The Perfect Fit, Pt 1

Having a bowling ball fit your hand properly is as important as a football player’s helmet fitting right, or a runner’s shoes fit right. Not having the correct fit can cause more problems than simply being uncomfortable. Let’s start by talking about hands in general.

Hands are like fingerprints or snowflakes, everyone’s hand is different. When we go to fit someone, we can’t just use blanket measurements or a generic approach, we have to examine each and every person’s hand while we are starting the fitting process. Some people have long fingers, some people have short fingers, some people have dry skin, some people have moist skin, etc. These things must be considered and factored into the fitting process. Hold your hand out like you’re holding a ball and look at the natural position of your hand. We will start with your fingers, look at the position they are in and the angles they are at. Conventional wisdom of the past was to drill the fingerholes straight down towards the center of the ball, and the idea behind that was that the more angle there was, the more lift you would be able to create. For some people who have flexible hands or who are double jointed, this may be necessary for a proper fit. However, for most of us, this isn’t the case. There are a few different problems this can cause. The closer the bottom of the fingerholes are to your palm, the further you have to wrap your fingers under for them to come in contact with the front side of the fingerholes, and that can cause finger pain, it can fatigue your fingers quickly, and trying to “dig in” to the ball can actually rock your entire hand forward on the ball and potentially cause thumb problems. If we angle the holes slightly away from the palm and in the direction your fingers want to lay, we can relax the hand and bring the front side of the fingerholes closer to your fingers. In the past, they would have said this would cause you to fall out of the ball or dump it, but this isn’t the case. In fact, it works very well for higher rev players to keep their hands from getting tired, and unless a significant amount of reverse pitch is used, it won’t negatively affect their rev rate.

Now take a look at your thumb. If your hand is relaxed, you should notice that your thumb points in relatively the same direction your fingers do. In the past, they would drill the thumb away from the palm thinking that it would make it easier to release the ball. While it sounds like a good argument, it can actually have the opposite effect. To start with, your thumb isn’t nearly as flexible as your fingers are. If you try to bend your thumb away from your palm, you will find that it won’t get very far. Angling the thumb away from the palm can cause one of the worst habits in bowling: gripping. While it may sound like more reverse angle would help you release the ball easier, what it actually does is make you grip harder to hold onto the ball during the entire swing. Then when you go to release the ball, the gripping can cause you to stick. Gripping can also lead to ball reaction issues.

Next we will talk about your span. All elements of fit are important, but errors in a few key areas can cause problems for an otherwise proper fit. For instance, a span that is too long or too short can cause finger or thumb problems, even if the finger and thumb fit is correct. Ideally, the span should allow you to keep your entire hand relaxed while your fingers are in the proper positions. A rule of thumb is to have enough room between your palm and the ball to slide a pen or a pencil between them. Your thumb “socket” (where your thumb meets the base of your hand) should be directly above the thumbhole, this allows your thumb to come straight out of the ball upon release. If your thumb is pulled out or pushed back because of an improper span, this can cause you to grip and can reorient your hand on the ball. The pads of your fingers also need to come into contact with the front side of the holes. If the crease at your first knuckle is the only thing contacting the hole, while the tips of your fingernails are contacting or rubbing against the back sides of the fingerholes, this is an indication your span is too long. However, if you have a tendency to really dig in with your fingers past the first knuckle, while your thumb socket is correctly placed above the thumbhole, this is an indication your span is too short.

Now we will talk about pitches, or the angles at which your finger and thumbholes are drilled. Similar to span, pitches that are wrong in either the fingers or the thumb can cause problems elsewhere. As I have touched on before, too much reverse in the thumb can cause you to grip the ball and/or shift your whole hand forward, while too much forward pitch can give you problems getting out of the ball and/or shift your whole hand back. Too much forward pitch in your fingers can rock your entire hand forward and/or cause finger pain, while too much reverse can shift your hand back and/or cause you to “dump” the ball or come out of it too early. Problems can also snowball if you aren’t careful. Improper fit can contribute to going further and further in the wrong direction trying to correct it if you or your pro shop operator can’t correctly identify and fix the core problem. For instance if your fingers are pitched too far forward, you hand slides up towards the fingers, the thumb slides slightly out of the thumbhole causing it to bend, and it results in gripping to hold on. Gripping causes release issues, such as a manufactured or incorrectly identified “sticking” of your thumb. If your thumb sticks, most people automatically assume there is an issue with the thumbhole. Assuming thumbhole issues, a correction will be wrongly made to the thumbhole, either in making it larger or adding reverse pitch. However, either of those, while at first seeming like a fix to the problem, will compound the problem by making you grip even tighter. An increase in thumbhole size or adding reverse pitch to the ball can also make the span feel short. If the span is lengthened, that can also feel “right” initially. However, it can strain your entire hand. Instead of adapting the ball to your hand, you actually start adapting your hand to the way the ball is drilled. Once your span is stretched out, your fingers will begin to change their orientation in the fingerholes. You will find that your fingernails will actually start rubbing against the backside of the fingerholes, and that the front edge of the fingerholes might start digging into your fingertips. A problem now compounded will take much more to fix than it would have if the problem would have been correctly identified to begin with. All these issues can cause your thumb to enlarge dramatically, and can even cause darkening in the tips of all your fingers. Excessive callouses can develop, and numbness while bowling is even encountered in extreme cases.

In Part 2, I’ll have a video illustrating and expanding on these concepts.