Thursday, February 10, 2011

Steve Barker's 23 Questions: Jim Head

Before we get into my conversation with Jim, I want to give a quick update on this segment. Jeff and I have asked for, and received a plethora of suggestions for bowlers that you'd like to learn more about. Our challenge was to expand our focus to include bowlers from all over the country, but still be able to offer a "personal touch" to the line of a questioning. Well, help is on the way, as Darrell Bradley is going to collaborate with us, and he is going to work on this feature by interviewing players in the Western part of the country. We welcome his contribution and look forward to reading his interviews. We continue to appreciate feedback from all parts of the country, and will be featuring bowlers from Coast to Coast as soon as we can.

For now, we turn our attention to one of the most respected, successful and dedicated people in Ontario, and in Canada, in Jim Head.

Jim's commitment to the sport started back in YBC, where in 14 years he did not miss a single week of bowling, even when he broke his foot!

Jim joined the Masters in 1992, and has amassed 9 Tournament wins on the Ontario Tour. He has represented the MBAO at 7 Nationals, winning Team Gold twice, Team Silver twice and Team Bronze once. He also won a Bronze in Singles competition in Saskatoon.

He is also a 4-time Zone Champion in the Open, and has qualified for Provincials a total of 17 times, including 12 years in a row! Jim is a 3-time winner at the Ontario Open, and in 2004 his Men's team won National Gold in Gatineau, setting 4 scoring records in the process.

Jim has dominated the Ontario YABA tour, winning 21 times! He also serves on the YABA rules committee. His two TSN Pins Game appearances include a Quarter-Final finish in 1997.

Jim has several other tournament victories to his credit, and in 2001 he finished 2nd in the Jubilee Ford/Great West Breweries King George Open in Saskatoon that saw him bowl a remarkable 33 games on the Sunday!!

In 2007, Jim went on an incredible run by winning SIX CONSECUTIVE TOURNAMENTS!! From January to March, he won two Master events, two YABA Singles events and cash events in Uxbridge and Cornwall!

Jim's high scores include a 435 single, 1069 triple and an 1802 five game set.
A YBC volunteer, Jim also attends the O5PBA Bowling School as a "PRO" and also stresses the importance of "pinning" by sponsoring a Spare Percentage Award at the school.

So Jim, 14 years in the YBC…Do you remember what your average would have been in Bantam, Junior and Senior?
I'm not sure about Bantam and Junior, but I think I finished Seniors around the 250 mark.
Unfortunately, the records of my YBC probably went up in smoke when Village Bowl burned down in 1984.

At what point did your game really take off and to what can you attribute that?
The first year I made the Ontario Open (Blue Light, back then) was the first year I averaged over 260. It was either ‘88 or ‘89. Having seen the top bowlers in the Province, I worked extra hard throughout both the season and the summer to improve my game. After the Open experience, my game made a fairly steady progression.

As a point of reference, what do you use for a target?
I use the arrows exclusively now. However, when I was younger, 15 or 16, I couldn’t see the arrows, as I had not had my eyes tested and I definitely needed glasses, so I used to look at the foul line. I played off the line into my early twenties and eventually asked Dave Johnson for help in getting me back to the arrows.

How many leagues do you play?
This year, I’m only bowling one league at Hopedale bowl. It’s a mixed fun league and I have the added benefit of bowling with my father.

What is the most number of leagues that you've ever played?
For a number of years, I used to play four (4) leagues per week; Georgetown on Monday, Streetsville on Tuesday, Rexdale on Wednesday and Hopedale on Thursday. When you add in YABA, Masters, and other independent tournaments, it led to some long stretches in various bowling centres.

And what are you averaging this year?
I’m not really sure as I don’t look at the stats sheet, but I think I’m closing in on 250, but I struggled badly at the beginning of the year.

What is the highest you've ever averaged for a season?
283 at Bathurst Bowlerama.

With your league and all of your tournaments, how much practicing are you able to do each week?
When I was bowling the four leagues per week, I didn’t have much of a chance to go practice, as I was bowling almost every day. However, when I first started bowling competitively I would practice after coaching the YBC and also go out before a tournament to fine tune my game. Now, I use my time after YBC each week to practice, but I imagine that once it gets closer to Easter, I’ll be hitting the lanes a little harder.

Do you have specific things you work on in practice? And you mentioned Easter, so do you practice specifically for upcoming events such as the Open?
When I practice, I normally concentrate on my mechanics, i.e. footwork, arm swing, release, and on hitting my spot, or pinning. I also play a couple of rounds of Mark 10, as it helps to build my confidence when shooting corners. As for practicing for specific events, the only time I’ve done that was for the TSN in 1997. Fortunately, or not, the TV round was held in Aurora, Ontario, so I had the opportunity to practice on the lanes we’d be using on the show.

Now Jim, correct me if I'm wrong, but you usually throw a pretty hard rolling shot "right up the gut". Do you aim for a pocket, or throw right at it?
Well, Steve, you are correct some of the time. (Steve notes, "Hey, that's more than normal"!!) Thankfully due to my age, I grew up on freefall machines, wooden pins, and wooden lanes with a lacquer finish. Then I saw the general switch in the industry to strings, plastic pins and eventually plastic lanes. Due to the changing conditions of the game, I have a few clubs in my bag. I’ve had success in throwing from both the left and right side of the lane. Also I can greatly vary my speed without sacrificing accuracy. However, for the most part, my normal shot is a good speed, small back-up ball straight up the gut. As for aiming for a pocket, Brain Kaye asked me the same thing the first time he ever coached me for the Open. The answer is no, I don’t aim for a pocket. I start with my right foot very near, or sometimes on the centre dot of the approach and aim for the centre arrow. That nearly straight angle with a small back-up allows me to hit either pocket with power and effect.

And would your strategy change if you knew you needed 16 in the 10th frame to win a match?
Well, first off, I probably wouldn’t know I needed 16 pins to win unless someone told me, but if I did know, I’d try to put that fact out of my head and throw my normal shot. The idea of chiseling or throwing light on the headpin runs counter to my philosophy of throwing the best ball I can every time I step onto the lane.

If you're running into HEADPIN trouble, how do you usually adjust?
Normally, I move up or back depending on the ball movement resulting in the picking of the headpin. If I’m still picking, I’ll move my spot a little farther down the alley beyond the arrows, normally to the break between the hardwood and softwood. If that still doesn’t fix the problem, I will try one of the other lines that I’ve developed.

You've obviously had success in all sorts of different tournaments…Do you look at the scoreboard in the middle of a tournament to see where you rank?
No, I never look at a scoreboard until the tournament is over. Early in my YBC days, I used to be a scoreboard watcher, and inevitably I would struggle in the last game or two. Finally my dad said, “Why look at the scoreboard, you can’t affect anyone else’s game, just go and bowl your game.” I’ve never looked since. It has led to a couple of nice surprises over the years.

And is there a specific reason why you don't peek at the score in the middle of a match?
Yes. I know whether or not I’m bowling well. In reality, I’m only bowling against myself, so if I bowl my best, I give myself the best chance to win.

What is your favourite event to play?
Anything on the National stage, as it is at least for me an extreme honour to represent my home Province. Locally, however, I would have to say that the Pro Gauntlet at the O5 Bowling School is my favourite event. I get to meet and compete against the future of the game. Also, I can do things that I would never, ever do in a tournament, such as trash talk, etc. All in good fun, of course. Of course!

Of all of your wins, does one stand out as the most gratifying?
Wow, tough question. Certain events stand out in my mind. My first Ontario Master’s win, 2004 Canadian Open Championships in Gatineau, Quebec, where we as the Men’s Team won gold and set 4 National records, and of course Uxbridge Yamaha Open due to the substantial prize. However, two events stand a little higher than the others, and one was not a win, but a second place finish. My first year at the KG Jubilee Ford/Brewhouse Open in Saskatoon, I went up both sides of the ladder of the knockout. That would be 11 three game total pin fall matches, or a whopping 33 games in 12 hours. I finished second to Len Anseth from Saskatchewan. The other would be the 2004 Sherwood Challenge. Not only was the cash prize appreciated, but it was also my fifth Ontario Master’s win and that earned me my big diamond, for my Master’s ring. It was also the only tournament I ever played where I cried. After the finish, I phoned home to tell my folks that I had won, and the pride and joy in their voices were just too much for me.

Can you explain your incredible run of 6 consecutive wins in the Winter of '07?
I guess the only way to explain it would be focus. I was extremely motivated to win the New Year’s Classic as my partners, Kelly Martin and John Greenlee had never won a Master’s event. That was the beginning of the run. The rest of the tournaments just fell into place as I was extremely confident in the shot I was throwing and I was able to get “in the zone” quickly and stay there. Remember that three of the six wins (Oshawa, Cambridge and Uxbridge) occurred on consecutive weekends, so it was like a snowball rolling down hill. I didn’t really realize I was on the streak until people started talking to me about it. I went into each event fresh, confident and focused on my game.

Do you find the pressure different, whether you are playing for money or for prestige?
No, in my mind there isn’t a difference. The prize, whether it be large cash amounts or prestige is something that happens after the tournament. If I were to start thinking about what happens after the event, I wouldn’t be concentrating on throwing my shot. My game plan is fairly simple, throw one good ball! By focusing on that I remove the pressure that could come from the prize, whatever it may be.

In 1988, you lost the sight in your left eye, and had three subsequent cataract surgeries. Could you tell our readers about your first game back after each of the surgeries?
After assuring my doctor that I bowled 5 pin and the weight of the ball was under 4 pounds, I was able to return after each surgery quickly. Each of the first games back was a 400+ game.

That's amazing? Do you think there is a reason, or just a strange coincidence?
Where the cataracts formed, they caused a fair amount of pain and distraction. Without the pain, it was a lot easier to focus on the shot. I think not being able to bowl for a couple of weeks also had something to do with it. I was hungry to get back on the hardwood.

You recently coached a team at the Youth Challenge Provincials. How did you find that experience? Do you find it hard to step back and coach? When the competitive juices get going, don't you want to get out there?
I really enjoyed my experience at the Youth Challenge. I’ve certainly gained a greater respect for all the coaches out there who volunteer their time and energy, both mental and physical, for the sake of a team. Having a Mixed Team, I was able to cheer like a madman, which apparently surprised a number of people. Stepping back as a coach wasn’t a problem, but there were a couple of times when I really wanted to go up and throw with my kids.

And do you think you relate well with younger players? Do you have to adjust your thinking from, say, playing on an Open team?
A lot of younger players seem to be intimidated by me, maybe it’s the moustache. I think that once my bowlers got to know me personally, rather than just hearing about me from others, I think we related well to each other. Of course I had to temper my choice of words with a youth team, but not my general philosophy of team play. Help make them comfortable and calm on the lane and have them focus on the ball in hand.

Personally, one of the things that I think makes you so successful, and so difficult to beat (as my record would attest), is your rabid determination to never quit or let bad breaks or distractions bother you. Is this something you work on, or does it come naturally? Or is it simply what you have to do to be a winner?
I’m no statistician, so I don’t know what my record is against you. I’m sure you’ll let me know. (Steve: It's ummm, pretty good!) No, I don’t normally give up, for a number of reasons. Usually, I’m so intent on throwing the ball the best that I can, I don’t realize that I’m behind in a match or that it’s close. Also, it is my belief that every ball is practice for the next one, so every ball is important. As for bad breaks, they happen, “Welcome to 5 Pin.” If the bad break is a result of a mistake, don’t make the same mistake twice. I’ve really worked on my mental game. When I would go out and practice, I’d always ask to be put beside open bowling so that I could train myself to focus and block out all distractions. I remember someone commenting on Canadian when it was around that I was a very patient bowler. I can wait for a tangle to be fixed, the 50-50 draw, and a score correction and still go and throw a pocket shot. All those distractions happen in the pit. When I step on the approach, there is nothing else that exists in the world other than me, the spot, and the ball. When I’m really “in the zone” and locking in on my spot, everything else fades to black. It’s as if I’m bowling in the dark, and there is a spot light on the arrow.

We certainly enjoyed your outlook on Unique Styles from your earlier article, and I made it this far without mentioning your unique approach, but have you ever had issues with people distracting you coming up the lane beside you, because they forgot about your "hesitation"?
Not if they come up on the left, can’t see over there. It did happen quite a bit when I first started bowling tournaments competitively. Now, I guess word has gotten out amongst the bowling community, but it does still happen now and again. Sometimes people just forget about my pause, and there are players out there that haven’t seen me bowl.

And you're high game of 435, I must ask…First 11 or last 11?
Last 11. Left corner spare, then took it off the sheet. The ball that hung the corner was better than at least 3 of the shots I struck with later. Such is life.

Totally disregarding the thought of offending anyone you wouldn't mention, are there any players today who you look up to or just love to watch?
I was very fortunate to grow up watching the likes of Brian Kaye, John Mattioli and Claudina Lista (Sula). To see John out on the lanes still competing into his late 70’s is amazing. Dianne Violini and Bruce Morter, both of Alberta with their decades long runs of consecutive Nationals boggles my mind. Helene Godmaire and Luc Duguay both of Quebec, are both fierce competitors with awesome shots. However, the one player that I used to just love to watch is Steve Greensides when he was at his peak. Steve had a simple, smooth delivery that was effective anywhere. To top it all of he was extraordinarily gracious in victory or in defeat, a true sportsman.

From your vast experience as a player and volunteer, can you think of any improvements or changes we could make to make 5-Pin better?
Personally, I think the greatest problems in our game arise from the fractured and divided nature of the sport. If we could somehow create a cohesive single governing body for 5 Pin that would represent the interests of both the proprietors and the bowlers, I think we could have a much stronger game. Now our effectiveness is limited as we cannot rally our entire membership for the purpose of improving 5 Pin. Our game stretches across Canada, from sea to sea, to sea, and I believe that a single governing body could promote 5 Pin to the forefront in the mindset of the general population. However, until that body is created, we all have to work at the local level to help our game grow.

Jim, I couldn't agree more! Plus, if a National sponsor came along today, with so many governing bodies in the game, where would they go with their money and what could they get out of it? I don't know how they'd do it, but I'm sure that one National body with a main website that trickles down to the provinces would be so much more appealing to sponsors and could better promote our game.

And finally, as a popular PRO that students love interacting with at our Bowling School, what piece of advice would you offer to a player who wants to improve their game?
Simple, get out on the lanes and work on your game. Stats, scores, and averages are useful tools, but they are not the be all and end all of bowling. Break the game down to its simplest form, throwing a ball. When a bowler is on the lane, or preparing to throw their shot, they should ask themselves the question, “What’s the best I can do with the ball in my hand?” First ball, answer is strike, second ball answer should be spare (allowing for Headpins, Splits, and Aces), third ball answer is 15. If the bowler applies this to their practice, they develop consistency, and consistency leads to success. Throw one good ball and the stats and scores will happen. But above all, have fun, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll never succeed. However, don’t allow your success to be the only measure of your fun. You can have fun, bowl well, and still lose. You can’t win them all, I know, I’ve tried.

Well, thanks Jim for taking the time and for offering such candid insight. We appreciate it!
Thank you Steve for the opportunity.

Again folks, keep those ideas and comments rolling in. Look for future contributions from Darrell Bradley. Next time on "23 Questions", we will feature Brenda Walters.

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