This is an excerpt from Bowling: Steps to Success, 2nd Edition by Douglas L. Wiedman.
The position of the hand determines how the energy of the swing transfers through the ball. If the hand is directly behind the ball, all the swing’s energy goes through the ball. Offsetting the hand will redirect some of the swing’s energy around the ball, creating a torque motion. When this happens, two forces influence the ball’s movement down the lane. Translational force is the initial direction of the ball down the lane. Rotational force is the direction of its rolling motion, or the orientation of its axis of rotation. The more a ball’s axis of rotation is offset from its translational direction, the more potential hook it has.
Imagine rolling a tire instead of a ball. With the axle of the tire as the axis of rotation, the position and motion of the release become clearer. Using a clock face to picture the hand positions at the release point is a traditional method for describing the release.
There are two basic release positions, one for a straight ball and one for a hook ball. Generally, the straight release is passive; the hand and forearm do not move at the release point. An active release is characterized by movement at the release point; in other words, the bowler changes the position of the hand as the swing passes through the release phases. The action of this release is meant to increase either the number of revolutions or the degree of side roll. Both passive and active releases can create a hook.
A bowler can release the ball in a variety of ways. To make understanding them easier, we will separate them into general categories: straight, passive hook, active hook, and the (undesirable, yet all-too-common) backup ball.
Straight Release Hand Position
The goal of a straight ball release is to create a heavy end-over-end ball roll, which emphasizes accuracy. For a passive straight release, the ball is set in the desired release position at the beginning of the stance and remains there throughout the swing.
In the straight release, the fingers are aligned in a 12:00 and 6:00 hand position (figure 8.7). The thumb and fingers line up directly behind the ball. This position produces little side roll. The direction of ball rotation is the same (or almost the same) as the direction it is thrown.
Figure 8.7 Straight Release
- Thumb and gripping fingers are in line directly behind the ball.
- Forearm rotates slightly, enough to line up thumb and fingers with center of forearm.
- Wrist position is straight or slightly extended back. (No cupping is needed.)
- For some bowlers, the wrist may break back somewhat when they align the hand position with the forearm; this is acceptable.
- Near the bottom of the swing, the ball starts to drop off the thumb.
- Ball rolls forward onto the fingers.
- As swing extends, ball rolls off the front of finger pads and smoothly onto lane.
- Fingers apply pressure directly up the back of ball.
The hook can be accomplished with both an active and a passive release. To create an effective hook, the fingers need to be under the ball and slightly offset from the ball’s center. The swing drives the hand through, then up, the side of the ball. The hand does not turn around the ball so much as the ball is turned by the hand. Excessive motion is not necessary for creating an effective hook.
In the basic hook release, the fingers are at a 10:00 and 4:00 hand position at the point of release. The important issue is the ball clearing the thumb. The ball slides off the thumb before the swing reaches the release position.
A passive hook release involves presetting the hand position for the hook at the beginning of the swing and keeping it there throughout the swing (figure 8.9). This is the easiest hook release to learn. There is little or no motion at the release. The hand position is set at the beginning, and the bowler merely swings through the position.
Just like before, let the hand hang relaxed at the side. Imagine where the hand needs to be in order to be offset from the center of the ball. Offsetting the hand requires a small rotation of the forearm. The wrist does not change position; it is firm and straight (or perhaps slightly cupped). Imagine looking down the hand toward a clock face lying on the floor. Rotate your forearm until the thumb points toward 10:00 and the fingers are at 4:00. This is the hook release position (figure 8.10). Bend your arm, bringing the hand straight up (keeping it in line with the shoulder); this is the starting position.
Hook release setup: Rotate forearm so fingers point inward and thumb is positioned by the outside of the ball.
When it is time to release the ball, it will slide off the thumb smoothly because it is facing slightly down and in toward the ankle at the bottom of the swing, and the fingers swing up the side of the ball. As you drive through the release, be sure the swing stays on line to the target and the fingers remain firm in the ball.
In an active hook release, the thumb may point toward 1:00 or 2:00 when the ball clears the thumb. This puts the fingers in a 7:00 and 8:00 position. By cocking the wrist position, as mentioned earlier, the fingers can be offset to the inside of the centerline. As the swing continues and the weight of the ball transfers to the fingers, the turn of the forearm rotates the fingers to 4:00. (They should never rotate past 3:00.) The more the hand rotates around the ball before applying its leverage force, the more axis rotation can be created.
This is the point at which some high-revolution players will allow the wrist to collapse slightly. As described in the modern release section, slightly breaking back the wrist tilts the ball weight onto the finger just before the forearm rotation applies the leverage force of the fingers. For a powerful release, the wrist uncups, uncocks, and rotates slightly.
As the uncocking motion and the forearm rotation turn the thumb inward, the finger will follow in the same direction. Some players try to get the finger to chase the thumb around and up the ball. Bowlers capable of this very strong snap - flip hand action may find that the momentum of the release causes the follow-through to move in front of their face. This is acceptable because the ball was released at the bottom of the swing, when the swing was still on line to the target. The change in the swing line is a consequence of the release forces influencing the follow-through direction after the ball is off the hand.
Rotating the hand to an exaggerated open position provides maximum rotation at the release. Imagine leading with your pinkie in the downswing, then turning from under the ball with the other fingers at the release. Some bowlers try to get into the overrotated position during the stance or very early in the pushaway.
Players who use the overrotated hand position in the setup of the stance should be careful to keep the swing from going where the thumb goes. A thumb pointing outward may cause an outward pushaway. If the pushaway moves away from the body, the backswing ends up behind the bowler. Many wannabe power players give up too much accuracy in order to create a strong release. If overrotating the hand position in the stance, be attentive to the direction of the pushaway. Make sure the throwing-arm elbow swings right next to the throwing-side leg.
Figure 8.9 Passive Hook Release
- Hand is directly under the ball in the setup position.
- In the stance position, rotate forearm until palm is facing slightly inward, about a one-eighth turn to the outside of the ball.
- Palm is not turned completely inward (facing the body), nor does it face the ceiling.
- Hand position is maintained throughout the swing.
- The ball slides off the thumb near the bottom of the swing.
- As the ball passes the drive face of the swing, the fingers maintain their offset position on the ball.
- As the ball rotates to the inside of the hand, the swing continues toward the target.
- Imagine the fingers moving in a straight line through the ball; if the fingers are in an offset position, the ball will have side roll.
Learn more about Bowling: Steps to Success, Second Edition.