A Lesson in Advanced Bowling Lane Condition Recognition and Applicable Motor Skills

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Introduction: Bowlers who compete in tournament play often encounter different lane conditions and oil breakdown patterns compared to league-level conditions. This lesson is about “carry-down”, a phenomenon where the lane oil is physically moved by bowling balls from the head area of the lane to the backend area, which causes a change in ball reaction over long periods of tournament play.

To compete effectively under advanced tournament conditions, bowlers must be aware of the factors that affect carry-down, observe the reaction of their bowling balls as lane conditions change, recognize when conditions change, and use techniques to adjust one’s delivery to maintain consistently high quality impact and traction through the pin deck.

Who is this lesson for?: A bowler may apply these techniques once he or she has achieved a level of proficiency with:
  • Consistently and accurately striking a rangefinder target within one or two boards on every strike ball delivery.
  • Tracking or following the path of the bowling ball as it proceeds down the lane, and recalling its position at key distances down the lane, i.e. at the rangefinder arrows, at the breakpoint, at the point of impact with the pins, and at the point where the ball exits from the back edge of the lane.
  • Observing the pattern of pinfall to recall how each pin was struck to cause it to fall, such as which adjacent pin caused it to fall, or how the ball struck the pin to cause it to fall in a particular way.
  • Observing and recalling the order by which each pin fell compared to other pins on any particular delivery.
Bowlers must also be familiar with common terms for equipment and the names for each segment of the bowling delivery act: stance, pushaway, backswing, slide, header, splice, backend, etc.

Part 1 – The Conditions of Tournament Play

Lane Oil Pattern Dark blue = heavy oil Light blue = light oil Brown: dry Red: track area

Unlike league play, tournament rules often require that you move to a new pair of lanes after every game. With dozens, or sometimes hundreds of other competitors, lane conditions can wear away where most bowlers roll the ball (see fig. 1: the track area indicated in red).

Take a look at the following video and you will notice how the ball marks a trail as it rolls down the lane, taking with it a small amount of absorbed oil. Multiply this by hundreds or thousands of shots, and you can imagine how a lane condition can be affected.

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Part 2 – Your equipment

ball

Fig. 2: The yellow marks represent the accumulation of oil on the ball as it rolls down the lane

Your ball absorbs lane oil as it rolls through the first 30-35 feet of the lane surface (see Figure 2). The oil is then rubbed off from the ball onto the dry backend, which is the last 15 feet before the pin deck.

This “rubbing off” phenomenon is called carry-down, and causes the ball to delay its critical hooking action prior to striking the pins. This delay, or “fade”, reduces the ball’s traction on impact with the pins, which causes the ball to slightly deflect, rather than drive straight through the pin deck. For right-handers, this often results in leaving a 10-pin, like in the previous video. Notice how the ball strikes the pins, then deflects to the right instead of driving straight through.


Part 3 – Analysis and Adjustments

Your analysis of the pin action must come before you make any adjustment. Follow these steps:

Fig. 3: Notice the 10-pin is the last pin to fall in this shot!

Step 1: Assuming you are bowling consistently well and under no fatigue, observe which pin falls last on every strike ball delivery (see figure 3). On a well-delivered shot, when the 10-pin falls noticeably late (7-pin for left-handers), it is a clue that your ball is starting to fade or “push” slightly, perhaps because the lane condition is changing due oil carry-down.

Step 2: With this feedback, mentally go through your “loop” of pre-delivery setup

  • Position of feet on the approach – both lateral and distance from foul line
  • Position of ball (height) at stance
  • Hand position (angle) implying axis of ball rotation on delivery
  • Sighting target at rangefinder arrows
  • Previous delivery experiences
  • Estimated changes in lane conditions, in progress
  • Recollection of observations of other players’ experiences
  • Psychological preparation for delivery
  • Visualization of delivery
  • Delivery
  • Position of feet on the approach – both lateral and distance from foul line
  • Position of ball (height) at stance
  • Hand position (angle) implying axis of ball rotation on delivery
  • Sighting target at rangefinder arrows
  • Previous delivery experiences
  • Estimated changes in lane conditions, in progress
  • Recollection of observations of other players’ experiences
  • Psychological preparation for delivery
  • Visualization of delivery
  • Delivery

Step 3: Consider which of the following adjustment options in your “loop” you are most comfortable with executing:

OPTION #1 – Lower your pushaway, which reduces your backswing and reduces ball speed.

OPTION #2 – Move your starting point backwards on the approach six inches, which should cause you to slide six inches further away from the foul line. This gives your ball more distance to generate hook and traction.

OPTION #3 – On the approach, move your starting point one board to the right (to the left, for left-handers) while keeping the same target at the rangefinder arrows. This pivots your arc of delivery slightly inward, and more inside the 1-3 pocket.


Part 4 – Practice

The best way to practice these techniques is to bowl at least 5 games on a single lane, using the exact same approach and lane target alignment. After about 3-4 games, you will begin to notice the effects of carry-down. Try each of these adjustments, with different degrees of each adjustment to see the effects on ball reaction.

But try only one adjustment at time. If you make more than one adjustment, you may not know whether the ball and pin reactions are as a result of either one or the other adjustment. There may be times where you will only need the subtlety of one adjustment without the other. You can try combinations of adjustments once you have a good sense of how each individual adjustment affects the end result.