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Help youth prepare for success with tips from collegiate coach Barbara Lewis

What do college bowling coaches look for in potential players, and what can youth coaches do to help teens land spots on college teams and maybe scholarships, too?

USBC Silver coach Barbara Lewis, who is head coach of the NCAA Division I Grambling State University Lady Tigers, knows that a bowler's success in college sports starts with a solid academic base. "No matter how talented they are, if they don't meet academic qualifications they won't be eligible to play," she said.

She urges youth bowling coaches to emphasize the importance of school studies from early on, and encourage high school students to take special courses to help prepare them for taking SAT or ACT exams.

Once a potential player has proven academic eligibility Lewis asks, "Are they coachable?"

As a coach, she makes sure her players know what is expected of them. Lewis has a written contract with each of her players, detailing practice schedules and appropriate behaviors.

"Their starting average isn't as important as how willing they are to work hard and follow the rules," she said. "A player with a disciplinary problem can ruin your team. You have to demand - and receive - respect."

When it comes time to decide which members of the GSU Lady Tigers team get to play in NCAA competitions, Lewis said, "I'm going by who's giving. Maintaining a position as an anchor or a lead-off bowler is based on practice."

That can be 10-15 hours on the lanes per week plus two days per week of conditioning exercises, when teammates spend a set amount of time at six different workout stations ranging from skipping rope to running an obstacle course.

"Members of the team also do cardiovascular weight training to protect their wrists and build stamina and endurance," Lewis said.

As an athlete, what should an aspiring bowler do to get noticed by a college coach?

"A tape is crucial," Lewis said. "Youth coaches should videotape their bowlers individually in practice to help identify players' weak points and work on them. Get teens used to bowling on camera. Then, when a teen starts looking at potential colleges, record an audition tape that shows the player's versatility - for example, how they can use various wrist releases to control the ball in various situations."

A current bowling resumé that includes the person's contact information and lists league and tournament experiences, scores and dates should accompany the tape.

"The variety of experiences on the bowling resume isn't as important as the demonstration of a bowler's abilities," Lewis said. "When I see a good delivery and release, I see potential. It would be nice for a bowler to have a 175 or 180 average, but I'd rather work with a bowler who has a lower average and potential than a higher-average bowler who doesn't have a good attitude or work ethic."

Lewis views coaches as teachers of life skills. "For the players, bowling is a stepping stone to their future," she said. "We are setting them up for life, teaching them how to react in adversity. I tell my bowlers, 'Nothing beats a failure but a try.'"
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