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Three Zones of the Preshot Routine

By Douglas Wiedman

You have been practicing hard, you are satisfied with your progress, and now you are confident in your ability to perform. You’re ready to bowl, right? Wait just a second. No shot should be made without a little bit of forethought. It is true that competence inspires confidence, but many athletes, even highly skilled ones, do not perform well in competitive situations.

Diligent practice is certainly the first key to becoming a skilled player. When competition starts, though, there is another level to consider. You must be in control of your emotions. Sure you are excited, but are you excited to the point of distraction? Are you focused on your performance? Are you analyzing changes in playing conditions? Can you avoid having your opponent’s good breaks, or your bad ones, send you on an emotional roller coaster? Bowling is a game of repetition. It is also an intensely private affair. Nothing your opponent does can prevent you from executing a great shot. Are you ready to make that next great shot? The key is having a preshot routine.

Each section of the bowler’s area of focus is a staging zone for the next level of intensity. Find opportunities to relax. Take time to analyze what is going well, what is not going well, and why. Make decisions. Find a place where distractions are set aside and strategy can be developed. Remember this great quote from PBA hall-of-famer Johnny Petraglia. When discussing his outstanding seasons on the PBA tour in the early 1970s, Petraglia said, “In my head I knew I had thrown a strike. I only had to let go of the ball so that everyone else would know it, too.”

The area on and immediately near the lanes can be separated into three zones of focus. Each zone has a mind-set and routine particular to it. The bowler uses these zones to recover from the last frame and prepare and implement a strategy for the next one.

Decompression Zone:
Relaxation and Contemplation

Zone one is the staging area for your next performance (figure 2.1). Do not let yourself become overly excited or overly upset. Extreme emotions make it difficult to recover before the next shot, so maintain an even keel. An athlete cannot sustain high levels of excitement or intensity indefinitely. The body will begin to tighten up, and the mind will lose its focus, negatively affecting performance. Take advantage of every opportunity to relax, to lower your heart rate, to temporarily remove yourself from the emotions of the situation. Bowling’s equivalent to the sidelines of other sports is the settee area.

Grab a seat. Take a deep breath, exhaling slowly. As you breathe out, feel all the tension draining from your body. Talk with teammates. Bowling is a social game, so socialize. This is the opportunity to moderate the emotional ups and downs of the current competitive situation. All athletes feel pressure. Everybody gets excited about the good shots and disheartened by the poor ones. The athletes who can regain control of their emotions and prevent those emotions from influencing physical performance are most likely to perform well in pressure situations. A relaxed conversation or a shared joke with a teammate may be just the thing to relieve tension or dispel anxiety.

Discuss what is happening with the lanes. Don’t just sit there and stew about your last shot, angry and confused. Your teammates are bowling on the same lanes; perhaps they have insights and observations that will help you get better scores. Don’t think you have to do it all on your own. Ask for their help.

Determine a strategy. In this zone, think about your last shot. Analyze what made the last throw particularly good or particularly bad. You cannot completely ignore what is going on in your game or the competitive environment, but you must adopt a relaxed, rational, contemplative view of your performance. You have little time from one turn to the next, so take advantage of every break in the action. Soon you will need to regain your focus, recognize your mistakes, and implement a plan of action. When it is nearly time for your next turn, get ready to go to zone two, the refocus zone.

Decompression Zone Drill. Using Downtime

Use your time in the decompression zone to regain control of your emotions, gain insights from teammates, and relax in preparation for your next shot. Use the success checks to guide your time in zone one.

Success Check

  • Practice relaxation techniques, including breathing control and muscle relaxation.
  • Quench negative thoughts. Focus on the positive.
  • Analyze your performance on the last shot.
  • Discuss strategy with teammates.
  • Commit to needed changes.

Score Your Success

Give yourself 2 points for each element of the checklist you successfully incorporate into your routine in zone one. Give yourself an additional 2 points if you are relaxed and focused when you move into zone two for the next shot.

Your score ___

Refocus Zone: Strategy and Decision

The area just in front of the approach is zone two, the refocus zone (figure 2.2). As the bowler ahead of you starts his next frame, get up from your seat and make your way toward the approach. Frequently bowlers step onto the approach clearly not ready to bowl because they weren’t paying attention. The unprepared bowler finds himself hurrying to get ready and make the next shot. Do not fall into this trap. Give yourself time to prepare.

Before stepping onto the approach, you must wipe all doubts from your mind. Make decisions based on discussions with your teammates and your own thoughts about your previous performance. Believe in the correctness of those decisions.

Establish an intelligent, well-organized plan of action, devoid of all emotion. Do not think about the score or how badly the team needs you to strike. Thinking about the product takes the focus away from the process. It is better to think about how you should bowl rather than what you want to bowl. If the process is sound and the strategy is well implemented, the results are inevitable.

Visualize the next shot. Imagine you have a video running in your head, allowing you to see yourself making a perfect shot. See the roll of the ball. See the ball’s path to the pins. See the pins falling down.

Finalize your strategy. Know what you want to do on the next shot. Know where you will stand on the approach. Know which target you will aim for and what part of the lane to play. Decide what body position, swing, and release you will use to make the next throw effective.

At this point, awareness of your game becomes your total focus. Your teammates fade into the background, as do the other bowlers. You no longer are distracted by sounds—you don’t hear the background music, the sounds of the video games, or other people’s conversations. You are aware only of yourself, the lane, and your ball. If distractions keep intruding, step away from the lane for a few seconds. Take a deep breath, then return to your ball, ready to bowl.

Understand the mistakes made in the last frame and what you need to do to make a better shot. Now with clarity of thought and great confidence, take your place in zone three, the energy zone.

Refocus Zone Drill. Preparing for the Next Throw

In the refocus zone, eliminate any distracting thoughts from your mind, and focus on your game. Use the success checks to guide your preparation in zone two.

Success Check

  • Devise a plan of action.
  • Visualize the next shot.
  • Be confident; believe you will perform well.
  • Block out distractions from the environment.

Score Your Success

Give yourself 2 points for each element you successfully incorporate into your preparation in the refocus zone. Give yourself an additional 2 points if you are relaxed and focused as you move into zone three.

Your score ___

Energy Zone: Visualization and Affirmation

As you step onto the approach, you enter the energy zone (figure 2.3). This is the zone of the positive affirmation and the preshot routine. This is the zone in which you feel reenergized, ready to take on the challenge of the next frame. Zone three is the stage from which you will make your next great bowling performance.

Developing a simple and consistent preshot routine is vital for the mental and physical preparation immediately preceding the next throw of the ball. A good preshot routine prepares the body and clears the mind of distracting thoughts. Have a short mental checklist of items to go over. Ideally, go over your mental checklist in the same order before every throw of the ball. Remember, as each item of the checklist is recalled, physical preparations for throwing the ball are being made. Everybody’s routine is different, but figure 2.4 should give you some ideas.

When you first step onto the approach, the ball should be in your nonthrowing hand. Remember, you are not ready to bowl yet. Set your feet and get into a comfortable stance. After checking your target on the lane, say a positive affirmation to yourself. Visualize your approach and target line; see the ball path from the release, through the target, to the break point, and into the pins. Make sure the ball feels right on your hand, that it fits comfortably and snugly, not too loose and not too tight. Repeat your positive affirmation and breathe again. Set your body and the ball, focus on your target, and go.

When you are on the approach, it is not the time to think about your conversations with your teammates or the people laughing and fooling around behind you. If the distractions are too great, simply step back off the approach. Wait until the hubbub subsides, then restart the preshot routine.

When you are on the approach, at no point should you think about your opponent’s score or your own. Nothing your opponent can do will prevent your next throw from being anything short of outstanding. Don’t worry about your opponent. Bowl against the pins, not the person.

Don’t dwell on how badly your team needs the next strike or how high a score you can get. Don’t be concerned about the outcome. Concern yourself with the process. Ask yourself what needs to be done. Remember, if the process is correct, the outcome is inevitable.

In the energy zone, you will use a positive affirmation. A positive affirmation is like a mental vacuum cleaner; it cleans up all the unnecessary mental junk and leaves behind only what is essential. An affirmation is a short, simple statement that is easy to repeat over and over. It should be in the form of a positive statement. Focusing on the negative only produces a negative result. Overcorrecting a mistake only produces another kind of mistake. Instead of “Don’t pull the ball,” tell yourself, Swing to the target. Rather than “Don’t turn the hand early,” think, Stay behind the ball. After the throw, assess the result of the affirmation. Did you feel what you wanted to feel? Did your body follow through with the course of action you had in mind? If so, try to feel it again. If not, try to figure out why. Try it again, or rethink your plan of action. Here is a short list of potential affirmations:

  • Drop and drive.
  • Hips down, head up.
  • ICE—I carry everything. (Team USA)
  • Swing, swing free, swing to the target. (Earl Anthony’s preshot mantra)
  • One, two, and through. (Dick Ritger’s count for footwork pacing)
  • Feel it, don’t force it.
  • Kick and tuck. (Clear the back leg, and let the swing come down next to the hip.)
  • Stay behind the ball.
  • Reach out, then up. (Swing along visualized target line to prevent cutting swing short.)
  • Swing down and through. (Avoid hitting the release early.)

This is an excerpt from Bowling.

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