Proper Bowling Etiquette

Part 1 – Strikes, Spares, and Opens
An important, but often undiscussed aspect of competitive bowling is how to follow proper bowling etiquette. It’s good to become familiar with the do’s in reacting to your teammate’s and opponent’s various successes as well as their disappointments. A fist bump to a struggling colleague can be a powerful motivator, just as a high-five when your rival gets a strike can be seen as a respectful gesture and win you possible bowling mates in the future. As such, here are some tips and tricks for following proper bowling etiquette while on the lanes.

Teammate Strike: A high five is preferred, perhaps with a hearty ‘heck, yeah!’ or ‘you da man, (insert teammate name here).’ A fist bump is acceptable depending on if the teammate is a high average bowler and just ended a long string of non-strikes.

Teammate Spare: Fist bumps only! Unless your teammate is a child, in which case high-fives are recommended.

Teammate Open Frame: An open after a big split deserves a fist bump, especially if the pick-up attempt was close. Adding a, ‘Ooo, nice try!’ can be quite effective as well. For any other open, your teammate deserves the dreaded ‘low five’. It will let them know that they should be worried about you replacing them on the team.

Opponent Pocket Strike: A fist bump is entirely appropriate in this situation. Throwing an occasional high five into the mix is good too, but don’t overdo it. You are not friends.

Opponent Brooklyn Strike: This also receives the dreaded low-five. Proper verbal responses include: ‘didn’t know you were a lefty (righty, if the opponent is left-handed)’; ‘better to be lucky than good’; and the ever popular, ‘Hey! Get off my line!’ However, do not make eye contact with your opponent. You won’t acknowledge such blasphemy on your bowling lane.

Opponent Spare: Fist bump and move along. This is business as usual.
Opponent Open Frame: No matter the open (split or not), try to gauge how upset your opponent is prior to offering condolences. If they smile and have an ‘oh well’ look, give them a fist bump; if they seem down in the dumps, offer a low five and a ‘you’ll get ‘em next time’; if they put their fist through the monitor, maybe just quietly let them walk by.

From Gutter to 200: Starting Position

They say football is a game of inches. If that’s so then bowling is a game of millimeters. The slightest variance in starting position can be the difference between a strike and a split. And yet, when learning how to bowl, particularly when you’re learning how to bowl with a hook, one of the more overlooked aspects is the starting bowling position.
The bowling lane approach is no less than 15 feet long and, depending on where your ball return is located, the width is usually around 5 feet. That’s over 75 square feet worth of places where you could start your approach! (And I’ve even known bowlers that start behind the 15 foot approach). Deciding where you start on the approach can determine the speed of your release, the angle of your approach, and the breakpoint of the ball, which all lead into how to bowl a strike.

There are two key factors to remember when beginning to establish where you want to start. First, the farther right you stand for right-handers and the farther left you stand for left-handers, the less hook you’ll need to generate. Second, the farther back you stand, the more power you will generate. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Yet in learning how to bowl, and particularly in how to bowl a 200 game, starting position is often under appreciated.


BEGINNER(119 and under): On the approach, there are generally two sets of 7 dots about 3 feet apart (some alleys have two sets of 5 dots, others have no dots at all). These dots are your guideposts for starting position. If you feel like you want to throw harder, stand on the dots farther back from the lane, but I would recommend starting at the dots closest to the lane. Then, stand in the dot directly in the middle (this is also often the largest dot). Now, bowl! Did you hit the head pin? If you did, great! Just repeat from your starting point. If you missed, move to another dot and try again. Find the dot that works best for you to hit the headpin and keep practicing!

NOVICE(120-149): By now you’ve probably established a dot to start on and are getting used to consistently hitting the head pin. You may have even started throwing a hook (Great job!). Now it’s time to work on the finer details. Every dot is separated by 5 boards. When lining up your shots throughout the game, move in between the boards instead of the dots. If you throw a hook and you’re hitting the headpin a little too high, move a board to the left. If you throw a straight ball and you’re hitting the headpin too low, move a board to the left. If you throw a hook and you’re hitting the head pin a little too low, move a board to the right. If you throw a straight ball and you’re hitting the head pin too high, move a board to the right. For hook bowlers, you’ll need to occasionally move your feet to the left as the oil breaks down (to the right if you’re left-handed).

By now, you’ve probably mastered moving right to left a board at a time across the width of the approach. Now that you’ve reached this level, it’s time to consider moving forward and backward to adjust your shot. Sometimes, when you leave a ten pin, moving left or right just isn’t going to work. Therefore, moving forward a few inches, which will slow the speed of your ball down just a tiny bit, can improve your ball’s entry of angle into the pocket and give you less ten pins and more strikes. But be careful, moving too far forward can increase your chances of splits. I would recommend no more than 6 inches forward at a time.
Once you’ve mastered these two dimensions of the approach, you can master almost any lane condition without changing your form or ball!

Approach theory

How to Bowl a Hook

Whenever someone finds out that I’m a bowler, the question I’m most often asked is if I throw a hook. My general answer is a polite, ‘yes’, but in the back of my mind I always think ‘How else would I bowl?’ Every bowler I’ve seen have consistent high average success has thrown a hook. I’ve seen a fair number of ‘non-hook’ bowlers shoot high games, but for them a 200 game is usually a rare achievement, as opposed to a consistent score.

Throwing a hook is the most instrumental tool that you can learn to become a consistent bowler. Instead of hitting the headpin dead on, or slightly off centered, which causes massive deflections of power, throwing with a hook allows you to hit multiple pins with equal force, creating a reaction that should knock over all 10 pins. Think of it in terms of a game of pool. When you shoot the cue ball to the right of the ball for which you aim, the cue ball will deflect away from any balls behind the target ball. This is a similar reaction to hitting the head pin slightly to the right or left, the Ball will bounce away from the remaining pins and toward the gutter. Occasionally, the laws of physics will cause all of the pins to be knocked down, but to manage that consistently is very difficult.

Thus, the importance of throwing the hook. When done properly for right-handers, the ball will hit what is called the pocket, between the head pin and the 3 pin. The head pin will deflect into the 2 pin and a domino effect will knock over the 4 and 7 pins. Meanwhile, the 3 pin will deflect into the 6 and 10 pins. Since the ball hit at an angle going into the pocket, it will continue to ‘drive’ through the pins hitting the 5 pin, which will deflect into the 8 pin, and finally run out of steam as it hits the 9 pin and then the backstop. Sounds complicated, but actually, it’s quite easy.
As you stand on the approach, hold the ball in front of you at about chest height. Make sure that all three fingers are in the holes and that they are holding the ball from underneath. Much like shooting a free throw in basketball, use your opposing hand for balance. As you start your approach, allow your arm to swing the ball behind you. Try, as best you can, to keep your hips squared to the pins ahead of you, while still keeping your hand beneath the ball. It sounds very difficult at first, but with practice, this skill can be mastered. As you approach the foul line, bring your arm forward and start to turn your wrist upward. The best way to describe this action is to imagine yourself extending your arm to shake someone’s hand. Once your wrist starts to approach a 90-degree angle, the ball will release from your hand with added revolutions. Once the ball has cleared the oil, it should hook!

As always, the key to getting it to hook into the pocket will take time and practice, but if you do so, you’ll be able to see your scores take off and your average well on its way to the 200 level.

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