Ways to Improve the USBC National Tournament

Last weekend I attended the 2017 USBC Open Championship. This was my second time participating (I attended in 2016 in Reno), and my first time as Captain. Overall, the event was one of the most disappointing bowling experiences of my life. And, no, it has nothing to do with how difficult the lane conditions were or how good or, more accurately, bad I bowled. That’s a debate for another time. With that said, here are 6 issues that the USBC needs to consider fixing for future US Opens.

1.) Lack of Clear Instruction:

As a first-time Captain, the USBC did little to nothing to provide me with the information necessary for a smooth time before and during the event. Register online (or fill out a form and mail it in), give them all the team information, and pay. Seems simple enough…yet, for some reason, a month prior to the event you are mailed a piece of paper demanding you confirm the accuracy of your team’s information, but the letter doesn’t supply an actual way to do so. Turns out you don’t have to do anything. Once you’ve given them your registration info, then you need to have the team fill out a ‘Green Sheet’, answering questions that have either a.) already been asked during registration or b.) could have been asked during registration. If that weren’t enough, once you arrive at the venue, there are only 2 to 3 signs telling you where to go, and one of them sends you to THE WRONG 60 lane bowling alley. When six people are wandering around toting 50 lbs. of bowling balls or more, a few indications of where the tournament is located would be helpful. (Or maybe a map, which could be posted on the USBC website.) I will say that for every time I had to reach out for clarification to USBC staff, they were informative, helpful, and kind – a rare highlight during this stressful event.

2.) Starting Times:

This is probably the epic failure of this year’s USBC tournament. When I signed up originally, my team and I were set to bowl at 8:30 PM, which is already late for a group of old timers like us, but it was the only available time, so that’s okay. Then, about 3 weeks prior to the event, one of my teammates (not me, the captain) gets an email from the USBC letting us know our start time is now 9:30 PM. Considering we had to turn around and bowl again at 9:00 AM, losing an hour was a little rough. And finally, at the event we had to wait ANOTHER 30 minutes for everything to be reset from the previous session. This one is a very easy fix: more lane machines. This year, the event used two lane machines to oil 60 lanes at a time. How much more would 2 or 3 more machines cost to add? It certainly could have saved a lot of bowlers a lot of time.

3.) Warmup Times:

Session length being an issue, I can somewhat understand this, but would it really kill the USBC to add 4 more minutes of warm-up time for Doubles/Singles?

4.) Gouging:

Team photos = $, videos of your bowling = $ (by the way, you can’t film yourself), weekend times = $, and even food and drink prices were more expensive than the rest of the casino where the event was held – even if you wanted to walk the half mile back there to get a drink or food, a guard would stop you from bringing it in. The team photo is the item here that bothers me the most. Each team spent nearly $1000 to bowl in this tournament, and yet we’re not even given a thirty-cent copy of a photo we’re required to take? The USBC should, as a thank you to the teams bowling, provide at least one quality print to each team.

5.) Awards:

I am all for celebrating the accomplishments of the bowlers who have made multiple journeys to these tournaments over the years, but spending 20 minutes or more every team session to recognize a bowler bowling his 22nd or 31st consecutive tournament is a waste of time. These awards could easily be given to the captains to hand to their teammates, and then milestones (5, 10 year intervals) could be announced prior to the team session.

6.) Dress Code:

While entering the squad room, I watched as a man was stopped by an USBC attendant and told that he was not wearing proper attire. He was wearing jeans (which is allowed), and a bowling jersey shirt with no collar (which is allowed). However, the combination of both is not allowed. USBC, it’s time to give up on these archaic regulations. People should be allowed to bowl in the attire that is most comfortable for them to bowl well in (including shorts and t-shirts). Instead of forcing regulations upon everybody you should incentivize additional Pride Awards that will encourage positive team uniform collaboration instead of negatively enforced necessity.

Simple changes, but necessary ones. Hopefully, the USBC will take these considerations to heart if they wish to continue this annual tradition for decades, even centuries to come.

Proper Bowling Etiquette (Part 2)

Odds, Oddities, and Ends

Preparing to Bowl (1 lane): If the person bowling to your immediate right or left reaches the lane before you do, you MUST allow them to bowl before you bowl. If you attempt to bowl while they are bowling, you will likely get sneers, hear jeers, and be called a lowly amateur.
When you Gotta go…: During league play, whether it be to use the restroom, order cheese sticks from the restaurant, or pick up a beer from the bar, make sure that you do so right at the end of your turn. There is nothing worse than coming back twenty minutes late to have your teammates glaring at you.

Preparing to Bowl (2 lanes): If the person bowling two lanes to your left or right (leaving one open lane in between) is about to go, breathe easy, you can bowl without fear of recompense. Most every bowling league in the world uses this as a standard rule.
Sick Bump: On the rare occasion that you are sick while bowling, it’s best not to congratulate your opponents with fingers or fists that have seen strong amounts of germ action recently. Instead, offer them the ‘Sick bump’. Use your elbow to accept their high fives and/or fist bumps. This will ensure their health and allow them to appreciate your thoughtfulness.
One Ball on the Rack: For the league bowlers, make sure you only have one ball on the ball return at a time. For those of us who use a spare ball, this can be quite tricky. If you are forced to use your spare ball on your second shot (damn 10 pins…), pull your strike ball off the rack and set it aside until your next shot. Don’t be that guy who stands in front of the lane he just bowled, blocking the next bowler, while waiting for his spare ball to come back.

Preparing to Bowl (empty lanes): On the rare occasion that no one is bowling between you and the end of the alley (either to the right or left of you), upon releasing your ball, you are required to turn to your right (or left) and run down the approaches of the other lanes until you reach the side of the building. Reaching the side of the building before your ball hits the pins will result in a guaranteed strike (results may vary)

Changing Balls

For most bowlers who own multiple ‘strike’ balls, the temptation often comes to switch balls when your ‘preferred’ strike ball isn’t performing as expected. Many bowlers around the 200 level will make the decision to switch to a different ball when the original ball they are using isn’t ‘working correctly’. Sometimes this can make a difference, but the fact of the matter is, the original ball is probably working fine, but you’re just not lined up correctly on the lane (see Starting Position). However, there are several occasions in which changing balls is entirely appropriate and necessary.

Spare shots – If you’re a 150-180 average bowler and you want to improve your average by 10 pins or more, switching to your spare ball for every spare shot can help you out significantly. If you’ve ever thrown your strike ball at a 10 pin or 7 pin, just to see it hook away at the last second, then you know why you should get a spare ball.

With a spare ball, you can throw your normal shot without dramatically changing your starting position, increasing your speed, or having to keep your wrist straight. (Remember bowling is about repetition!).

Sport shot conditions – The PBA line of sport patterns, the USBC National pattern (which changes every year), and many other patterns out there are very difficult assess in 10 to 15 minutes of warm-ups. If you’re preferred ball just isn’t performing (sliding too far, breaking too soon, or is just generally unpredictable), switching to your secondary or tertiary strike balls may be worth a try. Also, remember that certain balls are designed and drilled for conditions that are oily/dry. If your preferred ball performs better on a reasonably dry house shot, you’ll want to use a ball for heavy oil on a sport shot, such as the Storm Timeless Bowling Ball (40% off right now), or the Hammer Gauntlet, which performs spectacularly well in heavy oil conditions.

Dry lanes – Though not common in most leagues, a lot of tournaments, especially ones where you bowl 5 or more games, will see the oil disappear and dry up. This can often leave you scrambling left to stay in the oil and put you in an uncomfortable angle to throw at. Having a Urethane ball in your arsenal can be quite helpful in a dry lane situation, but switching to any less hooking ball will be helpful. It may sound crazy, but don’t rule out throwing your spare ball for a strike as well.

==> For medium to heavy oil, be sure to also check out this ball. It’s one of the most highly rated right now, allowing you to have one beast of a hook, even in the harshest of lane conditions!

How to Bowl a Hook

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.

Approach

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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