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!

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.

Saving Tony Reyes and 425,000 Other Americans: The Technology Exists TODAY

140 9/11s?  Since 2001, over 425,000 Americans have died on our roadways.  That’s 140 TIMES the loss of life on 9/11.  This is to say nothing of injuries and property damage.  Traffic accidents are now the #1 cause of death for Americans aged 3 – 34.

When Tony Reyes died on Highway 101 several weeks ago there were actually two accidents.  Tony somehow hit the sidewall of the highway, and while he was inspecting the damage he was hit by a passing car.

BOTH of these accidents were preventable with technology that exists TODAY.

Tony probably wandered from his lane and hit one of the sidewalls of the highway. He needed a technology called Lane Departure Warning (LDW) that would have warned him (such as through a vibrating the steering wheel) when that started to happen.  The car that hit him needed obstacle detection – a camera, LiDAR or other sensor that tells the car that it is about to hit something, and intervenes to do something about it with either a warning or by taking control of steering and/or brake.

These and many other safety technologies have existed for years and could be saving many lives. Why aren’t they on EVERY car?

  1. Lawyers.  New car technology has to be perfect before it is released.  If a technology saves ten lives but might cost one, car companies won’t release it due to legal concerns.
  2. Cost reduction.  New safety technologies must be very cheap because consumers won’t pay more for safety features.  This is why you see new life-saving features on high-end cars first.  If we were all rich enough we could all buy cars with LDW.

NHTSA, do your job.  The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) is in charge of highway safety.  As evidenced by the body count, I’d say they are doing a pretty crappy job.

The car companies are afraid of NHTSA because they could mandate the kind of safety technology that could have saved Tony.  There is so much great technology that exists NOW to save lives but the car companies don’t want NHTSA to require it before it is fully tested or cost reduced.

As a result of this terrible system many lives are shattered, and not just those killed or injured.

More urgent than walled up lanes.  As bowlers we complain about how the USBC has failed to contain the scoring explosion by inadequately regulating ball technology, lane conditions, etc.  NHTSA is guilty of the same kind of passive negligence but in this case we measure their shortcomings not with lost bowlers, but with lost friends and loved ones.

RIP Tony.

RIP Tony Reyes

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RIP Tony Reyes

Tony was killed in a car accident last night. Tragic, tragic. He was always glad to see you with a hearty, firm handshake.  A true ambassador of the sport.  All the stuff I throw now I owe to his advice and his expert drilling staff. My son gained tremendous knowledge and guidance from Tony. He leaves a beautiful new family. It’s hard to even type this.

Jeff Frankos

Jeff Frankos is the best player in the west, and arguably the country, without a national title.  He just finished second at the 4th Street Bowl regional in San Jose where Sean Rash shot 279, 300 for the last two games to pass him and win.

“This won’t hurt a bit!”

Jeff is the player nobody minds losing to.  The super-human Greg Thompson, Jr. once wrote an ode to him on Facebook, calling himself Frankos’ “Human Bye.”  Jeff takes your money and you’re glad to hand it over just to watch him operate.  His opponents have actually been accused of laying down for him (not true, ever!).  Afterwards he’s the guy laughing the loudest in the bar along with the 400 friends surrounding him.

Jeff does not have a dominant style.  He’s generally behind it with medium to slow speed, but with deadly touch.  It’s not the kind of game that will average 260 for the day, and he rarely wins if they are walled up. He will ALWAYS average 220 though, even if they are absolute garbage.  He is guaranteed a check whenever he bowls and is usually the odds-on favorite to win.  And, you will face him in every bracket.

Jeff with Joe Goldstein Sr. Two class acts!

I met Jeff for the first time at a tournament when I had just moved to the Bay Area in 2002.  They were flying for me so I moved in to about 17 (not to brag, but I will – most lefties cannot or will not do this).  Jeff said to me, “You aren’t from around here, are you?  Because if you were, I would know you.”  Jeff knows everybody and takes everybody’s money (including mine).  Bay Area bowling is a cottage industry for him to augment his stockbroker gig.

To watch Jeff strut after throwing a strike might make you think he is overly cocky.  I asked him about that once – he told me there is a very fine line between confidence, which is essential, and overconfidence, which is fatal.  NOBODY walks this line better than Frankos.

He gave me another piece of advice I have used more than once.  If you can’t find a shot on the lanes, it usually messes up your timing, rhythm, and confidence too, making things worse.  When this happens, get back to a line that you can be firm on and get your timing and stroke back.  Then go back to trying to figure out the lanes.

Both Jeff’s kids are bowlers; he wouldn’t be the first father to forego a tour career.  His son Jay recently won a YBT (Youth Bowler’s Tour, shout out to Mike Hillman and Leanne Hulsenberg for launching and running a great youth organization). We were once watching our sons bowl.  WIth his son a lefty and my son a righty, we commented that “payback’s a bitch, isn’t it?”

Hugh Miller

Hugh Miller is flat out great.  I just watched him win the DV8 South Shore Open in Hammond, Ind.  He drew 11-12 for the title matches and when I hit that pair 11 hooked about 3 boards more than 12 – one of the more challenging pairs in the house.  Hugh made them look easy, even getting a couple shots in on 11 and getting them to hold.  He has tremendous hand-eye coordination, like many of the greats, that lets him adjust his release based on his balance, position and timing for each particular shot.

Hugh told me one of his secrets.  He studied thousands of his games and came to realize an inescapable fact: you are going to strike about 72% of the time you hit the pocket.  If you miss the pocket there is little chance of striking and a much higher chance of a split or other badness.  So, above all else, figure out how to hit the pocket and stay there. If you are getting rapped, be very wary of making a move, either to a new ball or with your feet, that might cost you the pocket.  If you are hitting the pocket the strikes will come.

UPDATE: My friend Jeff Valentine, a longtime friend of left-handers, points out that if the scoring pace is high you might indeed need to adjust based on bad carry.  Remember that  Hugh was bowling on very challenging tour conditions where a small move or ball change might cost you the pocket.  If it’s easy to hit the pocket, you might need to adjust for carry to keep up.  One such move is BACK with your feet on the approach if you are leaving corners.

The other Miller “revelation” is never, ever, ever miss a spare.  Maybe kind of obvious, but you’d be amazed how many bowlers take this way too lightly.  Opens of any kind cost you more than a double to make up.  I could have taken this advice in Hammond when I missed the cut by 5 pins after 16 games, missing a 3 pin, a 4 pin, a 3-10, a 4-7, and some other easy ones.

Good luck in Decator Hugh – going for POY!