Lessons in Ball Reaction, Pt 2

Reading bowling ball reaction is crucial to picking a ball, layout, surface prep, and in identifying what kind of adjustments to make when you can’t get the ball to the pocket consistently. The most important factor to successfully reading ball reaction in my mind has nothing to do with the ball itself. The bowler him/herself is much more responsible for ball reaction than the ball is. If the bowler is not playing the right area of the lane and throwing good shots, the ball will not react well. Before you ever begin to blame the ball, you first have to be certain that there’s nothing that you’re doing to cause the issues, and this can be more difficult to diagnose than a ball reacting poorly.

Of the millions of people that bowl, a very high percentage of them are inconsistent, and quite frequently the pro shop operator will help them select and drill balls that will mask that inconsistency rather than insist they get coaching and practice more often. Often a ball, no matter how good, can’t completely make up for bowler mistakes. There are several key areas that you need to address and take a hard look at, and I’ll attempt to explain how to successfully identify issues and either eliminate them or simply be able to note that they’re a factor in your ball reaction.

There are several things that factor into ball reaction that the bowler is responsible for. Speed, rev rate, axis tilt, and angle of rotation. Speed is how fast or how slow the ball travels, measured in miles per hour (mph), rev rate is the number of times a bowler can get a ball to make a full revolution in one minute (rpm), axis tilt is measured in degrees of tilt, where 0 is the ball rolling end over end or straight up and down, and 90 is if the ball is spinning like a top (a lowercase “l” would represent an axis tilt of 0, a slash like / would represent approximately 25-30 degrees of tilt, etc) and angle of rotation is the angle at which the ball is rolling. Straight towards the pins would be a 0 degree angle of rotation, while rolling in a direction parallel to the foul line would a 90 degree angle of rotation. Every bowler is different, and whether you know exactly what all these are for you, you need to at least pay close attention to what all of these look and feel like for you before you attempt to accurately read ball reaction.

For instance, if you throw the ball a bit too slowly one time and you leave a 4 pin, that is your fault, not the ball’s. However if you incorrectly make a move thinking the ball hooked too much, and the next shot throw it the correct speed, the ball will most likely not quite recover or be flat. Thinking the ball is now being over/under (meaning that it seems to either hook too much if you move a bit right, or not enough if you move a bit left), you might put it away and bring another ball out when in fact your error was the only issue. Bowling ball technology when paired with a house shot will cover a lot of your mistakes, so they can be hard to see. This requires you to pay very close attention to how the ball is rolling down the lane. Once you are certain you know how the ball looks when you throw it the way you intend to, then you can begin to try to read ball reaction.

Below are a couple videos, the first displays what I consider excellent ball reaction, and the second displays what I consider poor ball reaction. Watch them, and then I will explain why one is good and one is bad, though I’m willing to bet you’ll be able to notice several things before reading my comments.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tS9AKN1KQBs (start video at 1:15, more of a lane level view and easier to see)

Let’s talk about the first video. The footage of the Byte to me is ideal. The ball skids easily through the front part of the lane, while revving strongly before the breakpoint, where it makes a clean and continuous move through the pins. In the same video, moving to the Sync, you might be able to see that the Sync is too much ball for the pattern, meaning it gets cleanly through the fronts, but after revving before the breakpoint, it has a much smoother turn. Now while this is going to be a characteristic of a solid, the backend move is to me too slow and too smooth. Because the Byte and the Sync are in the same line, they threw both on the same shot to illustrate the differences, but between the two, the Byte’s reaction is much better. Even though he was able to get to the pocket with the Sync, it looks like it’s burning too much energy on the backend, though it’s still making a decent move. Also in using the Sync, you’ll be taking more oil off the lane at a quicker pace, and because he’s already playing a very deep shot, between the two on that shot, the Byte would be a much better choice on that condition even though he was able to strike with both.

Now on the second video, though a few shots react cleanly, I think you can already see what I’m talking about. The ball never seems to rev, and it barely twitches on the backend. It’s hard to tell if the ball isn’t hooking or is burning up sometimes visually, though you can use the information you have to come to a decision. When he moves to the Shark pattern, which the video says the ball is drilled for, this to me would suggest that with the Lucid being such an aggressive ball and having a moderately aggressive layout to begin with, that it is in fact burning up or losing energy very early on the first pattern. It forces him to play a very direct line even though he is inside in the oil because as you can see, if he lets the ball just a board or two further right, it doesn’t recover, it just kind of spins and never really reacts. Towards the end of the video, once he takes the ball to 500 grit, it illustrates my point even more. Though he has to move deeper to keep the ball on line, even on the heavy oil it completely loses its energy early and makes virtually no move on the backend. What to the eye can appear to be a ball not hooking is actually a ball hooking so much that it’s lost all its energy early, and cannot hook once it gets to the dry boards at the end of the lane.

Though all the shots in both videos resulted in strikes, and nearly all the shots shown were thrown accurately, without getting technical, I think you can see that the reaction of the Byte looks much more appealing than the reaction of the Lucid. However, now view this video below. It shows the Lucid in a much different light.

As you can see, this video of the Lucid looks much different from the first video I showed you. In this video, the ball reacts much more cleanly, and even moreso when the polish is added towards the middle of the video. It skids through the front part of the lane, revs in the midlane, and delivers a strong move on the backend. While the bowler in the first Lucid video takes a ball that already appears to be rolling out and makes it more aggressive, the bowler in the second Lucid video makes the correct adjustment by making the surface weaker. This is an example of bowling being counter-intuitive, which basically means that some things are the opposite of how they appear. While the first Lucid seemed not to be hooking, the move most bowlers make would be to go more aggressive to make it hook more, when in fact it was burning up, and the 500 grit surface adjustment just made it worse. In the second video, after applying polish, even though he had to move right, the visual part of hook (which is the backend) increased slightly. The ball LOOKED like it was hooking more after the polish. This is because instead of spreading the hook out evenly throughout the length of the lane, it gets the ball to skid further through the front part and react more strongly on the backend, though to get the ball to react like that, he had to get it out a bit further to drier boards on the outside of the lane.

While the Lucid in the first video appeared to be hooking less after the surface was changed to 500 grit, it was actually hooking more. The bowler had to move deeper to keep the ball on line, but it didn’t appear to move at all. This is because it was hooking much earlier and using its energy much earlier. A big move or turn on the backend is not always ideal, which is most of the reason bowlers will make the surface more aggressive, to make the reaction smoother and more controllable, not necessarily to hook more. Because the surface of the Lucid in the first video was already too aggressive, or too smooth and early for the amount of oil that was on the lane, taking it to 500 produced an even more unattractive reaction. While the Lucid in the second video already reacted well, the bowler most likely decided that it still forced him to play deeper than he wanted to. This is where laneplay comes into the discussion. Though he could still strike from there at will, once the lanes start to get dry, he would have to get further and further inside, and the surface the ball was at would take oil off the lane at a quicker pace, forcing more frequent adjustments. The bowler saw that he could make the surface less aggressive, while still getting a good reaction. This would allow him to play further right, keep the oil on the lane longer, and make fewer adjustments throughout the set.

Learning to read bowling ball reaction can be a slow and confusing process, and unfortunately this is as easy as it gets. Hopefully I’ve helped you understand a bit more about it, and watching all of these videos several times should give you a better “eye” for seeing it.