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Bowling's primary and secondary targets

This is an excerpt from Bowling-2nd Edition by Douglas Wiedman.

The two primary target points on the lane are the starting position on the approach and the target arrows on the lanes (figure 10.1). These two points define the target line to the pins.

When setting up on the approach, pay attention to the location of your throwing-side shoulder. The ball swings from the shoulder, so aim from the shoulder. The position of the shoulder relative to the position of the visual target determines both the nature of the stance (open or closed) and the direction of the footwork. In many situations, you do not walk straight down the lane; instead, you walk toward the target.


Target points.

Three sets of dots, usually five or seven dots per set, are evenly spaced across the approach directly in line with the arrows on the lane. One set of dots is 15 feet (4.6 m) from the foul line, another is 12 feet (3.6 m), and the last set of dots is at the end of the approach an inch or two (2.5-5 cm) in front of the foul line.

A line drawn from the dot that the throwing shoulder is positioned over to the arrow identified as the preferred target creates a path on the lane. The direction of this path influences the direction of the footwork. By comparing the starting dot with the dot finished over, you can determine whether or not you walked along the intended path.

Primary Points of the Target Line

The two primary points of the target line are the bowler's starting position on the approach and the visual target on the lane. The arrows, about 15 feet (4.6 m) out on the lanes, are the preferred visual targets for most bowlers. Some bowlers may choose a point between two arrows. In either case, the visual point is closer to the foul line than to the pins.

The pins are not the primary visual target. Learn to be a spot or line bowler, rather than a pin bowler. Pick a spot that is close; it is easier to focus on it and precisely identify the size of an error. Although some bowlers use more than the arrows, the arrows are the obvious targets to start with. Most skilled bowlers do not look at the pins until the ball hits them. If the starting position is correct and the ball rolls over the intended target, the ball's path will be fairly predictable whether the pins are 60 feet (18 m) away or 600.

Why look at the pins at all? Because the pins are a secondary target. Where the ball makes contact and how the pins fall (or don't fall) are clues to how effective the shot was. Always learn from each shot.

Secondary Points of the Target Line

The secondary points of the target line are the finishing point of the approach and the ball's contact point at the pins.

Compare the finishing point on the approach with both the starting point and the visual target on the lane. This indicates whether the footwork was straight toward the target. If the approach is not straight, one of two things happens. Either the bowler will be unable to hit the desired target, or the target will be hit from a different angle than was originally intended. In either case, the ball path will not follow the desired target line.

Develop the habit of looking down at the slide foot after each shot. The final position of the footwork will tell you whether you walked in the intended direction. Frequently, the finish position should split the difference between the start position and the visual target. For instance, if the visual target is 4 inches (10 cm) to the right of the starting position, expect the finishing point on the approach to be 2 inches (5 cm) to the right of the original starting point.

Where the ball contacts the pins is the final point of the target line. Verification of your choice of target line comes from hitting the desired strike pocket. If the ball does not end up where it was supposed to, you need to determine the problem. Either poor technique or an incorrect strategy is to be blamed. Perhaps the ball was rolled improperly or the choice of starting position and target was incorrect.

As your physical performance becomes more consistent, you can begin to eliminate physical factors as a cause for poor results. To be more precise, sensitivity to your physical game will allow you to determine more readily what caused an errant shot. Once you are satisfied that a physical problem is not to blame, you can concentrate your efforts on adjusting targeting strategies.

Using Strike Adjustment Systems

The two basic strike adjustment strategies (3-1-2 pivot and 3-4-5 angle shift) rely on the relationships between three reference points - the pins, the arrows, and the starting position on the approach. A third system (the 1-to-2 system) is a variation of the angle-shift system.

The numerical aspect of these systems is based on a relationship of on-lane distances. A bowling lane can be broken down into 15-foot (4.6 m) increments. The 15-foot increments are the distances to the three points that define a ball's target line: the starting position, the visual target at the arrows, and the ball's contact point at the pins. The ratio of these distances from a fixed point is how the numbers are determined. Adjustments are a matter of bowling math.

3-1-2 Pivot System

With this system, the visual target at the arrows does not change as adjustments are made. The target at the arrows becomes a pivot around which the strike line moves (figure 10.2). When using the pivot system, the bowler needs to determine two things before making an adjustment for an errant strike shot. One, what was the direction of the mistake; did the ball go to the left or to the right of the intended strike pocket? Two, by how much did the ball miss the strike? It is usually easy to see where the ball went, but figuring out exactly how far it missed by takes careful observation (and a little bit of calculation).



3-1-2 pivot system.

Adjusting Direction

Consider a seesaw - as one end goes down, the other end goes up. Now, lay the seesaw on its side. As one end moves right, the other end moves left. This is how the pivot system works. One end of the seesaw is the starting position. The other end is the ball's contact point at the pins. As the starting position moves right, the ball's location at the pins moves left, and vice versa.

This gives us the most basic adjustment strategy in the game: move in the direction of the mistake. Mistake means where the ball ended up at the pins. Move means the lateral change of the starting position on the approach.

When missing right, move right. If missing left, move left.

It is 45 feet (13.7 m) (three sets of 15 feet [4.6 m]) from the arrows to the pins and 30 feet (9 m) (two sets of 15 feet) from the arrows to the starting position. This 3-to-2 ratio allows you to change where the ball ends up by making careful changes in the starting position on the lane.

Let's say you move two boards to the right from your initial starting position. (Make sure to turn the body enough to face the original target). If you walk to that target, the approach will end up one board to the right of the original path. (This is the 1 in the 3-1-2 system.) The ball will end up three boards left of the original contact point at the pins.

Adjustments are made as multiples of the basic 3:2 ratio: 6:4, 9:6, and so on.

Keep in mind that the basic adjustment strategies are based on straight lines. If you throw a hook, the numerical relationship of these strategies might change.

When using the 3-1-2 system, be aware of a few things. When making very large movements without moving, be sure to realign the body. The realignment may only be a matter of turning the feet in the stance or perhaps changing the amount of foot stagger. These adjustments were described in step 9.

In general, expect to home in on the strike pocket by the second adjustment when using the 3-1-2 system. If the second adjustment of the starting position still does not get the ball near the strike target, it is likely you are missing the intended target. No targeting system will work if you can't hit the target.

Determining the Size of the Miss

As mentioned before, knowing the direction of the miss is only one part of the strategy. You also need to determine the size of the miss. If you don't know how much you missed by, you won't know how much to move. Your goal is to remove the guesswork from your adjustments. Determining the amount of the miss is a matter of careful observation. Watch where the ball makes contact at the pins. Compare that to the position of the strike pocket. If you can accurately determine the difference between the two, you will be able to make an exact, immediate change in the stance position as a correction to the errant throw. So what you must learn is how to estimate the distance from the strike pocket to any other contact point on the pin triangle.

Strike Pocket

Going down the side of the pin triangle, it is 6 inches (15 cm) from the center of one pin to the center of another. Bowlers need to determine whether the center of the ball made contact directly on one pin or another, or somewhere in between. The space between two pins is called the pocket. For strike adjustments, the main concern is the strike pocket - the pocket on either side of the head pin (figure 10.3). A pocket cuts the 6-inch (15 cm) space in half. That means as the ball location moves from pocket to pin or from pin to pocket, it is changing 3 inches (7.6 cm) at a time.


It is 3 inches from the strike pocket to the center of the pins on either side of the pocket.

Simply compare where the ball made contact with where the desired strike pocket is. Estimate errors in multiples of 3 inches (7.6 cm). This works very well with the 3-1-2 adjustment system (see figure 10.2). That system allows for 3-inch changes in ball location based on 2-inch (5 cm) adjustments with the feet. The technique for estimating the size of the error coincides nicely with the system for adjusting ball location.

The pivot system is easy to use and easy to remember. But it does have limitations. One of them is limiting the angle to the pocket. For bowlers who throw the ball on a straight path, only one line will go over any given target and still hit the strike pocket. If you find that line and still don't strike, you want to throw a more effective shot, but you can't use the pivot system anymore. The pivot system changes the ball location. If you are hitting the right location and still not striking, you need to find a different strategy. You may ask, "If there is one perfect line to the strike pocket for any target and if I roll the ball on that line exactly, shouldn't I strike every time?" In theory, the answer is yes. The problem is with us, the bowlers: we are not perfect.

After hitting what looks like the strike pocket and not getting a strike, congratulate yourself on a good throw. Remember that nobody strikes all the time. You may have missed the true strike pocket, but it was by only a small margin. For instance, leaving a 10 pin on a pocket hit usually indicates a miss of about half of an inch (1.25 cm). A 5 pin indicates a miss of only about an inch (2.5 cm). One pin standing is what happens when the ball is thrown well, just not well enough to strike.

If you remember the strike-percentage chart (found in step 8), the larger the attack angle into the pocket, the larger the strike pocket becomes. We all need a larger strike pocket. Nobody hits the perfect spot all the time. We have to give ourselves a chance to miss a little left or right and still strike at a respectable percentage.

If hitting what looks like the strike pocket, a radical change in ball location is not required. The 3-1-2 pivot adjustment changes the ball's final location. If the location looks very close and yet you are not striking, another strategy may be necessary. You could apply the pivot system. There is a good chance that you are not hitting the precise strike area for the target you are using. If you still want to keep that target, adjustments in the starting position need to be precise, perhaps only fractions of an inch. Small misses require small adjustments.

But another system is available. One in which the attack angle into the pocket can be changed without changing the location of the ball impact at the pins. Remember, for an effective strike ball, a bowler needs accuracy, angle, and drive. If the accuracy looks pretty good and you feel as though the ball was released with an effective roll, you need to adjust the other factor.

3-4-5 Angle-Shift System

Figure 10.4 illustrates the 3-4-5 angle-shift system in which the entry angle changes without changing the ball's contact point. When the shots are hitting the strike pocket, only subtle changes in the ball path are needed. You can make very small adjustments of the ball angle into the pocket by moving the starting position and the visual target in the same direction. Moving closer to the middle of the lane reduces the angle. Moving closer to the gutter increases the angle.


3-4-5 angle-shift system.

It is 45 feet (114 m) from the pins to the target arrows (three increments of 15 feet [4.6 m]), 60 feet (18 m) from the pins to the foul line (four increments of 15 feet), and 75 feet (22.8 m) from the pins to the starting position at the back of the approach (five increments of 15 feet). Be precise! Move the target 3 inches (7.6 cm) at a time with every 5-inch (12.7 cm) change in the starting position. (The approach will finish 4 inches [10 cm] from the original strike line.) An adjustment in anything other than a 3-to-5 ratio changes the ball's final position.

The 3-4-5 angle shift system works in any multiple. Instead of standing near the middle of the lane and using a target near the middle of the lane, try moving 10 inches (25.4 cm) with the feet and 6 inches (1.8 cm) with the eyes. For even more angle, try moving 15 inches (38 cm) at the start and 9 inches (22.8 cm) at the arrows.

Maximizing the Attack Angle With a Straight Ball

Because a straight ball does not change direction from its initial ball path, the only way you can create a stronger attack angle into the strike pocket is through a position change on the lane. You can use the 3-4-5 system to find a line to the pocket knowing only the location of the strike pocket. You do this by working back from the strike pocket. Multiples of the 3-4-5 ratio get us to the correct visual target, the release point, and the starting position on the lane.

Numerically, the perfect strike pocket is 2.5 inches (6.3 cm) offset from the center. The center of the lane is the middle of the 20th board. Boards are counted from the edge of the gutter (the 1 board) to the center. Because the lane boards are slightly more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide, 2.5 inches from the middle of the head pin puts the strike pocket at about the 18th board. Now, by applying the 3-4-5 angle shift strategy (with the 18th board at the pocket as the starting point), you can determine the line to the strike pocket that gives the maximum angle for a straight ball.

The idea is for every 15 feet (4.6 m) you move back from the contact point at the pins, move the line over a specific distance. How far should the line move for each 15-foot increment? You could adjust the line two boards laterally for every 15 feet away from the strike pocket, but the angle into the pocket would be fairly shallow. You could adjust the line four boards for every 15 feet (to create a stronger attack angle), but by the time the line was brought back to the beginning of the approach, the bowler would be out of room; your stance might end up on top of the ball return. (Plus, 18 does not divide by 4 easily.)

So, let's use an increment of a three-board deviation for every 15-foot increment the target line is away from the pins.

  • With the strike pocket (60 feet [18 m] from the foul line) on the 18th board, the ball will be on the 15th board at 45 feet (114 m) down the lane. (One set of 15 feet [4.6 m] away from the pins.)
  • At 30 feet (9.1 m) down lane (or two sets of 15 feet from the pins), the ball is on the 12th board.
  • When 15 feet down the lane, which is at the arrow, (three sets of 15 feet from the pins) the ball is rolling over the 9th board.

Here is where you can see how the 3-4-5 angle adjustment system starts to apply!

  • The arrows are three sets of 15 feet (45 feet) away from the pins: 3 × 3 boards = 9 boards; 18 (strike pocket) - 9 (board shift) = 9. The visual target is the 9 board.
  • The foul line is four sets of 15 feet (60 feet) away from the pins: 4 × 3 boards = 12; 18 (strike pocket) - 12 (board shift) = 6. The release point at the foul line is the 6 board. This means the swing passes over the 6th board as the ball is released.
  • The starting position on the approach is five sets of 15 feet (75 feet) away from the pins: 5 × 3 = 15; 18 - 15 = 3. The starting position on the approach puts the swing, or throwing-side shoulder, over the 3 board.

To sum it up: position yourself to start the swing on the 3rd board. Walk in a direction that allows the swing to pass over the 6th board. Maintain a finish position and swing line that rolls the ball over the 9th board. A ball rolling on a straight path ends up at the 18th-board strike pocket.

The 1-to-2 adjustment is a variation of the 3-4-5 system (figure 10.5). For every two boards the starting position is moved, the visual target changes one board in the same direction. The 1-to-2 is a common adjustment for more-experienced bowlers. (Most bowlers refer to the adjustment as the 2 and 1 because they think about the starting position first.)

The adjustment is almost like cutting the 3-to-5 ratio in half. By ignoring the half board, (who wants to think about 1.5 and 2.5?) you get a 1-to-2 adjustment.


1-to-2 adjustment.

Although the 1-to-2 system may not seem to be mathematically exact, it is easy to remember and has practical application. Because it is not in exactly a 3-to-5 ratio, applying the 1-to-2 adjustment does change the ball's final location at the pins. Also, because the feet adjust in a larger increment than the target's adjustment, there is a subtle change in angle.

A simple example: A right-handed bowler's ball hooks too much and hits high on the headpin. The bowler does not want the ball to hit the same spot again. (Remember, any adjustment in a 3-to-5 ratio changes the angle but not the location.) The ball missed the pocket to the left, so the bowler moves left. Consequently, the ball ends up slightly farther right. (A high hit is a miss to the left of the strike pocket for a right-handed bowler. So, miss left, move left.) Additionally, moving the starting position and the target in the same direction (in this case to the left) causes a subtle angle change.

The bowler accomplishes two things when applying the 1-to-2 system. First, he or she changes the ball's final position at the pins using the 1-to-2 ratio in the same way as the basic 3-1-2 adjustment. This is possible because the 1-to-2 system is not an exact equivalent of the 3-to-5 system.

Second, the bowler has made a practical adjustment that allows for a simple angle adjustment in the same manner the 3-4-5 system would. By moving the target as well as the starting position, the ball now rolls along a different part of the lane. This differs from the pivot system, which keeps the target the same. The 1-to-2 system is blend of both of the basic systems. It creates slight changes in the ball's contact at the pins for better strike-pocket location as well as slight changes in angle to adjust how the ball drives into the strike pockets.

The 1-to-2 system allows greater fine-tuning of location than the basic 3-1-2 system.

The 1-to-2 system works well for bowlers throwing a hook. One of the topics discussed in step 12 (about lane conditions) is how the ball removes lane oil. Bowling on the same part of the lane, throw after throw, wears down the oil in that particular area. A ball's hook gets larger as oil on a section of the lane is used up. At some point, changes in lane conditions will become dramatic enough to force the bowler to play another part of the lane. Each time the bowler moves both the stance and the feet in the same direction (like the 1-to-2 system calls for), the ball path moves to a different, fresher part of the lane. The new oil line helps the ball travel down the lane more easily, reducing hook and allowing you to regain control of the ball motion.

The 1-to-2 adjustment also works going the other way. Oil pushed down the lane from ball movement (called carrydown) prevents the ball from hooking in time to get back to the strike pocket. Most bowling centers have less oil near the edges of the lanes than they do in the middle. Moving the feet and the target closer to the edge of the lane allows for both an increase in angle and a ball path that is on a drier (and therefore more hooking) part of the lane. Both benefits are useful if the bowler is looking for a stronger angle to the pocket. Because it is easy to remember and has practical application for the way lane conditions change under normal circumstances, experienced bowlers use the 1-to-2 system most often.

Straight bowlers play angles. But, hook bowlers must play the conditions as well.

Special Note for Hook Throwers

All of the diagrams in this step illustrate straight lines to the pocket. The basic adjustment strategies are more easily understood using straight lines. If you throw a hook, these adjustment strategies probably will not work exactly by the numbers as described.

This does not mean the strategies introduced have no place in a hook thrower's game. The direction of the moves either to change location (pivot around a target) or angle (adjusting target and stance at the same time) does apply, just the numbers related to the adjustments are different. The general concept still applies, but the numerical relationship will vary from bowler to bowler.

The more a ball hooks, the more the lane conditions must be taken into account. Pivoting around a target to change the ball's location and moving both target and starting position to create different launch angles are critical adjustment skills.