This is an excerpt from Bowling: Steps to Success, 2nd Edition by Douglas L. Wiedman.
Timing must be considered from both the beginning and end of the approach. The ball’s position in the swing arc at the completion of the first step (or second step for those using a five-step approach) is termed initial timing. Terminal timing is determined by observing where the ball is in the swing arc as the last (slide) step begins. For experienced bowlers, we don’t talk about good or bad timing. The nature of a bowler’s timing is most frequently observed from the results (i.e., how the ball was delivered onto the lane). From there we work back, step by step, to the initial starting motion, to see how a bowler’s style was established. Timing affects ball roll.
With early terminal timing, footwork is just barely finished as the swing gets to the release point. This may cause less finger leverage at the release. Less of the body’s momentum transfers into the ball. Often the ball is placed onto the lane early. These are characteristics of the roller style of bowling (figure 3.1).
Roller-style bowling: (a) initial timing, (b) swing arc, and (c) terminal timing.
Initial Shape of the Swing
The direction the ball moves during the swing is called the initial shape of the swing. Being able to make adjustments to the shape adds versatility to your game. A bowler can get the ball to the correct spot at the correct time even when adjusting ball speed or the tempo of the footwork. Bowlers also adjust the shape of the swing to fit their mental approach to the sport. Athletes frequently reflect their general personality traits in their style of game. Characteristics of their performance (speed, tempo, release) are the outward manifestation of their internal state of being. Whether aggressive or passive, methodical or freewheeling, bowlers can develop a suitable, individualized starting motion that matches their personality and keeps them in their mental comfort zone without sacrificing proper mechanics. The initial swing movement can take one of three basic shapes: the up-push, the swingaway, and the dropaway (figure 3.6).
As for mechanics, the up-push is used primarily for two reasons. One, it delays the swing’s arc into the down-drop phase to accommodate slow initial steps. It is used by bowlers who prefer a slow, methodical start. Two, it generates extra swing momentum. Pushing the ball to a higher point gives it more potential energy. Starting the ball in a higher position in the stance serves the same purpose, but not all bowlers are comfortable with a high start position.
An additional aspect of the up-push technique is the sense of free fall it provides. The bowler gives the ball its slight upward push and then completely relaxes the shoulder. The ball then swings smoothly and effortlessly into the backswing. Pushing the ball up and letting it fall is a way to break the habit of trying to aim or guide the ball into the swing. To visualize this technique, imagine a bar in front of your chest. Start the pushaway by trying to move the ball over the imaginary bar. This "over the bar" technique has been popular with instructors for many years.
The swingaway is the traditional shape, the standard technique for starting the swing motion. All new bowlers should learn this starting motion first. The ball’s movement is out and down. The out movement is caused by extending the upper arm away from the body, and the shoulder muscles are briefly engaged. At the same moment the arm is extending forward, the biceps relax, allowing the ball to swing down. This results in a smooth, arcing motion. There is no abrupt change in direction, no push-and-pull motion. Simply extend the arm far enough to move the ball past the foot, and gravity takes over from there. Imagine tracing a semicircle with the ball. The ball follows a curved path the entire time.
Many advanced bowlers prefer the dropaway technique. These bowlers use styles that feature high backswings and open shoulders at the top of the backswing. The swing path is much longer than in a traditional pendulum-type swing. This style of bowling requires getting the ball into the backswing quicker to allow time for the longer swing path. The ball moves into the down-drop phase almost immediately with little or no outward movement at the elbow. The upper-arm muscles relax and allow the ball to swing from the elbow. The elbow is a hinge joint, and the weight of the ball opens the hinge, and the arm extends into the down drop with no hesitation.
Figure 3.6 Shape of Swing
Ball moves up and out before it swings downward.
Ball moves out and down into the swing. This is the standard shape.
Ball hinges down from elbow with little forward movement.
Ball Height in Stance
The height of the ball’s position in the stance influences the choice of initial swing shape. No matter which style a bowler uses, all bowlers strive to get the ball to a position slightly forward of the throwing-side leg as the first step is complete.
If the ball is held high in the stance, it has farther to go to get to that position. There is no time to push the ball out or up. The hinge technique lets the ball fall into position quickly and is preferred by bowlers who start the ball higher.
If the ball is in a standard position, between chest high and waist high, the bowler has options. This is why a moderate starting height is suggested for most bowlers. A standard starting height allows room to move the pushaway in whichever direction best matches the swing shape to the athlete’s natural tempo. The initial shape can be adjusted up, forward, or down to suit the bowler’s style.
An aggressive, hard-charging bowler who uses a fast tempo might emphasize the down aspect of the shape. A slower, more relaxed or methodical bowler might prefer to emphasize the forward (or even a little bit of the up) motion of the start.
What about a lower starting position? A lower starting position is appropriate for bowlers who have very fast feet. These bowlers generate most of the ball velocity with their legs. This means they need less help from the swing. A low ball position, assuming there is no exaggerated up-push, creates a shorter swing arc. Some bowlers prefer the sense of control they get from a short, compact swing. Bowlers who lack the flexibility to swing the ball through a long arc might choose a lower starting point out of necessity.
Initial Movement Drill 1. Foot Placement
Using a guide can help you practice the appropriate crossover step. In this case, the guide is a small towel placed directly in front of the throwing-side foot. The distance from the foot to the towel is the same as the length of your first step. As the pushaway starts, step with the throwing-side foot to the inside of the towel. The foot will land to the left of the towel for a right-handed bowler.
To Decrease Difficulty
Score Your Success
- Score a half-point bonus on each step and pushaway in which the pushaway moves at the correct time (15 points possible).
- Your score ____
Initial Movement Drill 2. Partner Help
This drill has been an essential part of bowling instruction for a long time.
The bowler stands facing a partner who is far enough away that the bowler can fully extend the arm during the arm swing with the first step. The partner’s hands are cupped to catch the ball and positioned in front of bowler’s throwing-side shoulder and level with the bowler’s waist. Bowler practices initial swing motion by extending ball into partner’s hands. Bowler also takes initial step with pushaway practice. The entire weight of the ball rests in partner’s hand so that the bowler’s arm can relax. Bowler does not let go of ball to hand it to the partner. Grip on ball remains firm. (The arm relaxes, not the grip.)
To Decrease Difficulty.
Score Your Success
- Practice 10 step-and-pushaway motions.
- Score 1 point for each correct extension (firm grip, relaxed arm) that lands directly in your partner hands.
- Score a half-point bonus each time you use correct crossover step with pushaway.
- Your score ____
Initial Movement Drill 3. Weight Transition
I first heard of this drill from Fred Borden, internationally known instructor and former head coach of Team USA. It promotes full body-weight transition on the initial step and swing motion. This practice incorporates a small, almost imperceptible, back-and-forth hip slide. Gradually shifting the weight from back to front helps the bowler move the body forward as the ball is ready to move forward into the pushaway.
Assume a normal stance position with feet slightly staggered and knees slightly flexed. Hold ball at a comfortable height. Very gently shift weight onto back heel by sliding the hips back. Shift weight forward to the ball of front foot by sliding hips forward. Gently feel hips shift back and forth four times. On the fourth forward shift, allow body weight to continue past front foot. As weight shifts in front of feet, make initial step. (Once weight has moved in front of stance, you will feel the need to step. You should feel as though the step catches the body.) Practice proper pushaway movement when taking first step.
To Decrease Difficulty
Score Your Success
- Practice full procedure 10 times.
- Score 1 point each time body-weight shift and ball-weight shift are simultaneous and smooth.
- Score half a point if step and swing motion are in correct direction.
- Your score ____
Variation of Weight-Transition Drill. Five-Step Approach
One of the benefits of the five-step approach is that the first step automatically leads to a weight transition. Instead of merely shifting onto the front foot, the bowler actually steps with that foot. The body weight gently moving forward with the first small step creates a seamless continuation of the weight shift onto the second step.
This weight transition includes the movement of the ball.
Assume a setup stance with the feet slightly staggered. Slide the hips back until the weight is over the heel of the back foot. Smoothly slide hips forward until the weight is past the toe of the back foot. Weight is now over front foot of staggered position. Slide the foot opposite the throwing arm forward. Body weight transfers forward to the opposite foot as the step is taken. As the body weight moves past the opposite foot, take a small step with the throwing-side foot. The ball moves forward into the pushaway just as the throwing-side foot moves for the second step. When the second step is firmly planted, the body weight is centered over the throwing-side foot.
Practice the weight transition with the first step 8 to 10 times before incorporating the second step and pushaway. Once comfortable with second step-and-pushaway motion, score success the same way as in the previous drill.
You should now have a clearer picture of how critical the start is to a sound game and how it contributes to developing versatility. While every athlete prefers a particular style of game, the more skillful bowlers make adjustments as needed.
A simple adjustment in the pushaway shape helps coordinate the swing with the footwork. An extended outward push delays the ball falling into the swing for bowlers with a slower start, while a quickly descending hinge motion accommodates faster foot speed or bowlers who prefer a higher backswing. The swingaway motion blends both the outward and downward aspects, creating a smooth, arcing initial movement. Many bowlers prefer the swingaway starting technique, and it is the best option for people new to the game.
The initial movement should be simple and easy to repeat. Find the rhythm and speed that falls into your comfort zone. Determine which shapes and speeds fit your game. Experiment with different ball positions and pushaway shapes. Then, practice enough to expand your mastery of various techniques. You are trying to hone a precise game. Be diligent in your efforts.
This chapter has introduced the elements of a proper start. At this point you should have a good idea of where to start, what a balanced stance feels like, and the proper way to get the ball in motion. These steps are only the start of the journey, but, there is no sense in getting started if you don’t know where you are going. The finish position is where everything ends up. Every bowler must be aware of how to achieve a proper finish position. Bowlers must understand for themselves how the elements of swing alignment and body position established in the beginning apply to a balanced, well-aligned finish.
By rigorously working at developing a solid finish position, the bowler will be able to control how all the elements of power and accuracy come together at the end to produce an outstanding shot. Learning what goes into an excellent finish position is the topic of the next step.
Scoring Your Success
- Evaluating Standard Initial Timing ____ out 9
- Anatomical Swing Practice ____ out 5
- Opposite-Hand Pushaway Practice ___ out 5
Initial Movement Drills
- Foot Placement ____ out of 15
- Partner Help ____ out of 15
- Weight Transition ____ out of 15
Total ____ out of 64
A bowler must commit to either the four- or five-step approach before conducting the drills. If you choose the five-step approach, substitute the weight transition variation for your grading. Score yourself based on how many steps you have decided to use.
Learn more about Bowling: Steps to Success, Second Edition.