Are Amateur Bowlers Really “Amateurs”?

I was first introduced to the wonderful game of bowling four years ago as a freshman in high school, and over the past few years, I’ve gradually seen my progress with the game improve greatly.  I’ve bowled the past four years for my high school team and averaged 196 this past winter in my local center’s youth league, all while practicing 2 to 3 times a week.  I’m an amateur bowler, right?

By definition, an amateur is:

am·a·teur

noun

1. a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Compare professional.

2. an athlete who has never competed for payment or for a monetary prize.

3. a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity

4. a person who admires something; devotee; fan: an amateur of the cinema.

By definition, I classify as an amateur bowler.  I’ve never made a financial gain off of bowling,  I admire professionals, and in all honesty, I’m very inexperienced when it comes to tournament play.

With that out of the way, we come to the question I’ve always been asking myself: Are amateur bowlers really amateurs? And will there ever be a separation between professionals and amateurs?

In our sport, we consider “professionals” those who are members of the PBA (Professional Bowlers Association) while most “amateurs” are bowlers who bowl in local tournaments on the weekends, but still working another job during the week.  But when you visit the websites of Storm, Roto Grip, Brunswick, Columbia 300, etc… there is a list of sponsored bowlers they consider “amateurs”, some of them are even PBA members. But these “professional” bowlers are “amateurs”?  If that’s even possible.

I thought there were professionals and amateurs, not both.  Right?

The dictionary definition of a professional is:

pro·fes·sion·al

adjective

1.following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for monetary gain: a professional builder.

2. of, pertaining to, or connected with a profession: professional studies.

3. appropriate to a profession: professional objectivity.

4. following as a business an occupation ordinarily engaged in as a pastime: a professional bowler.

It’s very obvious to everyone in the bowling community that “amateurs” make money. It’s a fact!  There’s tournaments dedicated solely to “amateurs” that block out “professionals”.  It was just in February that the 2014 TAT Amateur Nationals tournament took place, where 1st place took home $20,000.  That’s more than what PBA regional events payout, it’s even more than what the winners took home in the 2013 PBA Summer Swing events (Wolf, Badger, Bear opens).

The way we label bowlers is a huge problem and it might just be what is leading to the downfall of our sport.

The only “true amateurs” in bowling are those who bowl leagues, open bowl, and don’t even bowl tournaments.

But instead of calling them amateurs, we call league bowlers “house hacks” and discourage them from bettering their game, and we call open bowlers, “those people that are just screwing around” and we don’t encourage them to join a league so they can get better.

The bowlers we do call “amateurs” are sponsored by some of the best bowling companies in the world.  They compete  in tournaments all the time and make pretty decent money at times, but yet they won’t join the PBA and become a “professional” because PBA events aren’t paying out as much as “amateur” tournaments.  And because of this, we wonder why the PBA is failing, and it’s all because of how we label bowlers.

So to answer my question, are amateur bowlers really “amateurs”? The answer is simple. NO

We’ve all lost touch with how bowling started.  Bowling wasn’t always about who had the highest game, average or even who made the most money.  Bowling started as pure recreation and we bowled because WE LOVE THE GAME.

But how do we fix it?

The first thing the bowling industry should do is remove the label “amateur” from their sponsored athletes.  It’s false representation to say someone is an “amateur” when they are making money in tournaments.  If you’re good enough to be sponsored by a company, you’re a professional.

Second, we ALL need to become better ambassadors to the sport.  Instead of calling league bowlers “house hacks”, encourage them to join a PBA experience league or sport shot league, and encourage open bowlers to join leagues. It’s as simple as that.

We’re the ones killing our sport, and we don’t even notice it.