accuracy, ball action, bowling, curve ball, downswing, fingertip grip, follow through, full-roller, hook ball, lift and turn, lifting power, release, spin, ten pin bowling, tenpin, turn, turning the ball
(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)
Most novice bowlers will naturally bowl the ball fairly straight and down the center of the lane. The ball will skid and then travel end over end the rest of the way down the lane. This isn’t the most effective way to score as the ball will deflect more and be likely to leave pins standing.
By turning the ball during delivery, the ball will roll in such a way that it follows a curved path and will result in better pinfall. Basically, the way to do this is to twist the hand and arm slightly just before release. The thumb will move from a 12 o’clock position to about a 10 o’clock position, while the fingers will move from a 6 o’clock position to about a 4 o’clock position at release.
It is important to get the hand underneath the ball at the start of the approach and maintain this position throughout the swing. Many bowlers trying a hook shot for the first time will bend their wrist too far back and will come over the top of the ball, with the fingers coming out at the same time as the thumb or even before the thumb.
They will also rotate their hand around in a fairly rapid, even violent movement. This will probably result in a ball that spins all the way down the lane like a top, gaining little or no turn. This delivery is popular in some Asian countries where lane conditions are poor and such a shot can be used to counteract them with good results. It is often called a helicopter shot and is aimed straight down the middle of the lane. However, on lanes with an even and generous coating of oil, the delivery is ineffective, and is likely to leave corner pins and pocket splits such as the 5-7 or 8-10, even if angled in from the first or second arrow.
By keeping a straight wrist throughout, the hand will remain under the ball as it comes to the bottom of the downswing. At this point let the thumb go loose and it should come out of the ball smoothly and easily. The ball is then left on the two bowling fingers (the middle and ring fingers) momentarily. This is where lift is generated.
Try and flick the fingers outwards and upwards as the ball is about to come off the fingers. The action is rather similar to bringing your fingers up the side of a tennis ball when thrown underarm, or an American football for that matter, with your fingers at about 4 o’clock. You will see the ball spin sideways as it goes through the air. Your bowling ball should spin in a similar manner as it travels down the lane, the spinning motion being in an anticlockwise direction for right-handers.
A proper follow through is essential too. The instant after release, the hand and arm should keep following the same line, that is, they should extend out in front of you and upwards in one fluent movement. Your hand should finish in the handshake position, like you’re reaching up to shake the hand of a giant. Your arm will finish about 45 degrees past the horizontal position, although this will vary from bowler to bowler and on how quickly you come out of the ball.
Some bowlers will bend their arm after the release as a natural part of their follow through. Generally a straight arm is recommended. Other bowlers will bend their arm before release, giving the ball extra lift, or have their arm bent throughout the swing. For novice and intermediate bowlers, it’s best to keep the arm straight as much as possible, to get better accuracy.
Spin or turn can also be generated by not rotating the hand during release, but by holding the hand at the right side of the ball or between the back and right side of the ball (for a right hander). This will result in a curved ball which will travel down the lane in a fairly even curve, with the spin on the ball looking pretty much the same for the length of the lane. This shot could be quite effective in years gone by, when accuracy was more important than action. The problem with it is that it can fade over the last 10 or 20 feet and doesn’t quite come up into the pocket all that strongly.
On today’s oily conditions and with the urethane and reactive resin bowls, a hook ball will be more effective than the curve ball (and be far more effective than a straight ball or a spinner). A hook ball travels down the lane in a straight line or with a slight curve for the first 38 feet or so (the length of the oil), and will then grip the lane and ‘flip,’ before turning sharply into the pocket.
A hook ball can be achieved by turning the ball. This can be done in a number of ways. It can be achieved by keeping the thumb at 12 o’clock through the swing, including at release. The bowler then turns the ball with the fingers. This might be difficult for many bowlers as there is only a split second between the thumb release and when the ball leaves the fingers.
A better way for many bowlers will be to rotate the arm in order to move the thumb from 12 o’clock to about 10’clock and the fingers from 6 o’clock to 4 o’clock. It is best to do this mainly by turning the arm, rather than mainly the wrist. Turning with the wrist alone is likely to result in topping the ball, and a delivery that slides too far. Also, by turning the wrist alone, the risk is that the thumb will come out last. This will result in a ball that slides and spins all the way to the pins with hardly any turn. Such a shot will need to be just about millimeter perfect to get a strike.
Another way to bowl a hook is to move the arm and hand outwards in the upswing, so that the thumb is at about 1 or 2 o’clock at the top of the swing, and then rotate the arm the other way in the downswing, bringing the thumb to the 10 o’clock position at release. Some bowlers perform this whole action on the downswing, but it is difficult to master and may result in loss of accuracy and a weaker roll for the novice and intermediate bowler.
In the old days, many bowlers used to move the bowl the other way, that is, with the thumb going from 12 o’clock to 9 o’clock or even right round to 6 o’clock, and then back to about 10 o’clock at release. This results in a full roller, which is a curve ball rather than a hook ball and is less effective on today’s conditions and with the modern bowling balls.
Remember that in order to bowl an effective hook ball, both turn and lift are essential. Also important are a host of other factors. You will need the right equipment, which means balls with resin or particle cover. A plastic ball is good for spares as it will travel straighter. The balls need to be drilled properly, based on your hand and fingers and the way you bowl. A fingertip grip will greatly enhance your lifting power, compared with conventional grip where your fingers go into the finger holes up to the second knuckle. Good timing throughout the approach and swing are necessary, as is a strong and clean release, and proper follow through.
Get your local ball driller to watch you bowl a game and ask them to drill you an appropriate set of bowling balls in the way that is best suited to your game and the way you lift and turn the ball.