Footwork - Direction
It is really important as a coach to be knowledgeable in every aspect of the game. One of the most important skills a successful bowler needs to develop is proper footwork. Proper footwork enhances a player's ability to get the player and the ball to the right place at the right time, develop a repetitive swing, a swing that stays online, the ability to play all angles on the lane, different ball motion tools and other important components. This article is not meant to be the absolute authority on footwork as all players will have uniqueness, but hopefully it will serve to inspire both coaches and players to focus more on footwork. The type of footwork I teach and will discuss in this article (with illustrations) provides the consistency to perform at the highest level.
Many great players have footwork with 4 steps, 5 steps, 6 steps, etc but the last 4 steps are the most relevant and important. The last 4 steps of the footwork set the stage for the entire physical game. Some important terminology used in this article are: 1. tightrope - the ball side foot actually goes in front of the other foot (similar to a tight rope in a circus act). 2. Side by side - this footwork is identical to our natural footwork. When we walk, our footwork moves forward side by side. 3. Slot - this is the area located between the bowler's chin and ball side shoulder. We position the ball in the slot at the setup position (see last article) followed by the push and dropping it into that same slot location. (The length of the footwork, rhythm and tempo, 2-hander footwork will be discussed in future articles.)
The direction of the footwork is so important for a number of reasons. In the front end of the approach proper footwork allows space for the ball to fall into the swing. In the back end of the approach, it also creates the needed space for the ball to drop into a strong leverage position at the release. It also creates the opportunity for the swing that stays online throughout the approach. Let's take a look at each movement and the last four steps of the approach. We will assume the bowler is right-handed.
1st Step - Tightrope
The 1st step is vital in getting the swing direction to be consistent and straight. This first step is a "tightrope" meaning it moves directly in front of the left foot (think of a tightrope walker in a circus - same move). This move creates the needed space for the ball to fall tightly into the swing and allows the ball to remain in the swing slot.
2nd Step - Side by Side
The second step is a side by side (normal everyday walking step). This allows the swing to continue on a straight line with minimal lateral movement (misdirection) in the swing. The ball swing will follow direction of the footwork, which really emphasizes the importance of the second step. Footwork that gets too far left from a side by side may develop misdirection in the swing. Ball swings that travel behind the back (inside the bowler's head) can and usually are a result of not executing the side by side in the second step. This side by side direction really sets up a swing that stays on line and within the ball -swing slot throughout the approach. Remember, the ball with chase the direction of the footwork.
3rd Step - Tightrope
The third step or pivot step is another tightrope in footwork direction. The pivot step needs to create the space for the ball to transition down from the apex (the top of the backswing) into a strong leverage position for the release. The ball is able to navigate close to the ankle allowing for the hand to get to the center and equator (or below the equator) enabling the bowler to develop balance and a strong and powerful release.
4th Step - Straight Forward
The final step or slide step is similar to a side by side but I like to refer to the slide step as finishing straight forward. Be careful the final step isn't moving right (into the swing) or left (away from the swing). It will have a negative impact on accuracy and launch angles. Most of the time if the first three steps are executed properly (above) the final slide step is straight forward.
I believe every coach will agree that proper mechanics are essential for a consistent and effective performance on the lanes. There are footwork patterns that may differ from what I discussed in this article. That is the great thing about our sport – there’s more than one way to be successful. I believe the technique discussed in this article is simple and very effective in developing the consistency needed to perform at the highest level. If your footwork is providing your game with consistency and performance, I recommend that you continue using it. If you are challenged with consistency and/or are a bowler trying to develop your physical game, give this system a try. I think you’ll find it easy to implement and very rewarding.
Now, Go Win the Day!
Know Yourself - Awareness
I think one of the greatest challenges in our sport is to truly know yourself physically and mentally while competing. We all can recognize when we are bowling well. The most challenging aspect of the mental game is learning to recognize when your performance is taking a turn for the worse and then developing a system to make the necessary corrections to return to a place of peak performance.
The recognition that you are having a performance breakdown is the primary and most crucial step in the process of playing this game one shot at a time and at a high level. Recognizing where you are physically and mentally is called Awareness. Nobody in our sport is perfect. All bowlers lose control of themselves on occasion, but it is the performer who can correct himself the quickest through awareness who tends to perform consistently and has more success.
Awareness allows a player to have control. The question that needs to be answered before each shot is, "Am I in control of myself?" The answer can only be found by checking in with yourself - checking in to see if you are relaxed as you want to be, if you are thinking confident thoughts, if your focus is where it needs to be and if you are clear about what you are trying to do on the next shot.
Checking in on yourself gives you awareness. Awareness is like your coach telling you what adjustments need to be made to improve your performance. The best bowlers in our sport excel at coaching themselves. Rather than rely on their coach, they recognize what adjustments are needed and when to make them. Knowing yourself and having present moment awareness are essential to bowling confident and consistent because bowling is a game of constant adjustments. Knowing yourself is essential for preparing yourself to compete. Present moment awareness enables you to adjust shot to shot, and allows you to take ownership of your performance. You can't control something you aren't aware of.
Performance awareness in bowling is similar to driving a car on the street. To help you understand awareness, think of it like a traffic light inside your body. When you are driving a traffic light tells you what to do as you approach a potentially dangerous intersection. A Green Light means "go," continue with what you are doing. You are confident, trust yourself, have positive thoughts and feelings and are ready to make a shot.
A Yellow Light means "caution." Something in your game doesn't quite feel right. Maybe you are nervous, mad, tense and/or are rushing your shots. Perhaps you made a poor shot or saw the cut number for the tournament and your mind started to get out of the present moment. That's a Yellow Light situation.
A Red Light means "stop." You have lost total control of your shot making and are really struggling. Maybe you just shot a 140 in qualifying, your self-talk is negative ("I can't bowl"," I'm terrible", etc) and your confidence is at an all-time low. There are many possible Red Light scenarios in bowling. We have all been there. If you run a Red Light at an intersection something negative is going to happen. You must recognize the Red Light and make the necessary adjustment (stop) before the negative occurs.
The Green-to-Yellow-to-Red progression is the sign that a bowler is spiraling out of control. When you are in Green Light you are in control of facets of your game (routines, breathing, confidence, etc.). When the Yellow Light comes on, you are in the early stages of losing control. If you continue to run Yellow Lights through intersections, eventually something bad is going to happen. When the Red Light is on in your game, you have lost all control.
Get to know yourself as a player. Learning to recognize when you have a Green Light and when you don't. Regaining control isn't very difficult at a Yellow Light stage, but when a player gets into Red Light, it becomes much more difficult to gain control.
Unfortunately, when bowlers sense a yellow light they react similar to how most drivers would - they speed up to get through it. Their heart rate becomes faster, self-talk slides toward the negative, doubt creeps in, routines tend to get modified and their overall response becomes stressful. If and when it changes to a Yellow Light, keep your composure and make a wise decision about how to react and get it back into a Green Light.
Causes of Yellow and Right Lights
Failure is something all players experience in our sport. When bowlers start experiencing compounding mistakes and/or poor shots, it tends to navigate the player toward a Yellow/Red light. An example would be a bowler who starts off bowling very well and then starts to struggle due to lane transition. He started focusing on how he missed the transition and started to affect his confidence, self talk, present moment focus, etc. You must be able to release your poor shots, decisions and/or breaks and not let them carry over into the next shot.
Sometimes performance is affected outside the approach or even bowling center. These adversities might be a disagreement with your coach, a relational issue with a teammate or competitor, some type of "storm" in your personal life, etc. It is important that these things do not distract you from your present moment focus. You must focus on what your controllables and get back into your routines.
Last, focusing on what you are trying to avoid, instead of what you are trying to accomplish, is a perfect recipe for a poor performance and a signal that you are in Yellow or Red light.
Steps for Gaining Control (Green Light)
When you have a Green Light keep things simple and just bowl and compete. But when you recognize your Green Light changing to a Yellow or Red Light, it's time to make the needed adjustment so you get back to a Green Light.
1. Know Yourself - Recognize that you aren't in control of yourself. This could be your focus, not being present, heart starts to beat too fast and just can't stay relaxed. Know your Traffic Lights!
2. Breath (B.I.G. - Breath in Greatness) - The breath is the most important tool in gaining control of yourself. The method I use for the breath is a 6-2-8. Inhale in on a count of 6, hold for a count of 2 and exhale on a count of 8. Breath until you start feeling in control. Do not ever cheat on your breathing.
3. Take Time - take as much time as you need to get back in control. You should have routines developed in your process. Redo your pre-shot routine as many times as you need to so you get back to a Green Light. (we will discuss routines in a future article)
4. Use a Release - you need to "flush" the previous shot and get back into the present moment. This will allow you to eliminate the bad break, thoughts, feelings, etc. The process of the release is very simple. First, you must involve something that is physical. Some techniques for the release: pick up your rosin ball/bag and squeeze it tightly (put your frustration and anger into the squeezing of the bag). Take off your wrist device, brush your shirt sleeve, pant leg, bottom of your bowling shoe sole, etc. Find something that is unique to you. After you perform the physical release tell yourself that you are throwing away the last shot, future shot, negative self-talk, nervous feeling, etc. Develop a physical action that helps you turn negative thoughts into positive ones. I personally use my sole on my bowling shoe. As soon as I swipe it with my hand, the previous shot is released and I am back into my routine and present. The release technique allows you to get back to the present moment.
5. Focal Point - choose a focal point in the bowling center before the event begins that will help you gain control during your Yellow/Red Light moments. It could be the number on the masking unit, an arrow on the lane, signage on the ball return, a logo on your bowling ball, etc. Make sure that the focal point will be in the same location on all the lanes you bowl on and something that reminds you that you have paid your dues and are ready to compete. It will also remind you to play this game one shot at a time and to focus only on the controllables of bowling. I personally use the 2nd arrow on the lane. It is a focal point that never changes location, it reminds me of why I play this sport and it really gets my mindset back to present and into a one shot at a time mentality.
6. Be Confident - I can tell immediately what players on the lanes have lost confidence. Their body language tells it all. Usually it comes with shoulders slumped forward, the head and eyes are down and chest is sunken. You must project an image on the lanes that says, "I'm in control and confident" regardless of how you feel. Many times you may have to Fake It To Make It. I tell my students to look like a UFC fighter ready to do battle in the Octagon. The players shoulders are back, head and eyes are up and they are walking with confidence and in total control. Do this regardless of your score and/or outcome. Become a One Shot Warrior!
Knowing yourself and having awareness is vital because in competition you must coach yourself. Your coach can't make you confident, create positive self-talk, control your breathing, etc. You are in total control of these elements. You are responsible for them because they happen inside of you. You need to recognize your Green-Yellow-Red Light signals and make whatever adjustments you need quickly in order to get back to Green Light. Compete with what you got at the present moment. If you only feel like you have 75% today, then get into your Green Light and get a 100% of the 75% you have right now. Remember the bowlers who optimize awareness performance become the consistent and peak performers in our sport.
Win The Day,
Through my many years of competing, studying the game and being coached by the best teachers in the world, I have developed seven physical pillars that create repetition, technique that is current and relevant and can be developed by any level player. More importantly, it creates the best opportunity to repeat shot to shot. I call it the 7-Peak Performance Anchors. The 7 Peak Performance Anchors are: Set-up Position, Timing, Footwork, Swing Path, Balance Arm, Release and Finish Position. Over the next several months, the physical pillars that provide the opportunity for a player to perform at a peak level will be discussed in detail. This blog will focus specifically on Anchor #1: Set-Up Position.
The Set-up Position is so important as it affects many of the other physical anchors. It provides a visual line of target to the body. It is also the quickest and easiest of all the physical anchors to modify and develop. Let's start with the Feet and work upward. The Feet must always be pointed or square to your line of target. The ball side foot (right for right-handers) is always staggered, which means it is slightly behind the opposite ball side foot. This will slightly open the ball side hip, which provides proper body alignment and launch angle after release.
The Knee Flex is not exaggerated but very slight. I like to refer to it as if you were having a normal conversation with someone. This is normally done with some flex in your legs/knees. It is relaxed and very consistent with what we do each and every day. Some bowlers like to start out with lots of knee bend. Is this wrong? Not necessarily. Bowlers are unique and develop different techniques. I have found out through 25+ years of coaching that most bowlers are out of this deep knee bend by step two or step three. It also causes effort or stress in the Set-up Position. Try having a conversation with someone with a deep knee bend. You will be back into a slight knee bend within one minute.
Your Hips should also be pointed or square to your target. This allows for the ball swing to stay in the slot throughout the entire approach (swing will be discussed in the future).
The Ball-side Arm should be parallel with the approach and the elbow gently located on the hip. Some bowlers like the elbow in front of the hip, which works fine as long as the push-way direction stays in the slot. Many bowlers who have the elbow in the front of the hip have right direction in the push-away which creates misdirection in the swing (lateral movement) and negatively affects the release and accuracy.
The Location of the Ball is positioned between the shoulder and the chin. Some coaches call this the ball slot. Many bowlers will have the ball right of the slot (between shoulder and slot). This will usually create right movement in the push-away and the ball will swing behind the head (left), which again is misdirection in the swing. Anytime I video tape a bowler from directly behind, I should never see any of the ball. This ball location develops the entire swing direction.
The ball side Shoulder should always be slightly lower than the opposite shoulder (usually 6"-8"). This creates an easier ball side step (tightrope - this will be discussed in a future blog). It also endorses proper swing direction as well.
The Upper Torso (upper body) should be slightly leaning forward. When I use Bowler's Map, I like to see an angle of 15 degrees (this would be your spinal angle). It provides for an athletic start and provides great balance at the start).
Some other items that should be addressed would be the Distribution of the Weight of the Ball. I like 60% of the weight on the ball side hand with the remaining 40% being supported by the non bowling hand. This creates minimal grip pressure allowing for an effortless swing. Last, the Wrist should be firm at the Set-up Position. Many bowlers like to "cup" the wrist at the start, which increases grip pressure and endorses effort into the swing. This makes it very challenging for a bowler to develop an effortless swing.
I have provided some visuals that support the information written in this blog. Remember, we are all unique in our technique. Some bowlers will have different Set-up Positions. The question you need to ask is: Does my technique create repetition in my physical game? If yes, then leave it alone. If you feel that you can't repeat enough, maybe it is time to modify your Set-up Position. I believe the elements discussed in Anchor #1 - Set-Up Position provides the greatest opportunity for repetition. Give it a try.
In the next blog I will start discussing the Mental Game; what it takes to develop an Elite Mindset. I think you will be excited to read about mental conditioning. I believe it is the most neglected essential in performing at a peak level.
My goal is to alternate between the physical side and mental game for blogs. Stayed tuned for more blogs to come....