Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Boy, do I feel stupid

So here I am in the midst of a minor slump. For the the last five weeks, I am stuck around a 150 average. I have been endlessly tinkering with my game to no avail. I am even cultivating a tight mustache with the hopes that it will help. Yesterday, I decided to go for a long ski with a lot of uphill to clear my mind. This morning, it was time to figure some things out on the lanes. I bowled eight games. I averaged 181.5. That is huge for me. I went in with a few ideas:

1) Simplify this game. I have been trying to throw a straight ball to pick up spares and have had limited success. My pickup percentage has been slipping. I decided to abandon it. Why not just have a single shot and a single release?

2) Hit my target- If I can throw the same shot and hit my target regularly, I should be able to pickup anything.

3) Know your target- I have had all kinds of targets from the near triangle marks to the pins themselves to things in between. On the strike ball, I always aim for the near targets. This was the big one for me today... I decided to come up with a simple chart that translates target to pin struck for spare balls. Let's call it a spare chart.

Let me explain exactly what I did because it made a HUGE difference in my spare game. Ok, about 15 feet from the foul line are seven aiming marks arranged in a wedge. You know what I'm talking about. They look like this:

For every spare shot, I recorded at which board the ball crossed the target marks and which pin it hit. I have two different starting positions for spare shots. For spares on the right side, I begin with the center of my right foot on board 30. For pins on the left side, I put the center of right foot on board 10. So, for each starting position and each spare shot, I recorded something like this: Board 15: 3/6 pins. This means that the ball rolled across the 15 board and hit the pins between the 3 and 6 . I recorded this information regardless of the board I was trying to hit. After repeating this process about 40 times, I was able to build a spare chart for my game. It looks like this:

The vertical lines represent where the ball struck the pins. The target board is where the ball crosses the targets. The starting position is where I begin my approach. By the end of the day, I had picked up exactly 2/3 of my spares. This is a MAJOR improvement for me, and many of those I failed to pick up were splits. In fact, after the first game, in which I went 1 for 4, my pickup percentage was always over 66.7%. It felt absolutely amazing.

So... here are a few things to keep in mind. I assume that all good bowlers already have some system like this, whether it is formal or not. I feel like an idiot for taking so long to collect this basic information about my game. But keep in mind that this is for my game. I would recommend to anybody that they do the same thing for their game. I doubt my system will work for everybody. The only downside is that you have to look like a dork collecting a bunch of data while you bowl. I look like this all the time, so I'm used it.

Also, I have no idea if I will be able to repeat today's performance on a regular basis. But I have now boiled my game down to something very simple. Throw one type of shot and hit my target. That's all I have to do. It remains to be seen whether I can hit my target, but at least now I know what it is.


  1. :) This same analysis was the last stop for my train of logic, about two months ago.

    My problem is 101% mental (wrapped in low confidence and lack of patience). At the very moment I write this, I don't know how to get around it.

    When I hit the mark, I get the spare. When I miss the mark, I get frustrated. When I get frustrated, I miss the mark... And the wheel goes 'round and 'round, Ezekiel.

    All I-- we-- can do is keep trying.

    The team doctor wouldn't have it any other way.

  2. Well, I'm glad you got there before I did. I feel like I should have figured this out two years ago. Today, I felt very good about hitting marks. Who knows what tomorrow holds...

  3. Todd, I did something similar back in early December, except that instead of aiming at the arrows I'm using the dots at the foul line as my targets. Bottom line, I was averaging 144 thru Dec. 1 and have averaged 170 in the 8 weeks since. Stick with it and good luck.

  4. Doc,

    Maybe I should hire you as a consultant, or maybe you should start your own blog. Don't tell EB I said so.


  5. This is brilliant. I started to bowl to the markers last week and was in the process of putting together a very informal system for spare shooting and while I think I have something that works most of the time the trick is trusting the system. For example I'll start off on the 10th board and aim at the 2nd marker for the 4-7 pins but will often stray left off the mark (resulting in a gutterball) because it just doesn't feel right bowling so far right to hit the far left pins.

  6. Once upon atime, before I overanalyzed myself into the current bowling epileptic that everyone knows and loves today, I improved from season to season. Then, last, year, I tried-- really tried-- to figure out how to get up in to the 160s, above 165, even to, dare I say it...170. It didn't happen, but I really thought if I practiced and bowled more, I could get there. Thus, the summer leagues (note plural-- a mistake); thus, the birth of my blog. In the summer, I bowled about average (well, what I considered average for myself), and really really really thought I could make up for the dropped 5 pins in average between the last two seasons (165>160). I had a PLAN. I was going to ratchet up my average from the git-go this season and let it carry...

    I've moved boards, bowled straight at spares, moved back, aimed at the mark, followed through (though not religiously), and read up on all the sports psychobabble and slumpological spellcasting I could digest. Now my ball has a pothole in it-- a perfect metaphor for this season, really. Perfect because it can be FIXED.

    Mick has found his groove, early on (while in the 140s). I don't know if I ever had a groove, but I used to bowl better.

    So you guys keep searching for yours. I think you'll-- like the team doctor-- find it!

    Maybe one day my groove will find me!

  7. EB,

    You will get there. So will I. I keep reminding myself that I have only been doing this for three years now. I'm sure you know this frustration... to get a strike, you need to throw the ball with the right speed and spin and hit a mark only 15 feet away. Yet, you can't do it. Some nights you are consistently missing right. Others, left. Others, you are are just all over the place. You try to diagnose what is going on exactly. You screw with your release, your follow through, your approach, your alignment, your ball, your speed, your spin, your balance, your shoes, your facial hair, and your beer consumption. Nothing seems to work. Before you know it, everytime you step up to bowl, there are six things in your mind.

    This is not a complex game. It is not as simple as I once thought, but it's pretty darn simple. Yesterday, I decided to simplify it. It came down to this: just throw the stupid ball the same way at a stupid target. I can do this, at least yesterday I could.

    I was so proud of my bowling yesterday that I couldn't wait to write about it. That was a good feeling. If I had to guess, the next time I hit the lanes, it will not go so well, but I have a plan. And it's really really simple.

    I don't know how to pull you out of your slump, or your wild oscillations. Heck, I have no idea if I have found a way to pull out of mine. I do know that if you try to do too many things at once, you will not succeed. I am capable of chewing gum and walking at the same time. If you add another task to that list, it gets a bit more difficult. If you can boil your game down to something so simple, stick with it, and master it, maybe you will find yourself on the upswing again.

    As for your ball, it seems very ironic that it is now pocked. As it sits in the "ball lab" (another bowling palindrome), I would think about how to boil your game down to its purest form. Focus on those things and master them.

    Hang in there buddy,

  8. MD,

    I do that all the time. The 7 pin is my nemesis. For some reason, I almost always miss it left. Yesterday, I tried to completely ignore the pins. Instead, I just focused on hitting the mark. I really tried to not even look at the pins trusting that if I hit my mark, I would hit the pin. Yesterday it worked. We'll see what the future holds.

  9. Thanks, Todd. My ball has a divot in it, my elbow is sore, and my psyche is like an unlanced boil. But I have no intention of giving up.

    Once I learn how to be mentally strong (now I know what it was like for Grasshopper growing up in Kung Fu), how to expect a few bad games from time to time (instead of the other way around-- as long as I continue to expect a few good games, then that's all that will happen-- that's the zen of bowling that's so difficult to master.

    On Tuesday, around the halfway point of the second game, I stopped trying, waived the white cocktail napkin at the pins...and bowled better (relatively speaking), turning a crappy game into a 150. Toward the end of the 3rd game, I noticed I was actually bowling better and could possibly finish with a 190-200 if I could strike out, then choked in the 10th frame (because I expected to). Zen. Zen. Zen.

    I think focus is a part of the problem. When I try focus, to hone in on some particular aspect of this game, I don't seem to do as well as when I just stand at the right board, deliver slowly and methodically, hit the mark, and follow through WITHOUT THINKING ABOUT IT. But that's so hard to do. Not think about it.

    Anyway. I'm going to keep trying. This season is a wash, I accept that. But there's PLENTY of room for improvement. Things will be different next September, when I enter league play with a 145 average!

  10. This season is not a wash. Yes, it is probably impossible to bring your USBC average up to 170, but it is not impossible to average 170 for the rest of the season. If I was your coach, I would install an on/off switch on your brain. At the start of league night, I would just switch it off. You are clearly a thinker, an affliction that is occassionally helpful but often detrimental.

    Remember when you talked about those guys in your league who don't really think about bowling? They just do it. They make any shot look easy and average 210 in the process. They come close to converting crazy splits all the time. How do they do it? How did they get there? The have been bowling for 10+ years. Picking up a 10 pin is a motion completed successfully so many times that it does not require thought, except for ... do that thing you do to pick up 10 pins.

    I guess we gotta find our ways of doing things. Then, we have to do them over and over and over again until they become ingrained. Then, we can just turn off the neurons and let the ball go.

  11. I wholeheartedly agree with your last paragraph. I'm still early in the process and it is encouraging to know that I am not the only one going through this.


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