Bowler's Start-Up: A Beginner's Guide to Bowling (Start-Up Sports series)

Bowler's Start-Up: A Beginner's Guide to Bowling (Start-Up Sports series)

by Doug Werner

ISBN: 9781884654053

Publisher Tracks Publishing

Published in Calendars/Sports

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Sample Chapter


Garb &Gear


Bowling is an easy game to dress for. Just make it loose and comfy. Tight clothing will bind and chafe.


The only other fashion decision involves shoes. You must wear specially made bowling shoes in order to use the lanes. They won't let you bowl without them.

No sweat. All bowling centers have shoes for rent. What makes them special are the sliding soles. The toe portions of each are made of soft leather that will allow you to slide when you release the ball.

If and when you decide to buy your own, you can get a pair that has such a sole on one foot and a rubber sole on the other. During the release only one foot does the sliding. The other does the braking. Hence the rubber sole.

It's a good idea to buy your own shoes. Rentals usually fit and look like bozo boots. You can imagine how that'll affect your game. Not to mention your self-image. New shoes aren't expensive and who wants to wear public footwear anyway?

Have a ball

Bowling centers have lots of balls you can use for free. The problem is finding one that:

1. Fits your thumb and the two middle fingers on your throwing hand and ...

2. Doesn't weigh too much or too little.

Oh, you'll find a ball that you can use, but chances are it won't be the ideal combination of fit and weight. For that you need to buy your own ball and have it drilled to your exact specs.

House balls are OK for a time or two, but eventually you must get a custom fitted ball in order to move ahead with this bowling stuff. A poor fit will wreck your game. You'll compensate for and concentrate on all the inadequacies of the ball instead of your mechanics. No bueno.

Actually, balls aren't all that expensive and most centers have a pro shop and a person who knows how to measure you for a custom ball.

Meanwhile, search the racks in back of the lanes for a ball that you can comfortably lift, and that you can fit your hand into. Most guys start off with a 14-16 pound ball and ladies a 12-14 pound ball.

The ideal finger/thumb fit is snug enough so that you can j-u-s-t feel the sides of the hole and still pull out easily. When the thumb is inserted all the way into its hole and the fingers are extended over their holes, the second joint should lay about a 1/4 inch beyond the nearest edge of the finger holes.

This will give you what is called a conventional grip. Thumb inserts all the way and fingers insert fully to the second knuckle. There are other grips, but the conventional is your bet bet right now.

You might get lucky and find a comfy ball right away, and then again, maybe you won't. As you bowl you'll get a better feel for what you need. Try different ones until you're satisfied and then stick with it.

The weight is something you'll get used to soon enough. Bowling balls are rather heavy things and should be. After all, they're made to roll and knock down pins. Not to toss, even though a few of you will try. Find a hefty ball you can control for three or more games. If it's too light you'll be sending it into the pins too fast and that, believe it or not, is not good. Obviously, if you're struggling with control and your bowling arm is tearing loose, get a lighter ball.

Other stuff

You really don't need anything else other than the shoes and the ball. You'll see other bowlers wearing wrist braces and using other paraphernalia, but don't worry about that for now.

Towels are a good idea, however. One to clean the ball every now and then, and one for your face if you sweat. The lanes are dressed, or oiled, on a regular basis and your ball will get a little greasy. Just try to remember which towel wiped what.


There was a time when bowling balls came in just one color: black.

No more.

Now they come in every color and pattern imaginable. Heck, they even have balls that glow in the dark.

And so it goes with bowler fashion.

You can still spot folks wearing the frumpy frocks of old, but more likely you'll see a circus of variety at the lanes. Everything from preppie to grunge. Just like at the mall.

But I still remember Ruby.

While waiting to get my ball drilled at a pro shop one day, the young man behind the counter was busy putting the finishing touches on a very bright, red ball. It stood out even there, in a place full of jazzy, colored models.

And then Ruby walked in. Dressed to the nines in ruby red shorts, ruby red blouse, and ruby red shoes. Her hair was a major league monument of whiteness with a tint of violet.

"What's up, Ruby?" greeted the young man as he handed her the ball.

She dipped her ruby red nails into her freshly drilled ball. "That'll do it, hon," she proclaimed shortly. "Just in time for my game."

Then she placed the ball in a ruby red bag, paid the man, and left.

Although I was somewhat stunned by all that redness, and all that hair, the rest of the crew in the shop didn't bat an eye. Ruby must have been a regular.

Later on I watched her bowl a few frames. She owned a wicked hook and got three strikes in a row. Man, the dragon lady could bowl!

So never think your new-found sport lacks for sass. Or doesn't allow for personal style. Bowlers can be a pretty wild bunch.

Just remember Ruby.


the Game

Bowling is a game of precision. That's the way it's set up and the way it's played. However, there are variables to contend with and there's plenty of room for personal style.

We got specs!

There are a ton of specifications concerning the ball, the pins and the lanes in order to keep the sport consistent from location to location. The American Bowling Congress and the Women's International Bowling Congress conduct annual certifications at bowling centers to assure their members of standard playing conditions.

Balls are made of either hard rubber or plastic and cannot weigh more than 16 pounds. They are 27 inches in circumference and about 8 1/2 inches in diameter.

Lanes are made of either wood or a synthetic material and must be level to within 40/1000 of an inch.

Each lane is comprised of exactly 39 identical boards running lengthwise. Each board is a tad wider than an inch. There's an approach area that runs 15 feet to a foul line, and an alley that reaches 60 feet beyond that to the pins. There are guide dots on the approach, at the foul line, and out on the alley next to the spotting arrows. Both dots and arrows are marked in exact locations.

Pins are perfectly placed and racked in triangle shapes of 10 at the far end of the lane. Each pin is 15 inches high. They are made of plastic-coated maple or synthetic material. Pins are 2 inches wide at the base and 4 3/4 inches thick at their widest point, which is 4 1/2 inches above the base. Wood pins must weigh between 3 pounds, 6 ounces and 3 pounds, 10 ounces. Synthetic pins must weigh between 3 pounds, 6 ounces and 3 pounds, 8 ounces.

There's more, but you get the idea. (Whew!)


So all bowling centers are pretty much standardized. When you visit your sister in Tallahassee and you decide to bowl a few, you're not going to discover that Floridians use 35 foot lanes and lead-weighted pins.

However, you will discover significant differences in the way lanes are maintained from center to center. The dressing or oil that is applied daily is applied according to the whim of the proprietor, and that affects how your ball is gonna roll. Some are slicker than others and prevent the rolling ball from interacting with the surface of the lane.

If you develop a hooking ball, for example, the action of your hook will not work on a real slippery lane. A combination of wet and dry spots will further affect the action of your ball. This is when adjustments have to be made, but we're getting ahead of ourselves here.

Just bowl em over

A game of bowling consists of ten frames. In each frame, each bowler gets two tries to knock down a rack of ten pins. Unless the bowler knocks down all the pins in one or two tries in the tenth frame. Then the bowler gets bonus points. Bowlers earn points in a cumulative fashion that is slightly more convoluted than simply awarding a point-a-pin, yet less complex than nuclear science. We'll cover scoring in the next chapter.

The idea is to knock down as many pins as you can with your ball without scooting over the foul line. Knocking 'em all down in one try, each and every turn, is the ultimate goal. Each time you do knock down all ten pins in one try, it's called a strike. If you leave some standing after your first roll, but knock them down on your second turn, it's called a spare. That's it.

Rocket the pocket!

You don't get a strike (usually) by hitting the pins squarely in the middle of the rack. The scientifically (literally) proven way to get a strike is to hit the pocket between the headpin (#1 pin) and the next pin over, either right (#3 pin) or left (#2 pin).

As a rule, righthanders aim for the 1-3 pocket, and left-handers aim for the 1-2 pocket. Slamming the pocket is the supreme sweet spot in bowling. Developing and maintaining your strike shot is a bowler's lifelong quest and addiction.

Swift sport

Bowling, by and large, is a brisk game. It moves right along even when several people are playing. As a rule, bowlers pick up their ball when it's their turn and fire away. Slackers aren't suffered for long.

I think that because of its speedy nature, bowling doesn't allow the lingering over performance that plagues other sports. There's always another turn coming up shortly and then another game to redeem yourself, if need be.

Flow zone

Bowling is like a dance or an athletic feat that requires the performer to combine total concentration with rhythm and flow. When you're doing it right, you're in a zone where you repeat the winning performance over and over again. It sounds boring, I know, but it isn't. Nothing about being in a zone is.

When you're really with it, it's like that 60 feet between you and the pins doesn't exist. There's an absolute connection between your mind and the pocket. And watching all those pins fall never gets old.

Not that you should expect to get into a zone right away and stay there for long, but glimpses of what it's like are readily attainable as soon as you start. Like the feel of a good delivery.

It'll come and go, especially in the beginning, but remember, it's there within each of us to bring out.

You gotta believe!

It's funny how one instantly forgets the countless fumbling attempts at attaining a new skill when one finally gets it right.

I thought I'd never throw a hook. That's when the ball sharply breaks into the pins after rolling straight for 30 to 40 feet down the lane. It's the shot used by most top-level bowlers because its angle and spin into the rack is the most effective ball for getting strikes.

It's all in the release. The way the fingers lift and leave the ball at the last second. And I just couldn't get it.

Then it finally happened.

The ball left my hand straight and true, then it swooped into the pins with an unmistakable hooking action. Now it wasn't one of those wild and slashing hooks that you see on TV, but it at least curved. And I was stoked!

Of course, I still couldn't do it every time, but it was there (somewhere) in me to execute when the stars were lined up correctly. I just had to bring it out. Through concentration and practice. But the hardest part was over.

I knew I could do it.



Chances are you'll never have to pick up a pencil and score a game. Most centers now have automatic scorers that are very simple to operate. However, it's a good idea to know what's being done for you.

Keeping it simple

So there are ten frames per game during which each bowler gets two tries to knock down the ten pins, except for the last, or tenth frame, in which the bowler may be awarded a bonus turn or turns.

If the bowler never knocks all the pins down during each of his two turns for ten frames, that bowler's score is simply adding a point for each pin knocked down.

As the bowler improves, and begins to knock all the pins down during a single frame, then the scoring starts to get fancy.

If the bowler gets a strike during a given frame, the bowler gets ten points plus the total pinfall from the next two deliveries. If the bowler knocks down all the pins in two tries during a frame, this is called a spare and the bowler gets ten points plus the pinfall of the next single delivery.

If the bowler gets a strike in the tenth frame, the bowler gets two bonus balls. If the bowler gets a spare, a single bonus ball is awarded.

The highest score a bowler can get is 300. It's called a perfect game for good reason. The bowler has tossed nothing but strikes.

Scoring a sample game

You are warned: This is real boring stuff to read!

Each bowler has their game scored in a ten-frame, horizontal grid. Each frame is represented by a box with two smaller boxes inset in the northeast corner, except for the tenth frame box, which has three small boxes inset.

In the smaller boxes go the results of each throw. In the larger boxes goes the cumulative score.

[x] Use an X for a strike.

[/] Use a diagonal line for a spare.

[-] Use a horizontal line for a miss.

[0] Use a zero for a split. A split is a combination of pins left standing after the first delivery with a pin down immediately ahead of or between them. The headpin must be down as well.

[??] Use a diagonal line through a zero for a converted split. That's a split that's been knocked down.

[F] Use an F for a foul. That's sliding over the foul line during a shot.

Just for practice

Here we go, frame by frame in an imaginary game:

[left arrow] Frame #1 Your first ball knocks down 8 pins. Put an 8 in the first small box in the upper left corner. Your second throw misses all the pins. Put a horizontal line for a miss in the second box. Put an 8 in the first frame box.

[left arrow] Frame #2 Your first ball is a strike. Put an X in the first small box and leave the big box blank for now.

[??] Frame #3 Your first ball knocks down 9 pins. Put a 9 in the first small box. Your next ball knocks down the remaining pin. This is a spare. Put a diagonal line for a spare in the second box. Don't score in the big box yet.

Now add up the totals of the two throws after your strike with the 10 pins from your strike, and add it all to your first score. That's 10 (for the spare), plus 10 (for the strike), plus 8. Which equals 28. Put 28 in the second frame box.

[left arrow] Frame #4 Your first ball knocks down 7 pins. Put a 7 in the first small box. Now go back to the third frame. Add the 7 pins from your first throw (after the spare) to the 10 pins you scored from the spare itself, and add it to the total in the second frame. That's 7, plus 10, plus 28, which equals 45. Put 45 in the third frame box.

On your second throw you miss the remaining 3 pins which happen to be in a split. Put a zero for a missed split in the second small box in the fourth frame. Add 7 pins to the cumulative score in the third frame. That's 7 plus 45, which equals 52. Put 52 in the fourth frame box.

[left arrow] Frame #5 You throw another strike. Put an X in the first small box and move on to the sixth frame.

[left arrow] Frame #6 You get 9 pins on your first throw. Put a 9 in the first small box. You knock down the last pin with your second toss to get a spare. Put the spare mark in the second small box. Add the 10 pins from the spare, to the 10 pins from the strike, to the cumulative score in the fourth frame, to get the new score for the fifth frame. That's 10, plus 10, plus 52. Which equals 72. Put 72 in the fifth frame box. Leave the sixth frame blank for now.

[left arrow] Frame #7 You get 8 pins with your first ball. Put 8 in the small box. Now add those 8 pins to the 10 pins from your spare to the cumulative score in the fifth frame. That's 8, plus 10, plus 72. Which equals 90. Put 90 in the sixth frame box.

On your second throw you make a spare by knocking down the remaining 2 pins, which happened to be a split. Put a diagonal line through a zero to indicate a converted split. Since you spared, leave the seventh frame box blank for now.

[left arrow] Frame #8 You get 7 pins with your first ball. Put a 7 in the small box. Add 7 pins to the 10 pins from the spare, and add them to the score in the sixth frame. That's 7, plus 10, plus 90. Which equals 107. Put 107 in the seventh frame box. On your second throw you miss the pins. Put a horizontal line in the second small box. Add 7 pins to your score. That's 7 plus 107, or 114. Put 114 in the eighth frame box.

[left arrow] Frame #9 Strike! Put an X in the first small box and move on to the tenth frame.

[??] Frame #10 Another strike! You get two more shots. Put an X in the first small box. On your next throw you knock down 9 pins. Put a 9 in the second small box.

Time to add up the score for the ninth frame. That's 10 pins for the strike, plus 9 pins, plus 10 pins for the ninth frame strike, plus the score in the eighth frame. That's 143 points. Put 143 in the ninth frame.

On your third throw in the tenth frame you knock down the last pin for a spare. Put a diagonal line in the last small box. Add up your tenth frame score by adding 10 pins for the spare, 10 pins for the strike, and the cumulative score in the ninth frame. That's 10, plus 10, plus 143, or 163. Put 163 in the last frame. This is your final score.

Excerpted from "Bowler's Start-Up: A Beginner's Guide to Bowling (Start-Up Sports series)" by Doug Werner. Copyright © 2013 by Doug Werner. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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