Intermediate Skill Development

We believe that serious bowlers and bowlers who just want to have fun should have a solid understanding of the basic fundamentals of bowling. We have identified three levels of bowling ability: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Instruction at each level is divided into five categories: Alignment, body mechanics, strikes, spares and the mental game. It is important that you master the beginner lessons before attempting to move on to more difficult concepts.

Lesson 1 - Alignment

Evaluating Drift

Do you drift to one side or the other when you walk to the foul line? Does it matter? Learn what drift is and how to measure it here.

There's a lot of discussion about drift and whether it's good or bad. Let's start with how you measure your starting point. Conventional instruction tells us to use the inside of our slide foot to mark our starting point. There are some bowlers who will use the center of their slide foot for this purpose. You might even draw a line on the front of your shoe just for this purpose. Whatever method you choose to mark your starting point, use the same method to mark where you finish near the foul line. Now you are ready to measure how much you drift.

You start on the 20 board and you throw a perfect shot. Looking down you see that you finished on the 20 board. Your drift measure is 0. You didn't change your starting point. That's good.... or is it? The great Dick Ritger won 20 PBA titles and he always drifted 4 boards to the left. Which one is right? Answer = they are both right. Every bowler needs to establish how they will approach the foul line in regards to drifting. Once you know what's right for you, then you can evaluate yourself more effectively.

The next time you practice, mark down your starting point, your finishing point and what happened to the pins after the ball hit them. Do this for a game or two and try to define how much you drift when you throw the ball right. You should be able to figure it out quite easily. If no two shots are alike, then you most likely have severe balance or armswing issues. Find a certified USBC Coach to help you.

To become a better bowler, you have to increase your level of consistency. It doesn't matter how much you drift if you do it the same every time. Be aware that as you change your angles of approach for strikes and spares, you may also walk at a different angle which will change your drift measurement. If you are bowling well and you feel balanced and in control of your body, you probably don't need to think about drift. When you are struggling, measuring your drift is a good way to evaluate your approach consistency.

Lesson 2 - Body Mechanics

The Armswing

One of the first things a coach will look for when a bowler is having trouble is a proper armswing. Why is this so important and how does the armswing relate to the target line?

When a coach begins to evaluate a bowlers' body mechanics, the armswing is one of the first things that is looked at. Direction and muscle control are the two critical components of a consistent armswing.

TThe armswing is a pendulum. Imagine a child swinging on a swing. The motion is straight forward and straight back. It repeats effortlessly. If the swing gets offline, it gets hard to control and you will soon have to stop and start over. Swinging a bowling ball should feel the same. Straight forward and back with little effort. Start the ball in front of your bowling shoulder and lower your ballside shoulder slightly to get your hip out of the way. The path of your armswing should be in direct line with your target line.

The armswing should also be free of muscle control with gravity being the driving force. A poorly fitting ball can be the cause of a bad armswing. If you have to grip the ball tightly because the holes are too big, the other muscles in the arm will tighten as well. A properly fitted ball will allow you to ease the tension in your hand and swing the ball more freely from the shoulder. If your ball is too heavy for you, then the ball will start to control you instead of you controlling the ball.

If you need to throw the ball faster, try to avoid increasing the muscular force in the arm. A longer armswing and a longer/faster approach is a better, more consistent way to increase ball speed.

Lesson 3 - Throwing Strikes

Using the Oil

So now you are throwing a ball that is curving but you are not hitting the pocket consistently. Are you using the oil on the lanes properly? Look here to see how you can use oil to help you hit the pocket even when you miss your mark.

Show up at the bowling alley an hour before your league starts and you'll see how the lanes are oiled before you bowl. Oil is placed on the lanes in a pattern. Understanding what this pattern is and how you can use it to your advantage is essential to higher scoring. Understanding that oil is dynamic and always changing will take you to the advanced stage of bowling skills. If you only throw a straight ball, you don't need to worry about the oil because your ball will go straight whether the lane is oily or dry. If you throw a curve, the following information will be very helpful.

There are many ways oil can be applied to the lanes. Professional bowlers generally bowl on 5 very distinct patterns, each one presenting a different challenge. For the purpose of this discussion, we will talk about the basic league pattern at Alley Katz where the oil is heavier in the middle of the lane and much lighter near the gutter. The goal of the bowler throwing a curve is to find the seam where heavier oil meets lighter oil application. Let's say that spot is at the seven board. If you miss your target and hit the 5 board, because there is less oil, your ball will hook more and you should still hit the pocket with power.

If you miss your target and hit the 9 board, there is more oil there and your ball will skid more resulting in your ball still hitting the pocket with power. This is what is commonly known as "area" where you have a 4 to 6 inch wide target to hit to get a good strike reaction. Once you find this "area", enjoy it while you can, because oil is dynamic. It moves and it evaporates changing how your ball reacts. Watch your ball reaction closely and be ready to adjust at any given moment.

Three common situations to be aware of are:

  1. The oil is pushed down the lane. As you start to bowl, you will see where your ball starts to grab the lane and begin to hook. As you an others throw their balls down the lane, the multitude of action carries oil down the lane and closer to the pins. The result will be that your ball will skid longer before it grabs the lane. This happens slowly and you may not notice it until you leave that weak ten pin.

  2. The heads dry up. The heads are the very front of the lane. Once again, if many bowlers are throwing their ball over the same part of this section of the lanes, the oil will dry up causing your ball to hook early and roll out too soon. Moving inside this spot or using a ball that is designed to go longer before hooking will solve this problem.

  3. Others bowlers are using plastic/house balls and throwing it down the middle. This type of bowling can push the oil right down to the pins. As your shot gets to the pins, it hits this oil and skids causing your ball to deflect more as it hits the pins. There is not much you can do except try to get your ball outside this line of oil and throw more slowly trying to create a greater angle into the pocket.

Lesson 4 - Making Spares

Using the Oil

The spare system explained here is for bowlers who can throw a curve and understands how to use the oil to your advantage as explained in the strikes section above.

As we discussed in Lesson 3, finding a seam in the oil can work to your advantage if you throw a curve. You can use the oil to your advantage as well when trying to convert spares. If you have found an area of the lane where if you miss wide the ball hooks more and if you miss inside the ball skids more, then use this area for your spares as well. For any spare that requires you to go "brooklyn" such as the 1,2,8 (for righties) or the bucket, just move your feet towards your ballside three or four boards and throw your strike line.

For the 4 pin, the 4, 7 or the 2, 7 again for the right handers, move your feet another 3 or four boards towards your ballside and use that strike area again. For spares on the other side, move the same amount but in the other direction. The corner pins may require a different strategy as you begin to run out of room to adjust. As a right hander, I will very often throw a slower hook into my strike "area" for the 7 pin. The ten pin is converted by standing with my heel on 35 and rolling a straighter shot over the 3rd arrow.

You will find that you may have to adjust some of these strategies to adjust for your style of play. You may also have to adjust for changing oil conditions. The smart bowler is always watching how the ball reacts as it moves down the lane. This is your only way to see how the oil is changing.

Lesson 5 - The Mental Game

The Game Within the Game

The mental game becomes more important as bowling becomes more important to you and your teammates. Several strategies will be discussed that will help you bowl your best when you really need to.

Many people believe that bowling is mostly a physical game where improvement comes with bowling more games. In all sports, there are always two games being played. The physical game against your opponent and the other game against yourself. As your physical game gets better, the mental game becomes more volatile and unstable due to many factors. Turning your mind off or redirecting it so you allow yourself to execute to the best of your ability is essential to winning the mental game.

Everyone is different in how they perceive things around them and how they react to it. Fear and anxiety can tighten your muscles and change your physical performance. Are you afraid to fail? Are you afraid to succeed? Maybe you are uncomfortable with people watching you. Whatever it is, you must identify it and do something about it.

Developing a routine and staying positive are beginner level concepts. As your ability improves, it is important to refine these skills. The mental part of your routine needs to end before you begin your approach. Any physical adjustments or mental preparations should be complete before letting your body take over to execute the shot. The technique of "thought stopping" can be helpful to control those negative thoughts that creep into your head.

The moment you identify a negative thought, say "Stop It" and back off to replace that thought with something positive. Affirmations are positive thoughts that encourage you to perform your best.

What follows is a partial list of personal affirmations used by Team USA:

  • I've practiced enough and I am ready for this competition.
  • I always have a relaxed, natural arm swing.
  • I always think positive thoughts.
  • I always stay calm and make appropriate adjustments.
  • I am a winner.
  • I am alert, aggressive, confident and in control.
  • I am working on my release and it's getting better and better.

You can't control luck and you can't control your opponent. You can control your own mind and how you react to what's happening around you.

116 Granite Street
Westerly, RI 02891


For forty-eight years this building has served as a community bowling and entertainment center for the town of Westerly, Southern Rhode Island, and Southeastern Connecticut. Built in 1960 by the General Cinemas Company, it was operated under the name of Holiday Lanes.


Facebook Twitter