Better bowling through science By Patrick Brettingen


    USBC Coaching

    Republished courtesy of US Bowler (Summer 2008)

     Maybe it's not exactly a $6 million man, but research engineers at USBC have been busy lately developing new digital technology in the biomechanics field that can ultimately help bowlers of all skill levels knock down more pins.

    The use and understanding of biomechanics will help provide the most advanced coaching tools available. Pictured here is Daniel Falconi, Mexico. Click images for larger view.

    Elaborate networks of cameras, sensors and computers measure pressure points and exact movements of a bowler's body during the approach and delivery. The idea is that bowling coaches – like coaches in other sports who use biomechanics technology to improve performance -- soon will employ these high tech gizmos to identify and correct problem areas in a bowler's technique.

    "This is the kind of technology we need in the sport of bowling," said USBC research engineer Paul Ridenour, who was instrumental in developing motion capture and grip and foot pressure systems for USBC. "These systems work together with coaching. USBC hopes that by understanding biomechanics and applying these systems to the sport of bowling, we can give our coaches the most advanced tools to analyze bowlers and help teach athletes of all ability levels."

    Perhaps the centerpiece of this new futuristic technology patented by USBC is the motion capture system. The first of its kind in bowling, motion capture can measure body positioning and movement more precisely than standard video analysis programs. For example, motion capture can track a bowler's body positions (such as during the back swing) to 0.001 of an inch, speed and acceleration (such as ball speed or the sliding knee moving forward) to 0.02 mph and timing (relationship between the arm swing and footsteps) to 0.001 of a second.

    The system works like this: Between 40 and 70 small sensors are attached to a bowler's clothing and six cameras positioned around the bowler on adjoining approaches and lanes pick up the red light reflected from the sensors. The bowler's movements through the approach and delivery are tracked via the sensors and the data is transmitted to a nearby connected computer system. The bowler's image appears on the computer screen as a moving, digital data figure that can be shown in slow motion, used with video or viewed from different angles.

     The world's top bowling coaches got a sneak preview of the motion capture system at USBC Headquarters in suburban Milwaukee during a coach training event last winter. Among those in attendance was world-renowned Australian bowler Jason Belmonte, who tested the new system under the guidance of USBC engineers.

    Studying Australian star Jason Belmonte's two-handed delivery could lead to a better understanding of this unorthodox style.

    "Bowling, like all other sports, needs to keep moving forward with coaching techniques," said Belmonte, a USBC Silver coach and USBC Youth spokesperson. "This will be the future of coaching. The more accurate look a coach can get of a player's game, the better information that player will receive and the more likely the player will improve and enjoy tenpin bowling for a longer time."

    How will USBC use this futuristic technology? In the near future bowlers could visit the planned USBC national training center in Arlington, Texas, get hooked up to this equipment and have a coach analyze their game. Down the road coaches worldwide may obtain this technology and bowlers may only need to visit their local USBC coach for a high tech lesson.

    Grip and foot pressure part of USBC technology package

     Working in conjunction with motion capture are two other USBC patent-pending biomechanics systems that specifically measure bowlers' grip and foot pressure.

    A series of tiny sensin units on this specially designed glove capture and transmit grip pressure information from the approach through the delivery. Click images for larger view.

    The grip pressure system measures the location and amount of pressure a bowler imparts on various parts of the throwing hand as it grips a bowling ball during an approach and delivery. A bowler's hand is outfitted with a specially-designed sports glove with small pressure sensors (0.07 inches thick) attached by medical tape. The sensors, which are made up of tiny, individual sensing units, transmit pressure data from the hand through a data hub worn on the wrist which is connected to a computer. Once a shot is recorded through the system, a coach can analyze the data on a computer.

    "The grip pressure system can provide coaches with valuable information about a bowler's rev rate, if a bowler squeezes the ball in the back swing and how grip pressure changes when a bowler uses a different release," said USBC research engineer Paul Ridenour. "Measuring grip pressure can allow coaches to develop effective methods of teaching athletes different releases."

     The foot pressure system measures the location and amount of pressure placed on various parts of a bowler's feet during the approach and slide. Pads embedded with the same type of sensors used in the grip pressure system are placed underneath a bowler's shoe insoles. As a bowler makes an approach, foot pressure is measured and the data transmitted through hubs worn around the ankles to a computer and then analyzed. Sensors are calibrated based on a bowler's weight.

    "Foot pressure provides coaches with important data about a bowler's tempo, consistency of the approach, timing, power step, the slide and posting a shot," Ridenour said. "Foot timing is one of the critical aspects of a bowler's physical game, and we can actually measure within one hundredth of a second the amount of time a bowler takes on a single step and how long a bowler will stay posted in the finish position."

    As with the motion capture system, grip and foot pressure measurement can be synchronized with video footage of bowling students.

    With this high tech focus, USBC is giving its bowlers a glimpse into the future of the sport.