Ability doesn't guarantee success and that's a grim reality in any sport. So many athletes are touted as can't miss: baseball has their 5 tool players, basketball has their 7 footers and in our sport, people who just flat out throws it sick. We wonder how they fail to rise to those elite levels they seemed destined for. Some dedicate themselves to serious practice which helps, but in the end, the mental side of the game is what will make or break you.
We all have to deal with success and failure. How we deal with it is what makes us stronger or makes us suffer. Is fear the ultimate enemy? Is that what might get in Pete Weber's head when he bowls Walter Ray (he can't seem to beat him) or perhaps what keeps Chris Barnes from being the superstar he should be?
We perform in a sport with far too much time on our hands. Pop Quiz? In a 4 person, 3 game league, how long do we spend actually bowling? 20 minutes? Half hour? Well, lets do the math: 4 person league - total league time is about 2 1/2 hours. A shot start to finish is about 5 seconds. An average bowler throws 15 strikes and 18 spares - about 50 shots X 5 seconds is 250 seconds - that's a tad over 4 minutes. That leaves 2 hours and 26 minutes to do what? With all this time what is there to do but think and ponder.
It's easy to start with a few strikes and think about how great it would be to shoot 300 or open with a few bad frames and resign ourselves to the fact it's just not our day. Most are quick to give up or put undo pressure on themselves way before anything has actually happened. It's not like we opened league with back to back 300s and have the front 8. Now you're thinking what I'm thinking... immortality!
First rule of competitive sports: LIVE IN THE MOMENT. The expression, the past is history and the future a mystery. Totally true. You need to stay here and now. That means you tackle the task at hand and absolutely nothing else. You can't get caught up in what has happened or if only that had; it's done and can't be changed. Here you are and nothing will change it so deal with in. Accept. The flip side is good things are happening! Perhaps from starting with the first 8 strikes and you haven't shot a 300 yet in your life. Are you starting to feel your heart beating faster? Breath changing? Becoming more aware of the fact that nobody is talking to you anymore. Lonely huh?
Focus is the ability to keep extraneous thoughts out of your mind; to not dwell on what has happened or what could happen. To quiet your mind and prepare yourself for the next task at hand. Focus starts when your shoes go on and doesn't end until your last ball is thrown. It's your game face.
We need to be focused because there's a lot out there to be absorbed and digested: Who's playing where? Who has a nice look? What's the scoring pace? How's my ball reaction? Should I change balls? What's the cut? Who's leading? Your mind can get pretty loud in a hurry with all sorts of fleeting thoughts and ideas. It's like daydreaming. Get a couple bad ball reactions and your mind can start screaming at you. Focus enhances your clarity of thought. Helps you make smart decisions, and consider alternatives.
BREATH. Nothing will balance you faster and bring you back to the present faster than breathing. It's a crucial tool when your head gets noisy and is a vital part to your pre-shot routine. Breathing centers you, relieves tension and gets you calm. Take a deep breathe as you finish drying your hand and another just before you start your approach. It will get you centered and relieve some undo tension.
CONCENTRATION is your ability to take your focus into the shot. It's what keeps doubt and distraction out of your game so you can deliver. This is easier for those who don't bowl out of emotion. It's my belief that those who are loud players can lose their concentration faster than those who tend to be more quiet.
Bowling has similarities to golf; lots of time to get wrapped up in the past and future. It's not nearly like playing tennis, soccer or basketball. Those sports are reactionary while our sport isprogressive. We are constantly trying to attain an easier, higher level of success through changes in ball, alignment or game. Every shot we throw is intentionally or unintentionally analyzed as to it's motion and ultimate outcome, strikes.
So focus is the ability to keep your mind quiet so that you can figure out what needs to change. Think, decide, commit. Now once you have a plan, to change balls, move my feet, slow down, turn it more, ease up on my fingers, whatever, your concentration is what you use to execute it. That's the recipe for success.
Thoughts? Although this is a blog, we can all learn from each other. So any opinions on the subject are welcome.