Guide #1 - Last updated November 2020

Getting Started Bowling Seriously

1. I get that the object of the game is to get all of the pins to fall down, and it seems like I get some sort of bonus if I do. How is that bonus determined?

There are 10 "frames" in a game of bowling, and in each frame you get two chances to get all 10 pins down. If you get all of the pins down on your first throw, you have gotten a "strike" (represented on the scoreboard by an X), and you then proceed directly to the next frame. But the cool thing is that your score for getting that strike is 10 (the number of pins you knocked down in that frame) plus a big bonus equal to the number of pins you knock down in the next two throws. That has the effect of making your next two throws count double - once as a bonus for getting a strike, and again in the actual frame they are thrown. Strikes really boost your score upward!

If you don't get all 10 pins down in the first throw but do after the second throw of that frame, you have gotten a "spare" (represented on the scoreboard by a / ). The score for your spare is 10 plus a smaller bonus equal to the number of pins you knock down in the next one throw. In other words, your next throw counts twice, once as a bonus for getting a spare, and again in the frame actually thrown. Since it's not so easy to get a strike each time, spares are definitely the next best thing. A one throw bonus is better than none!

The maximum value of a strike is 30, which will be the case when your next two throws are strikes. The maximum value of a spare is 20, which will be the case when your next throw is a strike. If you get nothing but strikes in a game, your score will be 300, but if you get no strikes or spares at all, your score will be 90 or less. Those bonuses really add up!

2. What's the best way to get all of the pins to fall down?

Throw your bowling ball so it hits the "head pin" on its right side (or left side for left handers). There are ten bowling pins, and in the middle, closest to you, is the "head pin." If your ball hits that pin head-on, some of the pins on either side are likely to be left standing. This result is called a "split." Splits are generally next to impossible to knock down on your second throw! To avoid splits, try to hit between the head pin and the pin immediately to the right (or the one immediately to the left if you are a leftie). This is a sort of sweet spot called "the pocket" that usually causes a domino effect to make all of the pins fall down. Even better is to come at that sweet spot from an angle. Try throwing the ball from near to the right gutter (near to the left gutter for lefties) to create that angle. You might be surprised at the results!

3. What should I aim the ball at?

Although you might think you would want to aim at the spot mentioned above, most of the pros find they have better luck if they aim at a target closer to themselves. Many choose to target one of the arrows, and a few choose a spot in-between or further on. There are seven arrows located on the lane about 15 feet down from the foul line (the line drawn across your bowling lane). You'll need a bit of trial and error to determine which arrow works best for you to result in the ball hitting the right spot at the pins.

4. What if it's too dark to see the arrows you are talking about?

You must be either at a party bowling center or another bowling center during its party hours (which are usually called Xtreme Bowling, Cosmic Bowling, Atomic Bowling, Glow Bowling, or something like that). During these times the lights are dimmed, black lights and strobe lights are turned on, music videos play, and the sound is turned way up. It can be very hard to bowl seriously during these hours. You need to get yourself to the bowling center during its non-party hours, which will vary. Call ahead to the center to make sure the regular lights will be on when you go. If the center is all-party all the time, search the Internet for "bowling leagues" in your area. Leagues will usually be at a bowling center with non-party hours (sometimes referred to as "traditional bowling centers").

5. Should I throw the ball with one hand or two?

​Most serious bowlers use one. Two-handed bowling used to be frowned upon but is now generally accepted as an alternative. Two-handers like the higher ball speed and better ability to put spin on the ball, but two-handed bowling is more difficult and physically more demanding. The success of younger bowling champion from Australia has fueled the interest in two-handed bowling – see Jason Belmonte's website to learn more.

6. How many steps should I take when throwing the ball?

There's actually no good answer. Taking four or five steps is common, but some bowlers take more or fewer. The important thing is to comfortably get off a good throw, finishing as close to the foul line as you can without going over it and without losing your balance.

7. Is there any time that I am allowed to go beyond the foul line?

No, never! If you step beyond the foul line in making your shot, any pins knocked down will not count. More importantly, it is usually incredibly slippery beyond the foul line because oil is often applied to the surface there and there is a strong risk of falling. If a bowling ball or bowling pin ends up resting on the lane or in the gutter, ask bowling center personnel to remove it. They will be very happy you did not try to do it yourself!

8. I'm having trouble trying to improve because the casual bowlers on the lanes on either side of me bowl at the same time and I get distracted. Is there anything I can do about this?

Your best bet is to return to the bowling center's control desk and ask to be moved to a lane away from other bowlers, or at least away from the casual bowlers. For the future, find out from the control desk what times of the day and week there is the fewest people on the lanes and try to plan your practice for then.

It used to be a general rule that you should not bowl if there is someone on the approach (the floor from the ball return to the foul line) on a lane to either side of you. This rule has largely fallen by the wayside for anything other than league or tournament bowling and most bowling centers don't even mention it to casual bowlers. Trying to get casual bowlers to follow this rule now will likely get you a very annoyed scowl, at the least.

9. Why should I get my own bowling ball?

It is true that most bowling centers have a wide range of "house balls" available for customer use at no additional charge. The problem is that the one ball that fits your hand and is not too light or too heavy may not be available every time you go. If you buy your own ball, you can have it fitted to your hand in a way that is more precise than a house ball will ever be. Having a more precise fit gives you better control, and using the same weight ball gives you better consistency.

Balls come in weights from 6 to 16 pounds, and the general rule is that its weight should be 10% of your body weight. At first this may feel like a lot, so experiment with house balls of different weights, moving up as your body permits you to. It is generally believed that a heavier ball knocks down more pins but you can also do well with a lighter ball and good bowling technique. Once you find the weight you are comfortable with, you are ready to buy your ball.

If you are hesitating getting your own ball because you'd rather not have to lug it back and forth between your bowling center and your home, most bowling centers have ball lockers you can rent to avoid the big lug.

10. Why should I get my own bowling shoes?

​Having the right shoes is very important in bowling. If your shoes grip too much, you may stop short when you reach the foul line, possibly even causing you to fall forward. If you slide too much you may slide right over the foul line, perhaps resulting in a fall backward when you slip on the oiled lane surface.

​Bowling center owners are very concerned about these risks, so they provide shoes in many sizes for customer use that are specifically suited for the bowling lanes. But there may be an additional charge to use the shoes and these charges add up over time to far exceed the cost of a pair of your own shoes. It's also possible that the size you need may not be available. And, bowling centers don't provide shoes in wide widths.

A better option is to own your own shoes. This way you can be assured of having shoes that fit well, every time you bowl.

11. Where can I buy my bowling ball and bowling shoes?

Although there are a number of Internet sellers, your best bet until you know more about your own bowling capabilities is to patronize the bowling center's "pro shop." No, you don't need to be a pro to go in! The shop is called that because it's usually run by a bowling professional who competes periodically in high-level bowling tournaments (or has in the past). Tournament experience has taught him or her a lot about how to drill a bowling ball for success and what accompanying accessories are useful. He or she will use this experience to help you make your selection, usually after watching you bowl a bit. The pro may also offer bowling lessons at an additional charge. The pro is ready to help all bowlers, from the beginner to the elite player.

If the pro shop is certified by IBPSIA (International Bowling Pro Shop and Instructors Association), the pro has the education and training to assure that your bowling ball is drilled right the first time. If the center you are at does not have a pro shop at all, it is because the center is either 1) too small or 2) is dedicated heavily or totally to party bowling.

12. When will I be ready to move to the next level?

If you are now comfortable with your bowling and think you'd like to get to know others who share your interest in bowling seriously, you are ready to consider bowling in a league. There are usually leagues for lower, middle, and higher averaged bowlers, so there's probably one for you! Our Bowling League guide can help you choose.

Guides you may also want to read:

Bowling Today