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START ME UP: A Good Start On The Lanes Is The Key Factor In A Good Finish

We’ve given thousands of lessons at the International Training and Research Center, from amateurs to pros, and the majority of problems with arm swing, targeting and launch angle can be traced back to the start and pushaway.

Once you gain consistency with your start, consistency through the rest of your approach (arm swing, targeting and launch angle) will come much easier.

There are two things we look for in the start, the push direction and the shape of the shot.

Direction: The direction of your push is critical. Amateur bowlers are inconsistent with the direction of their pushaway. They tend to push the ball in different directions, which forces their body to follow. For the push direction at the start, we want ball placement between the chin and shoulder. The more you hook the ball, the more it should be positioned closer to your chin. The more direct you throw the ball, the more toward your shoulder it should be. Regardless, the ball should never be outside your shoulder.

The key factor at the start of the pushaway is the direction. Your pushaway should be straight up the lane. That’s why it’s so important to push the ball straight away parallel to the boards. A common mistake is pushing the ball toward your target, which will make your body follow in that direction. The first step is critical. If you push the ball to the right, it will make you step to the right. If you push the ball to the left, the ball’s momentum will force you to step to the left.

Your initial step is another important element to the pushaway. The first step of the ball-side foot should be directly in front of the slide foot. Think of walking on a two-by-four or a curb. This step enables the space under your shoulder to open up, which will allow the ball to drop in and keep it nice and tight to your body. Even if you push straight out, you’ll run into trouble if you walk with your ball-side foot directly underneath the ball because the ball will run into your leg. When that happens, the bowler compensates by wrapping the ball around their body to clear the leg. Remember, only the first step should be in front of your slide foot. After that initial step, your feel will fall into a natural balance.

Shape: The shape of the shot is equally important to a balanced start. You want to make sure you have a rounded shape as the ball drops into the swing down past your leg. By a rounded shape, I mean there are no stiff arms or stops in the swing. Bowlers get into trouble by pushing the ball straight away until their arm is locked and the motion stops for a split second. It should be one smooth continuous motion. The shape as you push the ball out in front of you should have a nice arch. And keep your hand as relaxed as possible in the start.

Also, make sure the ball doesn’t get in front of your hand. Think of a Ferris wheel. The ball is the passenger and your hand is the seat. You want to keep the seat under the passenger. Don’t let the ball get out in front of your hand like you’re reaching for it. When that happens, you’re forced to grab the ball to pull it back, which will eventually disrupt the rest of your swing. Once you have to grab the ball you can’t relax your hand again. Your hand should be leading the ball into the swing as it passes your leg. At the bottom of your swing your hand should be going straight back and the ball facing the pins. If the ball gets in front of your hand at the start of the pushaway, it will be on top of the ball at that point instead of behind it. It also will force you to squeeze the ball to keep it in your hand.

The tempo of your shot is also set in the pushaway. If you’re trying to increase ball speed simply increase the tempo of the pushaway. If you’re trying to decrease ball speed, slow the tempo of the pushaway. The tempo of your feet will follow accordingly. The benefit of a straight and consistent start is increased accuracy. Fewer shots will get tugged to the left or pushed out to the right. Your launch angle will become more consistent and, if you can prevent the ball from getting ahead of your hand, your release will get stronger, which will result in a stronger ball roll.

Focus on your start and pushaway and you’ll see immediate improvement because it balances many of the steps that follow. Remember, if you don’t start right, you can’t finish right.

— Rod Ross is head coach for the International Training and Research Center and for Team USA.