Gold Coach Michelle Mullen: Overlook the Fundamentals at Your Peril

by Gianmarc Manzione 0


Carolyn Dorin-Ballard and I were discussing the presentation I would give to coaches at the 2019 Turbo Tech Collegiate Expo. I chose to talk about how, when it comes to developing your game, some changes are timeless.

Carolyn said she believes that coaches, when reviewing a student’s game, can become overwhelmed about what to change and how to change it — and that sometimes it’s as simple as making the fundamentals stronger.

Yup, that is the point. Sometimes we tend to overlook fundamentals in an attempt to find that Holy Grail to unlock our game, or that of a player we coach. Often, however, strengthening the fundamentals is the key to bowling better, especially when it comes to timing.

Fundamental Wisdom: Carolyn Dorin-Ballard believes coaches sometimes are guilty of overlooking fundamentals in an attempt to find that Holy Grail to unlock a student’s game.

Case in point: I recently had a lesson with a guy I’d seen from time to time over the years, and when I saw he was on the schedule I had an instant vision of how likely it was that his timing would be late in the start. But it had been a while, and I certainly could have been wrong this time.

He let me know that he was ready to re-invent himself. The time was now. So frustrated and having tried everything, he was out of ideas on what to do. He warmed up and, sure enough, he was dead late in the start. So the conversation began…

He told me he has to find a way to stay cool, calm and collected when he bowls because he gets so frustrated. In practice, he’d tried everything. But he didn’t seem to be able to hit his target consistently, roll it off his hand, and stay balanced. He tried to do better at these things, but he’d get mad and not do them consistently at all. He practiced and tried, but with little success.

I shot a video to show him his start. It was late. He knew he needed to push it on the first step, but he didn’t. To “reinvent himself,” I suggested he push the ball on step one. Again, it’s what we had worked on during every lesson since I’d known him. The lessons, however, had been sporadic.

We started working on it and he began doing it. The ball rolled better. The pins were reacting. It seemed like we (finally) got it done. So, what else could we work on?

I talked to him about how he practices and how this has to be what he practices. We were in the middle of a lesson and I was chirping in his ear on every shot, just hoping he would keep pushing. But he slipped into late again, so I told him, then I showed him, and we kept working. He saw what pushing does to the rest of the shot, and he actually relaxed into the change. He got energized.

Then, he mentally started to move on and, to me, got way ahead of himself. We stopped and talked again. I stressed how important it was to significantly increase the percentage of shots that are on time before he ever thought of moving on. Pushing was what he needed to practice. Working on anything else would be a distraction to accomplishing the consistency in his timing that he so desperately needed to “reinvent himself.” It’s what had been missing.

Suffice it to say that when you change one thing, it alters the feel of the rest of your approach. Once you have made a change, your body has to get acclimated to it. What happens is that when you change the beginning of your approach, it affects the rest of your motion.

You have to realize that changes come in two parts. Part of why you cannot move on so fast is that the rest of your approach has to acclimate to this change. The key to doing this is to do it more often. Give your body a consistent start that it can count on, and then it will acclimate quicker. When you change your start, you also have to “unlearn” what you used to do as a result of the poor timing you had before.

For example, when a player is late, they usually have to either cut the backswing short (because they run out of time for a full swing) or, if they have a full backswing, they end up pulling the ball in the downswing to catch up. When you change the start (in this case, moving the ball sooner), you also have to learn to let the ball swing naturally again because there no longer is a need to make up for a late start.

Here’s my analogy: You have a lesson at 2 p.m., live a half-hour away, and leave at 1:45. Now, you have to rush. Next time, rather than speeding, leave sooner. Then you can relax.

Timing Challenges
It’s common for me to see bowlers find a different way to stay late, mostly at a subconscious level. You might start to push the ball on time, but start to push it up too much, or tighten up the swing once you do push, both of which also delay the ball into the swing.

It’s not that you try to do it; your body just does it to stay late. It’s a comfort-zone thing. I’ve even seen players take a much shorter key step, which also has the effect of not giving the arm enough time to finish the pushaway during this step. These all are ways your body will try to stay late, even though you have learned to push the ball on time.

A secondary challenge to fixing your start is to accept a different feel at the line, and that can be just as challenging as the change in your start. As you change your start, you have to welcome a different feeling throughout the approach and at delivery. After all, that’s why you are adjusting your timing to begin with — for consistently better leverage at delivery.

I really think a lot of issues we have in our starts have to do with how we set the ball into motion. Though we know we need to move our swing arm with our key step, it does not feel natural to move the right arm with the right leg. When we walk, our arms move with the opposite leg.

I strongly suggest using your opposite hand to get the ball moving with the key step. Not only will that help you support the weight of the ball so that your swing can relax, it also resembles your natural gait. Too many bowlers focus on their swing arm and tense it up to bowl. Use the opposite hand to create a pendulum in your swing arm, and you’ll be able to relax and bowl better.

Timing Tendency
First of all, know that whatever your tendency is, it is a strong one. I tell students all the time that they’ll always have to manage their tendency, be it late or early timing.

With this, there is a lot going on when you work on adjusting your timing. It is not a quick fix. There is a mentality involved that goes along with making the change.

You have to understand what the change really involves to be able to make it successfully. Not only does your timing change, but so does your rhythm, or tempo.

Take late timing, for example. Late timing is about excessive control, or not wanting to move the ball. Being late is a way of staying in too much control of the shot. Pushing the ball out sooner will make your feet move faster to keep up with the swing, and that feels out of control.

But with late timing, you had too much control to begin with by not pushing the ball. It does not mean it’s wrong; it means it’s different, and that you actually are making the change.

So much is affected by the start. That’s why, as professionals, we would constantly work on how we got started when getting ready to go out on tour. We knew what our tendency was, and that we had to work on it daily.

Like I told my student who was ready to re-invent himself, while helping him understand what makes it challenging, if the best in the world had to work on it, maybe it would be a great idea for him to work on his timing in the start.

From a coach’s perspective, that can go a long way in assisting in a player’s success.

Michelle Mullen is a USBC Gold-level coach and the author of two books, “Bowling Fundamentals” and “How to Pick Up Spares.” Her instructional column, "Foundation Frame," appears bimonthly in Bowers Journal International. To subscribe now for much more of the industry's best coverage of bowling news and incisive instructional tips and analysis, go here:

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