Spares – How Do I Line Up for Spares?

So you’ve been bowling quite a few times now and feel pretty comfortable with your approach, release of the ball and trying for strikes. You are usually able to keep the first ball somewhere around the middle of the lane and hit the headpin most of the time. That’s great! I hope that some of my tips have helped to get you there. Believe it or not, that was the easy part–now it’s time for the real challenge within the sport of bowling, picking up your spares.

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

It seem logical that the fewer pins standing, the easier it should be to knock them down. Well, I’m here to tell ya, that just ain’t so! Even if you don’t count splits, consistently picking up your spares can be the hardest part of the game for many bowlers. The thing is, the fewer the pins, the smaller the target–therefore, less room for error. Think back to some of the strikes that you’ve had and how the pins were flying all over the place. You may not have hit the pocket (between the 1 and 3 pins for righties) or even the head pin, but somehow all of that pin action resulted in a strike. Spares are a different animal though. Fewer pins and less pin action requires greater accuracy. Don’t worry, it’s not impossible–here’s a technique that can greatly improve your spare shooting, which in turn will increase your scores (that sounds good to everyone).

3-6-9

What?! 3-6-9? I know, sounds like a counting drill or something. Actually, this is probably the quickest and easiest way to increase your consistency on spares. The 3-6-9 refers to the floor boards on the lane. You will be moving your feet that amount of floor boards to either the left or right in order to attempt a given spare. This method only works once you have a spot on the approach that you place your feet on for your first (strike) ball, as well as a spot on the lane (most bowler us the arrows) that you aim for on that shot. The amount of boards that you will move to the left or the right will be based off of your strike ball spot on the approach. I will explain this from the right hand bowlers’ perspective, so if you are a lefty use the same principle just invert the direction of the move.

Why Do I Have to Move?

The seven front pins that you see when you have a full rack are what you will use to determine your move, starting from your strike ball position on the approach. You will move you spot on the approach the opposite direction of the side of the headpin that your remaining pins are on. For each pin left of the headpin, you will move your feet three boards right while aiming at the same arrow. Conversely, for each pin right of the headpin, you will move left three boards. Since there are three pins to either side of the headpin, you will move 3, 6, or 9 board. So, if you leave either the 3, 6, or 10 pin, since they are to the right of the headpin, you will move your feet on the approach to the left 3, 6, or 9 boards to the left, respectively. At first this sounds and feels like it’s exactly the opposite of what you should do, but trust me it works.

So on the flip side, if you leave the two pin, because it’s the first pin left of the head pin, move your feet three floor boards to the right of your strike ball spot, while aiming at the same arrow. This will feel awkward at first but you will get used to it. Once you’ve move for your spare there are key elements to your success:

Walk to the foul line at your usual speed and STRAIGHT!
Aim for your usual mark (arrow) and watch the ball go over it.
Roll the ball at the same speed as for your first shot–don’t slow it down.

Many bowlers trying this for the first time have a tendency to walk crooked without realizing it; trying to walk toward their arrow. In order for the 3-6-9 method to work for you, you must walk in a straight line. To see if you are walking straight, pay attention to where you placed your feet to start you spare approach. Most bowlers use the dots on the approach to get themselves lined up. Well, the same dots are right at the foul line. After you let go of the ball look down at the dots and see if your slide foot is on or near the same dot (board) that you started on. If so, great! If not, keep working on it, you will get it eventually.

Got to Pay Attention to Yourself

Watch the ball roll over your usual arrow. If you don’t, there is no way to tell if you are doing this right. Accuracy is key, but slowing the ball down is not necessary. If you can usually hit your mark for your strike ball, you will be able to do this with a little practice, but slowing the ball down changes everything about your approach and release which effects your accuracy. Don’t do it. Maintain the same speed as your first ball; that’s the approach and release that feels most comfortable so stick with it–your just standing in a different spot–everything else should be the same.

What if There’s More Than One

This tip concentrates on the single pin spares, just to get accustomed to the new feel on the lane. For multi-pin, non-split spares, start with aiming for the pin closest to you. Once you get used to shooting at individual pins using the 3-6-9 method you will understand how to make small adjustments to get more that one pin.

This Can Work for Everyone

This can work with both a straight shot and the more advanced hook or curve shot. Those rolling a hook may need to adjust slightly depending on the amount of hook you get. That’s it! Not too tough, just takes practice. As I said, it feels awkward at first, like you are trying to do the opposite of what your mind believes to be right. Keep working on it you will get it–and in turn your scores will go up!Have fun on the lanes.