If you’re a fan of the Lord of The Rings trilogy (as I am) and have taken the time to read the books then you may know there is intricate detail, life lessons and allegorical meaning woven all through the story. Ever wonder why when the ring of power is placed on a finger, the wearer becomes invisible? The hidden meaning there is the wearer traded who they are for the promise of the ring, ultimate power and control. Eventually as is the case with Gollum, the ring becomes your only obsession in life and who you are is lost forever. An English teacher I had in High School all those years ago tried to teach me a life lesson. We had read Lord of The Rings and analyzed it. Her inscription in my senior year’s year book read: “On your quest through life, may you never become invisible”. It was a personal inscription which was much more than the typical “good luck, in whatever you choose to do” kind of inscription. At the time, I read it and just dismissed it. But, it stuck with me all these years. How is something as profound as that related to Bowling? Well, keep reading and you’ll find out.
Recently, I’ve been through a time with my game where nothing seems to work well. I guess you could call it a slump. The irony is I’m throwing the ball well, just not scoring. Trusted people I know watch me roll the ball and tell me it looks really good. So, after some thinking on the subject, I resolved to accept their observation leaving the only thing left as my mental game. I returned once again to Dr. Dean Hinitz’s book “Focused For Bowling” since I had decided to start there. I came across a quote that I had read many times in the past. This time, however, it jumped off the page at me. So, much so that I posted it on Facebook for others to consider; “Championship quality performance does not depend on calmness, excitement, super energy, or even who has the biggest hand on the ball. The X-factor is who you are at the line.”
The magic this time around is in that last phrase “The X-factor is who you are at the line.” That moment at the line when you release the ball is like the transition from night to day. It’s that flash of time when you decide who you are right now meaning are you going to throw this one specific shot like it is the only shot you will ever make? With total resolve to execute and bring everything you have right now in this very moment or will you feed the monster and bowl scared? On every shot we get to choose who we are! Now that’s refreshing, liberating and just plain awesome! The monster in this case is your negative mental game. We are all well aware of our shortcomings as bowlers we know too well where our game is weak. Our doubts, fears and feelings of inadequacy if allowed to go unchecked all feed the monster. The more we feed it the bigger and stronger it becomes until like the ring of power we become invisible or worst, lose who we are forever.
There are plenty of bowlers around ready to rip you apart with callus comments. “Oh, how did he/she possibly win, they’re not any good”. What does that mean anyway? By what measure are you applying “good”? It certainly can’t be average since averages in bowling are absolutely meaningless. “…it’s why we play all ten frames.” I have to credit Jon Van Hees with that last quote. Whether he knew it or not at the time he displayed profound wisdom in a conversation with another bowler on this very topic. Jon recognizes that anyone can defeat anyone else, regardless of who they are, on any given day. If the outcome were a foregone conclusion, what would be the point of bowling in the first place? Or perhaps, “you know, you don’t really get a lot on the ball.” As if rev rate was a prerequisite for playing the game in the first place.
I see it every day at every level of the sport, from juniors to adults to those who should know better. All of these comments and negative feedback over time can wreck havoc on your psyche. The trick is to remove yourself from the company of such people. Surround yourself with positive, affirming people who are there as a support system and want to help. Leave the “negative Nancy’s” to wallow in their own stench. My best advice, find a certified coach…we get it!
Now just to show you that coaches are vulnerable too, remember I started this by describing my own personal struggle. Yes, I know all of this, I coach it, I’ve lived it but in this case sadly I let it get ahead of me. In short, I fed the monster. So a profound “thank you” once again to the sage of the bowling mental game, Dr. Dean Hinitz. The monster will always be there but, if I have my way it’s going to go hungry for quite a while. So what about you? Who are you anyway? Who will you be the next time you’re at the line? I’m going to turn that inscription around for you; “In your bowling quest, may you always be visible.”
Fran Varin is a USBC Silver certified coach who coaches throughout Rhode Island. He is also a coach for the Rhode Island Flyers and Bryant University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org