The following article is the first on this site from Jim Head of Cooksville, Ontario. Anyone who knows Jim or has seen him bowl knows that he has a unique approach. His unique stlye has led him to a very successful bowling career over the years. (check his bio to the right of this site) So, who better to write an article on the various styles in bowling than Jim Head.
Recently, I’ve had two separate people on two separate occasions make the exact same comment to me. The comment was, “Wow, there certainly are a lot of different styles on the lanes, no one seems to throw the ball the same.” The two occasions were the Youth Challenge, and the qualifying round of the Open; of the two people, one was a non-bowling parent, the other was a fellow competitor. These recent comments were not the first I’ve heard this over the course of my life in bowling. As anyone who knows me can tell, I also have a rather unique way of travelling from my starting position to the foul line, and this may be a reason why I frequently hear similar comments.
The simple fact of the matter is, there is no “correct” way to bowl. I’ve been fortunate enough to have bowled from coast to coast and quite a few places in between, and that simple fact holds true. The way an individual bowler bowls is completely unique to that particular bowler.
The various regions of Canada and their predominate conditions, may be a factor in determining how a bowler bowls, but that does not preclude variety. Take Alberta for example, for the most part the lanes are fast and predominately string pins. However, these conditions have produced bowlers such as Bruce Morter, Gene Ziebarth, and Dianne Violini, among others. Bruce has a long approach, while Geno’s approach is fairly short. In addition, ball speed varies greatly between these three. Dianne throws the slowest, Bruce the fastest, and Geno somewhere in-between. However, despite the variety within they’re styles, no one can dispute the success these bowlers have achieved. To narrow the scope, travel to the city of Winnipeg. Both Rob Shanas and Karen Armstrong hail from the Manitoba capital and play on the same conditions, yet both bowl very differently. However, the most diversity I’ve seen on the lanes, primarily due to my own location is in Ontario. For those of us who can remember watching 5 Pin on TSN and CBC, no one could possibly confuse Doug Stuart and Greg Peteraitis from seeing them on the lanes. Doug’s tiny approach and incredibly high back swing, and Greg bowling off the right foot while bowling right handed (commonly referred to as a bocce style) are both effective deliveries for those two bowlers.
Bowlers styles are in fact their own signature on the lanes. When I attended the KG Tournament in Saskatoon and even here at our own Bowling School, I’ve often witnessed a bowler imitate a certain style while the rest of us tried to identify the bowler being imitated. From Kim Chadwick’s over the head push away to start her approach, to Tom Patterson’s staggered descent into a crouch, or to John Mattioli’s shuffle to the left until he gets into position to start, styles vary greatly. This is not to say that unorthodox movements or rituals should not be added to an approach simply to make a bowler stand out, there should be an actual purpose to every part of a bowlers approach.
There is one basic thing that all these bowlers mentioned above and all top bowlers have in common. Whatever they do, and however they manage to deliver the ball, they are consistent. Repetition and consistency in any approach is the key to success.
I would encourage young bowlers to watch the top players in their area and, if possible get out to some of the major tournaments that still exist. Watch what other people do and maybe you can pick up something that can help your game. However, this is not an invitation to try to copy someone else’s style in its entirety. As a bowler, you have to do what is comfortable for you and bowl in a way that is consistent, regardless of the pin or pins at which you are throwing.
As stated throughout this piece, bowlers are individuals. Coaches out there, of which I am one, have to be aware of this and respect this fact. Usually when an involved parent sees me bowl for the first time and realizes that I will be coaching their child there is a standard plea, “You’re not going to teach my child to bowl like that are you??” The answer is simple, no. When coaching the YBC or at the O5 Bowling School, I teach the basics and try to adapt them to the individual bowlers existing style. I may point out something in a young bowler’s style that could cause them problems, however, if they feel that they can be consistent in executing their own delivery, I won’t change it. In the end, it is up to each bowler to do what feels natural for them. As coaches, we should fervently try to avoid producing “cookie cutter” bowlers fashioned after any particular style. Many coaching courses advocate teaching a three step approach, and some even go as far as stressing that a back up should be taught. Teach the basics and allow your bowlers to experiment and find what is right for them. Of course this applies to bowlers old enough and sufficiently developed to have their own style.
I remember making my first Open team and the coach, who I didn’t really know and who had not seen me bowl much, called a practice. While I was on the lanes, the coach remarked to another bowler on the team, that he had to stop me from bowling the way I do. Thankfully the bowler he was talking to was from my home centre and told the coach, that what he was seeing was the way I always throw the ball. In another instance, I was practicing at a centre where I had not previously bowled, when a coach there blatantly told me that I would never get anywhere in the game bowling like that. I smiled politely and continued to practice without giving him my bowling résumé. Situations like these are not that uncommon, I remember hearing someone saying something similar regarding Karalyn Skanes of Newfoundland. Karalyn throws the ball with both hands, however, I’ve personally seen her compete with success at Nationals at least twice.
Whether it’s from a physical restriction or a timing routine or from an emulation of another bowler, bowling styles will be as unique as the individual bowler. Think about it the next time you’re at a centre and you can look across the lanes see a myriad of varied styles. We’re all doing the same thing, bowling, but in our own, sometimes odd looking, way.