Tom Blasco's Expert Bowling Tips
Skill Development5/28/2000 - By Tom Blasco
Webster's definition of skill, "1. Great ability or proficiency, expertness that comes from training, practice, etc., 2. An art, craft, or science, esp. one involving the use of hands and body...b.) Ability in such an art, craft, or science 3. (Obs) knowledge, understanding, or judgment.Webster's definition of skilled, "1. Having skill, 2. Having or requiring an ability, as in a particular industrial occupation, gain by special experience of training." Webster's definition of skillful, "1. Having or showing skill: accomplished, expert."
A message of great importance is in the opening paragraph. It's a message missed by many participants of our game/sport, missed even by our own industry (coaches/teachers, proprietors, communicators, etc.), missed by the average lay person watching the Pro Bowler Tour or viewing a professional event and missed by the media itself. Everyone says bowling is easy and I won't argue that to a point, but it is not easy for all the bowlers that have the desiring or wishing to be at the professional level, or just become better bowlers. If it were so easy, the tour's would have PTQ's every week, bowlers would be falling over themselves to get in the tournament. The professional bowlers (men/women/seniors) are highly skilled athletes that perform in a higher gear and are a special breed of bowler by themselves possessing the necessary skills and talent that allow them to perform, with grace, consistency, efficiency and excellence, at that level.
Many people, to include beginning students, smile and laugh at me when I welcome them to my DOJO. They smile and are even slightly embarrassed when they receive their first sensei strike. In many way I view the performance of our professionals with the finesse, power and execution of a martial artist. The attributes and skills they produce and procure, the precision they exhume, the power they create with nothing but movement and momentum, and the forces they utilize puts our professional bowlers far above the average player in all events, situations and circumstances.
The sum total of all the firings of all the receptors within the musculoskeletal system, tell the athlete what his body is doing, what the relationship of the body parts are and where they are headed.
- You might ask what a DOJO has to do with bowling instruction. Here's a small clue -- a DOJO (or Place of Enlightenment) is where a martial arts student makes contact with themselves, there fears -- anxieties -- reactions and habits. They learn about themselves. In addition, it is where, when learned well, that the opponent is not an opponent, but a partner engaged in helping you to understand yourself more fully in different events, situations and circumstances. It is a place where a source of self-enlightenment is available and learning occurs. Sounds familiar in many respects to the lessons students take when they approach a professional instructor (a sense).
So how is this done? What makes our professionals and the skills they possess so far ahead of our regular lay bowlers? Thousands of repetitions and practice, practice, practice. Literally, repetition of a single movement hour upon hour, day after day, month after month and year after year to developing and improving skills already utilized and learn more when the opportunity presents itself. Professional bowlers realize long before most of the lay bowlers will, they are developing their physical skills and they are also developing and improving their mental skills. Their attention can be directed to the simplest of things, a feeling, a sensor perception, a simple thought, and use of their intuition that makes them great players. They are so fined tuned and highly skilled it can be something as simple as knowing what their natural tendencies are in critical situations.
So how do we become like these players? First, be ready to learn. Second, actually with the same processes, but you need to understand and be made aware of how and why our bodies move and how we learn. The human internal system that extends throughout the body that is responsible for movement. The brain, spinal cord, cells and other fibers make up what is know as our nervous system. It is within this system that firing neurons cause an exchange of chemical information in the spinal cord that is then sent on to the motor cortex of the brain to be interpreted. This information is then communicated to the appropriate muscle-group or groups to create the desired movements.
- Bowlers who are trying to improve may be overlooking what medical, physical therapy, and bio-mechanical students have learned: the human body knows how to move. It not only knows how to move, but it can also correct inappropriate patterns of motion if our conscious mind does not interfere. Two elements of athletics are effort and motion. Effort and motion, no matter how fine, require muscle. Understand that muscle tissue can only pull. Muscles work by contraction as it pulls the bones of our skeletal system through predesigned or observed patterns of movement. To understand the bodies capacity for movement (without conscious thoughts) you must view deep within muscle fiber and membrane where hundreds of strands of protein are laid down in an orderly parallel fashion. It is these strands that contain the capacity for movement.
The signal for movement comes from a motor nerve transmitted to end plates on the muscle fiber. The process starts with the sensory organs receiving information that ignites a burst of activity. A tremendous amount of sensory information comes through the muscles themselves.
One early decision required of the central nervous system is just how much muscle will be required to accomplish the task at hand. It is inescapable that our bodes are often smarter than our minds, if we could learn to trust it.
Proprioception is the sense that tells us where our body parts are in relation to their environment and to each other. It give us the capacity to have smoothly coordinated movements. In close relationship with the organs of balance in the inner ear and with sight, the proprioceptive organs aid us in keeping bodily equilibrium.
Muscle spindles send signals to the central nervous system rather than receiving signals from it. They help the body decide how many motor units to devote to a task. There are also proprioceptors located in the ligaments and the capsules of the joints called joint receptors.
Joint receptors signal to more conscious levels of the brain that do the muscle spindles. It is the joint receptors that provide most of the information to make the controlled movement possible.
Finally, the Gogli tendon organs located near the junction of muscle and tendon. These too are activated by stretch -- at very high loads -- but they signal the muscle to relax rather than to contract. They are the opposite side of cybernetics of movement, inhibiting muscles to prevent injury.
When muscle is contracted or stretched its temperature rises. As the muscle heats up it becomes, within limits, stronger and more efficient. Warm muscle fibers simply slide over each other more easily than cold ones. Furthermore, if the muscle is pre-stretched before contraction, it stores a certain amount of elastic or potential energy. In fact, pulling muscle group after muscle group toward their optimum stretched length, in effect, waking up the motor nerves, preparing them for the rapid fire activity that will be required of them to snap back with maximum force.
So to move the body, the nerves stimulate the muscles, the muscles move the bones. At every juncture, at every step on that progression -- external stimulus, sensory receptor, spinal cord, cortex, motor neuron, end plate, muscle fiber movement -- there is room for improvement.
When we learn to trust and use the information our nervous system gathers, progress with our game is accelerated, skills are learned more quickly and successful patterns begin to develop. You must realize your brain rehearses all movements, 4,000 milliseconds before it actually happens.
The following factors that when learned, allow players of all ages to be more successful in their bowling and sporting endeavors:
- The human mind has a reliable feedback system that can effect body action in such a way that it can alter patterns of motion while the body is moving or about to go into motion. When our feedback system begins to overuse words or think too carefully about actions we make, the mind cannot be creative or make a decision in time to act or respond in our pre-performed manner.
- Your brain provides a very reliable and accurate system of telling the body what to do. You must also realize your brain will never make a mistake. Everything your brain does is based upon imprints you have developed since you were able to see. Your brain actually learned by seeing. Studies have shown communication is on 5% words; that 85% of the information your brain receives and has stored has come from the eyes, and 50% of what we hear is forgotten immediately and usually misinterpreted when verbalized.
- So how do we learn? There are three ways to learn motor skills: (1) what you feel; (2) what you see and (3) what you hear. Which is most effective? The most effective way is what you feel, followed by what you see and what you hear.
- Feeling. Above all, practicing a movement or movements through dry-run drills or certain drills given to you by your instructor. Remember: A good delivery comes by repeating fundamentally correct moves.
- Seeing. Secondly, we want you to watch the swing of pro bowlers or your instructors and perceive what they do is common. This will help you form the right mental image because your actions are guided by the images you see. This is called the "Positive Modeling Phenomena" and is accomplished by your human nervous system, where the brain accepts images. We literally learn by watching and duplicating. Distinguish the differences in your swing to your instructor on the lanes or from videos of the pros.
- How is it done? Your brain acts like a complex switchboard, with 45 miles of nerves, which monitors hundreds of incoming and outgoing nerve impulses at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. The brain mathematically transforms observed images and movements into neuromuscular commands, through waveforms, that guide the body to reproduce as closely as possible the observed movement(s). By some miracle, the nerve currents in your body are "trained" to repeat nerve paths. This miracle is called "Fourier Analysis" and is performed by the brain, through your central nervous system. The nerve pathways when stimulated are capable of developing habits patterns, both negative and positive (preferably positive), which start from birth through your life and are reinforced from physical practice.
- How does it work? There are three levels:
- Watching role model athletes, using images of the desired movement.
- See biomechanical correct images with good form and proper leverage.
- Experience action. In addition to the nerve currents in the body, another mystery follows the functioning of hundred or thousands of tiny receptors in our muscles, ligaments and tendons. In the learning of our game/sport, or the reeducation of certain muscle groups, these receptors act as reports. They immediately notify the brain of the movements, tensions, and relaxation in numerous muscles and tendons of the body. So, at the subconscious level, our brain directs the tightening and loosening of muscles which allows us to move and make our shot preparation.
- Hearing. The final step is to allow yourself to absorb new and different ideas for delivery the ball correctly. In classes you instructor will teach you to achieve a sense of rhythm, timing and balance in your approach if you are willing to adapt these skills. It is important to remember, when you are learning new skills or movements, they should feel different because they have not been imprinted or recorded into your muscle memory. Old skills and movements, which are recorded in your muscle memory, will feel natural and no different from when you did them on a regular basis.
- The Fourier Analysis -- for you information. Your nervous system reacts as the object you see or the performed skill goes to the brain for mathematical breakdown. Your senses, eyes and ears send the images to the brain with mathematical precision; transforms the images into a spectrum of electromagnetic waveforms whose frequency range represents the minute details and neuounces of the observed object or movement. The transformation of an image or movement into spectrum of waveforms is accomplished by a complex mathematical operation performed by the brain and the entire central nervous system called a Fourier Analysis. In reality, your brain doesn't see an image of an object or motion but is sensitive and responses to a spectrum waveform frequency that representing the object, in the form of shapes, and the timing, rhythm and tempo associated with the movement.
This combination of timing, rhythm and tempo is what determines the frequency of the waveforms. As the objects or images are corrected into a spectrum waveform, your brain breaks the wave pattern down into their component frequencies. If you have a similar set of frequencies stored in your brain memory from a previous experience, than the incoming spectrum of waveform will trigger the similarly stored memory of the motion.
During this memory replay nerve impulses that carry the blueprint (imprint) of the motion travels from your brain to the nerve endings and muscle groups that regulate the skilled movement. Your muscles than go through mild almost unperceivable contractions associated with the skilled movement. Everything you watch a movement performed at the same timing, rhythm, and tempo of a movement stored in your brain memory, the image triggers the memory blueprint (imprint) of the motion and your nervous system replays it as if you have physically performed it.
The more you watch the perfect movement or see the process in your mind through mind zapping, the deeper it becomes depressed in your nervous system and muscles and the more likely you are to perform it as a positive habit.
Skill development applies to bowling as well as all sports -- not strength, speed, endurance, power, agility, quickness, balance, flexibility, or kinesthesis or feel, these are traits of athletic endeavors. Many people say that our highly skilled player's make bowling look easy and move so easily. Maybe that's why they are on TV (paid to play) while others only watch. The top players are well above their peers, and light years ahead of the rest of the bowling community. Becoming a good professional bowler or athlete is not as easy as good players make it look. Many youngsters start from scratch without the benefit of parents or siblings with sporting interests. Their contact with knowledgeable friends and coaches, watching other athletes play, helps guide them, but they may never discover the fundamentals of their selected sport, to include bowling.
THE MIND: The mind (brain) is a terrible thing to waste. This one MIND - The Conscious - The Superconscious MIND - is the origin of all thought, which is created by emotions. Your direct guidance and intuition comes from the Superconscious MIND through the subconscious MIND. Remember that the subconscious is open at both ends. At one end, there is the inflow of creative ideas from the Superconscious and, at the other, the instructions you receive are from your conscious phase of mind. Your reasoning and conscious mind tricks you by distorting your perception of reality, induces expectations and fear and cause your AWARENESS to be faulty, and subsequently, your actions.
- Develop a routine. Pregame to help eliminate distractions and get you mind on the task at hand. Repetitive pregame drills help do this as do moments alone in thought. Develop a ritual that helps you get mentally ready to play and play well. At game time have a ritual you repeat time after time in your pre-shot preparation, into your stance, through your delivery to your follow through and observe the ball going down the lane through the pins. Prepare yourself to read the ball, it's roll, it's reaction and it's roll through the pins. Use this information in preparation for your adjustments based upon the ball reaction and the language of the pins.
- Concentrate on the task at hand. Get your mind on the game or match you are playing. Maintain your focus, so you don't get your attention away from the game, i.e., block out spectators, antics of other players, bleachers, coaches, parents, friends, peers and other things.
- Watch the ball. Open your eyes. Focus on your ball crossing over the target and it's roll down the lane and through the pins.
- Be ready. Bend your knees. Maintain your flexibility. Be relaxed as possible. Most sporting activities actions begin from the bent knees position and bowling is NO different. Get a jump on your opponent by bending your knees so you can act instantly.
- Move your feet. Move your feet with a steady rhythmic motion. Remember, start your approach slowly and build your speed as you approach the finishing position and the foul line. Your feet get your body in position so you can execute the skills needed in that particular situation properly. Developing good feet in bowling provides balance and leverage and allows you to perform the skills in your game at a slightly faster than normal pace.
- Anticipate. Study the game or match and your opponent. Learn to recognize the actions of others so you can predict (or guess) what will occur next or when the action will come your way. Develop the ability to read the actions of your opponents.
- Expect the ball or the action to come your way. Every movement and moment of every shot, expect the action to come your way. It is a poor excuse to say, for example, "I did not think the ball was going to react that way." Play every shot like it's the only shot of the day. Then, know what to do and you will not make errors because you were surprised.
- Get in shape. As we play more skillful players, it takes more than just good bowling skills to win. Both mental and physical conditioning becomes very important. Work to improve your biological fitness. Develop your strength, endurance, speed, power, agility, quickness, balance, flexibility and your kinesthetic feel for the skills in bowling.
- Play offensively. Always play offensively and play aggressively. It is common for players to fall into passive patterns or play. This is referred to as playing not to lose rather than playing to win. When this occurs, opponents tend to take the momentum. Do not play tentatively. Practice playing aggressively in practice so that playing defensively does not become a negative habit in the game, especially when you are practicing for score (under game conditions). Go for it.
- Determination. It is never over, even when you are down to the last shot in the tenth frame. You can still come out on top if you keep playing hard. Quit and you are finished. Hang in there, build your character, winning or losing.
- Going from bad to good. When you play well, all of the skills of bowling seem easy. This has been referred to as "in the zone," "got the stroke," locked in," etc. When the game is going your way, winning is easy. When the game is not going your way, it is easy for beginners to become frustrated, it's easy for skilled players to take a negative attitude. We begin to play in an "I don't care" manner, or just plain quit. That is absolutely the wrong thing to do. When players struggle with one part of their game or another, this is the time to become intense. Bear down and work harder than ever. Concentrate on your skills and the target. Things will change and you will being to play better. Work through the game and match game slumps. It will make you better the next time out and when your game is sour.
- Mistakes. Physical mistakes such as errors in release, lane reading, swing, timing, etc., are a part of the game. They will happen. Practice diligently and they (errors) can be kept to a minimum. Strive for excellence. However, mental mistakes are real killers. They include not preparing for a shot, making the wrong shot, or lining up in the wrong position. Do not let mental mistakes irritate you but do not repeat them.
- Play tough opponents. Individuals can elevate their level of play by going against players who are more skillful than themselves. Certainly, no one wants to get hammered day in and day out. Yet, it is good to practice regularly, or any time the opportunity arises, against others who are highly skilled. Learn from these experiences. Competition forces you to elevate your game. It breeds success.
- Perfect practice makes perfect. Practice the basic skills, do them correctly, and repeat them regularly. Work on the little things, too. The more you do this, the better you will play.
- Finish strong. When your opponent is losing, keep the pressure on them. Finish them off without stirring them up.
- Enthusiasm. Play with a passion for the game. If you are just going through the motions, you might just as well do something else. Get yourself ready and fired up to play. Do not depend on others. Be ready to play. Try hard and play fair.
- Say NO to THAT. Repeat this message over and over. Stay away from drugs, alcohol and tobacco, and do well in school or at your job.
- Have fun. Sporting activities, like bowling, is enjoyable, and that enjoyment should not be limited to just winning. When you stop to think of it, exactly one-half of those who play each day lose. If we must win in order to enjoy our game, then our view is too narrow, particularly when considering the recreational play of children and adults. The joy of playing is the competitive environment, friends, hard work, and the exhilaration that goes with victory. Most of all, just getting the opportunity to participate in competitive bowling and play the game is fun, never mind bowling with and against the best in the world or being one of them. FINALLY, do not criticize beginners for doing the wrong thing. Help them learn what they need to know so they can do it right, but more IMPORTANTLY, remember you were a beginner and maybe still are in comparison to some.