Thursday, January 19, 2006

Lunch practice, another high

I went out today and shot some practice at lunch. I started off throwing at the 7 pin, then shot at the 4, then the 2. After I felt good on the left side, I switched to the right side and shot at the 10, then the 6, then the 3. This was probably 2-3 games worth of balls.

I was using a variation of the 3-6-9 method today. I usually don't use a specific method for shooting my spares. Depending on the leave, I have a general idea of what arrow I want to target and where I want to stand and then I tweak it depending on the lane conditions and how I'm throwing. This has served me ok up until now but I've decided that I need some sort of a system to work from if I'm going to improve my accuracy, particularly at picking up splits and difficult combinations.

After practicing my spare work, I experimented with different strike balls. I was bowling in a house that I can never seem to find a line in. I had very little luck with the 2nd and 3rd arrow. I toyed around briefly with throwing an inside line using my particle ball but that didn't seem to work out either.

Finally, I lucked out and somebody who was a regular bowler at the house showed up to practice and I was able to sit back and watch him for a bit. I stole a line from him that seemed to be working well and threw a 214, 179 and new high game of 254. It certainly helps having other bowlers around. That's one bad thing about going out at lunch... lots of times I'm the only person there so if it's a house I haven't bowled regularly, I flounder.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

First Night

Tonight was my first night of leagues for the winter. It was a good night. I had a lot of lucky breaks on my strike ball and I played a very good spare game (by my standards). I only left 3 open frames. I choked on a 7 pin early in the first game, threw a clean second game, and missed a split and a 9 pin in the third game.

My scores were 211, 222, and 197 for a 630 series and 210 average. My goal is to be a scratch bowler in this league. This only requires a 200 average so I'm on track but I'll need to work hard to keep it up. I think I got an unusual number of lucky breaks tonight.

This week, I'll be continuing to practice my spare game by shooting at the 7 and 10 pins. I'll probably also start practicing shooting other pins though. I'd guess my single pin spare percentage is around 75% right now. I'd like to get that into the mid to high 90's. At that point, I can start looking at multi-pin spares an splits in more detail.

As of right now, I think my strike game is adequate. The pattern in this house is pretty easy so I believe I'm throwing over 50%. Improving my spare game should be easier points than improving my strike game. Plus it should translate more readily to tougher houses and lane conditions.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

New shoes, easy house, high game

I got the new shoes that I'd ordered today. I wore them around the house most of the day to start breaking them in. I also went to the pro shop and picked up the slickest heel they make for them. No more sticking for me no matter where I'm bowling! Now I can bowl more than 3 games without an aching knee later.

As long as I had new shoes to try out, I figured I had to go bowling tonight. A bowling alley I'd never bowled at before had a special - $1 per game until 8:30PM. That seemed hard to pass up so I headed over there and bowled 7 games - 1 warm up where I threw mostly at 7 pins and 6 normal games.

The thing I decided to focus on today was balance. This was something that was hard to practice when sticking to approaches. I'm not sure where I read this tip but I think it's a good one. What I did tonight was try to hold my final pose on every throw and stand there waiting for my arm to swing to a stop. It's a nice exercise because it forces you to be in balance during your delivery. If you're out of balance, you'll have to take an extra step to stop from falling over. There were a couple of shots where I had to take a step but for the most part I was able to accomplish the exercise. It felt good too. I felt like I was throwing the ball more consistently on shots where I was in balance.

One interesting thing about this house is that it has a reputation for using a super easy oil pattern. I must say, I had no clue how easy a shot could be. I've never bowled on lanes like these. I could botch my release, miss my mark by 4-5 boards, drop the ball early... As long as the ball had a reasonable amount of spin on it and went vaguely in the right direction, I would hit the pocket every time. I had multiple 5 baggers, one game with 8 strikes and 1 game with 9. I threw a 223, 213, 183, 179, 135, and a new personal high of 248. The 248 was nine strikes and three frames where I left the 7 pin and spared for a clean game. If I were to join a league at this place, a 300 game would only be a matter of time.

I don't think I'd really like to bowl at this place regularly because I don't want an over-inflated average that doesn't prepare me to play elsewhere at the same level. That being said, having such an easy shot was interesting because it highlighted the mental game in a way harder shots don't. If I concentrated, it was well within my ability to hit the pocket every single time yet if I didn't concentrate, I could still miss. In game 5, I was getting tired and just throwing the ball without any thought. When I saw how low my score was, it sort of snapped me out of it and I really focused on the 6th game intently - throwing my all-time high game.

Even if it was on cheesy lane conditions, was a great night of bowling. I'm looking forward to leagues starting next Tuesday.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Practice Drills #1

While I'm waiting for leagues to start and data to roll in, I'm still practicing. I'm not sure if I'm practicing effectively or not because I don't have a coach yet and I don't have data collected for enough games. Tomorrow I should be getting my new shoes. I don't think the shoes come with the slickest heel available so I'll probably stop by the pro shop to order it. While I'm there, I'll ask about local coaches. Until then, I'm trying to make my time as productive as possible.

One of the first things I noticed with my new balls is that my spare game is hurting me. Part of this is that I'm not used to throwing a plastic spare ball. Part of it is that I'm experimenting with different shots for my strike ball so I'm throwing fewer strikes. Part of this is that my spare game wasn't fantastic to begin with. The corners are where I seem to be having the most trouble. As such I've been doing this drill a couple of times per week.

1) Throw an entire game aiming at the 7 pin (Would have been 10 if I were right handed).
2) Throw a second game starting at the 10 pin and then alternating between the 10 pin and 7 pin after throwing two good balls in a row.

Usually when I'm doing this drill, I throw my strike ball repeatedly for the third game then bowl a normal game or two and call it a day.

Evaluating my game

Now that I have my gear lined up, it's time to evaluate where my game stands currently.

After 10 years without any coaching I'm sure I've picked up more than a few bad habits. I may be able to identify some using a video camera but ultimately I'm going to need some help. Sometime very soon, I'm going to have to find a coach.

Until then, I think there are some things that I can do to evaluate/improve my game without a coach. I worked for a company that did quality improvement studies for years. Unfortunately, I wasn't a statistician or analyst for them but I still picked up on the key concepts.

1) Decide what you want to improve - for bowling it would obviously be average score.
2) Identify key quality indicators - an example for bowling could be strike percentage.
3) Make a baseline measurement of the indicators.
4) Make a change that you believe will improve one or more of your indicators.
5) Measure again.
6) Repeat steps 4 and 5

Using a system like this has the advantage of leading you towards making decisions based on numbers and data rather than basing them on emotions. For example, it may feel like you're scoring low because you aren't throwing enough strikes. However, if you're leaving 3 open frames per game, there may be more points to gain by improving your spare game.

I'm not sure what indicators I'm going to use yet but single pin spare conversion percentage will probably be one. Strike percentage may be another. Regardless of what indicators I choose, I'll need to collect data. To that end, I created this score sheet that I take out bowling with me. I keep a bunch of these in a three ring binder. After I've collected data for a bunch of games, I'm going to start doing analysis of that data.

Here's how I intend to use the sheet:

For each game, I fill out the top section just like a normal score sheet. I use the next row of boxes to signify whether I had a bad release, missed my mark, or had a problem with my approach. I'm not sure how I'll use this yet but I figure it might be handy for trying to separate the physical game from the mental game. On the pin diagram I fill in the pins that I leave when I don't get a strike. This way I can see which spares I'm missing and focus on those during practice.

Finally, I have a notes section so I can write a little bit about the situation I was bowling in for future reference. I may note how oily the lanes were, what mark I was using for my strike ball, which ball I was throwing, etc.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Evaluating my equipment

I love spending money so the first stop on this adventure was the pro shop. My ball was in need of repair anyhow due to some large gouges taken out of it by a faulty ball return. On a friend's recommendation, I visited a fantastic pro shop near where I live. Interestingly enough, it's the only pro shop I've been to that wasn't inside a bowling alley. Instead, it has a small stub lane without any pins that just extends a little past the arrows. It's enough that you can test throwing your ball and check it for fit.

Given that lane conditions change from night to night, between bowling alleys, and even in a given night as their being bowled, having multiple bowling balls makes sense to me. Of course, the problem is, I don't really know how to read lane conditions yet and I'm not sure I could readily tell the difference between two balls with the same weight and coverstock type. The learning process has to begin somewhere though so I asked the proprietor of the pro shop what type of ball he thought would compliment my current reactive resin ball. He recommended a particle ball for extremely oily conditions.

In addition to the particle ball, I decided quite a while ago that I wanted a non-hooking spare ball. Being a southpaw, I leave the 7 pin fairly frequently. The only way I've been able to pick it up somewhat consistently with my reactive ball is to change my hand position slightly so that I'm almost rolling it over the finger holes and throw it extremely hard and fast. This doesn't seem like a good long term strategy. Even if I become extraordinarily proficient at this technique, eventually I'll hurt myself throwing the ball so hard. The best solution definitely seemed to be a plastic spare ball.

So, by the time I walked out of the pro shop, I'd spent $407 with tax and bought two bowling balls with drilling and finger tip inserts as well as a 3-ball rolling bag. It was a big expenditure for me but I did buy a lot of things at once.

It took about a week for the balls to be received, drilled, and ready for pickup. When I went to pick them up, the guru at the pro shop had me throw my ball on the stub lane and carved my thumb holes into more of an oval shape to fit my thumb. I was immensely impressed by the fit. I thought my old ball fit perfectly until I picked up the new ones. There was a huge improvement. Now that I had my new balls in-hand, I was able to drop off my old ball - by the time I paid for redrilling, resurfacing, new fingertips, and the repair of a couple of deep gouges, the bill came to about $80 - expensive, but cheaper than replacing the ball and it came back looking as good as new.

The last piece of equipment I ordered was a new pair of bowling shoes. I love my old bowling shoes but there are two houses in town where I'm sticking badly. It's not just throwing my game off but it's also causing quite a bit of pain in my knee. The new shoes I ordered have replaceable/swappable heels and soles so that I can change them according to the approaches I'm bowling on.

All told, I'm now at well over $500 but I hopefully I'm done buying equipment for a couple of years. I'm packing the following:

1) Plastic spare ball
2) Reactive resin ball
3) Particle ball
4) Shoes with replaceable soles/heels
5) My old shoes in case of emergency
6) A bag with wheels that holds everything
7) Towel, bowler's tape, ultra-slide, extra socks, etc.

Introduction

When it comes to bowling, I think I'm in a similar place to many people.

I bowled in youth leagues for 5 or 6 years growing up - during middle school and high school. We had coaches who wandered the lanes, helping us out and teaching us solid fundamentals. While I enjoyed bowling, I didn't take it very seriously. For me, it was a few hours out of the house with my friends on Saturday morning. For my parents, it was probably a few precious hours of peace without my brother and I underfoot. I very rarely practiced outside of leagues and never truly focused on improving my game. As such, I don't think I ever really elevated my average much beyond 140 or 150.

At some point later in high school, I began to lose interest in bowling and gave up youth leagues. Aside from occasional games of open bowling with friends, I gave up bowling for nearly 8 years. It was 4 or 5 years ago that a friend of mine asked me to join his team on a men's league. It sounded like fun so I went out, picked up a new ball, and gave it a go.

I still didn't take bowling seriously but being an adult and throwing a 15lb. reactive ball vs being a teenager throwing a 14lb urethane ball made a difference. My average the first year was 165 and climbed to 170 the second year. Unfortunately, the team dissolved so there was no third year however, another friend of mine was bowling on an unsanctioned corporate league and asked me to sub for his team. I subbed fairly frequently for two years and averaged 181 the first year, 184 the second.

Unfortunately, I don't believe the sudden jump in my average can be credited to an improvement on my part. The corporate league was at a different bowling alley and I believe it had easier lane conditions. That being said, the higher average did do one thing - it got me really fired up about bowling for the first time. It made me realize that I could be a better bowler and perhaps even be competitive someday.

I intend to be a better bowler and I've started this blog to document how I go about it. I'll be documenting my successes as well as my failures here so hopefully it will be of use to other bowlers in similar situations.