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If you live in suburbia, you live near a bowling alley — and if you live near a bowling alley, chances are your kid’s social life is about to include a lot of 10-pin-themed birthdays. What other game has all of these kid appealing elements: Silly shoes, loud noises, a snack bar that serves a fine sarsaparilla? When they’re young, it’s enough just to watch a heavy object crashing into things. When they get older (and more competitive), they’re going to want to throw more strikes than gutterballs.
Parker Bohn III is a member of the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) Hall of Fame, a 35-time PBA Tour title winner, and father of 5. In 2015 he threw 105 career-perfect 300 games in PBA competition. He’s what they call in the professional sports world, pretty, pretty, pretty good. Here’s how Bohn got his kids to go from bouncing off bumpers to picking up a spare.
If They Can Walk, They Can Bowl
Bohn started bowling when he was 8 and introduced his own kids to the game as soon as they could get up on 2 legs. “They can start as little as 1 or 2,” he says. “If they can figure out how to push the ball down the lane, in the end that’s all they care about.” That’s right: Baby needs a new pair of bowling shoes.
Cheat A Little
You’d think a PBA champ would scoff at lane bumpers, but Bohn is a huge advocate of anything that helps kids get in the game. “The ramps are great when they just start, and the add-on bumpers have really been an enhancement for very little kid to just get them out there and bowl,” he says. Bumpers will also give them confidence, because they may throw a wild pitch, but at least it will knock over something. Think of it as bowling training wheels, but where crashing is the point.
Transitioning From 2 Hands And One Hand
Bohn says when your kid feels ready, have them try a few with one hand, then let them go back to tossing it with 2, “just to show them that they can get it all the way to the pins with one hand.” Instead of having them drop a bowling ball on their foot and ruining the night, stand with them at the foul line. Put their fingers in the ball using whatever hand they are most comfortable with. Then, put the opposite foot in front facing the pins. Make sure the back foot is also on the ground to keep them stable. Start the ball at their waist, push it straight out and swing it once or twice and then roll it forward out on the lane.
Spot Bowling For Beginners
Once they’re ready to move on from ramps, bumpers, or rolling the ball between the legs Granny-style (no offense to your mom), it’s time to employ a little strategy. “If you’re just throwing the ball aimlessly and not even looking, you’re not really learning. Try to at least get them to focus on a target, and see the improvement,” says Bohn.
- When they’re at the foul line, work with them to draw a line from the pins back to where they’re standing, and reference the arrows that are about 15 feet down the lane as a guide.
- Have them pick an arrow, look down the lane, and throw a straight line to that target pin.
- Watch as the pins fall, turn to the next parent and say, “Yeah, my kid is throwing rocks tonight!”
How To Approach The Line
While sliding across the floor is always fun, a 4 step approach will give them more control. First, have your kid walk to the foul line. Spin them around and walk 4 steps back to the approach. Do this 3 times to figure out where there average starting spot is. Then add a half a step and turn them around to face the lane. This is their starting place. Have them look over at the ball machine to make a mental note of where to start.
- The ball should be held near the waist.
- The foot that moves first should be on the same side as the ball.
- Don’t start and stop — once they begin the approach, momentum is their friend.
- The ball goes back, straight alongside their body, for about 2 steps, then it comes forward for the last 2 steps.
Stick The Landing
If you’ve ever watched professional bowlers (it’s ok, this is a judgment-free zone), you’ll notice that the one thing they have in common is sticking the landing at the foul line: the foot opposite their throwing arm stops right at the line while they follow through with the throwing arm and slide the trailing foot behind the opposite leg for balance.
“When you finish on that one foot, you need to have a stable atmosphere — total control of your body at all times. It’s exactly like the way a baseball player swings a bat,” says Bohn. (Except instead of an “out,” 3 strikes gets you an animated dancing turkey on the scoreboard.) And it’s all essential for making sure they’re hitting those targeted pins. “You have to stick it at the end to truly understand how to repeat the shot one shot after another,” he says.
Get Some Balls
“If you’re going to go more than once a year you should get your own bowling ball. It’s very simple to go into the pro shop and get one for $50-$75,” he says. As far as sizing, aim to match the weight of the ball with their age: So a 6-pound ball for age 6, or a 10-pound ball for age 10. Or an Indiana Jones-sized boulder for you. Once you selected the ball, get those finger holes properly drilled, because “a heavier ball drilled correctly will feel lighter than a lighter ball not drilled correctly,” says Bohn.
If you insist on viewing custom-fit bowling balls as a luxury for those guys with the fancy shirts, Bohn has an easy hack to keep the lane balls from falling off your kid’s hand halfway through their throw: 2 or 3 pieces of tape in the thumb hole should give them a better grip.