Brought to the United States by settlers in the 1600s, bowling has become an American pastime and popularized recreational activity. The game is fairly simple, making it a good sport for all ages.
Bowling is a target sport in which a bowling ball is rolled down a lane to knock over pins. There are ten pins total, and a player is given two rolls to try and knock them all down. Strict rules and regulations are mainly used by competitive and professional players.
Let’s go over how to correctly choose and swing a ball. We will also discuss the official rules of the game, competitive bowling, and tips for senior bowlers.
- Freeman, James (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 396 Pages - 07/15/2018 (Publication Date) - BowlSmart (Publisher)
- Mullen, Michelle (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 224 Pages - 06/06/2014 (Publication Date) - Human Kinetics (Publisher)
- Year-round bowling-specific weight-training programs
- Descriptions and photographs of nearly 100 exercises
- Used by top bowlers worldwide
Rules of the Game
The basic rules of bowling are to play either as individuals or teams and collect points from knocking down pins. There are ten pins set up in a triangular formation at the end of the lane. Bowling lanes should be around 60 feet in length and 42 inches in width. On the opposite end of the pins is where the player stands. There is a foul line that the player is not allowed to cross. This means the ball must be rolled before the player reaches the foul line.
For each turn, a player is given two rolls. A strike occurs when all the pins are knocked over in the first roll. A spare occurs when the remaining pins are knocked over in the second roll. Both strikes and spares can result in bonus points.
The game itself is broken down into ten frames. A frame is essentially a round in which all the players roll. Once every player has gone, the game moves into the next frame. Players have the potential to earn an extra shot and extra points in the final tenth frame if they roll either a strike or a spare.
Leisure vs. League Bowling Games
Technically, there is an official set of rules laid out by the United States Bowling Congress. These rules are fairly extensive and have many technicalities. However, this set of rules applies to professional competitive games. When playing leisurely outside of a league, the rules are left up to the players themselves.
Professional bowling leagues are required to follow the rules given by the bowling congress. Recreational players may choose to play strict games that follow these rules as well. However, this is not a requirement of recreational games. Including professional rules in non-professional games can add extra intensity and difficulty for experienced players.
For beginners, it is unlikely to see strict adherence to official rules. This is because there are lots of techniques and methods to learn and explore. Strict rules during beginner or leisurely games can negatively impact a player’s development of a personal style. It can also make the game too intense for someone looking for a fun and laid back sport.
Ultimately, it is the choice of the non-professional players which rules they wish to follow. The game of bowling is popular with all age groups. This has resulted in many modifications added to recreational games, such as the use of bumpers to prevent gutter balls. While most of these modifications in professional games are illegal moves, they can greatly improve the experience of non-professional players.
Basic scoring in bowling is determined by the number of pins knocked down during a turn. A player can earn a score between 1 and 9 if they do not knock down all the pins. The score they receive in this instance is directly related to the number of pins they knocked over. These types of plays are known as open frames.
In the event that a strike or spare occurs in a player’s turn, the scoring is adjusted. Strikes happen when all the pins are hit down in the first roll. A strike earns 10 points plus the sum of the next two rolls. This essentially means that the next two rolls after the strike are worth double points.
A spare occurs when the pins are all hit down after the second roll. A spare earns 10 points plus the sum of a singular roll afterward.
The maximum score that can be achieved in a single frame is 30 points. This amount of points is achieved after rolling three strikes in a row. A strike followed by a spare, or vice versa, results in 20 points in a single frame.
The highest possible ending score in a bowling game is 300 points. This is reached by bowling a strike every single frame. The tenth frame allows for up to 3 rolls, meaning a player can potentially earn points for three strikes in the last frame.
Fouls and Illegal Moves
While recreational players may not strictly adhere to professional rules, there are still moves considered illegal within bowling. These can be the result of both purposeful and accidental actions.
In professional games, the severity of punishment ranges from earning no points to being disqualified from the game. Recreational players are left to determine punishment and fairness according to their own judgment.
Four commonly seen incidents include:
Fouls occur when a player crosses the foul line with their feet. If the hands or arms of the player cross the line, it does not count as a foul so long as the feet remain behind the line. Any pins knocked down after a foul do not receive points.
Illegal Pinfalls are essentially when pins are knocked over by accident or circumstance, rather than being knocked down by a rolling ball. This includes instances such as the ball leaving the lane before reaching the pins or the ball bouncing off the rear cushion back onto the lane and hitting down pins. Basically, pins must be directly hit by a ball still in contact with the lane in order to count. As long as they meet this requirement, pins knocked over by other pins count as well.
Deadballs generally occur when there is an issue with the lane set up. The most common cause of a deadball is the realization that the pins were improperly set up after the ball has been rolled. Thus, the ball is deemed dead. Deadballs also occur in any instance when judges or referees decide the delivery of the ball was illegal. For example, if a foul occurs and the ball has already been rolled, a deadball will also occur.
Improper Conduct refers to any behavior that can be deemed as cheating or unsportsmanlike. This can include altering the surface of the ball after the game has begun, physical or verbal abuse to opposing players, and tampering with opposing players balls and equipment.
Besides these four potential penalties, it is also just best practice to observe proper lane etiquette. A player should be wary of the lanes and players on either side of them. Stances and rolls that intrude on another player’s lane space are considered rude. Rolling balls with too much force that causes them to jump into another lane is also poor lane etiquette.
Choosing a Bowling Ball
One of the most important factors when preparing to bowl is the bowling ball itself. While most bowling balls are around the same size, they can vary greatly in weight. Choosing a ball that suits your skill level and strength is essential for playing a good game.
For bowling newbies, it may take some time to determine which ball is best for you. There are different techniques for different weights of balls. Therefore, choosing a ball shouldn’t be based just on how heavy a ball you can handle. You must also consider your swing strength and your personal technique.
For beginners, it is best to start at a lower weight and move up gradually. This will prevent potential injuries from the improper swinging of a ball that is too heavy for you. All people are different, and factors such as age, height, and weight can all contribute to what size ball you should use. These factors also influence the amount of power you have when swinging. Always try out a few different weights to see which ball best fits your needs.
Size and Weight
Bowling balls generally range in weight from 6 to 16 pounds. Lighter balls in the 6 to 7-pound range are designed for those with a weaker grip or less overall strength. This makes them ideal for younger kids or people with disabilities that affect their muscular strength in the hands and arms.
Choosing a ball according to weight should consider a few additional factors. These include age, weight, and height. Personal strength should also be considered. The average weights used by specific age groups are as follows:
- Children use balls between 6 to 10 pounds
- Teenagers use balls between 11 to 14 pounds
- Adults use balls between 12 to 16 pounds
- Seniors use balls between 12 to 14 pounds
A general rule of thumb is to pick a ball that is approximately 10 percent of your overall body weight. However, balls are only allowed to be 16 pounds maximum in weight. This makes it hard for those over the weight of 160 pounds to follow this rule. In general, larger and physically stronger people will opt for the heaviest balls.
Once again, it is best to begin with lighter balls and work up to heavier balls. Even if your weight class deems that you should use a heavier ball, you may not be used to slinging that much weight. Gradually moving up is the best practice for preventing strains and injuries.
Gripping the Bowling Ball
On a standard bowling ball, there are three holes meant for the fingers. These holes are what allow players to maintain a firm grip and throw in a precise manner. There are a few different ways to grip the ball. Generally, the middle finger and the ring finger are placed in the top two holes, and the thumb is placed in the lower hold.
Other styles of gripping the ball include two-finger grips and no-finger palm grips. If you are bowling leisurely, specifics of ball grips may not apply as you can decide which rules to follow. However, in professional and competitive bowling, there are specific rules regarding the grip. The United States Bowling Congress eliminated the use of balance holes as of August 2020. Balance holes are additional holes not intended for gripping. The congress also states:
“ – bowlers may have up to five holes for gripping purposes and all gripping holes must be used on every delivery. A bowler who chooses not to use a thumb hole would need to mark by scribe, engraver, or tool their intended center of palm with a plus (+) mark to indicate their grip orientation.”
Changing Bowling Balls During the Game
According to official bowling rules, it is permitted for a player to have more than one ball available for use during a game. However, these balls must meet certain standards. Additionally, the balls cannot have their surfaces altered once the game begins. Surface altering includes sanding and polishing.
There are pretty strict standards around the bowling ball itself. For non-professional players, however, these rules may not matter so much. It is up to the players in leisurely and recreational games how strictly they wish to follow the rules.
For beginners especially, it may be necessary to change balls once or a few times during a game. This is because a new player may need to try a few different balls in order to find which is best suited for them. There are some important indicators that you may be using the wrong ball for your needs. You should watch out for the following three signs:
- Your best hits knock down most of the pins but leave the corner pins intact/
- The lane conditions, such as the level of oil dispersion, have changed throughout the game.
- Your ball hooks at the incorrect time. A hook is when a ball rolls in a curving pattern and is a standard and commonly seen type of throw.
Swinging the Bowling Ball Correctly
Choosing the correct ball is an important factor in starting a bowling game. It is equally important to know how to properly swing the ball as you roll it down the lane. Proper swings can impact both the power and direction of the ball. They also affect the strain on the body.
The key to a good swing is being mindful of your tempo and direction. You want to have good and consistent speed control, as well as consistent accuracy. There are four basic types of swings that any regular player should try and master. They are the straight ball, the hook ball, the curve ball, and the back up ball.
- Straight balls are thrown slightly off-center and roll down a straight line from the angle at which they are thrown. The goal is to hit the front most pin at an angle that causes the other pins to fall as well.
- Hook balls are achieved through a specific gripping style only using the fingertips. Hooks balls are achieved by causing the ball to spin while rolling. This makes a curved trajectory and can take out all the pins easily when aimed properly.
- Curve balls are similar to hook balls. The arch of the curve during a curve ball is typically wider and can be more difficult to control.
- Back up balls are thrown in the opposite way as hook balls. Hook balls require a counter-clockwise hand rotation, while back up balls use a clockwise hand rotation.
Fast vs. Slow Swings
The speed of your swing when rolling a bowling ball plays a crucial role in how impactful and successful your throw is. In general, faster swings are regarded as being more effective. However, a slower speed-controlled swing can also produce the desired results. While speed is important, proper technique is arguably more crucial.
The ideal speed for a ball is 21 mph when the ball is released and around 17 mph as the ball rolls down the lane. Professional bowlers typically average between 20 -22 mph release speed and 17 – 18 mph lane speed. Oil conditions on the lane can also greatly impact the ball’s speed. More heavily oiled lanes provide more velocity. As the game progresses, the lane will become drier, requiring more powerful throws to achieve and maintain certain speeds.
Slower swings are much more impactful when performing hook or curve shots. When the ball is moving too fast, achieving a proper hook becomes much more difficult. Comparatively, a slighter slower but still powerful roll can result in a much more precise hook or curve. This is part of why technique matters just as much as speed. A fast roll without any technique can easily become a gutter ball.
Lining up the Shot
The method for lining up your shot is also known as aiming. Aiming methods can vary depending on what type of roll you are trying to achieve. However, there are still some general basics to keep in mind when trying to properly line up your shot.
For beginners, it may be instinctual to look at and aim for the pins when rolling the ball. Looking at the pins while rolling is actually an incorrect and less successful method for aiming a bowling ball. Instead, you should aim closer to yourself. You should aim for the arrows that are about 15 feet down the lane, or for the dots between the foul line and the arrows.
Your stance is also critically important when aiming your ball. It is important to pay attention to the lane markings in the area before the foul line. Ideally, the ball should be released onto the lane right at the foul line. This means you must give yourself enough space to approach the line as you wind up your roll.
As for foot positioning, the inner edge of the opposite foot of the hand you bowl with should be on the center dot when you roll. The other foot should be behind the foot on the center dot. Different people have different foot positionings. It is ultimately up to you to discover what positions give you the most power in your swing.
Giving the Ball Power
In order to deliver powerful rolls, a player must be highly mindful of many parts of their body. While it may seem like only the hands and arms matter, it is actually the entire body that gives force, speed, and accuracy to the ball.
Positioning your shoulder, hips, and feet properly is critically important to achieving a high-powered and accurate roll. Relying only on the swinging arm and hand without engaging the rest of the body can result in a weak throw. It can also lead to injury, thanks to too much pressure and physical exertion being place on one limb rather than being dispersed throughout the body.
By engaging other body parts, such as the shoulders and hips, you allow your body to incorporate more movement into the buildup of momentum. This results in faster rolls that have a heavy impact on the pins when aimed correctly. In order to achieve this extra momentum from your hips and shoulders, stability must be provided by a strong stance. Strong stances fully engage the legs and stabilize the body as the upper half twists or turns during the throw.
Tips for Senior Bowlers
Bowling is a sport and activity that can suit people of all age groups. As such, it has become a favored pastime among senior citizens. Bowling provides ample opportunity to stay in shape, socialize, and maintain a competitive spirit. In fact, many professional bowling leagues have senior members. Some leagues are designed and intended specifically for senior citizens.
Whether you are the family member or friend of a senior who loves bowling, or if you yourself are a senior, there are some important considerations to keep in mind. For any player, it is crucial to be mindful of the physical impact of the sport on your body. This is true regardless of age and physical ability.
Bowlers who are more experienced are naturally going to be better at maintaining proper form and minimizing negative impact on the body. For the less experienced, it is key to consider factors such as practice, stretching, and equipment.
Stretching before a Game
Stretching before bowling may sound strange, but it is a good way to ensure your body is at its prime mobility capabilities. A strong bowling stance and swing relies on good posture and movement of the hips and shoulders. Therefore, stretching the shoulders and hips before a game can result in better throws during the game.
It is also a good idea for avid bowlers to stretch the wrists regularly. Holding and rolling a bowling ball can have a fairly high impact on the wrists. This impact increases depending on the weight of the ball. By stretching your wrists regularly, you will maintain good levels of strength and flexibility required for handling bowling balls.
In general, stretches should only be held for around 30 seconds each to avoid unnecessary strain on the body. Small amounts of stretching every day will produce amazing flexibility results, even if it seems like a short amount of time to hold the stretch for. Never stretch your body past the point where you feel strain or pain, as this can result in serious injury.
Using Wrist and Ankle Supports
The wrists and ankles are two of the first parts of the body to deteriorate with age. Luckily, all sorts of braces and support aids exist to assist weakened wrists or ankles. Braces and supports are especially good at supplementing bodily strength and stability.
Using ankle and knee braces can help to maintain a strong stance that supports the movement of the upper body during a swing. Comparatively, wrists braces help to maintain strength in the hands and secure a firm grip on the bowling ball.
Invest in Good Equipment
For those who bowl regularly, it may be best to consider purchasing your own equipment. The two main pieces of equipment that benefit from customization are the bowling ball and the shoes. Specialty shoes can be made with custom insoles that better support your feet. This, in turn, gives you a stronger and more stable stance.
Custom bowling balls are good for achieving an ideal grip on the ball. A custom ball will have grip holes drilled in that match your specific finger size. This makes holding them and swinging them much more comfortable.
Additionally, most bowling alleys offer assistance equipment. This includes bumpers that prevent gutter balls and ramps that a ball can be rolled down. Ramps are especially useful for those who are wheelchair-bound or those who have medical conditions that weaken their wrists and hands.
Bowling is a favored pastime for many people. It has basic and easy to understand rules. However, it also can be played according to professional and stricter rules to make it more difficult. There are modifications that can make bowling easier and more accessible, such as bumpers and ramps. Overall, bowling can be a great activity for everyone.
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