By Dustin Zehner, 2016 U20 Junior Gold Runner-Up
As easy as it may seem to go out and bowl your first tournament, odds are you aren’t going to achieve success right away. But it all depends on how you identify success. For me, success didn’t come in the form of winning until I was 16 (I bowled my first tournament at age 11). However, I did find success from learning new things at each tournament I attended - whether it be how to play the lanes on a certain pattern or different ball choices that looked best for me. Looking back, there are some things I wish I would have thought of or known when I was first starting off as a tournament bowler. So here are the top 6 things I wish I knew when I started bowling competitively.
It takes time. Learn from every experience you can.
Going into your first couple tournaments, it’s great to have the attitude that you are going to win. After you come short of achieving your goal multiple times, it can often become very frustrating. I had these feelings for my first 5 years bowling competitively, although they are hard to suppress, being able to reflect on a tournament and understand what went well (or what didn’t) will help you grow as a bowler. Here are some questions you may ask yourself following a tournament.
Do I feel like I played the lanes the right way? Was there a certain area of the lanes others were playing that were achieving success?
Did I keep my head in the game and learn from every shot regardless if it was good or bad?
How open was I to trying new things when what I was doing wasn’t quite working?
Questions like these will allow you to not only learn more about the game but they will allow you to progress as a bowler. Keeping a journal to store your thoughts can also be beneficial to come back to at a later date for reflection.
Your mental game is just as important as your physical game
Starting off as a competitive bowler, I didn’t have the best mental game. I would often times let my frustration get the best of me. This not only made me struggle while bowling; but it also gave me the mindset that the day was worthless. This mindset didn’t allow me to see the positives that I may have achieved. If you're not bowling well, staying mentally happy can be very challenging at times; however, it is very beneficial. This not only allows you to grow as a bowler but also as a person. For me, the mental game was the hardest thing I had to learn in bowling. It took me a long time to feel like a had a grasp of it. There are many books out there that can help you figure out a method for you to stay calm while in a bowling center.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Your time spent outside of the tournament setting and in a center practicing is where you are going to excel as a bowler. One quote that has stuck with me is “practice with a purpose.” This means know what you’re going to work on going into your practice session. In practice, you work out the kinks in your game as well as work to learn new things. But often times we don’t learn what we were wanting to in the first 10 shots. It may seem like you’re getting it down but it takes you a minimum of 500 shots to feel like you can really replicate your change every time without having to think about it. Shot replication is key while practicing so you can nail down what you are working on. Another tip I can give about practicing is one that my coaches at Purdue give us all the time: “15-20 minutes of great practice is better than 2 hours of bad practice.” We all have busy lives and can’t revolve our lives around bowling all the time; however, on the days we don’t have much time, it’s better to go in and grind out 20 minutes of great work rather than an hour of bad work - or even none at all.
Here are some things I would recommend implementing into all of your practices
Targeting (hitting different marks on the lane)
Surround yourself with the right people
Being around people who believe in you is very important to your future success. Having these people will not only encourage you to keep growing. They will always have your back no matter what. Some people that I attribute to my success are my parents, my girlfriend, and my Purdue teammates. These people always have encouraged me to keep battling to be the best and always have my back if I ever need anything. They are also there if I am having a bad day on or off the lanes. Finding these people that will do this for you can be beneficial to you growing as a bowler and as a person.
At Junior Gold last year, I can attribute a lot of my success to these people. My parents and girlfriend kept encouraging me. My Purdue teammates helped me out with lane play. I can’t thank them enough.
They are always there for you - no matter what.
Take advantage of your resources
In the modern digital age that we live, we have access to so much knowledge. YouTube is a great resource to learn different things about the game. Watching other bowlers can be beneficial to you - not only to see how they throw it; but to see how they play the lanes as well as what they do when the lanes break down.
Here are some great resources:
Next Level Bowling by Norm Duke - helpful to both beginners and more experienced players.
Analysis of the Modern 10-Pin Bowling Swing and Release by Dean Champ - shows slow motion videos of a lot of pro bowlers and describes some important aspects of the game for anyone.
Google is also a great source of information to learn just about anything you want to learn about the game.
Coaches are also an amazing resource to take advantage of and learning from them can often be the most helpful advice you could get.
Don’t EVER give up
Probably the most important tip I can give you is to never give up on your dreams. No one ever said becoming a good bowler would be easy. There are going to be frustrating times and those are going to make you want to give up and never bowl competitively again. Always striving to get better so you can reach your goals is an amazing feeling - but it can be very hard. So as long as you do your best, success is going to come to you. It just takes time.
One of these hard times for me was at Junior Gold 2 years ago. I told my dad, “I'm not going to bowl anymore; I can’t bowl well in this tournament so what’s the point?” He responded, “Success is right around the corner, trust me.” Little did I know he would be right. So all I can say is always keep working to improve and your hard work will be rewarded.