Improving your skills

Ten-pin bowling can be as simple as trying to roll the ball in a straight line down the alley. With the aid of bumpers covering the gutters, even beginners and young children can score respectably. But for those who wish to take their game to a higher level, there are advanced techniques that will lead to better scores. Although the entire act of bowling is condensed into the few seconds that it takes to approach and deliver the ball, rolling properly is a complex art form that can only be mastered through trial and error, and lots of practice. Much of the information below is taken from the website of Kenn Melvin, a BTBA certified coach training teams in Northern Ireland. He provides many useful tips to help players improve their games, with videos and diagrams to illustrate different techniques.

Methods of rolling

There are two main ways to roll in bowling. Most new players will attempt to roll the ball in a straight line, aiming to enter the pocket between the 1 and 3 pins if they are right-handed and between the 1 and 2 pins if they roll with their left. Unfortunately the ball is not big enough to make contact with every pin in the rack, so players must use the ball to knock the pins into each other if they are to knock them all down. Because accuracy is crucial with spare shots, it is often better to roll straight, so that there is less chance of the ball hooking away from its target zone.

More experienced players usually roll the ball so that it travels straight then curves into the pocket at an angle. This is called a "hook shot". Players hook the ball by releasing it thumb first, so that it travels with a side spin. On oiled areas of the lane, where there is less friction, it will skid through in a straight line, but when it reaches the dry back-end, the friction will cause the ball to spin inwards in a curve. When lining up a hook shot, the thumb should point directly forwards, but once the ball is released, the thumb should be pointing slightly inwards. The ideal entry angle of the ball into the pocket is considered to be six degrees off the line of the boards, but players can adjust the way they release the ball and use oiling patterns to make either slow and gradual hooks or fast, violent ones. Ideally, a hook shot will roll through the 1 and 3 pins to hit the 5-pin ("kingpin") and deflect into the 9-pin for right-handers. Left-handed players should aim only to make contact with the 1, 2, 5 and 8 pins. Deflections should take care of the rest.

On the lane, 15 feet ahead of the foul line, there are seven target arrows spaced evenly across the lane, each five boards apart. Players use the boards at their feet and these arrows to plot the ideal trajectory of the ball into the pocket and also to adjust their rolls.

Timing the release

Most bowlers take between a three and six step approach to the foul line before rolling. In approaching and delivering the ball onto the lane, timing is crucial. There are a number of different stages to a good role, each of which must be in time with the others. The steps below are for a right-handed bowler. Left-handers can simply mirror the steps.

  1. The swing starts with the push-away, during which the player pushes off their leading foot, which should be on the same side as their swinging arm. The ball should be held slightly in front of the player’s body.
  2. Next, the player takes a step forward with their left leg as they pull their bowling arm into the backswing.
  3. As the player steps forward with their right foot into the pivot, they should lean forward slightly, and their bowling arm should be raised behind their head, at right angles with the vertical of their back. It is important to maintain good balance.
  4. Then, with their left foot, the player will take a large slide forward as they swing their bowling arm forward. During the slide, the bowling arm should be close to parallel with the vertical of the back. The smaller this angle, the better the timing is said to be, although some players use a bigger angle to generate more power through the slide.
  5. As the player comes through the slide, they should begin to release the ball.
  6. As the ball is released, the player should follow-through, continuing the forward swinging motion of their arm, while standing on their left foot and raising their right leg behind them to maintain balance.