Saturday, May 1, 2010

Chapter 5: The Information Age

In real life, I am a scientist. Ok, I'm a social scientist, but I like to think that I'm a scientist. I study the prehistory of our species. It is my job to teach in the Fall and Spring and to excavate archaeological sites in the summer. Part of this job involves collecting, organizing, storing, and analyzing huge amounts of information. For example, at the last site at which I worked , we collected and analyzed somewhere around 75,000 artifacts.

I like big data sets. I like searching for patterns and trying to explain them. I think data analysis is probably one of my greatest skills if not my greatest. I see the potential for study and analysis in many mundane things. I'm not sure exactly when I saw the potential to study bowling, but it was around the beginning of December 2008 that I started doing so.

Here is how I remember it. One Saturday morning, I was screwing around with Microsoft Excel. This is a bad habit of mine. I decided to figure out the formulas for scoring a game of bowling. They are not simple, and I like such challenges. It took me an hour or so, but I did it. Here is an example of one:

=J4+IF(L3="X",IF(N3="X",IF(P3="X",30,20+P3),IF(O3="\",20,10+N3+O3)),IF(M3="\",IF(N3="X",20,10+N3),L3+M3))

From there, it was pretty simple to begin building the rest of my spreadsheet, which allows you to track all kinds of bowling statistics.

After a couple of weeks of entering our team's bowling scores, my eyes were opened. It is one thing to know that you are bad at bowling, but it's another to know exactly why you are bad. I took some heat early on for tracking our statistics, but in the end, I think the the other Movements were happy I did.

I cannot tell you what helped my game more, throwing a hook or tracking my stats. I started doing both around the same time. But since then, my average has been climbing steadily. I ended our 2nd season with a 128 average. By December 1, 2008, when I started tracking statistics about 12 weeks into the season, my average had only climbed three pins to a 131. From that point until the end of the season in April of 2009, I managed to add another 16 pins to finish the season with a 147.

I find it helpful to analyze my game down to its most fundamental components. Most bowlers measure their ability by one simple statistic, the average. Of course, there are many things that go into that average. Many bowlers only see it's most obvious component, strikes, and it is easy to become focused on strikes. Nothing will bring you high scores like stringing together a bunch of X's. After a couple of months, however, it was clear to me that at my skill level in the middle of last season, it would have been a miracle if I recorded more than 15 strikes in a series. Clearly, I needed to hone my spare game. But what part of it? I figured that if I could master the single pin spare, I could probably add 20 pins to my average alone.

This realization is not necessarily something that you need a spreadsheet to tell you, but it is typical of the type of realizations that derive from introspection or self study. Once you realize something like this, it is a relatively simple matter to focus on solving that problem. So, a lot of things clicked around December of 2008, and it is no coincidence that the birth of this blog dates to the same time.

By the end of the 08-09 season, my third season bowling competitively, I really felt like I was gaining ground. I was throwing a weak hook that seemed to often be around the pocket. I was picking up spares. My average was climbing, and I got my first 500 series.

One weekend in the Spring of 2009, Johnebob and I went down to the lanes to practice. We were bowling next to four young college guys. They were watching us throw with hooks, and a couple of them started trying to do the same. Eventually they started chatting with us saying that we bowled like we were pros. You must bear in mind that at the time, John averaged just over 150, and I probably averaged 145. So, it was clear to me that I was no longer one of those guys who just bowls on a Saturday night. To the average bowler, I looked like a skilled bowler. I had clearly crossed some threshold and was well on my way.

4 comments:

  1. Just wait until I move back to Laramie in June; we can run some stats on our golf scores. That will cure the bowling-stats fever....

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  2. Been doin' that for years already, but I need to play some golf. I renewed my membership, and the weather has been shit ever since.

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  3. I'm moving back June 1st, but commuting for a few weeks. Once I'm over there for good, I'll have an office over Big Hoss Mountain Sports. Allow me to work some of my stats magic:

    Leaving work early + Lovejoys + golf = win

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  4. Even after this disappointing season, I think that Mick and I (even Garland, too) have crossed a threshold of some sort. I really feel better and more confident about my bowling these days!

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