Dropping the Shoulder

by Ron Clifton


All my bowling life I have heard “settee” coaches and a few professional coaches tell bowlers NOT to drop their shoulder. I have witnessed countless times bowlers pulling the ball inside their target with a dipping shoulder and heard a well-meaning teammate proclaim “You are dropping your shoulder”.  In fact, the pulled shot had nothing to do with the dropped shoulder…but I will admit it sure looks that way. I will explain the true reason for the pulled shot later.

What we actually have here is a clash between the “Old School” bowling style and the “Modern Game”. The old school style was to keep everything square and straight…which makes a lot of sense, so how could you argue with it?


Well I guess you have to start accepting that there may be a better way when all the “Modern Game” guys begin beating the “Old School Guys”. I often look to the pro tour to settle such matters because it is the ultimate battlefield when it comes to bowling and the players are the best in the world. The top 4 money earners on tour last year were all “Modern Game Dippers”. In fact, the vast majority of players on tour last year were “Modern Game Dippers”. 


In photo “A” you can see PBA superstar Chris Barnes delivering his ball with a dropped shoulder. His style is pretty typical of most of the bowlers on the pro tour today.


Why drop the shoulder?

A few of the benefits of dropping the shoulder are:

·        A smooth landing for the ball

·        Better leverage for the release

·        Aligns the ball better with your vision

·        Moves the ball closer to your body’s center of gravity.

·        Allows for more forgiveness


Let’s take a quick look at each of these benefits and see how they affect our game:


·        “A smooth landing”: Most of today’s bowling balls are designed to skid on oil as if it were ice, then grip the lane like a race tire on asphalt when it reaches the end of the oil pattern. The transition from skid to grip is one of the most critical factors in our quest for high scores. A smooth landing will make this transition more predictable. A rough “old school” landing will cause too much under / over reaction where some balls hook more than others. Bowling on flatter oil patterns like Sport condition or PBA conditions makes this even more critical.


·       “Better leverage for the release”: The term “leverage” in bowling means having the release take place at a spot where your body has the best mechanical advantage. If you think about it, we deliver the ball pretty much standing on one foot. Standing on one foot, humans are already in an unstable position. Then add the additional weight and forces associated with a moving bowling ball and we really begin to struggle to be stable. For us to be the best bowlers we can be, we must have the ball in our best leverage position at the point of release. This will give us the most revs with the least amount of effort.

·      “Aligns the ball better with your vision”: If you have not noticed lately your vision comes from your head and your head is in the vertical center of your body. If you allow your bowling ball to swing from your shoulder and keep your shoulders level, then the ball will swing several inches to one side of your vision. Dropping the shoulder puts the ball nearly under your head at the release point which is more inline with your vision. Sometimes when we “pull” the ball inside of our target, it comes from trying to “aim” the ball at the target. When the ball is swinging several inches outside of our vision, it makes this problem worse. It is true that a level-shouldered bowler can be just as accurate as a dropped shoulder bowler, but only if that bowler can resist the temptation to “aim” the ball.

·      “Moves the ball closer to your body’s center of gravity”: The closer the ball swings to our body’s center of gravity, the more stable we become. Having the ball swing close to our center of gravity is part of our ideal leverage point.


·       “Allows for more forgiveness”: This means we can make some small mistakes in our timing or footwork and suffer smaller penalties. When the ball is released at our best leveraged spot these small mistakes can create minor changes in our ball path. When the ball is out of position at the release point these small mistakes are magnified into large changes in our ball path.


But what about that pulled shot with the dropped shoulder that everyone sees in the league I spoke of earlier? Most of those pulled shots actually come from early timing. The ball gets to the release position too soon forcing the shoulder to collapse more than normal.


The ball’s early arrival actually pulls “you” instead of you pulling “it”. This is one of those cases where the term “pulled shot” is really a misnomer because the ball is doing all the pulling. So in most cases, the “settee” coaches are seeing the “result” of early timing which is the collapse of the shoulder (more than normal) and the ball going inside of the intended target. This causes them to suggest the dropped shoulder as the cause of the pulled shot.


Be sure to check out my website www.bowl4fun.com for more tips and details as well as a live bowlers’ chat room each night after 11P.M. Eastern Time. My email is rclifton@triad.rr.com