Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fireside Lanes Bowling Clinic Report, Part 1

I've been bowling a long time, but I've always shied away from being coached. When I was younger, this was for two reasons. I didn't like to be told that there was something wrong with the way I bowled, because I was afraid it would make me feel even less capable and more insecure than I did already. And I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to learn the lessons I was being taught, which would not only waste my money but make me look and feel stupid at a time when I already felt stupid enough and wanted to avoid looking it as much as possible.

I guess I've matured a little over the years in ways beyond the strictly chronological and biological, because I've come to the point where I'm less concerned, although by no means entirely unconcerned, with protecting my delicate ego and not looking stupid. So, I'm more open to seeking outside help to improve my bowling game. After all, I've gone about as far and done about as well on my own as I probably ever will. If I want to be and do better, I need expert coaching.

My first formal coaching lesson came a couple of weeks ago from Debbie Haggerty, mother of touring pro P.J., and one of Bowlers Journal International's top 100 coaches and last year's Junior Coach of the Year. She has developed an awesome junior program at Fireside Lanes in Citrus Heights, CA, but she also coaches adults. She gave me some suggestions about altering my setup and approach to help me delay my timing and generate more leverage and power with my delivery.

Then I attended a veritable dream bowling clinic all day on June 6 at Fireside Lanes featuring Dr. Dean Hinitz, Bill O'Neill, P.J. Haggerty, Leanne Barrette Hulsenberg, and Gary Hulsenberg. We were given booklets with printed material culled from leading bowling publications about the physical and mental game, and we then assembled in the meeting room to be introduced to the coaches and given an overview of the day's activities.

I'll say from the outset that I regret not taking notes during Dr. Dean's presentations, because he had a lot to say, and it would have been nice to have a solid record of it all instead of fuzzier memories. I didn't record and don't remember exactly how he said it, but he quoted some old Chinese proverb about how fading words on old paper were better than the blank pages of forgotten memories. My advice to anyone who attends a clinic like this is to TAKE GOOD NOTES.

However, I did jot down some notes after I got home of what I managed to remember about Dr. Hinitz's instruction on the mental or psychological aspect of bowling, and I'll summarize them later. But first let me say a few words about other aspects of the clinic.

We performed some exercises such as forming into teams and trying to throw our balls in the channel between 40 and 60 feet down the lane. It was a lot harder for many of us than you might suppose. We were then assigned to pairs of lanes to throw balls while the coaches looked on and and offered each of us suggestions. Every few pairs had a different PBA animal pattern, and a different coach was assigned to that set of pairs. After bowling on one pattern while watched and helped by one coach, we would move to a different pattern for feedback from a different coach while Dr. Hinitz kept a watchful eye on the proceedings and walked around asking people at random what they were "working on."

P.J. Haggerty asked me what I wanted to work on. I told him I wanted, among other things, to develop a more powerful release. He watched me bowl and made some suggestions about things I could do to stop wrapping my backswing behind my back and releasing my ball too far away from my body for good leverage and control. He said this would help me be more accurate and consistent with my shotmaking and also give me more power. But he also cautioned against trying too hard to develop more power. After all, he said, the winningest bowler of all time on Tour is hardly a power player. Nor does he have anything approaching a textbook style.

Bill O'Neill watched me bowl and suggested that I stop extending the ball so far out on my pushaway. He said my long pushaway caused me to tense my arm and muscle the ball into and through my backswing. He suggested that I use the hinged swing of a Chris Barnes as my model of the ideal pushaway and armswing.

Leanne set me up with a Mission demo ball to try out on the lanes and invited me to practice with her and her husband Gary whenever I wanted their help with my game and they were available. I really appreciated this. Leanne, who won 26 PWBA titles and has bowled on TV more than 100 times, has been one of my favorite bowlers for over 20 years.

Gary Hulsenberg, a PBA member and former Ebonite product manager for this region, watched me bowl and talked with me about my equipment. He observed my ball track and said that it, like Pete Weber's, was unusually close to and parallel with my finger and thumbholes. He said a good thing about this is that it puts the greatest amount of ball surface possible in contact with the lane without rolling over the holes. On the other hand, it presents, especially given my relatively soft ball speed, some challenges in selecting, laying out, and surfacing equipment so that it doesn't roll over the holes or lose too much of its energy before it gets to the pins. He offered to work with me in setting up an optimal arsenal of six balls or fewer that should enable me to handle effectively just about any lane condition and sport pattern especially that I encounter.

Toward the end of the clinic, Bill and P.J. got out their bowling balls and threw several shots on each of the patterns explaining as they went along what they were thinking and trying to do with each shot. I've seen P.J. bowl before on PBA Xtra Frame and from the spectator area of a local tournament, and I've watched Bill O'Neil numerous times on TV, but there's nothing like watching these two skilled and powerful pros perform their magic "up close and personal." Standing just a few feet behind them, I was struck by the smooth and effortless power of their deliveries. Of course you see a lot of guys, mostly younger ones, gripping and ripping it in your local bowling centers. But they don't throw it like P.J. and Bill and have the voluminous knowledge to go with it. My God P.J. and Bill throw the ball sweetly! They are very impressive. And they know more about bowling equipment, oil patterns, bowling physics, and biomechanics than most of us could ever dream of.

As for Dr. Dean's informative and inspiring words, I'll list the ones I remember, even if they don't appear in the order he presented them, in my next blogpost about the clinic.

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