By Michael Cousins
With Junior Gold (JG) just around the corner, youth bowlers everywhere are working hard to improve their games and get ready for the single biggest youth event of the year. But what should they be working on? How do they prepare themselves for the unknown?
Well, practice is vital. Obviously. In bowling — and any other sport or thing, really — repetition is key to improvement. But if you’re practicing the wrong things, then you could actually be doing more harm than good.
I always suggest working on your weaknesses first. Always.
If you’re innately good at something, you’re always going to have that to go to. But, if you’re innately bad at something, while you may never make it your greatest strength, you need to do everything you can to at least close the gap between you strengths and weaknesses.
Junior Gold is tough. And no matter how strong your strength is, if you want to really perform at your best and make a run at the cut, matchplay, or winning, even, you’ll have to rely on more than just that.
If you’re lucky enough to have a home center that allows you to put out patterns, then you are one of the fortunate few. In your case, bowl on as many patterns as possible. Especially the ones you’re weakest at. If you know short patterns give you a fit, bowl on them. If you know long patterns are a weakness of yours, bowl on them. And while you’re bowling on them, try different things. Different balls, surfaces, hand positions, angles of attack, etc.
If you aren’t lucky enough to have a center that puts shots out for you, that is fine, too. You can still work on playing different parts of the lane and different angles without patterns. Just don’t bowl for score. Don’t worry about striking. Don’t worry about hitting the pocket. Honestly, if you’re working on your straight game for shorter patterns and you’re bowling on house shots, don’t even bother hitting the head pin. It doesn’t matter, after all. Just focus on repeating shots; it is repetition that makes us better.
Bowling for score in practice is a huge no-no. At any time. I personally recommend bowling without putting in names. And if your center makes you put in a name to bowl, ignore it completely. Bowling high games in practice isn’t going to get you anywhere. You may feel good about yourself for a bit, but, at the end of the day, it just gives a false sense of confidence.
In addition to extensively working on your weaknesses, shoot spares. Lots and lots of spares. And, believe me, I know this gets boring and tedious, but it is so important. In many cases, you can make the cut at JG on spare shooting alone. It is that important.
Personally, I recommend spending anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour on spare shooting. Each and every practice session. I promise, if you do it, it will pay dividends in the end.
Being physically prepared isn’t enough, though. In addition to your physical readiness, you have to be mentally ready, as well.
In order to achieve this, I recommend bowling as many tournaments as possible between now and JG.
Practicing is great, and it will undoubtedly help you improve long term. But in order to get sharp, you have to bowl in competition. It not only helps you physically, but it also gets you comfortable and loose.
When you only bowl tournaments periodically, each tournament feels bigger than it is, which increases your stress level and can impact your ability to perform. But when you bowl tournaments with regularity, you become more comfortable in the environment. And comfortability cannot be overstated.
So if you go into JG without much tournament experience, you are going to be far more nervous and anxious than you would be if you had been bowling tournaments leading up to it. That isn’t to say it is going to get rid of all of your anxiety, because it won’t, but it is going to better prepare you, which, in the end, is all you can really ask for.
So bowl as much as possible, bowl as often as possible, and bowl as regularly as possible. If you do that, in the end, regardless of what happens at the tournament, you’ll be able to live with the results.