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!