Speed, Timing, Balance

April, 2024

This month’s “Bill’s Tip of the Month” expands on the speed and balance question in this month’s April, 1997 Bowling Digest featured column.

Controlling the speed of your steps and maintaining balance work hand in hand. The speed of your steps is related to the timing of moving your ball at the start of your approach. If you move your ball early your feet will go faster and on the opposite end, if you move your ball later your feet will walk slower. So to control your foot speed pay attention to the speed you move your ball at the start of your approach.

Having a consistent speed when you start the movement of your ball will help your overall timing and enable you to stay balanced at the end of your approach easier.

Here are two great examples of two bowlers that use different speed and timing. 5-time PWBA Champion including the 2023 US Open and 2021 PWBA Bowler of the Year, Bryanna Cote has a slower tempo so her ball placement is later into her swing. PWBA Champion and 2017 PWBA Rookie of the Year Daria Pajak has a faster tempo and a longer swing so she gets her ball into her swing earlier. Note where their balls are in the 3rd step of their 5-step approaches below. Both work well, so you need to know what your timing is so you can match your tempo to your ball placement and swing height to get the best results to be balanced at release point.

Roll, Don't Spin

March, 2024

This month’s “Bill’s Tip of the Month” expands on the "From Spinner to Semi-Roller" question in this month’s August, 1995 Bowling Digest featured column.

The most important thing in bowling once you develop a repeatable form is your ball roll. Today more than ever you need a ball roll that is very stable in its reaction to the oil and dry parts of the lane. Too much spin is created when your thumb rotates counterclockwise with your palm going over the top of your ball. When this happens, your ball will slide too much in the oil and can hook too much in the dry—giving you an unpredictable reaction.

How to correct this? 1—Concentrate on keeping your wrist straight and your thumb not moving and pointing it forward towards your middle finger; 2—With your palm behind the ball, release it out in front of your big toe with your palm going through the ball down the lane, not around it.

Your bowling side shoulder going down and forward will provide the turn of your hand—making it very inactive and help prevent you from coming over the top of it.

Your ball needs to be controllable when it exits the oil and encounters the dry. Besides your ball rotation, how your ball is drilled can help—consult your pro shop operator for ball selection and drilling help.

This picture of future PBA Hall of Famer Bill O’Neill shows what your release should look like—Bill’s thumb remains pointed forward in the direction of his middle finger at release. I have no pictures of PBA Touring Pros who spin the ball—as none use a spinner as their A game release.

Body Angles

February, 2024

This month’s “Bill’s Tip of the Month” expands on the questions asked in this month’s February, 1996 Bowling Digest featured column.

This month's tip is on upper body angles at your release. There is a great difference between what is correct as it varies from bowler to bowler and it’s very dependent on the release the bowler has or is trying to develop. The upper body angles are created by the forward and lateral side tilt of your body’s core.

The basic rule of thumb to follow is the higher your fingers are on your ball when you release it, the less forward and side tilt your body needs. The more under the ball your fingers are at release zone the more lateral and forward tilt is needed in your body. The right amount of tilt for your release should have your bowling arm perpendicular to the floor, the ball by your ankle and under your head from a back view.

Today’s two-handers exhibit the most side and forward tilt because their fingers are directly under their ball and their angles can range from 85° forward to about 65° side. Players who have their fingers more at the equator of their ball or above need less tilt, ranging from as little as 30° forward and 27° side. So what should you strive for? The more under the ball your fingers are the more your forward and lateral tilt should be and the higher your fingers are on your ball the less forward and lateral tilt you need.

Angle of Entry

January, 2024

This month’s “Bill’s Tip of the Month” expands on the questions asked in this month’s December, 1995 Bowling Digest featured column.

With today's bowling balls, lane surfaces and especially oil patterns, you can create more entry angle compared to when I bowled on the PBA Tour in the 1970's and 1980's when about 2.5° of entry angle was outstanding. Back in the 1970's and 80's more than that was not realistic because most of the lane surfaces were wood and the balls were plastic and rubber. Today reactive resin bowling balls plus today's oil patterns and synthetic lane surfaces all contribute to the ability to get optimum entry angles resulting in higher scores.

But before you worry about what your entry angle is you should concentrate on controlling the pocket. When you have command of the pocket then you can work on creating the correct angle to carry.

The more forgiving the pattern, the more angle you can create because you can miss outside your target line and the ball will hook back, creating more angle. But the longer and tougher the pattern is, less angle of entry is best to control the pocket.

This graphic shows 3 different angles of entries to the pocket along a straight line — 2, 4 and 6°. To create a 6° of entry angle from about 45 feet down the lane that this graph indicates (the red line) is very difficult to do — it looks easier than it appears. The only bowler in my 50+ years of professional bowling as a student, player, and coach that comes close to doing this and being accurate is Jason Belmonte. His ability to be able to do this is why he is the best.

Pay close attention to how your ball is going into the pocket and through the pins to see why you carry or don't. I hear bowlers say all the time after a good pocket hit that didn’t strike "It should have been a strike!" — if it was supposed to be a strike it would have been! Something isn't correct when the location is good and the pins don't fall.

Neil Stremmel's article is a very detailed and technical study of angle of entry, which includes charts showing the angle of entry for the lower average player to professional bowler with the length of a pattern and the optimum board number to strike at. CLICK HERE to read the article.

Using Tape

December, 2023

This month’s “Bill’s Tip of the Month” expands on the questions asked in this month’s April, 1995 Bowling Digest featured column.

Learning to use tape to adjust the size of your thumb hole if it shrinks or swells is one of the most important things you should learn to do to play at a high level. Humidity, heat, cold and friction can cause your thumb to swell or shrink and prevent you from getting a clean consistent thumb release.

When my students get a new ball I recommend that their thumb hole be large enough to accommodate 3 to 5 pieces of tape when their thumb is normal size. I train all my students how to use tape correctly relative to their thumb shape—whether they have a round, flat, or oval thumb.

It’s critical that you have a firm hand position without excessively gripping your thumb hole—sizing your thumb hole correctly helps you do that. Excessive griping shortens and slows your swing down and decreases your chances of executing a good consistent release.

Everyone’s thumb shape is different and taping and shaping your thumb hole is an art that takes time to learn. Regardless of the system you use, learning to tape is critical if you want to increase your scores.

Making the 10-pin

November, 2023

This month’s “Bill’s Tip of the Month” expands on the questions asked in this month’s June, 1996 Bowling Digest featured column.

Making the 10-pin for a righty or the 7-pin for a lefty is many times the most dreaded spare for bowlers. There are some things you can do to help make them.

The first thing you need to do is make a decision on the ball you want to use—preferably a non-hooking, very hard, polished ball that doesn’t hook. With a non-hooking type of ball you should use a release close to your strike ball release with a couple of adjustments. First of all, let your ball roll more off the front of your hand reducing your turn. Second you should reduce your rev rate a little. What you shouldn’t do is change your style by trying to throw the ball hard—you should try to maintain your normal form and tempo.

Bobby Habetler shows the proper form to pick up a 10-pin

The next decision is where you should stand. It should be the opposite corner of the pin you are aiming at so you can roll your ball across the middle of the lane with your target around the middle arrow. Next, align your sternum to the pin, draw an imaginary line from the pin back to the arrows and ultimately to you. The mental thought is you want your ball to travel along that line to the pin. Then let your arm swing through to your finish position without using your hand to guide the ball. Let your body angle and swing project the ball along your intended line.

With the proper alignments and mental picture of what you want to do will greatly help you conquer those pesky corner pins.

Sliding vs. Planting

October, 2023

This month’s “Bill’s Tip of the Month” expands on the questions asked in this month’s October, 1995 Bowling Digest featured column.

To slide or not to slide? Basically, there are two ways your last step can go. The first is your foot lands flat with your knee flexed which promotes a slide which can vary greatly in length depending on your timing. The other is a plant which happens when the toe of your last step points upward and your heel makes contact with the floor first. In this case your leg generally straightens out which causes you to have an abrupt finish to your shot.

For the overwhelming majority of bowlers sliding is better. It allows you to have a smoother finish, and you can develop a more well-rounded game allowing you to play more angles with different releases. Planting on the other hand restricts your ability to play a lot of angles because in the last step of your approach your knee will straighten out causing your upper body to get way behind your foot. When your foot finally lands flat your upper body needs to advance forward quickly to get it in the correct position to release your ball out in front of you onto the lane. Planters are better at rolling the ball with straighter angles because of the big upper body shift planting creates, it just doesn’t allow much time to finesse the release.

Changing from being a planter to a slider is very difficult if you have been doing it for a long time. Instead of trying to change to sliding I suggest you work on taking shorter steps, playing straighter angles, and rolling the ball. This way you can maximize on what planting allows you to do.

These pictures of my students Abby Starkey and Cody Hadley show the beginning, middle and release positions of the last step of a slider and a planter. Whether you are a slider or a planter the key thing with your last step—and really for most of your steps—is you want your head over your leading foot as that step finishes. Both players do this—but get to their last step differently.

Playing Wet-Dry Lane Conditions

September, 2023

This month’s “Bill’s Tip of the Month” expands on the questions asked in this month’s September/October, 1994 Bowling Digest featured column.

Playing today’s typical wet-dry house shot condition can be tricky—even though it’s very high scoring. A wet-dry condition normally will have very heavy oil from about the 8 board on the right to about the 8 board on the left and no oil from about the 8 board to the gutter on each side of the lane and the oil length will be 40-43 feet long. The problem with this type of oil pattern is the ball hooks immediately in the dry area (right of the ~8 board on the right and left of the ~8 board on the left) and if you move into the oil (from ~8 board inward) the ball can slide all the way to the end of the pattern. This makes controlling your ball’s break point very touchy.

With a very wet-dry pattern when you miss your ball either over hooks if you miss out or under hooks if you miss in. This makes your down-lane miss actually the opposite of how you actually missed.

What you must do is decide if you want to play the oil or the dry. If you decide to play the dry you need speed, lower rev rate and turn, and use a ball that doesn’t change its direction quickly when it starts to hook. If you decide to play the oil you’ll need to use a ball with some surface on it so it rolls in the oil and won’t over skid and when it gets to the dry down the lane it doesn’t over hook. You would use your normal rev rate and turn.

So the moral to the wet-dry lane condition story is you need low reacting balls and releases to help you control the side-to-side reaction of your ball to consistently hit the pocket.


The Value of Footwork

August, 2023

This month’s “Bill’s Tip of the Month” expands on the questions asked in this month’s April, 1996 Bowling Digest featured column.

One of the most important things in bowling is your walk. Your feet are the only thing that comes in contact with the bowling environment. As with any sport it all starts with the feet, without them nothing moves.

First off, the length of your steps are very important—they need to be the right length so that ideally at the completion of each step your head is over the leading foot as that step is complete. That way your upper body is leading you to the foul line and your feet and legs are pushing your upper body forward. Two-handers naturally create this because they use a lot of forward tilt.

The second important thing with your steps is direction. My pet quote for a right-handers walk direction is “left is right, right is wrong and straight is ok” (it’s the opposite for left-handers). Sticking with righties, walking right is wrong because you walk into your swing and your swing has a good chance of getting blocked behind your back. This will make your downswing have to go around your body, with any slight variance in the timing of the ball off your hand can severely affect the direction your ball will travel. If you release the ball early it will miss right, if you release late your ball will miss left, and an on-time release your ball will travel on the correct line.

On the other hand, walking left early in your approach allows you to get out of the way of your swing. This in turn allows your swing to move in closer to your body on your downswing creating a straight, inside out swing to your release. With your swing traveling in a straight line from the top of your downswing to your release (instead of having to go around your body) it gives you much more leeway on the timing of the ball off your hand to travel the correct direction down the lane. This type of downswing path is what all successful professional bowlers have which helps make them very versatile.

Walking straight is also good—players that walk straight generally roll their ball straighter down the lane and are very consistent. The draw back with a perfectly straight walk is it’s difficult to play inside angles and swing the ball out away from the pocket.

Pay attention to your feet right from your stance and the direction they are going to the foul line. If you can’t do certain things, it’s probably your footwork and swing direction preventing you from doing it. Getting help to correct your flaws and understanding them will go a long way to help you improve.


Equipment Selection

July, 2023

This month’s “Bill’s Tip of the Month” expands on the questions asked in this month’s August, 1997 Bowling Digest featured column.

Picking out the right ball for you can be very complicated or easy. If you are a once a week league bowler and bowl in one house on one oil pattern you only need 3 bowling balls—1) one ball for fresh oil that goes into a roll early and doesn’t over hook on the dry backends; 2) another ball to change to when your first ball starts hooking early causing it to lose energy and hit soft--this ball should be one that goes longer before hooking so when it starts to hook it has a stronger/more pronounced back end hook; and 3) a non-hooking spare ball.

For the bowler playing multiple leagues a week in different bowling centers and occasionally playing some tournaments the number of bowling balls needed will increase. You might have up to 6 balls to cover a wider variety of lane conditions—you might have a couple of asymmetrical core balls and a few symmetrical core balls. The key thing is to have a variety of cover stocks—pearl, hybrid and solids. The next important thing is understanding what the different cover stocks do and how your balls are drilled. You basically need to be able to look at your equipment and know what to expect out of the ball relative to the core, cover stock, and drilling layout. It’s not easy to understand, but very important so you can make more educated decisions about what ball to go to when the one you’re using doesn’t work. It’s worth the time to learn this so you can make quicker, educated ball selection decisions.


Developing a Sound Targeting System

June, 2023

This month’s “Bill’s Tip of the Month” expands on the spot bowling question in this month’s May/June, 1994 Bowling Digest featured column.

Developing a sound targeting system for your game is fundamental to developing consistency. It’s not about hitting a spot—it’s about getting the ball to travel the correct direction down the lane in relationship to how the oil pattern dictates the lane to be played.

The easiest and best way to do this has always been to use the arrows and the boards between them. You first need to know the lane and approach by board numbers because they will give you reference points that are vital in making logical adjustments.

Knowing the basic math of adjustments using the approach and lane board numbers will give you an idea how much you should be adjusting. If you move your feet one board left and keep your target at the arrows on the same board the effective adjustment is 3 boards at 60 feet, which is the distance the head pin is from the foul line. That one board move with your feet creates an angle change that your ball travels through your target. If your ball continues on that angle change it would go 1 board to the right at 30 feet, then 2 boards right at 45 feet and then end up 3 boards right at 60 feet. Now if you move your target 1 board right and keep your feet in the same place the effective adjustment is 4 boards--One at 15 feet, 2 at 30 feet, 3 at 45 feet then end up 4 at 60 feet.

You don’t have to see your ball hit a spot—you need to see your ball early enough traveling down the lane to understand what your ball is doing then make logical adjustments based on your ball reaction. That’s why understanding the basic math of your adjustments is imperative—you make your adjustments based on mathematical facts—not from guessing what to do.

There has always been talk about the pros targeting 40 to 50 feet down the lane. When a player does that, it’s only used to pick out a destination they want their ball to get to at their break point. But they always draw their eyes to a closer target which normally is at the arrows—some pros such as Pete Weber, Liz Johnson and Wes Malott even continue all the way to the foul line.

The more you can take guess work out of our game, the higher the probability your scores will increase. Until you know the basic math of adjustments you really can’t progress to the next level of lane play.


Wrist issues? Add a gripping hole

May, 2023

This month’s “Bill’s Tip of the Month” expands on the extra finger hole question in this month’s October, 1997 Bowling Digest featured column. The following is Bill’s follow-up to his 1997 column.

One question I get asked frequently is “What can I do about a sore wrist and what will help it without having to stop bowling”? So when I decided to add a “Tip of the Month” to my monthly newsletter, I was happy to see this question addressed in my October, 1997 Bowling Digest.

Totally coincidentally BOWL-TV’s Analyst Craig Elliott asked me the same thing when I did some guest live-streaming commentary on BOWL-TV last month during the PBA World Series of Bowling in Wauwatosa, WI. The conversation developed with him and Mike Flanagan, BOWL-TV’s Lead Analyst and I told them that in early January of this year 7-time PBA Champion Dick Allen called me for some advice. He was experiencing severe wrist pain and was looking for some answers so he could continue to bowl. After some conversation I had two recommendations for him: 1) add a pinky finger hole and 2) go to a lighter ball. Dick did both—he went from 15 to 14 lb. balls and added a pinky finger hole as shown in the picture. He was able to bowl the 60 games of competition and probably another 15 games of warm-up and practice pain free.

What the pinky finger does is it helps make the ball feel lighter and easier to roll because it helps reduce your grip pressure. I have always recommended it to those with wrist problems, seniors, and those who want to continue using a heavier ball.

There have been a number of Hall of Fame players that have used extra gripping holes—Kim Adler, Mark Williams, Pete Couture and myself—all used pinky finger holes with success. Two other Hall of Famers have used an index finger hole for help—Dana Miller-Mackie and Steve Fehr.

Don’t be reluctant to try something out of the norm. Remember if you add an extra gripping hole that every hole has to have a finger in it to be a legal delivery now — it wasn’t that way back in 1997.

BTW if you aren’t a subscriber to BOWL-TV yet, you should be. Fantastic coverage of the PBA, PWBA and other important USBC events at a great price of $119.95 yearly or $12.95 a month (plus 15% transaction fee and applicable taxes). In my opinion, it’s one of the best values in bowling.