My bowling roots run deep. I had the same bowling-alley birthday party we all had at age 8. But unlike you, I just … kept bowling. I joined a league in the fourth grade and was on my varsity bowling team in high school—which is actually a whole thing in Michigan.
But it doesn't take all that much commitment to learn how to bowl. You just have to hit the lanes more than the one (or two) times per year that you do now, spend a smidge more money, and accept that this seemingly simple, fun sport has its nuances. And hey, figuring out those complexities makes the game way more entertaining.
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The feeling of the ball hitting the pins, and hearing and seeing them fall down, is deeply gratifying. We’ve all felt that instantaneous reward—it’s about control and chaos. You’re the reason that ball is traveling down that lane, at that speed, hitting the pins in that way. And the action occurs so far away from where it started, seeing as bowling lanes are about 60 feet long from the foul line to the center of the head pin. In that way, it’s like throwing a water balloon, or shooting a clay pigeon.
Dr. Dean Hinitz, sports psychologist for Team USA bowling, says the satisfaction of bowling, the ball rolling down the lane and crashing against the pins, boils down to four factors: experience of mastery, sense of autonomy, purpose, and relatedness to others.
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“Bowling is a sport that, from beginning to end, the experience of being able to progress and gain some mastery quickly is on a different rate and pace than most other sports,” Hinitz says. “Very few sports afford such an ability to have a signature way to do it—it’s inherently satisfying to say here’s where I am and I’m going to do something; there’s a goal and I can reach it.”
Can I Take Lessons for Bowling?
Yep! At lessons.com, you can find a teacher by taking a short survey and selecting your location. Typically, you'll spend between $25 to $120 per hour, depending on where you live. If you’re looking for a free option, you can use YouTube to study the form of coaches and pros to get started.
Sadly, there isn’t a Masterclass on “How to Bowl” just yet.
How Much Does It Cost to Bowl?
Starting out, you can use the house balls at the alley. The only cost will be renting a lane and a pair of shoes (around $30). When you're ready to purchase your first ball, go to your local pro shop (often located in the alley itself) and speak with the staff about what you're looking for in your game.
Once you determine your coverstock material (see below), they'll help you determine a weight that's suited to your body, and measure your hand so the ball will be customized for your grip. You’ll be paying for the cost of the ball and customization, plus labor (around $250).
How Do I Pick a Ball?
When you start to learn how to bowl, you want a bowling ball that feels heavy, but not so heavy that you struggle to roll it down the lane and are left sore the next day. You want the throw to feel effortless, but not so easy that you’ll throw the ball into the TV screen (it’s happened). The only other important factor is the finger holes: Your fingers should feel snug in them, but not so snug that your thumb pops out on release instead of smoothly exiting the ball.
What’s the Deal With Those Lane Markings?
Those markings have three purposes for you when learning how to bowl: to help you perfect your stance, approach, and throw. But the lane helps you in some less obvious ways, too.
🎳 BOARDS: There are 39 boards on a lane, about one inch wide. They help determine where to place your feet and target your shot, along with the three rows of dots on the approach. For your first shot, place your sliding shoe (it should be opposite of the hand you bowl with, so if you bowl with your right hand, it would be your left shoe) on the center dot of the first or second row. Once you find a good starting spot, be consistent for every first ball you throw.
🎳 FOUL LINE: The line that separates the approach from the playing surface and where the oiled surface begins.
🎳 DOTS AND ARROWS: These will help guide your ball into the pocket or to the pin you're trying to hit. The dots before the foul line guide your approach, and the dots after the line help you see where your ball is heading. Also for aim, at 15 feet past the foul line, seven arrows show the path of your ball.
🎳 BREAKPOINT: The part of the lane where your ball begins to hook back into the pocket (hopefully) and can show you the results of the targets you picked on the lane. If you're not achieving the shot you’re trying to make, adjust your alignment, target, ball, or throwing speed.
What About the Accessories?
🎳 Bowling bag: You can’t just roll your ball into the alley. We’d recommend a choice of either a rolling bag, backpack, or tote.
🎳 Wrist support: To help keep your wrist as straight as possible, although it's not critical (Storm Bowling Universal Wrist Brace).
🎳 Towel: To clean your ball in between frames. It keeps lane oil from collecting on the ball and helps extend the life of your ball (Brunswick Microfiber EZ Grip Towel).
🎳 Bowling shoes: Get rid of the gross factor and add some comfort and down-to-business swagger to your game.
🎳 New-Skin: Because you can’t fit a Band-Aid inside that custom-drilled thumbhole (New-Skin Liquid Bandage).
🎳 Rosin: Gripping powder for sweaty palms (Storm Scented Grip Bag).
Also called Bedposts, it’s one of the hardest splits to pick up as you have to get the corner pin to slide all the way over the lane. The Greek Church is the hardest split.
The person who bowls last on a team in league play. Usually the best bowler on team, cool under pressure.
Thank goodness for that Brooklyn.
I wasn’t able to get a strike the traditional way. The ball had to cross over to the other side of the head pin opposite to how I threw it.
You went the extra mile and got four consecutive strikes instead of being satisfied with a turkey (three strikes in a row).
Didn’t see that sleeper.
I didn’t pick up the spare because I didn’t adjust my throw to account for that pin directly behind the 1, 2, or 3 pin.
Can This Just Be a Hobby?
I thought “league night” was for extremely serious, super-competitive bowling people, but I was wrong—everyone is welcome in bowling! It’s usually an all-ages, all-abilities situation. You’ll be better than some, worse than some.
You can join a league either by stopping by your alley of choice and inquiring within, or through Google. Depending on the alley, you can either go in blind—where they find a team for you—or with a group of friends, coworkers, or family. You may get intimidated by the seasoned pros, but remember that even if you bowl a 37, you’re still improving and you get to have fun while you flub.
So...When Will I Become Amazing?
For the once-a-year bowler, it might take only a few games to see improvement. Pro bowler Jason Belmonte says, “There’s so much instruction scattered through YouTube. Study it. Then put it into practice on the lanes. Be patient. Give yourself time to understand how bowling works.”
There are two ways to judge decency: score and hook. And they’re related. Hooking the ball allows it to roll into the pins at an angle and do more damage. Here’s how you do it:
Hold the ball roughly at waist height, with your elbow tucked into your side. Cradle the ball and use your non-bowling hand to support it from the bottom. Choose your target before you begin your approach, keep your movements controlled, and take careful steps.
Your arm should swing back like a pendulum, remaining straight and not wrapping around your backside. When you release the ball, your thumb will leave first and your fingers will follow. An easy and inexpensive way to practice releasing the ball at home is to throw a football underhand in a nice, tight spiral.
Your wrist should remain straight as you release the ball, and your hand should follow through with the shot. That’s why you see some bowlers remain at the end of the lane with their hand up in the air or it swinging back and forth long after the ball has left their fingers.
Most Importantly: Is It Okay If I Have a Beer?
Beer is one of the major social aspects of the game, and it can help ease your tension and boost your confidence. One too many can make you lose your form. And bowling is a game in which tiny changes can have a huge effect on where the ball goes and how many pins it topples. Bowling is a game of nuance. One nuance: Spilling on the lane is a no-no.
Maude is a Michigander living on the Upper East Side. She writes and copyedits for anything and everything Popular Mechanics.