When I first went out on tour, I took note of the demeanor of a veteran player, Jeanne Maiden (Naccarato), during qualifying. After each game, we had to move to the next pair of lanes, and I followed Jeanne. I was coming onto her pair as she came off to go to the next one. I was taken by how constant her demeanor was, whether she had just bowled a 150 or a 250. If I had just shot a 150, you knew it! I was visibly upset. Mentally, I would just bounce off my last outcome into my next performance. My focus was clearly interrupted or at least inconsistent. But Jeanne never seemed to change her disposition or outwardly react to her performance. She was able to maintain the same focus regardless of the situation. She appeared unaffected and always on task to perform from game to game. She understood how important it was to maintain a constant focus and had obviously honed her skill to do so. I was thoroughly impressed. Developing this focus will lead to success.
Have you ever gotten so mad at leaving a 10 pin that you blew picking it up? I understand that it can be very frustrating to leave the corner pin, especially on a good shot. However, if you get so upset that you are unable to focus well enough to pick it up, how upset are you now after you miss it? You allowed your reaction to disrupt your focus, which led to missing the spare. And you had made a good shot to begin with. You just needed to make your spare and change your strategy to strike the next time.
Learning to control your emotions is a process, and it’s not easy! Just as I had finished writing about Jeanne, who impressed me so much, one of my students came into the pro shop. He had just watched a match I was in on YouTube. He was commenting on the focus I exuded. His timing was interesting to me. It dawned on me that he had happened to watch a video in which I was on top of my game. However, I immediately thought about the many times my focus was poor. It is humbling to think about the role focus, and the ability to refocus, plays in performance.
I have been to national amateur competitions and have competed professionally. It is amazing how much more common it is to see open frames come in clusters at the amateur level, whereas it is rare to see a professional follow an open frame with another open frame. This is because professionals recover more quickly from their mistakes than amateurs do, many of whom let a mistake linger in their heads. Professionals learn to manage and control their emotions to maintain focus. Furthermore, they learn how to refocus, regardless of the situation. Focus is essential to survive at the highest level, at which the mental game makes a big difference.
You can strike 10 times in a row at the beginning of a game or you can have an open in the previous frame. Theoretically, you should approach the next shot exactly as you did the previous one, regardless of the circumstance. Learning to maintain an even keel arms you with the ability to perform, regardless of the scenario. It’s you, the ball, and the pins. Every time.
Is It You or Your Strategy?
This can be a very tricky question! Let’s start out by declaring that you cannot outperform a bad ball reaction! Sometimes a bowler who is not bowling or scoring well tries to perfect his form for better results when a poor reaction on the lanes is really the problem. If your lane play strategy is not good and your ball reaction is poor, meaning that you have little to no room for error, you must improve your strategy to be able to make better shots. When you have a little bit of room for error, you make better shots because you can relax your swing.
Tightening up your swing is a subconscious reaction. That’s why it can be difficult to determine whether you or your reaction on the lanes (strategy) is the culprit. My personal story in chapter 5 of the Sam’s Town Invitational demonstrates the effect ball reaction truly has on the swing. I bowled for a living, and yet at times I didn’t realize that I had to change my strategy to loosen up, score, and in this case, win!
This is a lot to take in if you are the type of bowler who gets more upset about a bad shot than a bad break. You may tend to blame yourself and try to perfect your execution when you really need to change your lane play strategy. By adjusting your equipment, line, or release, you can create forgiveness in less-than-perfect shots. This will relax your swing and help you make better shots again.
Recognizing when the problem is your strategy can be difficult in the heat of battle. When you don’t realize that your reaction is causing you to make bad shots, your attempt to make more perfect ones only tightens you up more. Then, your poor results only frustrate you more, causing you to tighten up. I understand this all too well; I have been that player!
At the Sam’s Town Invitational, I was very upset with myself for the way I was throwing the ball. I became equally upset with my ball rep, Doene, for thinking it was the ball and not me. While I just knew I had to throw it better, he insisted that I try another ball. Suddenly, my swing loosened up! Had I not given in to the change in strategy, I would have kept trying to throw the ball more perfectly. But what Doene could see was that I had no room for error to be able to relax and let it happen.