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Check Your Bowling Ball Speed

Most bowlers today are not completely sure about their bowling ball speed. It is important to know what your ball speed is at impact with the pins and to know the difference between average speed, speed at impact with the pins, and the speed your ball is delivered at when it first exits your hand.

Your bowling ball loses speed due to gravity and bowling lane surface friction as it travels down the lane. A body will preserve its velocity and direction so long as no force in its motion's direction acts on it. Since surface friction and the force of gravity will slow your ball, your speed at delivery is the highest speed you will attain and the speed at impact with the pins is the lowest speed your bowling ball will record. Average speed is just that, an average of your highest and lowest speed as your ball travels down the lane.

You certainly can use the speed readout from an automatic scorer device at your local bowling centers but there are associated challenges to the information scorers provide. Often times the scores are not routinely calibrated for accuracy.

The scorers speed readouts are measured at some distance before the ball impacts the pins so its measurements are not any of the key readings addressed above. These readouts cannot be an average speed because only one measurement is taken.

If the measurement was taken at impact with the pins, then the readout would be more useful. The readouts on automatic scorers for ball speed can be used, however, to compare your deliveries and find out how close you are delivering your ball at the same speed from shot to shot.

Guidelines provided by the manufacturers and the United States Bowling Congress' (USBC) recent Ball Motion Study regarding optimum ball speed will help you determine if you need to alter your normal ball speed range for the best results.

The information compiled from field studies shows that an effective ball speed is about 16 -17 miles per hour (mph) measured at impact with the pins and about 20 -21 mph when the ball is released onto the lane, plus or minus 1 mph tolerance, and about 18 mph overall average speed.

Typically, a bowling ball takes about 2.5 seconds elapsed time, plus or minus 0.15 seconds, to contact the pins at an instantaneous velocity of 16.7 mph with an average velocity at a desired range of 18 mph.

If you wish to check your own speed without using the automatic scorer in a bowling center, using a stopwatch is one way to determine the elapsed time your bowling ball takes to travel down the lane and impact the pins. Equip a friend with a stopwatch and deliver a series of five shots down the practice lane. Have your friend click the stopwatch at the precise moment you release the ball from your hand and then click it again at the precise moment your ball contacts the head pin. Average the five readings and come up with an overall average elapsed time reading that you can plug into a speed chart to convert into mph at impact with the pins. Of course, use of a stopwatch is not a perfect science but it is surprising how with a little practice, one can achieve fairly consistent readings.

The following list is from a Bowling Ball Speed Chart used in a previous article entitled “Bowling Ball Speed Chart.” This data is designed to help you convert your elapsed time into ball speed at impact with the pins:

Elapsed Time/Ball Speed

3.0 sec./13.9 mph.
2.9 sec./14.4 mph.
2.8 sec./14.9 mph.
2.7 sec./15.4 mph.
2.6 sec./16.0 mph.
2.5 sec./16.7 mph.
2.4 sec./17.4 mph.
2.3 sec./18.1 mph.
2.2 sec./19.0 mph.
2.1 sec./19.9 mph.
2.0 sec./20.8 mph.

As we can tell from this data, the elapsed time it takes your ball to reach the pins will give you a good idea if your speed at impact with the pins is close to the recommended speed by the ball companies or by the USBC field studies.

Because you do not have access to the same speed measuring device manufacturers use to test bowling balls, known as the C.A.T.S. (Computer Aided Tracking System) computer, the stopwatch method of finding your ball speed is a good substitute when used in conjunction with the ball speed data above.

As you can easily see, a ball speed associated with a 2.5 second elapsed time is an ideal range to delivery a bowling ball for achieving a consistent ball motion. The margin of error is 0.15 seconds. So if your speed is calculated using this stopwatch method at being between 2.3 to 2.7 seconds, you can safely assume you are delivering your ball at a speed which can produce good results depending on your accuracy.

We recommend you consult with a certified coach or a professional bowling instructor to learn how to make adjustments in your technique to either pick up or reduce your speed. Your goal should be developing effective ball speed control.

Any coach will tell you that, once you find the right ball speed, maintaining consistent speed control is a key factor in producing a predictable ball reaction that leads to high scores.

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