Bowling, Life, and the Consciousness Spectrum

I’m often watching for patterns and spectrums in my general life, but my bowling is subject to the same scrutiny. Usually I’m looking at the common spectrums like speed/rev dominance, loft/early laydown, spin/roll, angular/flat, etc. Most of us have very limited control of where we land on all those spectrums. We generally have a small window of versatility on each, and maybe a big window on one spectrum that we’ve worked on as a tool in our arsenals.

There is a spectrum that I don’t hear many people speak about. In fact, one of the only people I have heard speak of it, is the legendary coach Mark Baker. In his book “The Game Changer”, he discusses the conscious/unconscious spectrum, even though he considers it more of a switch. Baker described the end of the preshot routine as the cue for the mind to switch from conscious to unconscious, where conscious control is abandoned and a subconscious “flow” follows. This idea resonated with me quite heavily, and is 1 of 3 major points I took from his book. It was later reinforced by Tyrel Rose in a bowling clinic I attended at Kennedy Bowl.

I spend a lot of time focusing on the mind, because it is the single greatest factor from shot to shot, and it has the widest window of versatility for all of us. We all fluctuate heavily from conscious to unconscious during the course of a game. Most bowlers who have come close to perfect games can probably relate to the idea that being overly conscious of the potential for 300, almost always thwarts that very potential. For me, once I am standing on the approach all lined up, my greatest shots are executed without any thought whatsoever.

I have been known to occasionally use alcohol to help bring my mind closer to the unconscious flow that I’m seeking, “the zone”. It’s not a strategy I necessarily advise, but I would definitely advise finding your own ways to harness your flow. Flow is a tricky subject because if you’re trying to find flow or talk about your flow then you’re probably not actually in it. Much like Fight Club, the first rule of being in the zone is you don’t think or talk about how you’re in the zone. You know the second rule.

I have a different approach than most to the start of a bowling event. Most people I talk to seem to have a preconceived idea of how they “should” be throwing the ball, at their usual speed and usual rev rate, and so on. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this, because ideally you should be able to throw the ball the way you WANT to throw it. However, I don’t find that this strategy is good for creating flow. I prefer to adapt my laneplay around the way I seem to be naturally throwing the ball that day.

Most times, I will wind up throwing the ball pretty close to the way I usually do, if I’m feeling good physically. I try to give my best chance of being able to do it naturally with some stretching and some wrist warmups before I start. But sometimes, circumstances dictate that it’s best not to force myself to throw the ball the way I usually do, because it would be just that: forcing. For example, a few weeks ago I showed up for league on a Sunday morning, and my back was super tight. I had hurt my back a few days prior, and my ball speed was noticeably slower. My wrist was okay, so this put me a little closer to the rev-dominant end of the spectrum than usual. The goal for me that day became to find a way to use my natural slower ball speed (I wound up playing deeper earlier than usual), rather than trying to find a way to unnaturally increase my ball speed.

Another example. One players tour, I started practice and missed my target by 2 boards to the left. Next shot, 2 boards left of target again. And again. By the end of practice I had moved my feet and my eyes right, and found a look that was consistently 2 boards inside of my eyes. I had never accepted this level of inaccuracy prior to this day, but it was so consistent that I just could not fight it without becoming sporadic. I tied for the lead with Mike Rose that day, and went onto finish 2nd, my best players tour finish ever (until my partner and I recently tied that in the 2019 doubles event.)

I notice that it’s a pretty common mistake for people to TRY to make something work, rather than using what they have at their disposal. Just about every league bowler has had the experience of shooting one of their best sets in league one week, only to go lineup in the same place with the same ball next week to shoot 140 game 1. TRYING to make a preconceived idea work rarely leads to getting in the zone, unless the idea is tested against reality and then adjusted accordingly.

So let’s nutshell this a little bit. If you want to find yourself in the zone more often, these are my suggestions:

1. Prepare. Whatever that means to you. To me it means making sure I’m stretched and my wrist is warmed up, so that I have my best chance of throwing good, aggressive shots, effortlessly. It means knowing my thumb holes have the right amount of tape in them. It means removing as many potentially stresses so that I can focus on the lanes.
2. Show up with an open mind. The goal should be to use something you can repeat naturally, not to force yourself to execute some preconceived idea. If you find yourself naturally extra slow or extra fast one day, it might be better to consider how you can USE it, rather than how you can change it.
3. Use your preshot routine to be conscious of all the things you need to be. This is the last of the preparation before your shot. This is like a pilot’s check, take your time. What board to stand on, what target to aim at, what hand position, double check everything is in line. Then you tell your mind to shut up and your body to take over.
4. The more things you can bring into consciousness off the lane, the better chance you stand of being unconsciously clicking on the lane.

Number 4 is the one I need to work on. There are a lot of things I don’t take the time to be aware of. For example, sometimes in tournaments, I don’t pay much attention to the pair that I’m following. And some of those sometimes result in me wasting extra frames figuring out a difference I had the opportunity to bring into consciousness beforehand.

There’s another that maybe I take for granted. It’s probably because I spend so much time doing it, that I forget I’m doing it. Becoming aware of where your awareness is spending most of its time. That should maybe be number 1.

Whether in bowling or just life in general, recognizing how you direct your awareness and correlating it with the results you’re getting, seems essential. When the results aren’t what you want, take a step back so you can see the whole spectrum, and consider your position carefully. Maybe you need a small change of position within your window of versatility. But it is possible that sometimes you need to look out a different window entirely.

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