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THE SHOT CYCLE - Keys To Successful Performance, Originally Posted: 10/26/2011; Updated: 8/30/2023

Like Riding A Bike, Once You’ve Learned To Use This Shot Ritual, You’ll Never Forget It.

By Stephen Padilla
Bowling is to a large extent about repeating shots, but it’s more than just that. To be a high-level bowler you also need to be able to process and adjust. The need for better understanding of the process, or what some call “The Shot Cycle,” became clear to me during the recent Bowling Combine at the International Training & Research Center in Arlington. The combine featured more than 70 very solid high school bowlers. Their skill level was probably very similar to that of the average league bowler.
In one session the bowlers were asked to repeat shots in a 10-shot cycle. They were instructed to hit the same target path or target line on each shot, keeping their feet in the same spot and their eyes on the same target. We were looking for consistent execution.
What was immediately apparent was that these bowlers didn’t really have a process in place that prepared them to repeat the same shot over and over. And, not surprisingly, the results were inconsistent. It was easy to see that there were a few quick and simple things the bowlers could do to better prepare themselves mentally and physically to repeat shots.
That’s where the shot cycle comes in. The bowlers’ inconsistency stemmed from not preparing themselves the same way each and every shot. If you don’t prepare yourself the same way each time, why would you expect to get the same result each time?
Watch the best professional bowlers. Or the best basketball free throw shooters. Or the top hitters in baseball. They all use a shot cycle. It begins with the Think Circle. Before they step on the settee, get to the free throw line or step into the batter’s box they’re starting to focus on the task at hand.
Then there is the Pre-Shot Routine, which is a physical act. For all elite athletes it is a consistent act…picking up the ball the same way, wiping their brow with their left hand or adjusting their batting gloves and helmet. It is, in every sense, a routine.
The third step is the Execution, the actual delivery of the shot, free throw or swing. We’re not concerned here with the specifics of executing the shot. This is about the process on each side of the shot that will help increase your chances for consistency.
The fourth step in the cycle is the Reaction. We all have a physical reaction to the results. Sometimes it’s elation, sometimes despair.
Finally, there is Evaluation, which is the gathering of information from the shot. And then the cycle immediately begins all over again.
So, how can you develop your own shot cycle? It’s easy, but realize that it’s not a matter of practicing it as much as understanding the need for a system in order to prepare you to execute the same shot. Once you recognize the need for a process, recognize what your process currently entails. Take inventory of your current shot cycle. Write down what you do that makes you feel comfortable setting up a shot. Inventory might entail something as simple as what you do when you pick up the bowling ball from the return. Pick it up the same way, with the same hand every time. Do you wipe the ball off with a towel? Do you use a grip sack to take the moisture away from your hand? If you do, incorporate that into every shot.
How many times have you seen Walter Ray Williams Jr. step onto the approach and NOT blow into the thumb hole of his bowling ball? This also goes to your step onto the approach. How do you line up with the dots? Do you use the slide foot as the starting point, or the non-slide foot? Use that as a reference for your toes on every shot.
The pre-shot routine will become second nature, which will allow you to shift your focus to making decisions on how to execute the shot. Again, we’re not getting into the details of how to execute. We’re going through the mental process of “everything is in place, now let my body take over.”
You also have some responsibility during the shot. Observe and absorb what’s happening. Did the shot do what you expected it to? Did it follow the target you intended it to follow? At the combine we weren’t concerned with ball reaction, just shot repetition.
But for a bowler in competition, you’re going to need to process how the ball reacted to the lanes as well. Did it break where you expected? If not, what adjustments need to be made? Watching the shot and processing what you see will allow you to make proper adjustments decision-wise when you get back into the think cycle.
This has to be separate from the physical reaction you have after throwing a shot. You don’t want emotion to get in the way of performance. Again, watch the elite players. When they get back on the approach and get ready to execute again, they’ve moved past whatever emotion the previous shot elicited. You need to get past your physical reaction quickly and start processing the information in order to restart the cycle.
The pre-shot routine and post-shot processing are there to help you keep your decisions in perspective. The takeaway is that you should understand what a shot cycle is and how it helps you prepare for each and every shot. Whether you’re throwing shots just to execute and repeat, or throwing shots in competition, nderstanding the process and knowing how the pieces of that process fit into the shot is what makes good players great players, and great players elite players.
— Stephen Padilla is Coaching Specialist at the United States Bowling Congress
Permission granted by USBC/Luby Publishing
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