Guide #9 - Last updated December 2021

Youth and College Bowling

1. My child enjoyed very much bowling at a birthday party and wants to bowl more. How best can I help?

To be brutally honest, the best way would be if you were a bowler yourself. Many of today's professionals got started when their parents took them bowling at a very young age and taught them how to throw the ball.

But, you probably wouldn't be reading this guide if you were already a long-time bowler!

So, in your case, your best bet is to find a local bowling center that has a youth league and then enroll your kid in that. Youth leagues are usually held on the weekends – Saturday mornings are common – and many are certified by bowling's governing body, the United States Bowling Congress (USBC). One benefit of USBC certified youth leagues is that they are run by adults who have passed the background check of the USBC's Registered Volunteer Program (RVP). Another is that prizes are awarded as SMART scholarships instead of being paid directly to the your child. SMART is explained later on this guide.

Your area may also have a youth travel league where one center's youth team travels each weekend to another center to compete against its youth team.

To understand how leagues work, see our Bowling Leagues guide.

2. My kid is clearly better than most of the bowlers in the league and needs a bigger challenge. What's next?

​A tournament. Larger states will have local, regional, and state-wide tournaments while smaller states may only have one or two. The tournament formats will vary.

Many of the tournaments are conducted by state and local USBC organizations and their websites will be a good starting point to find tournament information. There are some good privately-run tournaments, too, such as the Junior Bowlers Tour (JBT) on the West Coast.

Bowling centers will likely also have informational fliers and applications available, and if not, the adults in charge of the center's youth league(s) will likely be able to help.

To understand how tournaments work, see our Team Tournaments and Singles Tournaments guides.

3. Is there a national open tournament for youth like there is for adults?

Yes! The Youth Open Championships, run by the USBC, is open to all USBC Youth members. Competitors bowl nine games total – three games each of singles, doubles, and team. Doubles and singles events are bowled on the same day while team competition is on another day. Teams (four players) and doubles pairs may be of the same gender or a mix of boys and girls.

The Youth Open is a scratch competition, which means there is no minimum average required and no need to qualify in a league or state tournament.

4. Interesting, but is there a national tournament for the best youth?

The USBC Junior Gold Championships is an annual national tournament for the top male and female youth bowlers in the United States. The tournament awards scholarships, and those competing also have the opportunity to earn a spot on Junior Team USA.

Junior Gold is a scratch singles competition held in a different city each year. The tournament has eight divisions – Under 12 Boys, Under 12 Girls, Under 15 Boys, Under 15 Girls, Under 18 Boys, Under 18 Girls, Under 20 Boys, and Under 20 Girls. In 2015 there were over 3,400 competitors. Because of the number of competitors, the tournament is conducted in more than one bowling center. Junior Gold is held in the same city as the Youth Open, making it possible for Junior Gold competitors to bowl both tournaments.

​To enter, you must be a USBC Standard Youth member, have advanced from a state qualifying event, and have purchased a Junior Gold membership prior to participating. The advancers list shows the bowlers who have qualified.

5. Can youth bowl in PBA (Professional Bowlers' Association) tournaments?

Be careful here. The USBC does allow a youth bowler to compete in PBA events provided the bowler designates in advance that any money won goes directly into their SMART account (SMART is explained below) instead of being paid in cash.

The more important consideration is that becoming a PBA member could make a youth ineligible to participate in college bowling, depending on the college. This could be a costly mistake given the increasing number of colleges that offer bowling scholarships! (College bowling scholarships are also explained below.)

A better option for youth is to bowl in the new PBA Jr. regional and national tournaments. Youth can also get discounted entries into the tournaments by joining the new PBA Jr. Club, but to protect collegiate eligibility, club membership is not a requirement to enter.

6. OK, but what's the most challenging tournament for youth?

The most challenging test of bowling skill and character is probably the annual privately-run Teen Masters tournament. Competitors bowl on both a 38 foot and an unusually short 30 foot oil pattern, with both having an unusually low oil volume. Competitors are limited to using two "PBA Skill" bowling balls – one with a polyester coverstock and one with a urethane coverstock.

Teen Masters is a scratch singles tournament held in a different city each year. There are between 360 and 450 competitors.

Prizes are generous. In 2015, Teen Masters awarded a total of over $55,000 in scholarships to the top finishers in each of four categories (high school boys, high school girls, under 14 boys, and under 14 girls).

To enter, you must be under age 19 and not a member of the PBA or PWBA, although members of PBA Jr. are eligible.

7. So, how are scholarships paid out on behalf of youth bowlers?

For leagues and tournaments certified by the USBC as well as USBC associations, scholarship funds are held in the individual's SMART account at the USBC. Other non-certified leagues, tournaments, and organizations may also enter into an agreement to have their scholarship funds managed by SMART. Some tournaments, such as JBT and Teen Masters, run similar scholarship programs on their own.

​SMART disbursement requests are submitted online. Scholarship funds can only be paid directly to an educational institution for primary education expenses within six years of high school graduation, or for those who have already graduated, six years from the date of the scholarship.

8. I've heard I can get a bowling scholarship to attend college. Seriously? That would be so cool because I love bowling so much.

Most definitely! The number of scholarship opportunities increases each year as does the number of colleges and universities with bowling programs. Bowling is an NCAA women's championship sport so opportunities are actually greater for women. Bowling is also an NAIA championship sport for both men and women, providing opportunities for all at some smaller colleges.

​The USBC provides several scholarships, but so do schools and private organizations. See this overview of the bowling scholarship opportunities and listing of the schools with varsity bowling programs.

9. I love video games. Are there any good video games for serious bowlers?

Yes. PBA Pro Bowling offers more than 100 virtual tournaments and dozens of venues, as well as video versions of actual bowling balls and PBA oil patterns. You can compete in single-player mode, in multi-player mode with others at remote locations, or against one of 15 PBA stars such as Jason Belmonte, Jakob Buturff, EJ Tackett, Norm Duke, and Liz Johnson. Animation of the players is surprisingly lifelike! The game is available for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Steam, and Xbox One. See the short promotional video for PBA Pro Bowling.

Another good choice is Premium Bowling. It has similar features, such as venue, bowling ball, and oil pattern choices, just without the PBA players, but with the addition of a multi-player league competition option. The game is available for Steam and Oculus. Play the game using a virtual reality headset and you will feel like you are actually throwing the ball at a bowling venue! Watch this short promotional video for Premium Bowling and see Mikey Dread play his first league session with the game. (Mikey's real last name is Pinel and his dad was the late, somewhat eccentric, and definitely legendary Mo Pinel, who designed bowling balls for Radical Bowling for many years.)

Guides you may also want to read:

Bowling Leagues

Team Tournaments

Singles Tournaments

Bowling's Mental Game

Resources for Serious Bowling