League Bowling – Sport Shots vs. “House” Shots – The Debate

It’s an old topic in my bowling world. I’ve discussed it, argued it and thought about it many times.
Some will say that bowling on a “Sport” condition or “Challenge” condition will make you a better bowler. It forces you to see that just standing left and throwing the ball to the right (or right to left for us lefties) doesn’t always work, no matter how well you roll the ball off of your hand and no matter how good that shot felt to you. They will say that it evens the playing field and controls the bloated scoring pace and puts more emphasis on spare shooting and accuracy.

I agree with some of that but….

Since when did the word “house” shot become equated with EASY? I hear the terms being thrown around all of the time, “House Bowler”, “House Hack”. I personally bowl on many “House” conditions and would NEVER describe them all as being easy. Every house plays differently due to numerous factors including the lane machine in use (and how it’s maintained), the lane oil being used, the type of and condition of the lane surface (wood/synthetic), the topography, the humidity, the temperature, the pins in use, etc..
I don’t recall watching PBA telecasts after Junior Bowling back in the 80’s and hearing the announcers state that “We are using a “House” shot during today’s competition.” They bowled on whatever condition was out there, period. No need to label it.
Now it’s Cheetah, Wolf, Badger, Scorpion, blah, blah, blah… Patterns created to take certain areas of the lane out of play. To force bowlers into a certain area in order to attain good scores.
Most Professional bowlers who bowl for a living are VERY good at what they do and are able to do things with a bowling ball that most league bowlers cannot. But even at their level they sometimes need guidance from their Pro Staff Rep as to how to attack the lanes and which ball to use. The resources at their disposal are plentiful and required to achieve maximum results on any consistent basis.

So, now we take a bunch of “scratch” league bowlers who want to be better at what they do and learn something about this game that we love. We organize a league in which “sport/challenge” patterns will be used and we are excited thinking this will help us become better. It will expose the “House Hack” for what he really is and it will put an emphasis on what we all want.. to be rewarded for good shot making because we’re tired of losing 268-245 during our “House” shot league.
What actually happens though is that the center lays out the chosen condition and after a week or so you can hear the grumbling and complaining from some of the participants. “This sucks”, “This shot doesn’t play like it’s supposed to”, “I can’t wait until this is over”.
There are a handful of bowlers who seem to be dominating the competition week after week and they aren’t necessarily the ones you would expect. Some of the bowlers who are thought of as more polished and consistent are struggling.
What’s happened is that we’ve created a league in which one part of the lane becomes conducive to scoring and blocked out the rest. A bowler who was averaging 210 when he bowled in the “House” shot league is still averaging 210 and a guy who averaged 230 is at 209. Which one is the better bowler? It’s really hard to say.
All bowlers have their “A”, “B”, and “C” games. Their “A” game was developed from years of repetition and is the most comfortable and repeatable way for them to play the lanes. When a certain part of the lane becomes the only good scoring opportunity available there will be some players who rise above the rest simply because they are comfortable in that zone. While a player who’s “A” game may be even stronger and more developed may struggle mightily to adjust his angles, body position, release, etc to match the condition at hand. His “B” or “C” game cannot compensate.
Wouldn’t the best competition possible be your “A” game against your competitors “A” game? This may be a bit unrealistic but the closer we can get to this scenario, the better.

So how does the bowler who is struggling overcome and become a better bowler?
He/She can practice. The problem here is that most bowlers either don’t want to, don’t have the time or don’t have the extra money to practice and very few will choose this path. On top of that, the center most likely will not have the “sport” pattern available to practice on during the week and practicing on the “House” pattern will not do him/her any good anyway.
He/She can buy a new ball that is more suited to the condition at hand. This can be a decent solution but is costly, especially when you take into account that the pattern that is being used may only be for a one full season or less and then it may not be bowled on ever again. For many bowlers this will be the chosen path but will not always solve the real problem which is…the part of the lane which they wish to play is NOT the proper area to play. Bowling ball choice can only go so far in correcting this issue. Without practice results may be limited.
At this point (average drop, frustration with inability to compete with others, cost put into equipment that hasn’t helped) we see some bowlers revert back to the path of least resistance which is “House” shot bowling leagues. This is why sport/challenge shot leagues are so hard to develop and maintain.
There will always be some of the bowlers who want and get the most out of this type of league but to others the experience can be humbling and even embarrassing. It can make for a very long 32-36 week league that can have an adverse effect on some participants. The ones who do enjoy it will say the others are quitters.
Back in the 70’s and 80’s when bowling was booming we all bowled on “House” shots. What we grew up on and knew as bowling remained bowling as we got older and we got better and better at it through repetition. There was a satisfaction derived from becoming better at it and we knew that the efforts that were put in would be rewarded down the road because we were practicing on what we were competing on. “A” games that we developed were a source of confidence and accomplishment. Sport/challenge patterns can render our “A” games useless and everything we have prided ourselves on is stripped away.
In a nut shell sport shot bowling may be better suited for tournament bowling and house shots should be fine anytime and anywhere. After all most league bowlers go to tournaments to be challenged and rewarded for the day’s efforts. It is a short term experience. If a bowler does not enjoy his tournament experience he may choose not to bowl the event next time on the said sport/challenge pattern or he may take a few weeks/months to re-build his confidence and try again.
League bowling on the other hand is a long term endeavor and needs to be be enjoyed long term. If a league bowler decides he is not having a rewarding experience…well…you know what happens.

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