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The Right Approach...Views on the world of bowling.

Volume 2, Issue 46, The 98th Edition
By Angel Zobel-Rodriguez

      Sometimes people are surprised to hear that I coach bumper bowlers. And at an earlier period in my life, I too would have been insulted to "waste" my ability with bowling's newest enthusiasts. Now, however, when I go on vacation or miss a week for a tournament, I feel guilty and can't wait to get back.

      I've been coaching bumpers for nearly a year now. I made my choice during a coaches meeting after leagues one weekend. When other coaches said they'd work the bumper lanes "if they had to," but showed no real interest in it, I volunteered to be there exclusively. Coaching isn't punishment, and unless a coach puts his heart into it, there is no reason to be there. Some people look at coaching bumper kids as glorified babysitting. And if that's what they think, I'm not going to argue otherwise. Rather than looking at it as a chore, I look at the upside: Bumper bowlers have an energy and enthusiasm that seasoned bowlers NEED to remember.

      Mind you, there's very little need for hand position or single-board adjustments when you're coaching the little ones, but there's room for education all around. Some parents don't realize what can (and can't) be expected from a five year old--both from their bodies and their attention spans. Sometimes just getting the ball off with the correct foot forward is the goal for the week. Other times, a child might miss all the pins on a spare shot, but they threw the ball down the lane without hitting the bumpers. Parents worry when their children don't "get it" all at once. Maybe I should start by telling them I averaged 107 when I was 18 years old. That would either make them relax or run away clutching their little bundle of pride and joy.

      There are three things I try to teach the kids: The first thing is safety. Kids move fast and it's important they know what can hurt them so they stay clear of ball returns and stay behind the foul line. Next comes fun. I want the kids to leave the lanes each week and want to come back. We don't deal in scores or teams. Strikes and spares are rewarded with stickers; names and scores are read outloud every week over the intercom. And finally, I concern myself with giving them the keys to improve. I'm not out to make them into pint-sized wunderkids. They can be prodigies later, if that's what they want. As long as they want to come back and throw the ball, that's fine too.

      Don't get me wrong, it's not always easy to coach when you're trying to figure out which kid has run off to make a "pit stop" or keeping all those sets of shoes tied so no one breaks their neck.

      When one of the children comes back and tells me he picked the 7 pin off a full rack, I've done my job. He got the pin name right. That'll be his spare shot someday. In the meantime, he's amused that he hit no bumpers.

      I leave each week a little drained physically, but emotionally, I'm recharged. I easily get back more than I put in each week. It's too easy to make this sport into a second job when you take it seriously enough. Sometimes a little youth and enthusiasm goes a long way towards reminding me that beneath it all, it's still just a game.

Gotta Split,


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