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Introduction (The Basics)

, indoor game in which players roll balls along a runway called a lane or alley, attempting to knock down ten pins. Sometimes called tenpins, bowling is one of the most popular sports in the world.
The sport’s international governing body, the Fédération Internationale des Quilleurs (International Bowling Federation, or IBF), has more than 120 member countries. The IBF estimates that more than 100 million people bowl annually. The United States alone is home to more than 6,000 local bowling associations that sponsor tournaments for more than 3 million bowlers. The USBC (United States Bowling Congress) is the governing body. More than 10,000 bowling tournaments are conducted worldwide every year.

Playing the Game

Bowling centers (often called alleys) vary in size and sophistication. The basement of a church or community club can house one or two bowling lanes, and the largest venues contain more than 100 lanes. Most bowling centers are commercial and contain about 20 to 30 lanes. There are more 10,000 bowling centers worldwide.
Lanes and Equipment
The bowling surface is smooth, level, and made up of four parts: the approach, lane, pin deck, and pit. The approach is an area at least 4.6 m (15 ft) long. Bowlers take several strides in the approach area to gain momentum before releasing the ball toward the pins. A foul line marks the point where players must release the ball down the lane. A player’s feet may not touch or cross the foul line, even after the ball has been released. Lines and arrows in the approach area help bowlers aim their shots. These markings come at 4.6 m (15 ft), 3.7 m (12 ft), and .15 m (6 in) behind the foul line.

The lane is a narrow area 18.3 m (60 ft) long and about 1 m (41 to 42 in) wide. Arrows in the lane 1.8 to 2.4 m (6 to 8 ft) in front of the foul line help bowlers aim their shots. Two slightly lower areas called channels, or gutters, run alongside the lane to catch wayward tosses. Each channel is 24.1 cm (9.5 in) wide. A ball that enters either channel is recorded as a scratch (worth zero points) and is often called a gutter ball.

The pin deck at the end of the lane has ten dots, called pin spots, that are .30 m (1 ft) apart. Set on these spots, the pins form a .91-m (3-ft) triangle with one pin in the middle and the others surrounding it. Pins are generally made of wood and plastic, and weigh between 1.53 kg and 1.64 kg (3 lb 6 oz and 3 lb 10 oz). Each pin is 38.1 cm (15 in) tall. Pins have a narrow neck that gradually widens to a diameter of 12 cm (4.75 in) at the widest point, called the belly. The pin then tapers to a base 5.7 cm (2.25 in) in diameter. This design causes the pin to fall if tilted 10 degrees.

The pit lies behind the pin deck and houses a special machine that sends the ball up a track that runs to the approach area. The machine also gathers the pins and resets them. Other equipment in the lane area includes a scoring desk, an air blower that bowlers use to dry their hands, and benches. Many bowling alleys now use computerized scoring systems, allowing the bowlers to concentrate on their games rather than keeping score manually.

The only individual pieces of equipment that bowlers need are bowling shoes and a bowling ball, both of which most bowling centers rent to customers. Bowling shoes have special soles that enable a bowler to glide during the approach. Most bowling balls have three holes, for the thumb and two fingers. Balls are made of various materials—rubber, plastic, urethanes, and combinations of these compounds. Although bowling balls come in assorted sizes and weights, those used in competition measure 21.6 cm (8.5 in) in diameter and weigh between 3.6 and 7.2 kg (8 and 16 lbs). Many bowling balls are black, but color can vary. Some are even clear and can contain items such as flowers, insignias, and other decorative objects.


Basic Techniques

Choosing the right bowling ball is the first step toward successful bowling. Because the sport is based on timing and coordination, a bowler should select a ball that is easy to handle. The ball should not be too heavy or light, and should feel comfortable and natural in the bowler’s hand. The thumb of the throwing hand should fit into the thumbhole and rotate with only minor friction. As a measure of a proper grip, the bowler’s two middle fingers should then be stretched over (not into) the finger holes.

Most bowlers use a natural and relaxed four-step delivery method, taking four steps on the approach and then gliding while releasing the ball toward the pins. To determine the proper starting position, bowlers should stand at the middle of the foul line, facing away from the pins, and take four and a half steps forward. They should then turn and face the pins, remembering their relative position to the target markings. Each time a bowler steps up to make a throw, he or she should start the delivery from the same spot. As a bowler gains experience, minor adjustments can be made for comfort or preference.

After finding the correct starting position, bowlers should face the pins, focus on them, and with the fingers of the throwing hand in the holes let the weight of the ball rest on the nonbowling hand somewhere between the shoulder and the waist. The ball should be held slightly the right side (for right-handers) or left side (for left-handers) of the bowler’s body. Experienced bowlers keep their feet fairly close together, the left foot (for right-handers) slightly forward, and the knees gently flexed.

The bowler tosses the ball using a four-step delivery (described here for a right-handed bowler).

  • Step One: Move the ball and right foot down and forward in a slow, short movement.
  • Step Two: Keeping the arm as close to the body as possible, take a step with the left foot and let the ball swing backwards.
  • Step Three: Step forward with the right foot as the ball reaches the top of the backswing. The left arm should be extended for balance.
  • Step Four: Shift body weight from the right to left foot while bending the left knee and letting the ball swing naturally forward. No extra effort is needed.
The bowler should glide with the right leg extended back as the right arm lifts the ball over the foul line and releases it toward the pins. The follow-through after the release should be a continuation of the arc that started with the backswing.

Beginners should concentrate on tossing the ball at the front pin and developing a smooth, relaxed delivery. Common errors include throwing the ball too hard, concentrating too much on pinpoint accuracy, and not releasing the ball close to the floor.


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Last Modified September 18, 2015
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