleration of gravity.
Holding the ball in your non bowling hand allows your bowling arm to remain relaxed in the stance. With the ball’s weight in the non bowling hand you can literally do the pushaway with that hand. Although you want to deliver the ball’s weight to the bowling hand at the end of the pushaway, the bowling hand should fall away into the swing as fast as gravity will take it. This way, the ball is really weightless to the bowling hand until it nears the bottom of the swing. I like to imagine a thumbtack in the palm of my bowling hand and under the ball. If I allow the ball’s weight to press against the tack, it will stick my hand. If I allow my hand to fall at the same speed as the ball, the thumbtack will never stick me.
A side benefit of keeping the muscles in your arm relaxed is that they will be less likely to engage during the backswing and muscle the ball.
4.) Cutting off the backswing: A lot of bowlers unknowingly cut off their backswings. This means that they stop the ball from reaching its full height in the backswing. Bowlers subconsciously think they have to “throw” the ball. They get in a hurry and cut off the backswing in order to “throw” it forward. It is far better to allow the ball to reach its full height in the backswing and allow gravity to turn it around and pull it back down toward the earth and the lane.
A good way to test to see if your backswing can go higher ,or if it needs to, is to have a friend stand beside you as you bowl and note how high your backswing goes. If your backswing does not go at least as high as your head, try to raise it. Standing still doing test swings have your friend hold his hand palm side down about 1 foot higher than your normal backswing height and see if you can “will” the ball to go up and hit the hand. Most people can raise their backswings using this method with no additional effort on their part. If you apply numbers 1-3 to your armswing, the task will become even easier. Once you can hit your friend’s hand when you are standing still, have him walk along beside you as you bowl and hit his hand again. It may seem like it takes forever for that ball to go up there and hit that hand, but this is just because you are used to stopping the ball short and forcing it.
Those are the 4 ways that “Old Dogs” and many other bowlers hinder themselves from having a free and efficient armswing. You may be wondering why a free armswing is so important to Old Dogs learning new tricks. The answer is the earth’s gravity. The mysterious force that holds our feet firmly planted to the earth can actually help us bowl better. Gravity is a constant and powerful force that never has a bad day. It never gets old or tired. If we use gravity to throw the ball instead of our muscles, our shots will be more consistent and we can bowl all day and not get tired. If you can develop a free armswing driven by gravity, your arm will become a wonderful Metronome to time your feet by.
If you follow these steps the “Old Dog” will be able to keep up with the “Young Pups” again.
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