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Rick Benoit's Expert Bowling Tips

Bowler Evolution

     I will start my tips with this subject because I think it is neglected way too much. When I am talking about preparing the body and mind to bowl, I am not referring to recreational bowling. I am referring to competitive bowling. When you think it is time to evolve from a recreational bowler to a competitive bowler, you have to organize your thoughts and intentions. This is valuable in speeding up the learning curve to reach your desired goal. The goals will be different, so should the learning process. You may want to have the highest average in your league, you might want to beat the other housewives, you might want to make money in the local tournaments around town, or you might want to compete against the best bowlers in the world.

     Most bowlers tend to just start bowling and end up where ever they end up without organized thoughts or plans. This is one of the biggest reasons for fundamental flaws in many bowlers' games today. They start out with recreation in mind and after realizing some success at that level, they continue their competitive desires with the same fundamental flaws. When they try to fix them in the middle of the stream, they drown. I think that when any person decides to become competitive about his or her game, they should immediately seek educated assistance. I say educated because any bowler who has recognized success at some level considers themselves knowledgeable and able to help. I have seen so much confusion in our sport, much of which can be associated with lack of education and experience. Much of the educational material that is out there is based upon a belief in a certain style of game, most notably the perfect timing of a stroker type of game. Today's game is all about matching up and with the variety of conditions, I feel it is a huge advantage to have more physical tools in your bag than the next guy. This can only happen through education or years of experience, and if you wait on the years of experience, the learning curve will be much more costly.

     Preparing the mind has to be the first priority. Without going to the bowling center, think about what it is you want out of the sport. Once you have identified your desires you can choose a direction. Most of the time, success at one level leads to a desire to attain success at the next level. If you are that type of person and expect to follow the familiar path, you need to be wise in your initial stages of planning. The sport of bowling is all about matching up to the environments and conditions you are competing in - scores are relative to those factors. Most bowlers evaluate their skill level by the scores they shoot, and that is the first problem. Proprietors know that bowlers want to score well and many use it as a marketing tool to get bowlers in their center. Because of this, there have become common denominators in most house conditions around the country. You will almost always find either obvious hook or obvious hold on most house conditions around the country, and it is not hard to find them. Once they find out how to attack a certain house condition, bowlers tend to lock into a certain style and the learning curve is slowed. It is great to have the ability to match up, but realization as to how and why is more important. How to judge a bowler's ability becomes an issue and once again it becomes relative to the environment we are competing in. First let's try to describe levels of skill in the sport of bowling; I think this is very important in understanding goals and recognition of skill levels.

     Recreational bowling - Very simply stated is any bowler who is on the lanes with the sole intention of recreation.

     Competitive bowling - Is more of a mindset than anything else. If you are competitive by nature, then chances are you are going to be a competitive bowler. The level of your competitiveness is up to you. It is at this level that a bowler should gain the type of educated assistance he or she needs to satisfy their desires.

     League bowler - From the name you can picture this bowler as either recreational or competitive, and since this person's bowling is done in a league environment, he or she only needs to be concerned with that environment and the tools and knowledge to satisfy his or her desires. Choosing the right league for your desires should be a key factor. It is sometimes humorous and other times sad to see how different the purpose or intent is among teams in a given league.

     Local Bowler - Not that different from a league bowler, but as the environment changes so does the need to have more tools and knowledge. You will notice that this is the basic difference between levels of bowlers, and it is relative to the conditions they have been exposed to. Traveling the country and talking to different bowlers requires the ability to shift gears and have a keen ear. When a bowler speaks, you have to consider the environment they have been exposed to. It is amazing how different the same question or statement can be. What one bowler considers a lot of oil does not mean the same to another bowler. I have heard a bowler describe the conditions and their style many times only to witness something totally different from the idea I received from their description. It is not that they are right or wrong, it is a matter of exposure to different environments.

     Tournament Bowler - A tournament bowler can be recreational or competitive, but usually you will find most tournament bowlers to be competitive. A tournament bowler should spend time gathering all the information he or she can about the format and conditions they will be competing in. The right amount of research before competition usually proves to pay off. Think about the environment you will be competing in, the format of the tournament, the bowling center environment (type of lanes, breakdown characteristics, consistency from lane to lane, carry characteristics, approach conditions, ball return characteristics - anything that you feel is important to your game right down to the location of the pro shop and bathrooms, if you need them, can prove to be beneficial.)

     Professional Bowler - A professional bowler is a bowler who has intent on making money at the sport of bowling. It does not mean a person has to have a PBA card, because there are several ways to make money at the sport of bowling. When a bowler decides to make bowling their profession, they need to amplify all of their research and skill levels because the only way to make money at bowling is to beat the opposition. Beating the opposition does not mean you have to compete against the best in the sport, it means that wise decisions should be made so that you are prepared to beat your opposition. There are those that have chosen to compete in different organizations with different skill levels and different formats, but as long as they have intent on making money at bowling, it should be treated as a profession and success is directly related to the research and preparation a bowler puts in. You will hear stories of success with less effort but that happens in almost any area of venue or business. Most of the time it is directly related to the effort a bowler puts in.

     The descriptions of the types of bowlers I have discussed are my opinions and each of these types of bowlers have certain degrees or levels attached to them. In the long run, the important thing to consider is you should define your intentions or probable intentions before you get in the middle of the race. All too often the problems you have as you climb the ladder of skill and success could be prevented, if you had spent the appropriate time and energy in learning at an earlier stage.

     A common example of this is a bowler who developed a style of a stroker and finds himself caught when he is competing in an environment that is dominated by power players. The opposite is also true, many bowlers think that just because they can create more revolutions than the next guy, they are the better bowler. To describe the best bowler in the world, and in my opinion the bowlers of the future, it is about the ability to match up to the given environment. To me that means having the ability to have and understand several styles of the game and how it relates to the competition environment.

     We can discuss different styles and tips at another time, right now the important thing is to prepare your mind and body for the desires you have. I believe that one of these days we will see the perfect bowler and to me that is the bowler who can do it all from both sides of the lane. That may sound ridiculous to you but the athleticism of the bowlers is getting greater just as it is in other sports. Presently there are bowlers who have wide ranges of styles, but there is room for improvement. If you think that bowling is all about repetition and accuracy, you are behind the times. That is only part of the equation, bowling is not darts and the more exposure you have to different environments the more you understand that.

     An organized mind is a very valuable asset in bowling. Never think you know it all, and sponge up all the knowledge you can, someday it will pay off. Consider your mind part of your game; it is as much a style of yours as your armswing. I have always felt there is a mental process that is not understood or used by many bowlers that could speed up the learning curve.

     There is no way information can hurt any bowler as long as they know how to gather and sort it. First of all you have to open your mind watch, read, and listen - this is the gathering process. A closed mind does not gather information very well.

     Second, you have to sort or process this information, try and figure out if this is important to you and sort it accordingly. There is a lot of information, but processing it is a tool that few know how to use. Not all the information you gather is going to be useful but be sure to take the time to think about the information you have gathered. If you think it can help you, file it away in your mind or someplace where you know you can find it when you need it. It is not unusual to find that information you once thought was incorrect or improper can become a usable tool. Trust your own judgment and trash that which does not fit. A bowler with an ego or know-it-all attitude does not sort information very well, they tend to throw out everything that is not their idea.

     Third, there is a big difference between those that know how to gather and sort information and those that know how to use it. Confusion is one of the biggest challenges in our sport. There is no right or wrong way unless it effects how many pins you knock down. When a mind is not prepared and focused it will race through the information banks it has. Many times those with more knowledge become confused because they do not know how to prepare and focus their mind. A game plan is as essential in bowling as it is in any other sport. If you do not do the proper planning, I guarantee your mind will be full of confusion unless you just happen into a familiar environment. A good game plan can but you way ahead of your competition.

     Too many bowlers take their mental side of the game for granted. I happen to think that it is the biggest difference between the upper level of bowlers and others is practicing good mental techniques at which ever level they are at will carry them to the next level.

     Once the mind is organized and has a clue on its direction you must prepare the vehicle of execution, the body. Bowling requires unique physical strengths and conditioning. Think about the motion and execution of a properly executed shot and tell me another sport or activity that is similar. The type of exercises you choose may vary, but there are certain physical attributes that will prove beneficial to all bowlers.

     There are two specific areas that I believe in, lower body strength and total flexibility. I see the lower body as the base of a properly executed shot and if the base is not strong than anything on it is weak. The slide ankle is the anchor to the floor, and the bowling shoulder not being a perfect pendulum creates a pivot base somewhere between the shoulder and the base of the neck. With different styles of bowling there is a certain rotation around the spine. Some styles have square shoulders and the arm simply pivots from the shoulder socket, while other styles have the shoulders opening and closing through the swing. When you look at this style you will notice that the spine at the base of the neck has less rotational movement. So depending on the style of bowling, the swing pivot varies but identifying one or the other is important to approach and swing balance.

     Most power players should consider their spine at the base of the neck as their swing pivot while the square shoulder stroker should think of their shoulder as their pivot point. Let me take the time to explain this. A bowler with square shoulders to their target and horizontal to the floor will usually incorporate a swing that is at a 90 degree angle to the floor. It appears to be a straight vertical line. On the other side you will notice many of your power players have their swing shoulder lower than their balance shoulder and their swing arm is not vertical or straight. This allows them to get their hand and wrist in the position they need to create the additional rotation they desire. There are other factors associated with it as well and we can discuss that at another time, but you will notice a big difference in how balance and leverage is created between the two. It is important to consider the slide ankle as the lower base and the swing pivot as the upper base. When these two bases are in line with each other the force created because of the weight and swing momentum, secure the bowler to the floor and assuming the swing is not over controlled swing direction will be consistent. When these two bases are not in line, poor balance is observed and the bowler, his swing and his ball will have inconsistent leverage and swing direction. Why is this so important to preparing the body to bowl? Without lower body strength and flexibility it is not possible to get into this position repeatedly.

     Lower body strength - Once you know how to identify the two bases of your style. Simply get in front of a mirror and position yourself so that your lower base and your upper base are positioned accordingly. Now go down and up, keeping the two bases in line - this is the ultimate exercise for the strength you need to maximize your bowling potential. This not only strengthens the leg but it also teaches the muscle memory the proper position. There should be a subconscious ability to get into this position because no matter what style you are using the two bases need to be aligned on top of one another. If you cannot obtain this position repeatedly it is impossible to repeat leverage and swing direction.

     Flexibility is much more important than bowlers realize. Much of the inability to repeat shots has to do with flexibility issues. There is no part of the body that should be left unattended to as far a flexibility is concerned but I will try and narrow down the areas I feel are the most important.

     Legs, thigh, hamstring, knees, calves, and ankle - Each of these areas should have complete freedom of motion. The stronger and more flexible you are in these areas the easier it is going to be to get the lower body in a strong leverage position. Keep in mind that it all starts at the base - the foot and ankle. The knee follows the ankle, the hips follow the knee, and the shoulders follow the hips. They are all related, do not expect maximum performance if you cannot keep them in shape.

     Midsection - The lower back needs strength and flexibility, you will find that the lower back is greatly effected by the stomach muscles as well. One area that is often a weak point for bowlers is the hip and the tail bone. The trailing leg is swung around behind the slide leg and this motion throws the tail bone towards the hip bone and when this happens excessively the pain starts in the upper rear end of the slide bun (haha) and transfers down to the slide knee. Many times you will think it is your knee, when actually it is because of the tail bone being thrown over to the hip bone. Proper stretching is essential to help in this area. Stretching the lower back and buns can prove very beneficial in pain prevention.

     Chest and shoulders - If the chest and shoulders get tight, the swing plane is going to be effected. As the ball swings back, it will swing and when the chest and shoulder have reached their limit of flexibility the upper body begins to rotate as well, when that happens the swing plane is redirected and in trying to realign it many things including hand position and release are effected.

     Arms and neck - Improper stretching of these areas is a sure way to injure yourself sometime in your career as a bowler. When I am talking about the arms, I am talking about all the way down to the fingers. There is a lot of strain exerted as the ball is released, and if the arm is not ready and pliable, things can snap. Most injuries occur when a bowler is throwing hard at a spare or bowling before the body is ready.

     As far as the exercises you do to accomplish these effects, I will leave that up to you. There are many and you might know some that I do not. I do not think it is as important as to which exercises you do but I do know that your bowling will improve and you will have fewer injuries if you take the time to prepare your body.      Do not underestimate the importance of strength and flexibility in the sport of bowling. Take the time to think of the motion and the muscles being used and how one effects the other.

     I hope you have enjoyed this first tip and I will add others as I have time.

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