Bowling in the Olympics, Bowling’s Awesome Numbers, and Other Fun Facts From Bryan O’Keefe, USBC Gold Coach

Once again this year I had the privilege of joining the Cambridge Credit teams at nationals in Reno. While there, I tagged along with Bryan O’Keefe to watch wife Shannon at the USBC Women’s Championships.  She bowled the very first squad of the event so I got to see the opening ceremonies. Brian is a Team USA and newly minted Gold level coach at the ITRC in Arlington, TX and is chock full of interesting and fun bowling facts, beginning with:

The Women’s U.S. Open is the largest female sporting event in the world with over 20,000 participants. All the more impressive that good friends Brittney Hillman, Kimberly Power, Terri Stynes, and Jackie Wycoff are defending champions. The opening ceremonies were quite impressive!

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Newly minted GOLD coach Bryan O’Keefe

We then chatted about the state of bowling, and of course how horrible everything is. Guess what? It isn’t. Consider this fact:
All other organized sports would KILL to have bowling’s participation numbers. There are over 2 million USBC members. Over 70 million people bowl in the U.S. annually. There is no other sport that even touches these numbers. Yes, bowling participation is declining and everyone is trying to understand why and what to do about it. But this is true of other sports as well. Golf has lost over 5 million participants and is panicking over what to do about it – to the extent of considering increasing the size of the hole.
We should brag about bowling’s amazing numbers and do everything we can to keep and grow the sport.

Then we got onto the topic of the PBA tour. Needs sponsors, needs money, needs HELP. My assertion is it is all about TV show ratings – the numbers are not good enough to attract big-money sponsors. Bryan told me about one thing that is coming that could change that:

Bowling is being seriously considered for the 2024 Olympics. If this were to happen, bowling would enjoy an unprecedented ratings bump for the year or two following the Olympics as all other sports have. Kevin Dornberger, head of WTBA (formally FIQ) is lobbying the IOC heavily as we speak. This is a very political process, but bowling has a leg up in that it has the aforementioned participation and 207 local organizations around the world. The first step here is to get on the “short list” which happens in the next year or two and then the IOC considers it for a couple years, with the decision coming after that. If and when we find ourselves on the short list there will be a worldwide social media campaign needed to sway the committee in the right direction. Watch out for this movement!

As part of the Olympics discussion, we got onto Team USA, which brought out another interesting fact:

The IOC insists that a country’s best players be on that country’s national team. If you remember basketball’s Dream Team, this is when this rule went into effect. This is why Chris Barnes, Sean Rash, Shannon O’Keefe, Kelly Kulick, and many other top players are represented on Team USA.

We then chatted about the ITRC where Bryan coaches. I learned a lot, for instance:

You can schedule individual or group clinics at the ITRC. For a ½ day, full day or even across two days, you can arrange for a group to come to the ITRC. They have everything – coaching, lectures, CATS, video, equipment analysis, and more – you are guaranteed to come away a better player. I’m going to lobby to get a group of us to go from Auburn and Shrewsbury, Mass. where I coach juniors. Check it out here.

During the team event, Bryan looked a little uncomfortable, and revealed that:

He suffers from vertigo.
When his spine tightens up it causes him to have balance issues. Shannon was massaging his neck, trying to loosen up the muscles. Despite this he shoots 716 in team event.

All in all another great nationals experience! Can’t wait for our trip to the ITRC and nationals next year in El Paso!

All Symmetrical Oil Patterns Are Unfair!

I once bowled a tournament at my home house in Bloomfield, CT (RIP) where 14 out of 16 finalists were left-handed.  Somebody asked, “Is this some sort of special left-handers only tournament?”

I bowled NEBA in Laurel Lanes this past weekend.  They put out a sport shot and no lefties made the finals.  See the pattern here.

Were either of these situations “fair?”  No.  What did they have in common?  The oil patterns were symmetrical – that is, identical placement and amounts of oil on both sides of the lane.

The problem with symmetrical patterns is that lanes change over time and there are more righties than lefties.  If the lanes start out hard, the right gets easier and the left stays hard, so lefties can’t keep up and usually miss the cut.  If the lanes start out easy, the scoring on the right deteriorates while lefties keep their great look down the stretch and will often win.  This is why lefties dominated NEBA for a good part of its 50 year history, until NEBA got smart and started re-oiling for the finals.

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UNFAIR!!!

Here’s the lesson: if you are going to make them hard, make them a little easier on the left (for example, put less oil outside or a little more in the middle). If you are going to make them easy, make them a little harder on the left (e.g. put more oil outside or less in the middle).  You have to experiment, and of course it depends on the lane surface, brand of oil, number of games, and other factors.  But even the worst attempt will improve where it stands today.

Smart lane men already know this (as does the PBA).  But, sorry to say, most people just download the symmetrical pattern (or use the preloaded one in the machine) and press the button, which means it is going to be unfair to somebody.

The lefty/righty issue is hotly debated and has created a lot of hatred and resentment between lefties and righties.  It’s too bad because it is so easily explained.  Fixing it takes some playing around, but it can be done.

And by the way, am I writing this because I missed the cut at Laurel?  Absolutely!  But to be honest and fair about it, it has hurt the right more than the left over the years because even in tournaments the tendency is to wall them up in an effort to “please the customers.”

One last thing – congrats to Tim Banta for besting the venerable Bill Webb at Laurel!

Junior Gold 2013 Thoughts

Here in Detroit for Junior Gold. My son Andrew is bowling in the U15 (equal to or under age 15) division.

The qualifying event runs like many separate tournaments. U20, U15, and the girls divisions all qualify in separate bowling centers at different times.  If you don’t go to the other centers you won’t even know there is another tournament going on.

Andrew bowls 5 games a day across three days in different bowling centers with short (Stockholm), medium (Atlanta), and long (Tokyo) sport patterns. All the U15 boys hit that center in the same day across two squads – 315 total entries. U20 is running SIX squads.  Huge – and that’s not even counting the girls!  I am so jealous – I dropped my amateur standing at 16 to bowl for money (NEBA, actually) because there really wasn’t anything like this.  Kids today have it so good…OMG I am an old fogie now!

The talent level is generally high, but there are also a LOT of kids who desperately need coaching and more experience on tougher conditions. There are a lot of “make up moves” at release – stepping out of the shot, crazy head movements, snappy shoulders, wacky wrists, and just plain total crank – that might work on walls but kill you on sport shots.  Special thanks to Sharon Evans who runs sport shot tournaments in the eastern Mass. area and got Auburn Lanes to put out sport shots each Friday leading up to the event.  

I used to feel that sport shots were too extreme and too quick a fix for house conditions, but I feel differently now.  The kids that CAN bowl are hitting these conditions.  Yes, the balls help, but they DO NOT make up for poor form. It is a real wake up call to the sad state of junior coaching in our sport.  Any accomplished bowler who is not involved with their local junior program needs to volunteer for this coming season.   

They have an interesting cross – the kids on the left lane move several pairs to the right after each game and the kids on the right lane move several pairs to the left after each game.  This is clever and you get to see different kids but makes for total chaos in the settee as parents and bowlers try to navigate between games. 

We started in Sterling Lanes where the air conditioning recently broke – if you consider six years ago “recently.” They had one swamp cooler in the middle that did little, even less when one person would stand in front of it to try to keep cool. A woman passed out and fell off the bleachers – the EMTs came to care for her. When the patrons are literally falling out of the stands from the heat, it might be time to fix the A/C – and find a different center to run your tournament in.

It was great seeing west coast friends.  Since we moved east we have bowling friends on both coasts: 

Fine Young Junior Athletes!

             Fine Young Junior Athletes!

 All the ball reps are here – you can really see how the ball marketing has gone grass roots since the tour is no longer much of a showcase for equipment.  Jason Couch was repping for Hammer and I asked him where he was bowling next – he replied that he had retired.  It is a crying shame that we don’t get to watch his extreme talent anymore.  If there were $100K on top for the next tour event, my guess is he’d be out of retirement.  How many guys do you know that would be on tour if the money were right?

Funniest moment so far: the Hammer sign falls at Sunnybrook Lanes: 

Nothing hits like a Hammer - and nothing hits the lane like the hammer sign!  At Sunnybrook Lanes - they had to remove it to finish the squad!

Nothing hits like a Hammer – and nothing hits the lane like the Hammer sign!

Last thought: there are more bowling centers in ten square miles in Detroit than in all of Eastern Mass…

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Stick the Landing: Shannon O’Keefe Edition

Last month I had the privilege of being invited to bowl alongside the Cambridge Credit 1 team at USBC Nationals. On the CC1 team were Shannon and Bryan O’Keefe, sponsor and anchorman Christopher Viale, the amazing Bill Webb (who shoots 785 – thank you very much) and “The Machine” Ron Nelson, Jr.  See the video of the team event here.

When I wrote the original Stick the Landing post, I was searching for the perfect line position example.  Leading candidates were Ty Dawson and Parker Bohn III, but Shannon O’Keefe now gets my vote for the finish position that EVERY aspiring bowler should emulate.

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Shannon sticks the landing every time!

As you can see in the photo, her finish position is absolute and unwavering. In watching her across nine games at nationals there was never even a hint of imbalance, falling off, or any make-up moves so she could “look good” at the line.  She uses her fully extended right leg and right foot as a second floor contact point to give her a rock-solid two-point finishing stance.

This move pays her back in spades.  She always gets maximum leverage off the shot because no energy is wasted in her downswing.  It is so baked onto her mindset she can key on other things like hand position, speed, or her mark.  It covers up a lot of the little inconsistencies we all have during our approaches because she knows she will always finish in a solid, repeatable position.  Her record speaks for itself – I would match Shannon against virtually anyone in the world, male or female.

I am even more convinced that sticking the landing is the most basic and important bowling fundamental.  Take it from Shannon and her husband Bryan – assistant coach at the USBC training facilities in Arlington and no slouch himself, who was amazed he actually beat Shannon in the doubles event this year – he never had before.

ACTION: take videos of yourself across an entire game.  If you even occasionally fall off or step out of the shot or are not as deep as Shannon, get yourself into the gym for some squat thrusts – then bowl 50 practice games thinking about NOTHING but a deep knee bend and perfect line balance.  Your game will improve immediately and dramatically.

Coach’s Corner: Stick The Landing!

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Kerri Strug sticks the landing – on a broken ankle!

The most important bowling fundamental.  Johnny Petraglia once gave valuable advice at a clinic that all bowlers need to practice: in any sport where a swing is involved – golf, baseball, bowling and many others, you must first set your lower body then let the swing leverage through for maximum power.  I call this “Sticking the Landing” and it is an absolute must for maximum power, repeatability and high scores.  It is the single most important fundamental that every aspiring bowler must learn.  And, Diandra Asbaty wrote about it in the latest BJ, so it must be important!

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Jeff Valentine, PBA tour veteran and hall-of-famer, demonstrates a textbook sticking of the landing

Sticking the landing in bowling.  In the above photo Jeff Valentine displays perfect balance and finish position in bowling.  Jeff was a touring pro and is a member of several halls of fame.  Everyone should aspire to repeat a deep knee-bend and solid line position. Even after a four year layoff, Jeff sticks the landing every time!

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TJ Valentine demonstrates textbook finish position in golf. TJ has appeared on Golf Channel’s “Big Break” and was voted “Top 25 teachers in New England.”

Sticking the landing in golf.  Like father like son, TJ Valentine shows off his perfect stick-the-landing form for golf.  Note how his legs are absolutely solid, with perfect balance, which allows him to provide maximum leverage into the swing.  Bowling is no different!  By the way, TJ hits it well over 300 yards on an average drive.  

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Mickey Mantle sticks the landing. Great swings are timeless!

Are you “stepping out?”  If you make your shot then take a balance step with your opposite foot (your right foot if you are right-handed), you are “stepping out” of the shot and NOT sticking the landing.  At least 40% of the bowlers I watch do this.  This costs you power, leverage and repeatability.  If you can hold your release form until the ball hits the pins, you are probably sticking it just fine.  If your knee forms a near-90 degree angle, you are in the correct position. 

Keep your non-slide foot on the floor.  The first and best drill I know of to stick the landing is to keep your opposite foot on the floor while sliding.  So if you are right handed, this means your right foot will stay in contact with the floor throughout the swing and release, and ideally until the ball hits the pins.  Some bowlers kick their opposite foot for more leverage (see Walter Ray Williams, Jr.), and this is fine, as long as your slide foot is solid and you do not step out.

Shoulders over sliding knee for balance.  At the foul line, your shoulders should be squarely over your sliding knee.  This gives your body the balance it needs to provide leverage into the shot.  

“Glide path” to a stuck landing.  If you are tall, or even medium sized, consider that it can be a long way down from your standing position to the slide position.  In this case, practice “coming in for a landing,” that is, get a little deeper with each step so that your head, if a line were drawn during your approach as viewed from the side, would look like an airplane on a glide path. 

Ouch, my knees!  I overheard Walter Ray Williams Jr. last year say that he wears a knee brace all the time.  “Do you have bad knees?” he was asked.  “No, I just want to maximize my knee bend and not get bad knees,” he answered.  This is a great lesson – consider a knee brace even if your knees don’t hurt.  I wear one!

Exercises.  Deep knee bends, squats, and squat thrusts are the best exercises to strengthen your knees, along with overall aerobic exercise that emphasizes the legs.  Biking, running, rowing, and other aerobic training can also provide great benefits for your bowling game!  

Conclusion.  Sticking the landing is fundamental to high scores.  Start sticking it today!