The "Typical House Bowler" returns to Sport Bowling by Gianmarc Manzione



    Confessions of a Typical House Bowler Part III

    THBGianmarcManzione3.jpg USBCCoachBobLearn.jpgFirst, the good news: While I did not bowl a single 200 game my entire 17 weeks in the sport league I bowled before working with USBC Silver coach and five-time PBA titlist Bob Learn Jr., it took me just two games this time around.

    Pictured left is author, Gianmarc Manzione, with five-time PBA champion and USBC silver-level coach, Bob LKearn Jr., on the right.

    In my first night of sport-league bowling since working with Bob, I shot a 213 in game two. After 17 straight weeks of failing to shoot 200 on sport shots, that 213 felt a bit like I had just struck oil while digging in my own front lawn.

    Now for the bad news: I still have a lot of work to do.

    The 20 years-worth of muscling the ball on house shots too forgiving to distinguish between poor shots and great ones is so ingrained into my muscle memory now that trying to stop it is like trying to remove a tattoo—a painfully slow process.

    In short, after 20 years of bowling on league patterns that applied the "everyone gets a trophy" philosophy to every shot I threw—no matter how badly I threw it—it's a lot easier to take on sport shots with the aid of a five-time PBA titlist and USBC silver-level coach at your side than it is to do so on your own.

    For the first time in my bowling experience, though, I was not quite as alone as I was in my first stint in sport leagues. I now had the voice of an experienced touring veteran and coach in my mind as I bowled.

    It is that voice that cautions me every time I muscle the ball now, that voice that reminds me to pick up the speed of my footwork to prevent the hesitation in my arm swing that leaves me with no alternative but to muscle through the rest of the swing.

    But hearing that voice is one thing; seeing results is quite another. The phenomenal ball reaction I enjoy each time I successfully pick up the pace of my footwork is not always easy to repeat.

    The spares I miss are almost always bound to spell disaster for my score because, unlike my house-shot bowling experience, I cannot count on the band aid of an effortless five-bagger to make up the difference (that 213 game would have been a 230-game had I just made all my spares).

    And the splits I leave compound those missed spares far more exponentially than they ever did on house shots.

    In the days leading up to my return to Sport Bowling, I shot a 265 practicing on a house shot and averaged about 235 for six games. On the USBC Open Championships shot—the pattern I bowled on in that first week back on a Sport Bowling league—I shot a 556, bookending that 213 with games of 154 and 189.

    Once again, my experience oscillating between house shots and sport shots reveals a discrepancy so vast that it is as if they are two entirely different sports altogether. Then again, maybe that's why they call it "Sport Bowling," after all.

    House-shot bowling, by contrast, strikes me now as little more than a carnival game in which everybody wins, the beer is cold and cheap, and no one goes home unhappy.

    I am certain that I was throwing the ball much more cleanly on the house shot; but I clam up when I know I am bowling on a shot that won't give me any breaks. As anyone who has made the transition from house shots to Sport Bowling knows, it's a lot easier to loosen your arm swing when you know you have about 7 boards of area to work with.

    For me, "clamming up" means that my timing disintegrates the second I leave practice at my local house and throw my first shot at the Sport Bowling league I joined.

    It seemed the more removed I got from my coaching sessions with Bob the more I reverted back to the bowler I was. But that is no one's fault but my own; with very few exceptions, those six games of practice I shot before my return to Sport Bowling were about the only games of practice I have bowled since.

    It is no surprise that the highest series I recorded in my Sport Bowling league after that first week, a 557, came after shooting 6 games of pre-bowling the day before to make up for two missed weeks. Practice is essential when the fundamental flaw in your game is timing. I learned this the hard way each week, having hardly bowled since the prior week of league.

    I also reverted back to that self-pitying mess of a bowler I had become after 20 years of house-shot bowling addicted me to the immediate gratification that came with it.

    You do not know how it feels to miss your mark by two boards and watch your ball sail embarrassingly left of the headpin after averaging 200 for most of your life until you have done it yourself. A two-board error on house shots equates to a strike; a two-board error on sport shots equates to a burning desire to crawl under the nearest stone.

    But there were no stones to crawl under at the bowling center, and there was always the following week to face no matter how bad a given night of bowling might have been.

    Tom Petty sings that "the waiting is the hardest part," but if he has never waited to bowl another week in a Sport Bowling league after shooting a 430 series, he does not quite know how true those words really are.

    Yes, the waiting was hard. It often began with a totally self-loathing entry into the notebook I have been keeping to prepare for this article. My notes after that disastrous second week in the Sport Bowling league began with the following: "Bowled absolutely horribly this week—woeful, humiliating, totally depressing and defeating performance."

    I made sure to follow up that rather encouraging note with a text message to Bob Learn Jr. informing him that my third and final piece in this series would consist of little more than a brief series of unprintable statements that portrayed my bowling ability in the least flattering way I could possibly imagine.

    Bob called me within minutes. "That's not the right attitude," he scolded. "You put too much pressure on yourself."

    I asserted in my previous story that my introduction to Sport Bowling did not just leave me in need of a coach; it left me in need of a licensed psychologist.

    Now I knew it was true. Bob was right; a couple of consecutive open frames was all it took to send me into a bleak psychological whirlpool. The principle consequence here was spare shooting.

    Because I did not believe in the strike shots I threw I was virtually assured to leave a spare, and because the intensity of my dejection increased with each poor strike shot, my mindset got more negative each time I had to step up and shoot a spare. Unsurprisingly, spare conversions become rarer by the frame; each converted spare was its own small miracle. My best shots were those I threw when I made a determined decision to ignore the distraction of my self-pity and focus on the fundamentals that Bob preached, most importantly getting the ball off my thumb earlier as a result of more aggressive footwork and a corresponding lack of muscle in my swing.

    I tried so hard not to squeeze the ball that it literally slipped off my hand in the backswing on several occasions. The first time this happened I gathered myself and threw a strike, prompting my teammates to suggest that I had discovered a potentially brilliant pre-shot routine.

    The temptation of subsequently letting the ball fly off my hand in the backswing before each shot was great—anything I have to do to strike on this stuff is fair game—but ultimately I decided against it, even though it did happen once again and, of course, because a teammate joked "now go throw your strike," I got up and left a 2-4-10 split almost out of deliberate defiance of that display of confidence in my ability—because we can't have that, now. No, not at all.

    After all the hours I spent retooling my game with Bob Learn Jr., the several tongue-in-cheek "awards" I was given by the secretary of the Sport Bowling league in honor of those weeks in which I failed to shoot a 500 series, and all the self-analysis I performed quietly within my mind during the work week as I awaited the specter of league night, the bottom line is that no amount of bowling or physical instruction will override a negative frame of mind.

    I have learned a lot in this experience and I am a far more informed bowler now than I was a few months ago, but no lesson resonates with me more powerfully than the lesson of positive thinking.

    I have learned to dwell on the great shots rather than sulk over the many bad ones. I have learned to repeat those great shots in my mind throughout the week, to be attentive to the learning opportunities each game even as I went down in flames for another 130 or 140 game, and to appreciate my understanding of exactly what goes wrong on each errant shot I throw.

    Most of all, I have learned to stop comparing that delusional average I once possessed against the average I now hold as a Sport Bowling league member.

    The ultimate irony that has emerged from my perilous leap into Sport Bowling is this: the sooner I stop demanding that I perform on the Viper or the USBC Masters shot just as well as I performed on house shots for all those years, the closer I will come to the mindset required to do just that.


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    Part II: The "Typical House Bowler" gets a coach
    Part I: Breaking free from the house condition mindset