Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Constant and Erratic Pace of Improvement in Bowling: 10 Pins Per Year

Anyone who bowls competitively, whether in a leagues, tournaments, or both wants to improve their game. With time and practice, you will, but improvement is frustratingly slow. It seems as if our memory is only capable of tracking things over a period of weeks or months, and on this time scale, things do not seem to change much. You have those weeks when the pins are falling, and those when it feels like you are fighting to pick up spares all night. There are weeks when the confidence is there, and others when it is on vacation. Improvement is best gauged over a period of years. The system is simply too noisy to see the underlying change over short time scales.

The core Movements started bowling in the 2nd half of the 2006-2007 season, in early January of 2007. It has been three years since we began this endeavor. I did not start tracking our statistics until midway through our third season in December of 2008. Thanks to, however, I can at least reconstruct our averages for those early years. Here is how our averages have evolved over time:

That graph on the right shows the average of all three bowlers, John, Joe, and myself. Since January of 2007, it has been ticking up like clockwork. The pace is very constant, and is equal to ten pins, or a full rack, per year. In our first season, we averaged a paltry 127. This season, we bowl with an average just under 157. This is a huge improvement. For three bowlers, it equates to getting 90 pins per night more than we did three years ago.

The graph on the left shows the data that make up this constant growth, and notice that for individual bowlers, improvement has been anything but constant. I am poster boy of this. From 2007 to 2008, my average dropped seven pins. John and Joe offset that drop by adding 12 and 20 pins to their averages, respectively. The next season, I added 19. So far, John's average has dropped three pins this year. Of the three bowlers, only Joe has seen improvement every year.

So, if you are having an off year, you can find some solace in that it happens to other folks, too. Over the long term, you will improve. You just have to fight through those rough times. Eventually, you will find yourself moving back in the right direction.

You can expect to add about 10 pins per year to your average in your early years, but this pace cannot continue ad infinitum. At some point, it must slow because nobody averages 300. Apparently, we have yet to reach that plateau as a team, but I expect it will come soon. If this trend continues, we will be averaging nearly 180 pins per game two years from now and 200 in four. That seems like a tall task, but if you had told me three years ago that I would average over 160 today, I would have had a hard time believing it. In fact, I have a hard time believing it right now.


  1. So based on this, my average in 3 years will be where I think it should be right now. That's a long time to be frustrated.

    I want to believe that there's a way to speed up the rate of improvement because if there isn't it would mean that someone who is better than me right now will always be better than me.

    You know, things like practice, professional lessons, better quality ball, improved release technique etc

  2. By the way, I think I finally figured out the thumb release thingy. It makes a huge difference in terms of rev rate. Now I have to figure out a new starting position, where to aim, speed etc but hey I can roll it faster than my wife now hehe

  3. Good job on the thumb. It definitely takes a while to get comfortable with it. I'm not sure I am at that point yet. I think you can accelerate the improvement if you hit the lanes regularly. We don't really bowl much in the summer, and the amount of practice varies from person to person.

  4. You know, the problem with practice is that it takes me a game or two to figure out the correct line and speed to hit the pocket consistently and where to throw it to get spares.

    Once I get those things figured out I shoot some pretty decent scores.

    But then league night rolls around, the lane conditions are totally different and by the time I find the groove I'm halfway into the 3rd game.

    I wonder how the pros make adjustments on the fly? What do they look for? I've watched bowling on TV and see how a guy will switch balls mid-game and still roll strikes.

  5. I know exactly what you mean. I feel like I am not warmed up until about eight frames in. I think they get many more practice frames in the PBA.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.