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"Dealing With First Ball Shortcomings"

We’ve all had that moment where we’ve thrown a ball, and were pretty sure that it’s a strike. And if we’re realistic and accurate in our thinking, most of the time we are right. However, there are times when that “perfect” ball turns out an imperfect result…and we turn to the bowling gods for answers. While I’m certainly no bowling god, I do have my own thoughts on the situation. Thoughts that I hope can help digest the unexpected outcome. The culprit is generally a corner pin standing there staring us down. It might give us a little dance to throw some salt in the wound. It’s this very result that I’d like to focus on in this article.

I think the root of the problem actually comes at a young age for us. It’s engrained from our coaches and parents. How many times have you heard “That should have been a strike”? Well, I can tell you how many times we’ve heard it. We’ve heard it enough times to believe it. Usually it’s the crossover or “brooklyn” shot that gives us this reaction. We stare at the corner pin in disbelief but don’t ask ourselves WHY it happened. The science tells us that if you throw a ball from right to left with end over end rotation or rotation that also spins counter clockwise and you hit the left pocket, most often you will leave a left corner pin. The reason for this is that hitting the headpin on the left side will push the ball rotating counter clockwise even more left and jump the corner. Obviously the same effect will happen with a ball moving left to right with clockwise rotation and hitting the right pocket. If you draw an overhead shot of the lane with the pins in their place and draw the path your bowling ball takes, (including movement from the rotation) you will see how the result happens. But because our coaches and parents have worked hard to encourage us that we delivered a great ball, we’ve allowed ourselves to get our hopes up.

I now want to break down the corner pin result in basic light, then help change the thinking with some simple math. First off, if you are about to throw your first ball of a frame at a full set of pins, you must factor the possible outcomes. The best possible outcome is obviously a strike. What’s the next best possible outcome? Leaving a single pin for the spare chance, which is most commonly a corner pin. I think that this gets lost in the mix of things when we are bowling. We shouldn’t expect a strike each and every time we hit the headpin, and we should concede to allow the next best possible outcome if we have to.

The math aspect tells us that the corner pin spare is going to have the highest percentage of spare rate of any spare chances. If you hit the headpin on the first ball 75% of the time, basic math would tell you that you should be making your corner pin spares at roughly that same percentage. Hitting the headpin requires you to hit your spot correctly, have the proper rotation or rpm on the ball and have the ball travel the optimal path of your style. When we track our headpin percentage we don’t break it down as to how we hit it (although I feel that should change) and the same applies for the corners. You just have to hit them to knock them over. If you hit the headpin 75% and you miss the middle on the first ball and have the 5, 3 and 2pin left for a simple spare, the mathematics tells you that you have a 75% chance of hitting the headpin on the second ball but that includes hitting the headpin dead on, and thus not making the spare. This in turn lowers the percentage of converting the multiple pin spares. This simple math proves that any multiple pin spare chance is more difficult to make and also carries a lower conversion percentage.

I’ve had conversations with bowlers of all abilities about how we treat corner pins and I definitely think there is a disconnection. Hopefully this short article will make help someone out there digest the disappointment of leaving that corner pin and helps them improve their game. Good luck and good bowling to everyone.

Jeff Young

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