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Bowling for Beginners is about teaching you how to really improve your bowling game. We’re not experts, but we do love the sport. We bowl quite a bit and want to help you improve your score.

So, let’s get started with some initial advice to help you take your game to the next level.

Fred Flintstone started it all by making a bowling ball out of stone.

Next, little kids bowled a plastic ball into plastic pins on the sidewalk. Now skilled players compete in the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA).

Bowling has come a long way, whether it is seeing it on television or going to play for yourself. Bowling’s history (learn more) is intertwined with the evolution of the world, starting from the times in 3,200 BC to the modern-day 21st century.

While it may seem like a simple act, throwing a ball to hit pins at the end of a lane, it is nothing like that.

The sport of bowling, while it has been popular for hundreds of years, really gained popularity in the 1950s when the American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF) created the first pinsetters.

Additionally, the increasing popularity of the television made way for the port to be broadcasted for the first time.

Today, bowling is enjoyed in over 90 countries by more than 95 million people. In fact, even The White House has its own bowling alley.

In 1947, President Harry S. Truman opened the first bowling alley in The White House. In 1955, it relocated to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building so staffers could use it as well.

In 1969, President Richard Nixon added a single lane bowling alley for his family and their guests in the North Portico of the White House.

How Did the Bowling Ball Turn into What We Know Today?

Its evolution includes beginning as a stone ball, to a wooden ball, to a rubber ball in the 1970s. From rubber, the ball was made out of polyester – as well as the bowler’s suits, a match made in heaven.

Polyester balls are still in use but a few other types of bowling balls were created to play. In the 1980s, urethane balls became popular for their lack of maintenance and ability to provide greater hooking action.

In the 1990s, bowling balls were created with reactive resin and are still the most popular type still today for its increased friction with the lane and ability to score higher points.

Nowadays, the bowling ball continues to evolve to give its players more control of the ball and higher scores. All of which matters when you are trying to see what a bowling ball is made of, and which will be the best to play with.

What Is a Bowling Ball Made Of?

While it may look like a regular ball, it is anything but normal.

A bowling ball is made up of two parts: the weight block and coverstock. 

The weight block is one of two categories: High Mass and Low Mass.

A high mass weight block tends to be in a pancake shape that is closest to the shell of the ball, or where players insert their fingers. This helps the ball roll further down the lane.

A low mass weight block can be all kinds of shapes and sizes but they all have one thing in common: they are all in the middle of the ball. It means the player will have a heavier ball with better hook potential.

All bowling balls range from 6 to 16 pounds.

Besides what is on the inside of the ball, it also matters what is on the outside.

The coverstock is the outer shell of the bowling ball – what you see when you pick out which color ball you want to bowl with.

It is also the most influential part because of its hook potential: the part of the ball actually making contact with the lane surface. The more friction the coverstock has the more hook, meaning you have a greater chance of getting a higher score.

There are four types of coverstock that impact its interaction with friction and hook potential.

Plastic

Due to its smooth surface, it has the least friction and the most hook potential available. Use this kind of bowling ball for spares because it has a predictable reaction.

Urethane

Made out of a more durable version of plastic, balls made from urethane has more friction on the lane surface. As a result, players get a higher hook potential and will deflect less meaning there is better pin action. This type of ball is great for control. 

Reactive Resin

Although less durable than plastic or urethane, this kind of coverstock has more friction, hook potential, and pin action. They are harder to control due to the high friction they create, so use it if you are looking for a challenge.

Particle (Proactive)

Different from the others, this coverstock as a bumpy feeling to it so the ball digs into the lane surface and creates the most friction on the heavily oiled lanes. 

Does the Type of Lane Matter?

Before you start picking a bowling ball, yes! The lane you play on matters because while you cannot control the bowling alley, you could maneuver what ball you use on it. Usually, two-thirds of the lane is oiled heavily and the final third is only lightly oiled.

That way, when a bowler throws their ball on the lane, the ball will slide straight down the lane until it reaches the final third, and less oily, part of the lane. Here is where the ball begins to curve and how players show off their skills because the ball gains better traction.

The type of ball you use, and the strength with which a player uses it, is what helps give the best results. 

Which Bowling Ball Should I Use?

While regular players will just grab the ball depending on its weight and color at any normal bowling alley, bowling as a hobby or sport is another ball game.

For beginners, it is best to use bowling balls with a plastic coverstock. It will accommodate your hand well and will be easy to control.

If you are an advanced user still using a plastic bowling ball, use it to shoot spares because it is predictable and has a low hook potential.

For those trying to take the sport seriously and challenge yourself, look for a urethane coverstock. It is as controllable as the plastic bowling ball but offers increased hook potential. A coverstock with reactive resin is also a good choice for advanced bowlers looking to have more hook-ability.

Only intermediate and advanced bowlers should be using the particle coverstock for its ability to dig into heavily oiled lanes.

Does the Color of the Bowling Ball Matter?

When you are deciding what ball to pick, the color you choose is in the eye of the beholder. While the color will not impact the performance of your bowling ball, it will impact how you choose it.

Do you like the bowling ball with just one color, two colors, or a rainbow of colors? Your bowling ball can match not only your uniform but your personality as well.

Do you want a bowling ball that calls everyone’s attention or something that blends in?

Keep in mind that you do not want a color on your bowling ball that can quickly get dirty. If you do not mind scruff marks showing or want your bowling ball to look used, keep that in mind while selecting the color.

Also, keep the color in mind if you want to keep your equipment clean and shiny – perhaps going for a darker bowling ball will help you with his feet.

You also want a bowling ball that you are proud to use and show off. Even though color will not impact your performance, it will impact how confident you feel about the game and your athletic abilities.

Where Could I Find My Perfect Bowling Ball?

There are five major manufacturers of bowling balls in the United States. Majority of all bowling balls in the U.S. come from the following five companies:

For the tried and true: Brunswick is one of the industry’s oldest and biggest brands. Due to their reputation and quality, they have a large following in the bowling community. They manufacture balls in the Brunswick, DV8, and Radical brands.

For all skills: Ebonite International has been around for decades and makes bowling balls for players of all skills. They manufacture the following brands: Columbia 300, Ebonite, Hammer, and Track.

For the most popular: Storm is one of the biggest and most popular creators in the industry. Their main brands are Storm and Roto Grip. You’ll find many of their bowling balls during your search for your perfect fit. 

For the new kid on the block: Founded in 2007, Motiv is a new brand that has grown overnight. They are the only company to offer full-size cores in all of their bowling balls. Motiv also integrates multi-color graphics with the bowling ball coverstock, which means you don’t need to spend extra money on the engraving.

For the trusted: 900 Global has been in the industry since the 1970s and is home to a growing and global manufacturing company. Based out of San Antonio, TX, its following brands are 900 Global and AMF.

How Should I Start Practicing?

So you have decided to buy a bowling ball, chose the one that suits you best, but you do not know how to start perfecting your skill. Maybe your goal is to be a professional bowler or to pick up a new hobby and beat your friends at the local bowling alley.

The best way to start is to plan out what you want to perfect. It is beyond just getting a strike – it is so much more than that. You could work on your footwork, timing and arm swing, balance and posture, and release and finish positions to ensure that you are getting better at bowling.

There is also the strength of the swing and the direction the ball goes in. Do you want to be one of those bowlers who ends up curving the ball at the end of the swing? Well, get to practicing.

Before starting, keep in mind to not obsess over the score you see on the screen. The goal is to get better at the skill than the number. Also, set a goal. Do you want to improve your footwork or your arm strength? It will be easier to perfect if you know what it is you want to get better at.

What Should My Bowling Routine Be?

Once you have set aside what it is you want to get better at, and have made the conscious decision of sticking to this hobby, you can start building out your bowling routine.

Start by what you would do before you shoot the ball. Watch the professionals if you have no idea. They usually dry their hands, wipe the ball, slow their breaths, etc.

Do they wipe the ball every shot? Every other shot? How often do they dry their hands? How does this routine change depending on the type of bowling ball you have? Set up a pre-shot routine that is most comfortable for you.

Allow this mental process to help you figure out the rest of the game.

When you go into your preparation to throw the ball, practice your stance. Each bowler has a unique way of starting their movement. Do not forget to keep your shoulders straight to stabilize your stance.

Approaching the way you get ready to throw the ball is probably the most important part. While you cannot control the oil on the lane or how your ball will react to it, you can control how you set it all up.

Take 4-5 steps as you walk up to the lane with your shoulders square, head up, practiced arm swing and consistent pace so the ball smoothly goes in the direction you want it to be.

While practicing, rehearse your backswing. This is the defining moment in the whole movement. You can even practice this at home in front of a mirror or on the Nintendo Wii. No pressure.

Finally, release the ball while it is in front of you, not behind, and watch to see how many pins you bring down. Keep repeating the routine until you have something you are comfortable with and are proud of.

The Dimensions of a Bowling Lane

The dimensions of a standard, ten-pin bowling lane are 60 feet long, measured from the solid black foul line to the head pin, the pin in the center, at the other end by a width of 41.5 inches, and contains 40 narrow boards that fun the length of the lane.

The Approach Area

There is an approach area that is at the opposite end of where the pins are that is 15 feet long and 41.5 inches wide. There is a 3-foot-long area at the beginning of the approach area where there are two series of five dots.

The first series of dots are at the beginning of the 3-foot-long area and consist of a center dot which is in line with the headpin, two dots on the left which correspond to the 2 and 7 pins, and two dots on the right which correspond to the 3 and 10 pins.

Bowlers use these dots to position themselves when they make their approach to the foul line, depending upon where they release the ball, and to judge how many steps they will need to take in order to enable a smooth placement of the ball.

The Foul Line and the Foul Line Dots

The foul line, which is 15 feet from the beginning of the approach area, is a solid black line, which, itself, has dots just before it, corresponding to the head pin, or 1 pin, in the center, and the pockets (the spaces between) the headpin and the 2 pin, the 2 pin and the 4 pin and the 4 pin and the 7 pin on the left, and the pockets between the headpin and the 3 pin, the 3 pin and the 6 pin and the 6 pin and the 10 pin on the right.

Bowlers must not allow any part of his body touch this line or anywhere on the lane surface or any adjoining areas including walls or other lanes until after the ball is delivered.

Second Set of Dots

Six feet from the foul line in the direction of the pins are another set of dots. There are five to the left of the headpin and five to the right of it. They are spaced between the 2 and 7 pins on the left and the 3 and 10 pins on the right. They may be used by bowlers to aim their ball and track its line.

Arrows

Six feet beyond those set of dots begin a set of arrows, the first two of which are between the 4-7 pocket (or space between those pins) and the 6-10 pocket. The next two arrows are a foot farther down the alley between the 2-4 pocket and the 3-6 pocket.

The last two arrows are another foot down the alley and are between the 1-2 pocket and the 1-3 pocket. The last arrow is another foot farther down the alley and is in direct line with the headpin. These sets of arrows are the ones usually used by bowlers to aim their ball and track its line.

The Pin Deck and Placement of the Pins

Between the headpin and the back of the alley is a 36-inch-deep by a 41.5-inch-wide surface called the pin deck, upon which the 10 pins are arranged in an equilateral triangle, with the head pin, the 7 pin, and the 10 pin forming the corners of the triangle. The 2 and 4 pins equally spaced between the headpin and the 7 pin and the 3 and 5 pins equally spaced between the headpin and the ten pin. The 5 pin is in the middle between the 4 and 6 pins.

The Gutters

The right and left of the bowling lane are bordered along its length by semi-cylindrical channels called “gutters”, which will collect a ball that falls off either side of the alley and will send it down to the end of the lane, where it is picked up and returned to the bowler. The overall width of the lane including these channels is 60 1/8 inches wide.

Composition and Maintenance of Bowling Lanes

Bowling lanes are made of wood or synthetic polyurethane. They must be carefully maintained, as the impact of a 16-pound ball can deliver an impact of several thousand pounds per square inch upon the lane.

It is usually protected by special oil, although it is not applied to the final few feet, in order to create more friction to enable the ball to hook, or curve, better as it approaches the pins.

Bowling Pins Composition and Size

Bowling pins are made by gluing blocks of rock maple wood in the approximate shape and then turned on a lathe, which shapes the pin.  It is coated with a plastic material, painted, and covered with a glossy finish. The pins are 4.75 inches wide at their widest point and 15 inches tall.  They weigh 3 pounds 6 ounces.

Basic Bowling Shots

There are four basic shots in bowling. The hook shot, if it is thrown properly, starts a chain reaction among the pins and usually produces the greatest number of strikes.

It is caused by the way the middle finger is released. The straight ball is rolled down the alley slightly off center, in order to hit the first pin at the best angle.

The curveball is an exaggerated version of the hook shot and hard to control. The backup ball works from left to right and most pros advise against using it.

How to Use the Dots and/or Arrows

Which dots or arrows or combination of dots or arrows bowlers use will depend on whether the bowler is left or right handed and where he is aiming for the ball to go.

The initial ball in the frame is usually aimed at the pocket between the 1 and 3 pins if you are a right-hand bowler and between the 1 and 2 pins if you are a left-hand bowler. If all of the pins are not knocked down on the first ball (called a strike), the bowler will have a second chance to knock down the remaining pins.

If he does this, it is called a spare. There may be any number of pins, ranging from 1 to 10 total pins remaining after the first ball is thrown.  If there are ten pins remaining, the bowler will generally aim at the same 1-2 or 1-3 pocket (depending on whether he is right or left handed) as he should have the first time.

If there is just one pin standing, you aim for that pin.  If there are two or more pins left standing, you have to rely on the laws of mathematics and physics to determine where to aim your ball in order to knock down the remaining pins.

The hardest combinations to hit are splits, where there are two or more non-adjacent pins or groups of pins left standing, the most difficult of which is the 7-10 split.

Where you position your feet using the dots in the approach lane, what kind of ball you throw, the speed at which you throw the ball and where you aim it using the arrows is vital, and practice, trial and error and a basic knowledge of math can help you figure out how to pick up splits.

Scoring

Although the machines do the scoring for you nowadays, it is important to know how the game is scored. You can learn to do this on your own with practice, but if you take lessons, this will be included.

Basically, when you bowl a strike (knocking down all the pins on the first try), you are awarded ten points, which appears as an X in the box for that frame. You get 10 points added to the total of the next two rolls for that frame.

If you get all tens pins down using two balls, you get a spare, or 10 points plus the total number of pins knocked down on the next roll.

In the 10th frame, if you get a strike with the first ball, you get two more balls.  If you get a spare, you get one more ball. A perfect game, or 12 strikes, scores 300 points.

Taking Lessons

A pro or coach can help you choose which weight and kind of ball and shoes, will help you with your stance, your approach, how to effectively use the markers and arrows, what kind of ball to throw and when, how to control your speed, how to adjust your arc swing, how to throw strikes and pick up spares, especially splits.

Just like you can’t learn how to play a good game of golf by watching someone else, you become a good bowler with a combination of learning how to do it the right way the first time so you don’t pick up bad habits which can cause injuries, having a coach to watch you as you progress to adjust things you are doing wrong, and offering your techniques to improve your game.

And then, like any sport, you need to practice a lot to become proficient.

All top players work with coaches. You can find one at your bowling center, by consulting with pro shop professionals or by finding ads in bowling newspapers or on bowling sites. You should choose a USBC (United Bowling Association Certified) instructor.

When Should You Learn to Start Bowling?

Kids as young as three can start with a six-pound ball, but most learn to bowl programs are for kids 8-12. At that age, they can usually follow simple instructions, easily pick up and throw the ball, and have the attention span. You can be any age to learn, however. 

There are classes for seniors who are beginners. They pay special attention to seniors’ knees, hips and backs when teaching them. Some begin with Wii bowling, which teaches you the basics without actually having to throw a ball or be at a real lane.

Joining a Bowling League

Joining a league at any age is a great way to learn to enjoy the sport. Your local bowling alley can help you sign up for one that is age and/or skill appropriate.

When You Should Buy Your Own Bowling Ball

If you plan to do a lot of bowling, it is also helpful if you have your own bowling ball, which should be approximately 10% of your body weight up to the maximum weight of 16 lbs. The ball will be drilled specifically to the size of your hands and fingers, and is made either of polyester (plastic), urethane or reactive-resin.

The weight of the ball and the type of material it is made of will impact how the ball is thrown and act when it goes down the alley, which will also change how you use your markers and position your feet if you are used to using a bowling alley ball.

You must properly care for your ball, as it will pick up oil and dirt from the lanes., once the oil sets it, it will have a harder time gripping the lanes and lose its hook potential.

You should wipe your ball with a microfiber towel between each shot by spinning it around the oil track. Use ball cleaner and wipe it down with a towel before storing it in your bowling bag. Don’t store your ball where it will be exposed to extreme temperatures.

Why You Should Own Your Own Bowling Shoes

Having your own pair of bowling shoes is important if you do a lot of bowling because the sliding soles on each side accommodate a right or left-handed bowler.

They can be customized for approach and can have different soles for each foot (the braking shoe is on your dominant foot and your sliding shoe on the other foot). This gives you more traction and stability.

The amount of traction and slide you have will affect how you choose the starting dots, how many steps you decide to take and will affect your accuracy. It is also more sanitary to have your own pair of shoes.