As a professional coach, I give over a dozen private lessons a week, and the majority of those are to beginning or novice players. So, in that group there are a great many commonalities needing attention.
Bowling is a game of consistency and accuracy, with consistency being the foundation. Like many games that involve throwing or rolling an object to a target, hand-eye coordination is a key to success — whether you’re shooting a basket, throwing a pass, playing darts, golf, hitting a baseball or returning a tennis serve. Bowling is no exception.
A common element with all of these sports is the “follow-through.” All of these actions involve an arm motion directed to a visual target. Can you imagine if a baseball player stopped their swing upon contact with the ball, or a golfer stopped a stroke the moment the club made contact with the ball? Accuracy requires the continuation of arm motion toward the intended target.
In novice bowlers, I look for a follow-through after the point of release. Without it, the ball can go in any number of directions besides the target. Looking at a player from the side, imagine a clock face. The bowling ball starts its swing at the 3 o’clock position, swings down past 4, 5, 6 and then up through 7, 8 and then 9, where it stops before beginning the downswing back through 8 and 7 to 6 o’clock, which is the vertical, perpendicular point in the swing. For most players, this is the zone for the beginning of their release.
Releasing too early — say, at 8 or 7 — might result in a drop. And too late, at 4 o’clock, results in a hang-up on the thumb and an unintended loft … All not good.
The swing needs to be smooth and un-steered from the top of the backswing, in a line toward that visual target, and at the moment of release, the swing arm has to continue toward that intended target in the form of a follow-through, and the ball will travel in the direction of that follow-through.
Anytime I see a ball head for the gutter after it’s released, the video doesn’t lie: it went where the swing-plane sent it. A correct, basic follow-through ends with the delivering hand extended at least parallel with the lane, at the 3 o’clock position, and preferably higher. The thumb should be pointed at the ceiling, just like giving a thumbs-up, with the thumb covering up your target in the field of vision.
If you’re lined up properly on the approach with your target, have a smooth, straight swing without any looping, delivering at just past 6 o’clock on the downswing, and then follow through, your ball won’t be heading for either gutter any time soon.
A side-note on targeting: If you’re positive that all these elements are in place, and it’s verified by video, you may have a conflicting dominant-eye issue. Everybody knows that looking at a specific point through one eye and then closing it and looking through the other eye, there’s a shift. This is simply because we view the world through two “cameras” separated by a few inches, and, for most of us, not entirely level with each other. Our brain processes these two images and averages them into one. Problem is, when we target with a specific limb, the data to calculate that aim only comes from the dominant eye. But this isn’t always the case. In about 15 to 20 percent of us, that data comes off the non-dominant eye. You may have to focus on a slightly different point to the left or right to get your targeting tuned in.
Wilson is a U.S. Bowling Congress Silver Instructor and an International Bowling Pro Shop and Instructors Association ball technician.