In bowling, strikes are the shots that often get the most attention. And this makes some sense: they are the most impressive to watch, they give us the most pins added to our score, and they usually give us the most happiness after we get one.
But if you’re looking to quickly make a big improvement on your average, look to your second shot. The spare game is what you want to focus on.
Why is that?
Strikes make a big impact on your score if you can string several together, but overall you will see a larger difference if you routinely pick up more spares. In fact, just one or two more spares per game will boost your average considerably. And there are several ways you can improve your spare shooting, which we will explore in this article.
1. Equipment – Use a Dedicated Spare Ball
More and more bowlers are starting to utilize a dedicated spare ball for their second shots, and are benefiting greatly from it. Plastic is the most popular material for a spare ball, as this won’t hook as much on the lane. Because of this, the overall style is to go for a straighter shot. Not all bowlers use plastic, and you can also look for another coverstock that hooks less than your strike ball. Bowling balls today have much hooking power than in the old days, which is great for your first ball but less than ideal for picking up spares.
2. Take a Straighter Line and Shoot Across the Lane
As we just mentioned, the trend in bowling spares these days is to use a straighter spare shot. With this technique, the norm is to bowl across the lane. For example, a right-handed bowler shooting at a spare on the right side of the lane would move across to the left side. (The exact board will depend on your starting position, oil on the lane, and even your ball material–so be sure to practice during warmup.)
3. Mechanical Tweaks to Eliminate Axis Tilt
When you’re picking up your spares with a straighter shot, there are some mechanical adjustments you can make in order to ensure that your release is a success. You want to try to eliminate any excess movement in your wrist upon release and keep your hand positioned with your thumb at roughly 12 o’clock. This will help you achieve a straighter shot.
4. Use a Spare System Such As the 3-6-9 System
There are some systems that bowlers use to determine what adjustments to make from your strike ball position, and the most common is the 3-6-9 System. First, determine what your starting board is to bowl a strike. (Remember this will vary depending on your ball as well as day-to-day lane conditions.) Then, to adjust for the strike shot, use the following rules:
* If you leave the 2 pin, move right 3 boards
* If you leave the 4 pin, move right 6 boards
* If you leave the 7 pin, move right 9 boards
* If you leave the 3 pin, move left 3 boards
* If you leave the 6 pin, move left 6 boards
* If you leave the 10 pin, move left 9 boards
You will notice that this system operates under the same principle as #2, of shooting across the lane, but gives you a more concrete way to determine where to move.
5. Practice the Ten Pin (Or Seven Pin for Lefties)
Finally, in order to make a significant improvement on your spare game, you’ll want to focus on spares that you’ll encounter most frequently. The 10-pin (7-pin for lefties) is a common single pin to leave, and is one of the trickier ones to convert.
Dedicate some practice time (and warmup time before league or a tournament) to working on this single pin. You can even practice it on a full rack by simply aiming at the corner and trying to pick off just the single pin. In order to improve your approach on the ten pin, you’ll want to bowl across the lane.
For more info on how to develop a proven plan to practice and systematically improve your spares, as well as other aspects of your game, check out our new ebook Get in the Bowling Zone.