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....