Thursday, March 31, 2011

Steve Barker's 23 Questions

23 Questions with…Jeff Young

I might get fired for this! Wait, can volunteers even get "fired"?

When Jeff and I started talking about adding an interview segment to his site, unbeknownst to him, he was one of the first people I had in mind.

I first really noticed Jeff when he was just out of YBC. He was a fiery, demonstrative little guy, with loads of talent and attitude. You didn't have to be KRESKIN to realize that once he matured on the lanes and gained some experience, he'd be a force to be reckoned with. Well he has, and he is.

In the last several years, Jeff has turned himself into one of Ontario's finest players.

Jeff has 2 Tournament wins in the MBAO and has 2 Golds, 1 Silver and 1 Bronze in the Masters Nationals.

On two occasions, Jeff has won Mens team Gold at the Ontario Open and at the 2009 Open Nationals, he was named to the All-Star team.

During those 2009 Provincials, Jeff went on a remarkable run, bowling 10 out of 14 games over 300, and setting 8-game (2641), 9-game (2949, with a 202 first game) and 14-game (4267) records!! Incidentally, his 14-game record beat the previous 15-game record by 65 pins! Jeff also shot his high triple of 1101 and his high five of 1790 during this stretch.

Other career bests include a 440 single and a 270 average. Jeff is currently averaging 267 and each year is one of the more popular "Pros" at our O5PBA Bowling School.

Jeff also joined some other Canadians by competing and having some success in Duckpin events States-side. He recently placed 17th in "Bowler of the Year" rankings, having played in only 4 of the 8 events. His 148 average was 6th on the tour and he was the first Canadian to be named "Rookie of the Year". His best single of 212 included a four-bagger, which is rare in Duckpin!

I hope you enjoy Jeff's honesty and candid insight as we take a look at the man behind "5-pin Bowling Canada".

Tell us a bit about your bowling career got started.
I started bowling around 3 or 4 years old. I used to bowl with my family down the street from my parents’ house at a place called Mohawk Lanes. When I was enrolled in YBC I started a Sherwood. I played at Sherwood until the start of my last year of bantams where my parents enrolled me at Mountain Lanes. I returned to Sherwood to bowl with my brother for his last year of YBC then went back to Mountain to finish my YBC career.

You switched between Sherwood and Mountain? Did that cause any dissention with folks? I've heard there was a "bit" of a rivalry between the two centres.
I was actually threatened to be fired once from Sherwood for switching back to Mountain Lanes. That speaks volumes of the dislike there was between the two places. Aside from that one year in seniors, my brother bowled at Sherwood and I played at Mountain. There was always the attitude that you always wanted to win, but if you didn’t win, you hoped to hell that other bowling alley wasn’t the one that finished first.

And what was your average throughout your time with the YBC program?
Bantam: around 150
Juniors: just under 200
Seniors: 255
I was around 215 or so after my first year of seniors. I went to a relatively new concept the following summer in my hometown of Hamilton called Bowling School and saw my average jump to nearly 240. Spending a week during the summer around the best in the province made me want to stand in their shoes one day more than anything. I think it was a real experience for me to see what was attainable if I worked hard.

Who coached you in your younger years?
There were a lot of people that I feel are responsible for where I am today. Obviously my parents, and my grandmother as well. They taught me goal setting and mental imagery even at a young age. Switching over to Mountain in bantams was one of the best moves for me. I was lucky enough to have Kristy Hyatt (now Luker) coach me in Bantams. She made bowling fun for me while having goals to go after. I remember bowling 287 in back to back weeks on the team she coached while still throwing with 2 hands. Juniors and Seniors had me learning from Mountain Lanes legends Don Hyatt and Mike Bentley. Bentley would spend hours on a Friday night coaching myself and another until sometimes 2am. That was the first time I ever had someone be critical of the shots I made. Sometimes I would throw strikes and he’d point out flaws still. He taught me that getting a good result sometimes isn’t reflective of throwing a good ball.

There were many Hamilton players about your age who have gone on to success in the adult ranks. Who were some of your rivals back then, and how much do you think it helps having lots of competition growing up?
The two that really come to mind are my brother John and Dave Birkby. Being 2 years younger than John and 1 year younger than Birkby really pushed me to work at my game. They were the bar that I set my standards on. To always have that bar set above anywhere you’ve ever reached before, by guys a couple years older than you really makes you WANT to be those guys when you get to their age. The general competition back then in Seniors was absolutely crazy in Hamilton. I remember qualifying for Senior Mixed with a 1428 for 5. My brother was over 1400 in second and third was just under 1400. Also, in my brother’s last year of YBC we fielded a team from Sherwood where everyone on the team was 245+ in average AND we fielded my brother as the singles competitor. To be surrounded by that level of competition even on a weekly basis in league, really gave you a sense of urgency to work hard at your game so that you didn’t get left behind.

Growing up in Hamilton, as you hit the adult ranks there were many great players to learn from. Who, in particular helped to positively influence your career?
There are a lot of people that took the time to make me better and there were always people that helped me get better without saying a word. I’ve always been strong at reading people and I spent A LOT of time watching people, how they attack situations, how they handled pressure and stuff like that. I found my game really took off after bowling a year with Mike Bates on a league team. I’ve implemented so many things from him into my game to this day. He was an elite player that I got to watch up close on a weekly basis AND talk to him about some of the smaller less noticeable parts of the game. He was always big on strategy and I took all that knowledge in over time. I also spent a lot of time watching Connie Ward, Brenda Walters, Matt Dragun and John Conti playing in elite situations and how they went about success. Watching those that succeed allows you to see what makes them into winners. Those players never saw success by accident, and to watch how they went to work and how they play the game is a valuable thing to take notice of.

Your Mom, Priscilla was a wonderful lady and a great supporter of our game. Sadly, she succumbed to cancer following a valiant battle with that terrible disease. When you were younger, you were "ultra" intense and I felt that sometimes your emotion and temper got the best of you. Following your Mom's passing, you seemed to really mature on the lanes and thus, your career really took off and your game went to the next level. Do you think this was coincidental as you were just a little older and wiser, or did the terrible ordeal of losing your Mom give you a little more "perspective" that there was more to life than bowling?
To say I was a "mommas boy" would've been an understatement. We shared the same birthday, were both left handed and worked at the bowling alley for years together. She was the reason I played competitive bowling and still is to this day. When she was diagnosed with terminal cancer I made her a promise that I'd win a Masters National title for her or win an event. Looking back at it now, I can't believe I made such a profound promise. I hadn't done ANYTHING of significance previous to that moment. I'll spare the details but there I was, in Gatineau QC, making a phone call to my mom with one game to go, having clinched the Gold. That's honestly the last time I've ever been nervous bowling. I don't remember much about that last game other than I barely held it together. It was a feeling of absolute joy while being torn into little pieces at the same time. Since that very moment I’ve played to make her proud. That would be where the difference lies. I still HATE to lose, but now the reasons are different. Anyone that knows me will tell you that I'm still beyond intense, I just harness that energy differently I guess.

During Open qualifying this year, you and your brother John battled for the last Singles spot? What was it like competing against your brother and how will the two of you get along on a team? Do you have any other previous memorable battles with John?
My brother and I are two peas in a pod. We play the game the same way and are intense to the very last ounce. I haven’t been lucky enough to play on the same team as my brother since YBC, and even then it was on a very rare occasion. I know how we’ll get along on the same team, however I fear for the rest of the team. Ha-ha. Over the past couple years he’s really worked hard to get where he is and it’s great to have him doing great things on the lanes. As for competing against my brother, I don’t really looking at it as against him. I am my brother’s biggest supporter and fan so I am pulling for him to reach success even if it means at my expense.

As for previous battles, I’d like to give you some crazy thrilling battle between my brother and I, but it hasn’t really happened. Coming up through YBC he was always way above my abilities in bowling and I was better known as John’s brother than as Jeff. A couple years after I was out of YBC my brother quit bowling altogether. It hasn’t been until the past couple years that he’s gone back to competitive bowling. I find that makes for an exciting future with hopefully many memorable battles yet to come, but battles where we’re on the same side, taking it out on others.

You've always had to compete in one of the deepest and most talented zones in Ontario, so your "years of Open experience" might pale to those who've always played in easier zones. Do you resent this, or do you appreciate the fact that every time you DO qualify, you'll be on a great team with a chance to win?
I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My girlfriend (Jen Galbraith) says Hamilton is like its own little world when it comes to bowling. We take our game very seriously here and we work really hard to get where we are. I think we all appreciate qualifying to make the Open, and I think everyone should regardless of where they play. You can’t take things for granted because things can change quickly and there’s always someone out there working hard to take your spot. Now that I live in a different zone, I still elect to play for Hamilton, not because I think one team has a better chance than another, but because I’ll always see myself playing for Hamilton, playing with my close friends that I grew up competing with.

As I mentioned above, in 2009 you went on an unbelievable run at the Open Provincials, amongst other things, averaging over 350 for 6 consecutive games. Were you aware of the numbers you were putting up, and how were you able to sustain that level for so long?
And did it help that, while you averaged over 300 for 14 games leading off, that Mitch Davies was shooting over 290 during that stretch while bowling 2nd?
First off, I don’t think Mitch has ever really gotten the recognition he deserves for not only playing at that level at the open, but doing it as a rookie. As for the bowling on my end, I really attribute the environment I was in for really being responsible for how I played. To start, as you said, I had Mitch bowling behind me averaging 290 in the 2 spot. There were games where I started on 5 or 6 in a row and was in danger of Mitch being ahead of me after 8 frames. That’s healthy competition. Second, if you look at the team, they were people I consider family. It’s easier to be comfortable in a pressure tournament when you have absolute trust in your teammates. You don’t worry about throwing the strike, because you have faith in the other guys being there to throw the strikes if you don’t.

The thing that I think makes The Open such a great tournament to play is that each game has the same importance. It’s nice to have a 350 game but starting the next game you’re right back at zero bowling against someone who doesn’t care what you had the next game. We all realized I was putting up some good scores but it wasn’t like there was a scoreboard to look at adding up each and every game. After we finished, and I got talking to people, I realized exactly the scores. To this day I still say that I’ll never bowl a day like that again.

Your run was one of the most amazing things I've seen so, as a fan, what are some of your most memorable bowling moments involving others?
3 definitely come to mind….I’ll save the toughest for the last, because it wasn’t more of a fan point of view, but much deeper.

1. Watching Kris Babuik dismantle the entire stepladder on his way to winning the Ontario Open singles. To say he was on fire wouldn’t fit the part. I wish I could remember his exact scores but all I remember was the crowd booing him every time he didn't throw a strike. And I can tell you, there weren’t many opportunities to boo, that’s for sure.

2. I remember Santo Chiodo and Jason Procher bowling at NEB’s in a Master’s event head to head match play. They both started on the first 9 against each other. Procher ended up tossing the last 3 strikes to win his match.
Ah yes, Santo picked in 10 for 387 and Jason struck out for 450. The funny part about that one was that Santo didn't know it was a double-knockout and thought he has done for the day.

3. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, they gave her 6 months tops to live. The following bowling season she was back bowling in league, averaging just under 200 while battling cancer. She was a fighter and a bowler to the very end.

You mentioned those who have helped you with your career, but simply as a fan, who do you enjoy watching?
I’ll answer this question in a different way to start, and then I’ll give you the more traditional answer. If I could create in my mind, the perfect bowler, I would take Connie Ward’s versatility, Brenda Walters’ consistency, Mitch Davies’ technical background, Jim Head’s release and Matt Dragun’s charisma. Each have amazing strengths but in different ways.

As for the more traditional answer, I’ve always enjoyed smooth fireballers like Matt Schultz, Lee Escott and Bernie Hipkins (duckpin). I think Eric Ridgeway throws the smoothest ball I’ve ever seen anywhere in the country. I’ve also definitely enjoyed watching my girlfriend Jen’s daughter Sam bowl in 4 Steps as well, knowing that she’s around the same level I was at the same age yet throws a way nicer ball than I did back then. The kids in YBC are the future of our game and their progress shows us where our game will be in the years to come.

What is your favourite centre to play at?
Definitely Sherwood. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that knows me. I don’t mean the Sherwood everyone sees for the Open at Easter time every year either. I mean the bowling alley you walk into week after week. That place can make you want to pull out your hair, tests your sanity and in the long run, makes you a better player. 48 lanes broken down into quads of 12, and I assure you those quads could be considered 4 different bowling alleys.

And what is your favourite tournament, and why?
Definitely the Ontario Open. I really think that you really wouldn’t understand how impressive this single event is until you’ve witnessed it. I’ve told YBC bowlers and anyone really looking to find that drive to be better to come by and just watch. It’s really something to see some of Ontario’s finest players, doing amazing things on the lanes in this pressure packed event. I mean, there are bowlers out there who base whether their entire season is a success or failure strictly around this tournament. The experience is just unbelievable from both a spectator and a bowler point of view.

Your career best game was 440, so I must ask, on the 12th shot did you miss or pick?
Pitched out right. Didn’t rush the shot, everything was smooth, I just flat out missed. I’d like to say I was rusty since it was the first game of the year in our Wednesday Pro League but the truth is, I’d been playing the Duckpin Tour in the States during the summer. I’ll get that 12th shot one of these days I’m sure.

You're coming off of a couple of excellent years on the lanes, but what accomplishments are still on your bowling "bucket list"?
I wouldn’t say I really have a bucket list I guess. I’d definitely like to play singles at the National level but if I don’t I won’t lose sleep over it. I think maybe priority number one would be to medal at the Open Nationals on the men’s team. Not necessarily for my own accord but I know that there’s a group of guys from here in Hamilton that have worked really hard to achieve some success at the National level and it’s escaped us to this day. If I was wearing a gold medal around my neck one day at the Open Nationals for singles and the guys I play with were there on the men’s team with their first gold as a group, I think be a bit disappointed not to be there standing with the other guys I consider my family. I’d pick a team title over singles any day just for the fact that I’d have others to share it with.

You've joined Connie Ward and others in going south to play on the Duckpin tour. Can you tell us about some of the differences between the two sports, and is there anything from your Duckpin experience that has helped your 5-pin game?
Connie, Brian Whalen and I have talked about the Duckpin game improving our 5pin games. Stepping back to really think about it, I think Duckpin has fine tuned my aim. In the Duckpin game, since there are 10 pins, you sometimes are shooting at pins that have no place in the 5pin game, which really makes you assess the path your ball must travel to hit them. If I shoot at the 8 pin in Duckpin, I would throw the ball that would travel between the headpin and the right 3pin in our 5pin game

As far as differences in the games go, there are a few, but they aren’t really striking differences. Both games use the same sized ball. (Although they allow for a 3lb 12oz) The Duckpin tours are organized in the way that you must check in 30 minutes before your shift, and they measure the diameter and the weight of all the bowling balls in your bowling bag to assure they’re within regulations. I think this is something that could be implemented into the game of 5pin. I know several people that use overweight or bowling balls beyond our size limitations. What’s the sense of having these limitations when they’re never enforced? The biggest adjustment I had to make while playing Duckpin would be the courtesy rule they have. Ours is ball for ball courtesy but Duckpin uses frame for frame courtesy. There were many times where I’d throw a shot and leave say, the 10 pin and step off the lane and look at the guy next to me. He’s waiting for me to shoot my spare shot before he can go. That took a good few games to get used to.

What are the main concerns you have with 5-Pin and what can be done to improve our game?
We need to be PROACTIVE to improve this game. I hear people frequently complaining about where the game is going or how everything’s gotten stale. Everyone involved in bowling is to blame- Our organizations, leagues and even down to the bowlers. If there are changes needed to be made to gain exposure or to slow reducing numbers, make changes. I understand that not all changes are a simple fix but I think everyone needs to check their egos at the door and work to fix any problems that they come across. Here in Hamilton we were at risk of our Wednesday Night Pro League folded due to reducing numbers. The league was always a Men’s league strictly and some of the prouder long standing members fought the concept of changing it to a mixed league. There were heated debates, hurt feelings etc, but finally we opened up the league to a mixed format and our numbers have soared. That’s not to say that we can get complacent now and that the league will be a success forever. Just like it took some of the bright young stars coming up in that league voicing their concerns and sharing their ideas to fix the league, we may see the same trend in the same league for a different fix years down the road. The world is constantly changing and bowling is no different. Bowling will only be as successful as we allow it to be.

I also carry the concern of how our future stars of the game are not getting the attention they deserve. I hear yearly at our Bowling School that they don’t really have access to coaching or they don’t know who to turn to for bowling advice. This is the main reason I started this blog site. I was really lucky to have bowled in Hamilton my entire life and was always surrounded by great players that taught me what I needed to be successful. Not everyone out there is that lucky. If we can’t bring the knowledge they need to the lanes, at least we have an internet source for them to check out, and get into contact with some stars and legends of our game from across the country.

And finally, what advice would you give to bowlers who are looking to improve?
Every bowler has strengths and weaknesses. I would offer that if you’re looking at improving your game, and let’s face it, we all are, then you should identify your weaknesses and work on them. If there is something you find that you’re not happy with, it won’t simply fix itself. It deserves the attention needed to improve that aspect in order you make you a stronger bowler altogether.

Also, challenge yourself. When I was in Juniors I joined an adult mixed league. The league had averages ranging from over 250 to 150. Being around the 200 range I strived to get my level to the higher tiered bowlers in the league while still in a comfortable environment. As I said before, there’s always room to improve and you should never take your abilities for granted. As NBA star Kevin Durant has said, “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

For those bowlers that are already in the higher percentage of average (I’m talking 230+ range), consider reading sports psychology books. I read a book called “The Talent Code” a few years ago and it really elevated my game and thought process. Right now, I’ve started reading a book called “Choke” that I’ve already found useful.

You've put a lot of time, effort and resources into this website, and I understand that you've gotten some positive feedback on it so far. Keep up the good work!
Thanks Steve, this site’s success is reflective of all the contributors’ time and effort to help improve our game and your contributions have gone a long, long way in where we are today on this site.

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