Brian Voss is a professional ten-pin bowler and member of the Professional Bowlers Association since 1982. He was inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame in 1994 and the USBC Hall of Fame in 2007.
Brian Voss Articles from BowlersParadise.com:
By Brian Voss
There's a sch'ool of thought in the sport of bowling that says scores have spiraled out of control. PBA exempt bowler Jeff Carter recorded a 261 average for a full league season. My buddy Norm Duke nearly averaged 230 for a complete PBA Tour season. A 17-year-old rolled three 900 series in a matter of weeks. Pete Weber's Tour-leading 215.43 average in 1989 would have ranked him 44th on this year's Tour. What does it all mean? Has the sport become too easy? Aren't scores just relative?
I have spent much time and space in these columns and in other places describing why I think the scoring pace at all levels of bowling has increased, but I think a much more useful discussion for bowlers out there is how to do the things that the pros do to maximize their scores. Obviously, scores are relative and the best bowlers usually figure out how to get the highest scores or, better yet, whatever score is needed in order to win. And it is usually not mentioned much, but technology usually favors the better players much more than it does the average player. So how do average players harness all of that technology out there into better scores?
The first way has very little to do with technology except with respect to how to neutralize it and that is to learn how to throw the ball dead straight to make your spares. One of the reasons the pros are so good at getting the most out of their score is that they rarely miss spares. Not only do pros not miss spares very often, but they tend to convert difficult combinations such as splits, washouts and other multi-pin leaves that most bowlers usually write off as an open frame. The main reason this is important is not just because it saves you extra pins but, from a mental standpoint, it allows you to keep your momentum going and focus on getting back to the task of stringing strikes, which is the best way to throw big scores.
Now, speaking of stringing strikes, how do the pros do this so easily? Obviously the ability to find mistake area on the lane and then execute consistently shot after shot helps, but here's a little trick I use to stay on top of the ever-changing lane condition. When I'm lined up and stringing strikes, I actually move a fraction of a board left between every shot. My reason for this is to anticipate the breakdown of oil and stay ahead of it so that when it does change more significantly I will be in a better position to both strike on that particular shot and then, once I recognize a major shift, to move where I need to in order to get right back on the striking train. Getting in the habit of moving left in tiny increments will not only get you ahead of the micro changes, it will also get you into the mindset of making constant adjustments as the lanes break down, which they inevitably will. The other benefit to this approach is that it will keep your mind on making shots, rather than wandering to the scoreboard and seeing all of these pretty X's lined up next to your name and what a shame it would be to ruin it by chunking up an ugly 6 - split up at the end of it. Stay focused on the battle that is going on between yourself and the lanes and you'll find yourself stringing a lot more strikes and improving your scores.
Next time, I'll talk about even more ways for you to improve your scores, so until then, make sure to throw straight at your spares and keep your mind out of the gutter - or should I say, off the scoreboard and on the lanes!
By Brian Voss
In our last column, we talked about a couple of ways that the pros use to max out their score and save as many pins as possible. Specifically, we discussed the importance of throwing straight at your spares and also the practice of moving left in small increments after each strike shot to stay on top of the constantly changing oil pattern. This time, I'd like to give you two more tricks that will help you get the most out of your score.
First, one of the most common mistakes I see amateurs making is a reluctance to play the lanes in a place that is outside their normal comfort zone. Insisting on playing the second arrow, when it is obvious that the third arrow is the place that provides the best margin for error is a sure way to sink your score. A perfect example of this is the PBA's Cheetah pattern, which is always the highest-scoring of the five patterns used on Tour. In fact, critics have said for years that the Cheetah pattern is too easy and produces a ridiculously high scoring pace. Some have even said that it should never be used again. But the interesting thing, now that there are PBA Experience Leagues sanctioned by the USBC, is that the Cheetah pattern is actually the LOWEST scoring pattern for amateurs. The reason for this is that most amateurs are not comfortable playing the extreme outside part of the lane, which is where you must play in order to take advantage of the Cheetah pattern's short oil dressing and extremely dry backends. Consequently, while the pros average 21 pins higher on the Cheetah pattern than the more difficult Shark pattern, amateurs actually perform better on the Shark because there is more oil and it allows them to play closer to their comfort zone.
That leads us to my final topic, which is the importance of experiencing as many new conditions and environments as possible through practice. The way that most of us pros reached the level we're at today is through a constant desire to learn new tricks and new ways to play lane conditions which we found difficult in the past. We can see proof of this desire in the ability of some of the players on Tour to compete equally on widely diverse lane conditions. The best of the best have learned the most efficient way to play on all of the five different oil patterns to give them a chance to win any given week. And they gained this knowledge and experience the old-fashioned way, through hard work, perseverance and a willingness to keep an open mind and try new things. An open mind is your biggest asset in bowling, because the environment is constantly changing from week to week, game to game and frame to frame. And the more you practice and experience new environments, the more tools you'll be able to access when the time comes to use them.
At the end of the day, bowling is simply a game of trying to knock down the most pins in the fewest number of shots. The reason the pros are the pros is because we have this down to an art of throwing away the fewest pins possible. On Tour, the difference between averaging 225 and 220 for a season can put you tens of thousands of dollars apart in the standings. For amateurs, the consequences are not nearly as severe, but the satisfaction of knowing that you're making strides toward your own personal goals can be just as satisfying.
Till next time,
By Brian Voss
Although bowling is played indoors and is a true year-round sport, many folks who are regular fall/winter league bowlers opt to take the summer off. For you bowlers out there who fall into this category, this week's column will focus on how to stay sharp in the off season so when you come back to your league in the month of September, you have as little rust to work off as possible.
The first and most obvious piece of advice to keep you sharp during summer is to practice regularly. But if you don't feel like you have the time to get in to the center on a regular basis to roll a few games, then make it into a recreational outing. Instead of grinding your way through a practice session where you're "working on your game" invite a few friends out to the lanes for a little fun and friendly competition. Maybe even use this time to introduce friends or family members to the game while showing them how much fun it is to bowl. The biggest reason I hear recreational bowlers give for not joining a league is that they "don't think they're good enough." Take these people out, show them a good time and get them started on the path to becoming a league bowler. This will also allow you to get out and throw the ball, but will also remind you of the reasons you took up the game in the first place, keeping your mind fresh and passionate for next season.
Next, for those of you who absolutely can or will not make an appearance at the local bowling center during the summer, one way to help your bowling is to keep a fitness regimen. The summer months are a perfect time to go outside and enjoy the fresh air and warm weather, and a few ways to enjoy them while also helping your bowling game is to focus primarily on increasing your leg strength. In bowling, your legs are the key to improving balance and power, which in turn improves accuracy and carry percentage, and anything you can do to enhance their strength will show up in improving your scores when leagues start back up again in the Fall. The best exercise for strengthening your legs that I've found is biking, which strengthens your thighs, hamstrings, glutes and quads. All of these muscles work together for bowling to help give you a stronger pivot step and better balance at the line. If you don't have a bike, then the next best thing is walking or jogging, especially in an area with lots of hills. If none of these activities work for you, then some simple leg exercises for 10-20 minutes each day can be done at home while watching your favorite TV show. Squats or body bends supported on one leg at a time work very well for strengthening the legs for bowling.
If you absolutely, positively do not have any interest in anything I've said above, and all you want to do during your summer off is relax, then my last suggestion is for you to read one or more of the many great books out there about the sport of bowling. Two of the solid books out there about the physical and mental aspects of bowling are Bowling Execution by John Jowdy and Focused for Bowling by Dr. Dean Hinitz. If you're more interested in reading about the fun side of bowling, then The Tour Would be Great IF You Didn't Have to Bowl is a series of stories from funnyman Lenny Nicholson, who was the PBA's lane maintenance expert for over 30 years. There are tons of other great books and videos out there as well, just check them out in the "gifts/collectibles section" of Bowlersparadise.com.
Since I love bowling so much, I can't understand why anyone would want to be away from it for more than a few weeks at a time. But if you must, I hope you'll at least make good use of that time and that when you do come back, it'll be with renewed energy and passion for the sport!
Till next time,
By Brian Voss
In just about every post-game interview with athletes in any sport, you hear some mention of luck playing a role in the outcome of the competition. "It was just my week." "The breaks all went my way today." "It was just my day to win today." It is almost enough to make you wonder why these athletes spend the countless hours training and practicing for success in their chosen sports, isn't it?
Bowling is no different and, in fact, I believe suffers from an even more biased perception that luck (rather than skill and athleticism) is a factor in determining the outcome of a competition than almost any sport today. Director of Sport Bowling, Steve Wunderlich, a highly accomplished PBA Tour player in the '80's and '90's once said after losing a close match for the title, "It's unfortunate that I've chosen a profession where luck plays such an important factor." (No wonder that he ended up as the head of the group probably most dedicated to rebuilding the integrity of the sport!)
The question is, then, how much of a factor does luck play in our sport? Are Walter Ray Williams and Earl Anthony and Pete Weber and Mark Roth and Parker Bohn just luckier than all of the other great players who have competed on Tour just because they were able to win more than 30 titles? How much of their success is simply because they were better than, or more talented than or simply work harder than, their competition?
You might be surprised to hear me admit that luck certainly does play a huge role in the success of these and countless other players. In fact, one could argue that the entire system is based upon luck. From a certain standpoint it is. The way I see it, bowling, like every other sport, boils down to a game of chance. I mean sure, there are fundamentals to master, training techniques to practice and knowledge to accumulate, but at the end of the day (or the week, in bowling) the one who wins is the guy (or gal) who has less 279's shot at him, who doesn't leave that stone-8 at the wrong time to cost him a match, and who maybe carries that one extra Brooklyn strike. But the thing about that which keeps us die-hard bowlers from going completely insane is that the better you get at bowling the more chances you give yourself to take advantage of those opportunities when they do arise.
There is a reason why Walter Ray has won 42 titles in his career - and it isn't because he's lucky. It's because he's made 160 shows in his career - in 664 career events that means he makes it to TV almost 25% of the time. But even then he only wins the title 25% of those times. But he's given himself so many opportunities to win that over time, he's won more than anyone else. But one might argue that Walter Ray has actually been incredibly unlucky in "only" winning 42 times. Compared to Tommy Jones, who's qualified for TV 17 times in 132 events (a TV percentage just better than half of Walter Ray's) and won 10 (a 58% conversion rate), Walter Ray has been downright snakebitten.
But taking it to another level of detail, it is also not a coincidence that Walter Ray gives himself so many opportunities to win. For those of you who don't know, Walter Ray actually tracks every frame of every game in competition, and breaks down his pocket percentage, his strike percentage, his split percentage and his spare percentage. (He also tracks his opponents as well!) The advantage to all of that extra work is that Walter Ray has the perspective that the breaks will eventually even out, and that as long as his pocket percentage and strike percentage and spare percentage is better than his competitors - all measures of skill and talent - that he'll win out in the end. And his results prove it.
I believe that is a great lesson to all bowlers out there, those who want to pull out their hair or threaten to quit the game every time a ringing ten pin costs us a point in our Monday night league. As long as you keep it in the pocket, and keep giving yourself chances, eventually you will hit the jackpot. And hitting the jackpot is the best feeling in the world. It's why we keep coming back to the sport that we all love despite the pain it sometimes causes us. At the end of the day, practice and learning and training is our way of giving us those chances and increasing our odds of hitting the jackpot. As long as we all accept that, then the rough patches of "bad luck" are a lot easier to swallow.