Knowing how to play on different lane conditions will dictate your versatility and success in tenpin bowling. The beauty of tenpin bowling is that not all bowling alleys are constructed the same way. Unfortunately, this lack of duplicatable standard is also the reason why bowling has yet to be included as an Olympic sport. Not all tenpin bowling alleys oil their lanes in exactly the same way. Not all of them use the same material for their lanes. You may score the best in your home ground but once familiarity is taken away, are you able to adapt and adjust using the tools that you have at your disposal?
Structure Of The Tenpin Bowling Lane
One of the first thing any new bowler will notice is that the bowling lane is much longer than it is wide. A bowling lane is between 41 to 42 inches wide, not including the gutters. It is 60 feet long from the foul line to the head pin. There are typically 39 boards per lane. Each board is approximately 1 inch wide. At the end of the lane, you will see 10 bowling pins.
There are 7 large arrows on the lane. The centre arrow indicates the 20th board when counted from the left side or right side. Each arrow has 5 boards in between them. In a few alleys, they might have 40 or 41 boards. In this case, there will be an extra board in between the 3rd and 4th arrows. Right-handers should count the arrows from the right to the left and vice versa for left-handers.
There are dots on the approach to the foul line which are aligned to the arrows starting from the 10th board onwards. This means that normally there are only 5 dots and 7 arrows as the arrow corresponding to the 5th board from the right or left has no corresponding dot on the approach. If your bowling alley is the type that has 7 dots on the approach, then that means each dot corresponds to one arrow. The middle dot will normally be slightly larger and this will indicate the 20th board. Remember this when you are first measuring your stance position. Start from the centre dot and count outwards.
Where Should I Stand?
Most people will choose a particular board or dot to start walking from. Unfortunately, many bowlers don’t realise where they end up after sliding on their last step is just as important, if not more important, than where they actually started. Where you slide will more accurately determine where your ball will land and thus where it will start its journey towards the pins.
My tenpin bowling coach for the national team used to make us stand at the foul line facing away from the pins and walk as if we were playing a shot. After we took our 4 or 5 steps and finished sliding, we would roughly be the position on the approach that we should start from. Ideally, you should walk and slide in a relatively straight line and finish around 3 boards to the right or left from where you started.
Where Does The Ball Land?
Most people will have, on average, 5 to 7 boards between the inside of their sliding foot to the centre of their ball when it is at the bottom of their swing. You will need someone to watch you from behind to accurately measure this distance.
Alternatively, just behind the foul line, kneel down on your non-sliding foot. Your sliding foot should be pointing straight forwards directly in front of your bent knee. The knee and hip on the sliding side should be at 90 degrees as parallel to your sliding foot as possible. Hold your ball first with your back straight in this kneeling position. Then drop that shoulder and arm straight down so that the ball is on the floor. Measure the distance from the ball to the inside of your foot. This distance is roughly equivalent to the distance from the centre of neck to your shoulder.
This distance should be constant no matter what angle you choose to play. Keep your arm near your body in order to maintain this distance while you swing.
Aiming The Shot
You may choose to use the arrows to guide your target or the boards between the arrows if you can focus your eyes more accurately. You can either hit a target straight on, from one side or as the ball is coming across it and crossing over to the other side. Once you have visualised the arc that your ball will take, you need to adjust your body accordingly.
Once you have finished your measurements and understand how the bowling lane is designed, you are ready to start mastering your technique! Try to walk in the same way without too much drift no matter which dot you choose to begin walking from. Test yourself whether your slide ends up within 3 boards of where you started from. Your first goal should be to learn how to play the angles and be consistent in your shot, not necessarily to score big points.
Disclaimer: I am not a tenpin bowling coach. I became a tenpin bowling national athlete who played using a 14.2 pound ball after mastering the hook technique. I know the dedication, physical strength training and physics required to succeed in the sport and I have many tips to share. Bowling has been popularised as a great place to socialise and release stress with friends. Because of its relatively small pool of professional athletes, few people know that it is actually also a sport worth millions of dollars. The great thing about tenpin bowling is that there is no one way to roll a ball. There is no one way to hold the ball. There is no one way to walk down the lane. It’s all about what is best for you and your body type. In addition, there is no age limit to be great at it, unlike other sports. I hope this article series will showcase the science behind tenpin bowling so you can take your game to the next level.
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