The Winning Ingredients
By Dr. Dean Hinitz – The Mind Game - Bowling This Month Magazine
Some of you are practicing. This, of course, is an essential part of the improvement package. The eternal question for the athlete seeking greatness is whether or not you have a practice plan that will elevate you to be a winner.
Everything, of course, starts with passion. When the heart of human spirit starts to beat with excitement about any endeavor, you have the possibility of joy, energy, connection, and forward movement. If you want to be great, if you wish to win, if you are willing to pay the price, then we will give a set of mental game and training guidelines for success attainment.
Some of what follows seems so simple that you would think that it scarcely needs to be reviewed, re-mentioned, and re-written into your brain and ball bag. There are principles that champions follow consciously and unconsciously that always work. Sometimes they get you the gold. Sometimes it is not your day. Yet, you will never play worse, and will consistently feel better about your game if you observe the following.
TEN ESSENTIAL PRINCIPLES
1. In any competition, at any level, you have to be committed to bowl great.
Do not play the game to avoid bowling badly. All too often, bowlers work on the exquisite nuances of their timing, releases, and other aspects of the obviously important physical game.
The way you can get fooled in competition is to think that if you are simply technically safe, i.e. careful to protect your hard earned physical competence, that you are playing championship ball. Playing to avoid playing badly is one of the chief sources of tightening arm muscles and swings, aiming and pointing at spares, and tentative delayed moves on the lanes. From this point of view, play to play greatly, or pack your stuff and come back another day.
2. Whether it is practice or competition, you have to love the challenge that the day presents to you.
It is common for bowlers to complain about all kinds of problems. We hear things about the lane conditions, approach surfaces, equipment problems, and physical game aspects being out of tune.
Bowlers almost universally treat challenges as if they are problems that are not supposed to be there. This is absurd of course. Something will always appear - that will seem like an impediment (obstacle) to flawless execution.
The difference in this approach is that anything that appears as a challenge becomes one of the factors that make the game interesting for you. You have to really appreciate the fun and opportunity of encountering, facing, and ultimately overcoming, challenges. The alternative is live in constant bowling misery as you find the million and one things that can get in the way of your next 900 series.
3. Stop sweating your results, and get completely involved in the process of playing magnificently.
This gets referenced frequently in virtually every coach’s mental game repertoire. Despite this commonly held principle, it is remarkable how much and how often bowlers sweat their results right out of the starting gate.
4. You have to know up front that virtually nothing that happens during the course of play can make you lose your cool.
You have to maintain a centered sense of yourself, no matter how the pins fall, no matter what kind of behavior other bowlers exhibit, or good or bad breaks that occur for anyone.
If people, pins, and performance have to turn out a certain way in order for you to be okay, then you have made yourself a hostage of the universe. Nothing in a performance arena should own you. You must be very clear long before the competition that this is true for you. If you do not handle this early in the game, life will knock you over with a stick. Fast.
5. Given a choice (which you have), playing the game knowing that the outcome does not matter is generally a lot better than caring too much.
When you know that the next ten, thirty, or fifty frames are simply the middle frames of the million or so tournament frames you will bowl, it can really take the heat off.
Sometimes there is a momentous tournament, a championship that means a great deal to you. It could be a league championship; perhaps it is the World Games. The first four principles listed above will be your guide to employing this one.
You can care. You can make things matter. You can prepare for the important moments in your competition career. The thing to watch out for is that care does not turn into worry. There is an infinitely fine line between worry and caring overly much. Keep yourself on the good side of this.
6. You have to believe completely in the game you play, the game you brought, and your ability to execute the game in your way.
Self-doubt has ruined more 300 games, 800 Series, and championship performances than almost any other mental game variable.
You have to know what you do, what your physical keys are, and then you have to believe, not hope, that what you are going to do will work. This is probably even truer for spare shots, than it is for your initial shot.
7. You should have some form of visualization in effect on every single shot.
Just a reminder here, visualization is not necessarily visual in nature. The most well recognized form of visualization is in fact to see the ball path on the lanes. With straight ball spare shooting you can pick a line from the pin(s) back to you, and then back to the target again.
You can also use visualization to get your mind right for ball speed, ball rotation, and even skid, flip, and roll. You do not really have to tell your body what to do to achieve these things. If they are in your already practiced arsenal of skills, you simply have to see it happening in your mind’s eye, have perhaps one physical key that creates the ball motion, and then trust yourself to execute what you have seen.
The third kind of visualization has to do with your body. You can know the feeling ahead of time of a perfect push-away, steady and smooth approach, or leveraged release. You can pick any feeling in the body, use your mind as a time machine, and let yourself unfold with the physical part of your visualized experience.
Again, very importantly in visualization, you tell your body what to do, not how to do it. The mind is like a military general issuing a command. It gives one general order. It does not go to all the fingers and toes (the corporals and privates) to make sure that they are obeying properly.
8. Roll every single shot with mental and physical authority.
Make a decision about where you are going to play the lanes, including on your spare shots, and then put away any doubts you have about whether or not your decision was a good one. You are probably better off being completely committed, even if you have the wrong ball or line, than you are having the perfect ball and line, but not having total faith in it.
Clarity about what you intend to do, commitment to follow through with it, and the willingness to adjust ball, line, or body, based on what you learn is the essence of this principle. All things stem from this kind of decision-making command post.
9. Be the best partner a bowler like you could have.
We generally see two kinds of competitors. First are those who subtly, or overtly, self-punish every mistake they ever made. Second are those who recognize the humanness of athletic performance. These athletes intelligently and supportively avoid the arrogance of perfectionism.
If you are a self-punisher, you risk creating the kind of long-term pressure that choking is ultimately made of. Two other consequences for self-punishment are a seriously delayed learning curve, and completely losing the joy that can be so much a part of any athletic endeavor.
If you are a good partner to yourself, you can have it all. You can learn and adjust at an accelerated rate. You enjoy the game, thus preventing burn out and having a better life. And, if it matters to you, you become a heckuva lot more fun to play with.
With respect to weaker equipment, it is sort of common lingo to say, “straighter is greater”. Yet, this really is often the truth. If you look at bowling ball advertising nearly all of the ads promote the power of four-wheel drive balls. Oil-churning, road-grating, chain saw balls rule. It is silly really. Yet bowling culture, particularly youth bowling, is like NASCAR, people like to see hard fast left turns.
When you mature to the point that you know that your “weak stuff”, is really your power stuff, you will have mastered one of the fundamental mental and physical game hurdles for advanced and beginning players alike.
10. Fall in love with your spare ball, as well as your less reactive equipment.
First off – there is distrust in the ability to push the ball away on a straight line and hit a stationary target. Without extensively practiced experience, many bowlers simply don’t have confidence in their spare ball.
Second – big ball reaction, particularly at home, is sexy. It just looks so darn impressive to roll a casual big swinging hook at a 4-pin, that on an easy pattern – it becomes a nonchalant way to show what you can do with a ball.
Third and lastly – it is laziness. Few players have the discipline to throw plastic at every spare in practice. Fewer still have the rigor to stop, focus, and treat spare shots in practice the way they intend to in competition.