In general terms, footwork refers to the way in which a bowler approaches the foul line in order to throw the ball down the lane. While it may seem a pretty straight forward task, footwork plays a very important role in bowling a consistent and high scoring game. This article aims to improve your footwork by explaining in detail the major concepts behind reaching consistent and effective methods of approach.
At the highest levels, bowlers will manipulate ball speed, axis rotation, and other elements related to the transfer of energy to the bowling ball. At the average level, league bowlers will also slightly modify elements of their game with varying degrees of effectiveness. In either case, the bowler’s ability to adapt the transfer of energy to the bowling ball depends first on the ability to generate that energy. Since your legs account for more than 50 percent of your power, it’s a very important part of improving your game.
Your initial stance should provide you with the groundwork for completing an effective approach. First, there are four main stances that bowlers generally use. The following is an adapted list from Tyrel Rose that breaks down these categories:
- Parallel- this places the feet shoulder-width apart and directly parallel to one another.
- Staggered Apart- placing the right or left foot (depending on dominance) slightly back in relation to the other. Like the parallel stance, the feet remain roughly shoulder-width apart.
- Staggered Together- The right or left foot is moved slightly back in relation to the other foot but the distance between feet is significantly shorter.
- Perpendicular – The dominant foot faces straight out while the other foot is brought at an angle behind the first creating what resembles an italicized “T.”
Tyrel Rose also explains in Bowling This Month why these stances are generally bad. He states “most beginners will start with a parallel foot alignment and (Position 1). This usually doesn’t lead to a good approach as no one actually walks with their feet shoulder-width apart and the first step forward will be immediately spent bringing the feet together to correct the odd initial distance. The same is true for Position 2. Having this position with the feet too far apart slows your approach because, once you start walking, one foot or the other will have to go diagonally toward the other one to close the distance.”
Position 4 is also generally a bad stance for several reasons. First, the position of the feet is generally not firm because players typically put all their weight on the back of their forward heel, leaving their back foot on the ball of the foot and their back heel in the air. For an effective stance, both heels should be on the floor. Second, your hips are more open not aligned with your shoulders and caused a twist in your spine. You should only rotate your spine during the back swing. Third, your back foot must travel around the lead foot when it starts to move and that foot ends up traveling a greater distance, which will change the distance it takes you to approach.
The minimum total length required for a regulation size bowling alley is 86′-6″. This includes the 16′ foot approach and 60 foot lane. The remainder of the space is made up of the pinsetter and service alley located behind the pinsetter. This means you have a 16 foot distance in which to complete your approach. Most people approach like this: Walk three steps in a straight line, then slide directly in line with the preceding step. You start your steps on the right foot for right-handers and end with your right foot behind your left. If you have a lower stride length you may need to adjust the number of steps you take or the distance from which you begin your approach. If you have a longer Stride Length, you may need to decrease the number of steps or start farther back.
Additionally, some bowling experts believe that the last step in your approach should be the longest while others believe it is the first step that should be the longest. Practice with both to see which provides you with the best results.
No matter what your initial stance or the number of steps you take to complete your approach, the number one rule to remember is to be consistent. Doing the same thing every time provides you with enough information to accurately identify whether or not that method is helping or hindering your game. Once you’ve found a stance and approach that are comfortable and work for you, the key is to practice that over and over until the method becomes muscle memory. Then, when you are faced with difficult splits, spares, or oil patterns you’ll be able to put more focus into the actual problem.
Direction and Drift:
The direction in which you walk and your ability to combat drift is also an important area of the bowling approach. But in order to understand drift, you need to know what the dots and arrows on the boards mean. First of all, the boards are about one inch wide and there are 39 of them from the edge of each gutter. The boards are thus centered on board #20. The boards are number right-to-left and left-to-right in order to support both left and right handed bowlers. If you look at lane close up, there will either be five dots on the deck or seven (that difference depends on which lane manufacture built your bowling center and to some extent when it was done). The distance between each of these dots is five boards, and therefore, five inches apart. The dots thus mark boards numbered 10, 15, 25, and 30 (or also 5 and 35). At the foul line, the same dots usually appear on the same boards. The dot on board #20 is sometimes slightly larger, making it easier to find your place.
If you start on board 20 and slide on board 19 every single time, you are not necessarily drifting. You are simply not walking straight. Drifting is considered any major movement across the boards that prevents you from delivering the ball cleanly. The worst thing you can do is walk to the right (drifting.) Walking right (for righties) is inefficient because it disrupts your backswing and forces you to move the ball around your leg (and body) to send it down the lane in the right direction. You’re more likely to gutter ball if you swing the ball around your body and release on the angle it produces. Additionally, you won’t have control over your hook or when dealing with difficult oil patterns. For lefties, these directions are reversed.
You will also want to take in to account the amount of power you need to put into the ball. Being able to control the amount of force or energy you are able to put into the ball before you throw it can help achieve a better score. While much of timing has more to do with your back swing, having consistent rhythm between the movement of the ball and your footwork is important. If you are taking steps faster than you are able to draw back the ball and swing it forward, you have what is considered Late Timing. This causes you to lose forward momentum because your body has stops at the foul line before you have completed your swing. On the other hand, starting the draw back on the ball before your begin taking steps will cause you to have to take faster steps to catch up with the ball. This is known as Early Timing. Taking more or fewer steps can also help you maintain a consistent timing in which the ball and your feet are moving together in a way that puts the most energy into the ball as it is released.
Other Mechanics to Approach:
Knee continuation is the action where the knee continues to move forward after the foot has come to a stop in the slide. This allows the bowler to maintain more stability and also improves the power flow from the feet to the upper body when transferring energy to the ball.
Also, a bowler’s power should be derived more from their legs than their arms, as the leg muscles are much larger and stronger. Many bowlers try to use their arm muscles to produce speed and this is not as effective.