A Bump in the Road
May 12, 2021
I had another disappointing league night this past week, feeling inconsistent and scoring a 677 triple. I had one solid game with a string of /X/XX/XX and otherwise a combination of a low strike rate and not hitting the middle consistently. I can survive one or the other and score well enough, but not both together. When both of those come together, I average 200.
And that brings me to a tournament performance that did not go well.
Allan Clark and the PEI5PBA organized a tournament originally aimed at the Atlantic COVID-19 Bubble, but which quickly become the "Not Bubble Bowl" when COVID-19 cases skyrocketed in Nova Scotia and we did not regain the freedom of movement throughout Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI. This was to be a tournament in the vein of the other highly-competitive cash tournaments around the country and, I presume, a revival of sorts of the Halifax Classic, which had stopped when the host bowling center closed. I am grateful to Allan and everyone who helped organize and put on this event!
In spite of the changing circumstances of the event, we had 15 entries for the 8-game qualifying round, which ended in a 3-round playoff of head-to-head 2-game total score matches to crown a champion. First prize was $1000 and there were cash prizes for the top-4 finishers. I felt confident about at least making the playoffs, after which point, of course, anything could happen.
Unfortunately, I never came close. I shot 1600 for the 8 games. Exactly 1600. It was a remarkably consistent 1600, too: I shot a 166 and a 229 that canceled each other out in addition to six games between 181 and 210. If you've heard sportscasters use the term consistently inconsistent, that describes my performance.
And it left me utterly confused.
I started off slowly, missing the middle a lot until I settled down and my timing improved. Leaving aside the first 1/2 game, I felt like hit my target at about my average rate. I don't remember ever missing my target by a ridiculous distance, such as seems to happen once in a while. It felt, more or less, just OK. On a day like that, I could expect to average in the 230s somewhere, which would have been plenty good enough to finish in the top 5. But that requires strikes... and it seemed like there were no strikes.
I did not figure out how to throw strikes in that house. And I wasn't the only one. There were at least four of us in the bottom half of the field who struggled in a similar way, and among the four of us, we managed one score over 270 in 32 collective games. I presume that we all struggled to throw strikes. I don't know how it affected them, but I know what it did to me: I felt so confused that I lost my confidence, retreated into overthinking, and completely stopped trusting my shot.
And I forgot to tell myself, "Yeah.... that's how it always is!" I need to set another reminder on my phone for that to come up every so often in order to build the habit of remembering it when I need it.
I spent the first 2-3 games stubbornly (but systematically) checking my mechanics and that I was maintaining control over my mental state: rotation, lift, breathing, relaxation, calm, do all the thinking at the back of the lane and then just get up and throw the ball. Unfortunately, although I felt mostly fine (but not great), I kept throwing good shots and seeing no strikes. Worst, when I missed the middle on the first ball, I missed a lot of spares for (I presume) exactly the same reasons. I shot a lot of 5-5s punching the head pin on the second ball and a few 5-8s. This was a deadly combination. I'm not going to score well with 5 open frames per game if I don't occasionally run 4 or 5 strikes in a row. I had one triple in 8 games and never made it to a fourth strike. All that is a recipe for shooting 180-220... and that's pretty much what I did.
After this point, I knew that I still had a good shot at the playoffs, so tried changing lines, hoping for something that would carry more strikes. I tried small movements and stayed with my normal target. Nope. I tried my Plan B line, coming in from the right over the first arrow right-of-center. Nope. I tried going even farther to the right, because I saw that that line was working well for someone else. Nope. I tried my Plan C line, coming in from the left over the first arrow left-of-center. This line usually feels less comfortable to me, but I've persisted in practising it, because I imagined I'd need it from time to time. On the day, I actually felt quite comfortable with it... but I threw aces on my first shot, and by that time, I'd felt so confused that I told myself I was out of ideas and that nothing I did was going to matter. I tried the heavier and larger balls, hoping that that would change the pin action in my favor. Nope.
Just... nope. All day: nope. I just did not find it.
So... what next? I came home with very little confidence and much confusion about what happened, wondering whether my recent successes had been an illusion or luck. I had the idea that perhaps I needed to learn more about reading pins and adjusting to different conditions. Maybe this was just a sign that I'd been sheltered by bowling too often in a single bowling center with fairly consistent conditions, and that I need to learn some more theory about how to adjust. Maybe I would find another gap in my knowledge, just as I had found one when Jeff Young talked to me about putting rotation on the ball.
And maybe that's all a trap. That's what came up after a couple of days' reflection and a discussion with Tom Paterson about what I'd experienced. I wanted to think about what I could learn from this experience and what to do next, and although I had some ideas of my own, Tom offered me some other possibilities to consider, and after a good chat, I felt some optimism return.
Here's a list of what I'm trying to take away from this experience.
- I don't take enough credit for my successes, which primes my mind to expect me to fail.
- After a period of success, I began to lose sight of the habits that had led to that success. Perhaps I took them for granted or merely assumed that I'd ingrained those habits well enough that I could stop thinking about them.
- I want to let go of the need to understand what's happening to me, especially when I find myself in a competitive situation, where it's enough simply to find something that works better in the moment.
- When I experiment with different lines or other ways of fine-tuning my mechanics, I want to let go of expectations about the results. I'd rather view the results as feedback that helps me decide whether to try something else. I want to stop clinging to the hope that "this change is going to be the one".
- I haven't yet built the confidence I need to work through and get past these moments of confusion.
That gives me enough to work on, starting with some optimistic self-talk today, and then a return to productive habits tonight during league play.
It also suggests to me to put aside my scoring goal for the moment. It seems likely that my month of averaging 255 turned into something to cling to and that that contributed to me falling back into some old, unproductive habits. I had managed to "fall in love with the process" for a while, but then as I performed better, I fell back in love with the results. I'm not ready for that. I need to fall more deeply in love with the process, with the productive habits that led to my recent successes.
And that starts now.