Monday, February 7, 2011

This week, I'd like to turn attention to a certain role on team play.  Whether we're bowling in tournaments, or in a weekly league, chances are you are part of a team.  Those with tournament experience can tell you that each position on a team plays their own significant role to the overall success.  This blog will study a role that I'm most familiar with: the lead off position.

In my mind, it takes a certain person to play lead off on a team, just the same as it takes a certain person to play the anchor position.  I've had the honour of watching a lot of good teams at both the Provincial and National level compete and, at least in the Mens division, and I've noticed one type of bowler having great success bowling first.

Here are what I feel are important traits to being a successful leadoff bowler.
  • High enegy
You want your team to carry a lot of positive energy.  You've always heard the term "putting your best foot forward" and this holds true in bowling.  When I refer to "best foot forward" I'm not stating that your best, strongest player is your leadoff bowler but simply, a person the team believes in, that can carry momentum down the ladder.  This is an emotional player, and one that easily gets fired up when they start throwing a couple strikes in a row.

  • High Percentage Hitter
While it's important to have a player that gets everyone pumped up, it's of little use if they can't hit the middle consistantly.  We all know that it takes hitting the middle to throw strikes, so obviously you need to have a player up top that can hit the pocket in order to string strikes.  I feel this is also important to give the other players on the team a good look at pin action and ball movement.  A consistant player can give the other players quick reads as to what is going on down the lane when you've moved to a different pair of lanes to start a new game.

  • Mental Toughness
Anyone who's played The Open can tell you that head games will be played.  I can honestly say I do frequently without saying a word to opponents or being disrespectful.  The simple fact is this; if you get up on the lane first as a lead off bowler, and give the other team something to look at, you'll make them think.  There are a couple reasons for doing this. 

1. There's something psychological about having the other team standing around waiting for your team to finish.  The thought is, that if the other team is waiting for you to finish, they must have thrown less balls and therefore must've played that frame better.  (We all know in hindsight that this theory has holes in it everywhere, but it continues to be how players think)  If the lead off bowler gets on the lane first and throws a strike for you, now your second bowler is bowling beside the leadoff.  They're already a full bowler behind!  This also leads us into the second thing.

2.  The counters will always count.  Nowadays on computerized scoring, the team total will be shown at the bottom of the computer screen.  I've always thought of this as a dangerous pitfall for the bowler that pays too much attention.  Using a simple example, I'll show you how running through your order can play tricks on a team.  Imagine this: Your 5 man team has just completed the 5th frame.  Bowler 1 has 98, bowler 2 has 105, bowler 3 has 87, bowler 4 has 100 and bowler 5 has 110.  The other team has the following scores; Bowler 1 is 75, bowler 2 has 115, bowler 3 has 107, bowler 4 has 96 and bowler 5 has 107.  Your team goes up in the 6th frame, and your lead off bowler is on the lane first and throws a strike.  The lead off bowler on the other team is not prepared, and is slower to the lane.  He eventually throws a strike, but after your second bowler already threw a strike as well.  Your third bowler then also throws a strike.  Looking at the team totals as their second bowler steps onto the lane looks like this:  Your team 545, their team 515.  The truth is, depending on what the next 2 bowlers on the other team do, the 2 teams are technically tied.  If there are members on the other team that like to continuously look at the score (and most teams generally have at least one) then they're already feeling the need to play catch up.  It's hard to wager where your team stands if the two teams haven't played the same amount of frames.

  • Being An Intimidator While Not Being Intimidated
When you bowl in the lead off position, you can't be afraid to lose to someone.  I've played some amazing players bowling in the lead off position and one important thing has come into play time and time again.  You cannot show weakness or frustration.  Lead off bowlers play with a killer instinct so you must have one too.  If you struggle at the start of a game, you can't show that it's getting to you.  Once you show frustration, it can flow downhill to the rest of the team, letting the wind out of your sails.  If you throw a big shot, let it be known you mean business (in a respectful manner) and make the other team notice.  (I'll admit I use this theory qualifying from time to time when I know that other qualifiers close to me in the standings are on nearby lanes)  Showing positive aggression via fistpumps (Ron Sandnes still has the best fistpump I've ever seen), fired up high fives and of course, leading cheers for the next bowler, can really bump your team up another level, while having the other team pay more attention to what you're doing than what they're doing.

I will tell you to exercise caution though.  I can clearly recall bowling against a team where the lead off bowler would slide over to my lane and pump his fist right at me.  I let the first one slide, but when it happened again the next frame, it was game on.  Which leads into...

  • Playing Motivated
Anyone that knows me personally could tell you, I HATE losing.  Whether it be at bowling, or who can tie shoes faster, I want to finish first.  This trait allows me to always play motivated. (and most of the time drives my team crazy)  I have always been motiviated by past losses, both personal and teamwise, and will never give up on a challenge.  I know I'm a fighter and this works well in regards to being a successful lead off bowler.  I know that if a bowler on the other team does something I don't agree with, or shows a weakness, I will go into attack mode and be further motivated.

In closing, it's important in your team's preparation for any tournament to know where the bowlers feel comfortable, and where everyone's personality fits into the lineup.  Everyone must buy into the team concept and know that every position on a team has equal importance.  I have never seen 1 or 2 bowlers take on an entire team of 5 by themselves.  It takes all 5 players to get the big points at the bottom for totals.


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  2. Nice post.

    Like you said, positive energy out of that leadoff spot is key. Even if the leadoff bowler isn't playing well--and it's bound to happen sooner or later in a long enough tournament--he/she has to keep an optimistic vibe. Four other bowlers behind you don't need any negativity before they get up to throw. Don't show any weakness!

    My next post clearly has to be about the importance of bowling second.


  3. Great post. I agree with most of it. A good leadoff bowler needs to set a tempo for their team, but at the same time can't get to the point where they are rushing themselves.

    Referring to the second part of the mental toughness. Having created the illusion that your team has a greater lead than you actually do, you are implying that this is a positive. In some cases I think it would be, but not all. I have more single than team experience so I will draw from that. The mindset for some people when they are down is to feel the need to catch up. This is added pressure, but everyone responds to pressure differently. My point is just that some players/teams will perform better when they are behind, so creating the illusion of a lead may not be beneficial.


  4. John
    I definitely agree with you there. There are a lot of players out there that can use the motivation of playing catch up to their advantage, but I think it's a rare trait. Being mostly a singles player, you're constantly playing the elite of the elite in the open. These are the top players in the country that are at the top of their game in both ability as well as mental toughness. That's why they're competing in the singles events. They wouldn't get as easily discouraged when they fall behind because they're mentally tough enough not to be worried. I'm not taking anything away from team players (I've never competed in a nationals as a singles player myself) but I think that if you have a team where the majority of the players that have that sort of mental toughness that allow them not to panic when they fall behind, chances are you'll find that team at the top of the standings in whatever tournament they're playing in.


  5. Good point Jeff. A team is only as strong as its weakest link. Not only is confidence in yourself important, but you have to have confidence in your teammates. It's hard to quantify a factor like this. Do you think an Ontario Open team, with players that are familiar with each other, could be stronger than an Ontario Masters team?

    Great job with the blog to everyone involved. I enjoy the read. I know how other parts of life take priority but I hope you guys stick with it.