I am James Wood, founder of BowlingAdvisor. I have been bowling since I was 15. Got some edge there.
If you’re new to bowling, you may find it a bit intimidating. Being insecure about your ability can make it seem as though everyone around you is leaps and bounds ahead—but the reality is that’s not the case at all.
All you need to do is go to the bowling center at a non-league time (open bowling). Call ahead or find your local center’s website for the info. Just ask them if they have open bowling at the time you would like to go.
Some centers have both at the same time, so make sure that it is only open bowling so you can keep the intimidation factor down to a minimum.
When to Go
I recommend going during open bowling times because either the bowling center is quite empty or there is a decent mix of skill levels on the lanes. I really do mean mix. From children pushing the ball with two hands to the experienced league bowler getting in a little practice.
In order to feel like you fit in rather than stand out, just use a few basic techniques to keep yourself from looking or feeling like you don’t belong.
So, with that in mind, let’s walk our way through the entire visit to the bowling center, starting with getting your shoes.
Yup, Special Shoes
As many of you probably know, bowling requires a special pair of shoes. All bowling centers rent these shoes, so you don’t need to worry about buying some before going.
My basic guidance for the shoes is to make sure they fit. Start with your usual size but keep in mind that a lot of different people have likely worn the shoes, so they may be stretched out a bit.
If you can’t tie them so they fit snuggly on your feet, it could cause you problems when you try to bowl.
Remember, you are paying to rent these shoes so you can definitely take poor-fitting shoes back to the counter for a different size.
Choose the Best Bowling Ball for You
Okay, you’ve got the shoes that fit, now the bowling ball. How do I pick one that works for me—that I can handle?
Start with this rule of thumb; 1 pound of ball per 10 pounds of body weight, then add or subtract 1 pound. So if you weigh 120 pounds, start with a 12-pound ball.
It may seem too heavy at first, but as long as you have a full, relaxed arm swing, and good speed, and it doesn’t cause you to lose balance or drop the ball early, stick with it. This is just a starting point, so if that weight doesn’t work for you, go up or down in weight accordingly.
The holes on the ball are also part of the equation. There are three holes, one for each of the thumb, ring, and middle fingers. A proper fit can sometimes be a challenge.
Many bowling centers drill their “house balls” with the idea that they need to fit the masses. This means that the holes in the balls are usually enormous!
Try to find a ball that is the right weight (using the equation above) and where the finger holes fit snuggly, but you can still remove your fingers easily. This may take a lot of looking, but it is worth the effort.
Remember, your thumb will go all the way into the hole and the other two fingers to the second knuckle.
How Not to Look Like a Fool
Great, you’ve got the equipment covered, now how to do this without looking foolish? If this was a planned journey to the bowling alley, there are a few things you can do at home—before you go. YouTube is a wonderful tool to use and very helpful in this case as well.
The Basic Four-Step Approach
In the video below, you can watch professional bowler Chris Barnes discuss the basic, four-step approach. He keeps it very simple and straightforward with great instructions for a new bowler. Watch what he does and do your best to emulate it at home before you go (just without a ball).
This will help you feel a bit more comfortable when you actually step on the lane for the first time. Once you're at the bowling alley, watch some of the other bowlers around you. There are likely a few there that you can watch to see a decent approach in action.
If you want to see more instruction, while still on YouTube, search “four-step bowling approach” for more on the four-step approach. If your first time bowling is/was a spur-of-the-moment event, you are probably reading this after you bowled.
I hope that you did well and didn’t injure yourself or any innocent bystanders.
Ready? Let’s Do This!
Now that you have the equipment and the basic approach, it's time to actually roll the ball down the lane! I highly recommend the obvious to start—stand in the middle and aim for the middle (#1 or head) pin.
Don’t be so concerned with your score; that comes with time and practice. Work on the combination of getting the steps of the approach and releasing the ball in sync, as well as rolling the ball as straight as possible.
It will take a few visits to the lanes for you to feel relatively comfortable with this, so don’t give up or get discouraged—have fun with it!
Remember this is new to you, and you are learning with every frame. Once you get these basics, there are other things you can do to more effectively aim your shots for higher scores.
But for your first couple of times out, you should stick with the basics; right ball, right shoes, right approach. The rest will come!
Have fun out on the lanes!