Beginner Skill Development

We believe that serious bowlers and bowlers who just want to have fun should have a solid understanding of the basic fundamentals of bowling. We have identified three levels of bowling ability: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Instruction at each level is divided into five categories: Alignment, body mechanics, strikes, spares and the mental game. It is important that you master the beginner lessons before attempting to move on to more difficult concepts.


Lesson 1 - Alignment

Do you know what the dots and arrows on the lanes mean? This lesson will teach you where to stand for throwing strikes and picking up spares on the right and left hand side of the lane.

Using the dots on the approach and the arrows on the lanes will help you line up your shot and make you more consistent in getting strikes and spares. Listed below are general guidelines for throwing the ball down the middle of the lane for strikes and for hitting the two corner pins.

If you consistently miss your target to the right or left, remember the Golden Rule of Bowling - If the ball misses to the left of the intended pin(s), move your feet left on the approach. If the ball misses to the right of the intended pin(s), move your feet right on the approach.

Objective Slide Foot Position Target Arrow
Strikes 15 2
10 pin (7 pin for lefties) 35 3
7 pin (10 pin for lefties) 10 3

Once again, these are general guidelines for the bowler who throws a straight ball and will need to be adjusted if you consistently miss your objective. Bowlers who throw a curve will need to adjust for the curving action and for the condition of the oil application. Go to the Intermediate Lessons on Strikes and Spares for information on how to use the oil to your advantage.

Bowling Mechanics

Lesson 2 - Timing & Balance

Perfect timing lives within each athlete and is as different as each athlete. Perfect timing is the proper movement of the ball and the body that allows the athlete's motion to remain fluid and smooth, ending in a strong, balanced and leveraged finish position. Beginning bowlers can learn to feel this finishing position by practicing the "Staggered Stance, One-Step Delivery."

Walk up to the foul line and position your slide foot one and one-half steps from the foul line. Place your other foot so that the toes are even with the heel of your slide foot. (See Fig. 1) Put the ball in the start position and push the ball forward into the downswing. As the ball enters the backswing, begin to take a step towards the foul line. As the ball starts downward, you begin to place weight on the slide foot. The action of sliding and releasing the ball should happen at the same time.

Fig. 2 shows the finish position with the bowler holding this position until the ball hits the pins. Note the position of the non-slide foot which has swung behind the body and to the side. This action is very important for maintaining a balanced position at the finish. As you get comfortable with the one step method, you should look to extend your approach and take three, four or five steps to deliver the ball.

Balance is important on the follow through. However, most bowlers don't pay enough attention to being balanced during the approach. Poor balance during the approach causes the bowler to drift to one side or the other. It is suggested that a bowler should begin their approach with a staggered stance with the non-slide foot turned slightly outward. This places the heel closer to the centerline of the body. Just before you begin your approach, feel your weight on your heel. This "feeling" tells you that you are starting your approach in a balanced position.

Lesson 3 - Throwing Strikes

Angle and Deflection

The secret to throwing strikes consistently is related to two things: Angle and Deflection. Your target is the area between the 1 and 3 pins (for right handers) and is called the 1-3 pocket. A straight ball hitting the "pocket" has a 0 degree angle and will very often leave pins standing. A ball that hits the pocket while curving has a different and greater angle into the pins and has a better chance of knocking down all the pins.

Deflection is another critical component when trying to consistently throw strikes. The perfect strike ball is one that hits the pocket and does not deflect but holds a straight line and hits the 3 pin, 5 pin and 9 pin with equal force. Your best chance at getting this result is to throw a ball that is curving as it hits the pins.

Throwing the Curve

There are three basic wrist positions that you may employ:

  1. Suitcase Grip - Imagine you are gripping the handle of a suitcase and imagine swinging it like a bowling ball. Place your hands in the ball with your palm on the top of the ball. Your thumb will be near your leg and your fingers will be furthest away from your leg. As you swing the ball and release it, make sure your thumb exits the ball first. This action will impart a small amount of sidespin to your ball resulting in a small curving action on the ball.

  2. Shake Hands Grip - Imagine you are reaching out to shake someone's hand. Put your fingers in the ball with your hand in this position. You will need to support the ball from underneath with you opposite hand. During the entire arm swing, make sure to maintain a firm, straight wrist. The thumb should exit the ball first, and then the fingers, imparting a strong sidespin to the ball.

  3. Cupping the Ball - You should be a fairly strong person to try this technique. Place your fingers in the ball and position your hand so that your palm is on the bottom of the ball. Flex your wrist so that it seems you are "cupping" the ball. Hold this position through the arm swing until the moment before you release the ball. At this moment, your hand and forearm will turn to the outside of the ball imparting a tremendous amount of spin on the ball.

Lesson 4 - Making Spares

The 3-6-9 System

Everyone needs to develop a system for picking up your spares. The 3 - 6 - 9 system for picking up spares has been used my many bowlers successfully for many years.

Use the chart below to assist you with how to align yourself when trying to pick up spares. Be advised that the chart is set up for right handed bowlers. Left handers need to reverse the numbers. Let's assume you are throwing a straight ball and standing on the 15 board. (See Lesson #1) Your target on the lane is the #2 Arrow.

Your target arrow remains the same for this system of shooting spares. If you are trying to pick up the 5 pin, you will not make any adjustment with your feet. For the 2 pin, you will move your feet 3 boards to the right so you are now standing on board #12. Using the chart below, you can see where you need to stand to pick up spares on any part of the lane.

Single Pin Conversion
1 (5)
2 (8)
3 (9)
Adjustment on Approach
3 Boards Right
6 Boards Right
9 Boards Right
3 Boards Left
6 Boards Left
9 Boards Left

The 3-6-9 system of shooting spares is just one method that has proven to be successful with beginning bowlers and those who rely primarily on a straight ball. As you acquire the skill of hooking the ball, this 3-6-9 system may need to be adjusted.

Using Experience and Bowling Sense

Under normal lane conditions, the spare shooting system above should result in success. However, the pattern of oil on the lanes may change making conventional adjustments ineffective. A straight ball will overcome difficult conditions when shooting spares and is much more desirable when shooting at corner pin spares. The ability to throw a curve ball for strikes and a straight ball for spares is the mark of an experienced bowler.

Lesson 5 - The Mental Game

Develop a Routine

You don't need a mental game plan if you don't care about your score or doing better than someone else. If you do care, then to be successful you will need to learn how to manage your thoughts.

It's natural to get nervous while bowling especially during league and tournament competition. Unfortunately, being nervous can cause your muscles to tighten, making it difficult to bowl well. Your bowling will be better if both your muscles and mind are relaxed.

Try this trick to get a grip on nerves: As you settle into your stance on the approach, concentrate on a mental checklist of all the components of your approach and delivery. This will help you focus on what you need to do to get the scores rather than on the score itself.

Your checklist can include the following:

  1. Position your feet on the proper boards for the shot.

  2. Visualize and then get into the correct stance.

  3. Choose and focus on a lane target.

  4. Take a deep breath, exhale and roll the ball through your target.

Positive Attitude

Having a positive mental attitude is the first step toward developing a good mental game. Negative thoughts only create stress and tension and do not give you the best chance to throw a quality shot. If you think you will bowl poorly, you will bowl poorly.

Instead of dwelling on past experiences, call to mind all the skills and techniques it will take to bowl well this time, then use them. You'll be surprised at the results of having a positive mental attitude and it will probably rub off on your teammates, too.

116 Granite Street
Westerly, RI 02891


For forty-eight years this building has served as a community bowling and entertainment center for the town of Westerly, Southern Rhode Island, and Southeastern Connecticut. Built in 1960 by the General Cinemas Company, it was operated under the name of Holiday Lanes.


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