The most common mistakes bowlers make

As a nationally known bowling coach I have the pleasure of traveling the country doing bowling clinics and teaching bowlers of every description.

There is no bigger thrill to me than meeting bowlers and helping them any way I can. One thing I have observed as I cross the country is that most bowlers make the same mistakes. I guess there is no way to totally avoid this; but I thought if I laid a few of the most common mistakes out in an article that maybe bowlers will recognize that they make these mistakes  and at least start asking questions.

Bowling is a wonderful sport because you can keep it simple and just have fun or you can dig deep into its complexities and learn more every day.

Like pealing the layers off of an onion there is always something else underneath to learn.

I am going to group these “most common mistakes bowlers make” by skill level.

Lower Average Bowlers:


1.      They try to go it alone: Far too many lower average bowlers wish to improve but they are shy about asking for help. By far the fastest way to improve would be to invest in some lessons from a competent coach but coaches are not very plentiful. So don’t be afraid to ask better bowlers for a helping hand. The pro shop is a great place to seek help. 



2.      They don’t bowl with a well fitted ball: Ball fit is something I harp on day and night. You can’t learn to bowl well if your ball does not fit properly. Most bowlers that suffer from poor ball fit, don’t even know that their balls don’t fit. How could they? Get your ball fit checked out. Ball fit is not an exact science and you will get different opinions but keep asking. Basically you should be able to throw the ball without squeezing it and it should not hurt any part of your hand.


3.      They try to “throw” the ball like in other sports: In other sports like baseball or football we use our muscles to “throw” the ball by accelerating it quickly. Bowling balls are much too heavy for that. When you try to quickly accelerate a 15 pound object it resists greatly, that is basic physics. This resistance makes it very hard to “throw” the ball with any consistency. Learn to allow gravity to throw the ball for you.


4.       They work “against” the ball instead of “with” the ball. This goes along with #3. The armswing and footwork timing needs to be smooth and work “with” the ball as it swings. The day you throw a perfect shot, with perfect timing and a perfect armswing you will walk back from the foul line and say “what did I do”? “The ball didn’t weigh anything…I don’t feel like I did anything”. The day that happens you will know that you were working “with” the ball.


5.      They have no concept of a free armswing or why it’s important: Do you see where this is headed? Every one of these so far center around allowing the ball to throw it self instead of using the muscles in the arm.


Middle average bowlers

1.      They are slow to seek help: See #1 under “Lower Average Bowlers”.


2.      They don’t bowl with a well fitted ball: Yes just like the lower average bowler they still need help in the ball fit area.

3.      They try to “throw” the ball like in other sports: See #3 under “Lower Average Bowlers”

4.      They work “against” the ball instead of “with” the ball. See #4 under “Lower Average Bowlers”


5.      They lack a free armswing: They “think” they have a free armswing but they are not there yet. They really muscle the ball when the money is on the line.


As you can see the middle average bowler suffers from some of the same mistakes the lower average bowler. The mistakes are just not as blatant. Now here are some mistakes that are more unique to middle average bowlers.

6.      They try to rev the ball beyond their level of ability: The best bowlers in the world that have a fairly high rev rate accomplish that rev rate with technique not brute muscles. Bowlers that have not learned the technique hurt their game when they try to throw more revs than come natural.

7.      They try to hook the ball beyond their level of ability: This is the same mistake as #6 above. There is nothing wrong with trying to learn the technique of hooking the ball and you should work on it during practice. Just don’t try to do it when the scores really count until you are proficient at it. Remember that revs and hook must happen with very little effort on your part or you are not doing it right. It is not an easy thing for most people to learn so expect it to take some time.

8.      They lack smoothness: Middle average bowlers are starting to get smoother in their approach and delivery but they still need to keep working on it. Smoothness comes from curing all the above mistakes. Sometimes bowlers can go a long way toward fixing some of  the above problems if they will just tell themselves to be “smooth” as they go to the line. 

9.      They try to “make” the ball do things: Bowlers have the most success when they “allow” the ball to do what they need instead of trying to “make” it do what they need. Bowlers that have a pretty good basic game can make good shots if they will just get out of the way. Don’t try to “make” the ball hit your target for example. Just “know” it will hit the target and let the ball flow freely. If your body is aligned properly and your armswing is free the ball will hit the target.


High average bowlers

Discussing high average bowlers can be a little tricky. These days high average bowlers may or may not be “good” bowlers. With today’s easy lane conditions you don’t necessarily need a lot of skill to average above 200. To me, a “good” bowler will average above 190 on a sport shot or any of the PBA oil patterns. Those “good” bowlers are mostly what I am addressing and here are some of the most common mistakes they make.


1.      They fail to learn to read their ball and its reaction with the lane and pins: Reading a ball as it travels down the lane is an art and science. Balls tell a story along their journey to the pin deck and only an astute bowler paying attention will ever see it. Learn to watch the ball’s axis rotation and how it changes all the way to the head pin. The transitions the ball goes through tells a story. The secrete to a high carry percentage is in that story.

2.      They fail to notice small changes in ball reaction:  As small changes in ball reaction occur small adjustments need to be made to keep up. Most bowlers don’t see the small changes in ball reaction, so they have to wait until they see a major change in ball reaction before they make and adjustment. By that time they often get behind and never catch back up. This produces the stories of “I made a change the last game and finished strong. But too late to make the cut.” Imagine driving your car and not being able to see the small steering corrections needed to keep the car in the lane. You only see when the car is about to run off the road so you have to react quickly and jerk the car back. That would not make for a very pleasant drive.

3.      They try to “throw” the ball like in other sports. Yes even at this level bowlers start wanting to “throw” the ball. The more pressure that is on them or the harder the lane condition the more they “throw” it. It is much better to just let the ball flow and throw its self. Most poor shots under pressure happen because we get in the way of the shot. If the shot really counts and you try to “make” a good shot it is much harder to be successful.

4.      They spend too much time bowling on the ultra easy lane conditions that nearly every bowling center in the country puts out: Bowlers that reach this level start venturing out to major tournaments or even the PBA. They do not put out a league shot for these tournaments. The oil patterns are much flatter than a league shot. This can be a very humbling experience. A typical scenario for a bowler being exposed to a flatter oil pattern for the first time goes something like this. The bowler chooses a target and misses 2 boards outside. The ball seems to skid forever and misses the head pin. The next shot the bowler misses his target to the inside 2 boards and the ball hooks Brooklyn. The bowler thinks to himself…”Oh my, I am on a reverse block”. The truth is the lane was not oiled to be a reverse block. It just seems that way to the bowler because of the “cheating” league shots he has been bowling on. I can’t tell you how many people come back from the ABC Nationals saying ether that they were on a reverse block or that there was a big out of bounds. Neither is true.


5.      They fail to learn more than one way to bowl: Bowlers at the highest level must learn more than one way to bowl. This means changing rev rates, axis rotation, ball speed you name it. Otherwise they find themselves throwing money away in tournament after tournament until a bowling condition appears that fits their style. They may bowl great then…even win. But does that make up for all the money they threw away?


If some of these mistakes hit home with your game start working on them right away. I hope this list gave you a heads up on what to look for so you will not be doomed to repeat the same mistakes as so many others for too long.

 Bowl great!

Ron Clifton


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