“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals. “
Jim Rohn, Author
By the time the lights come on, you are, for the moment, done developing your physical game. You have your arsenal of balls and release positions. Outside of the power and accuracy of your delivery, your competition strength and toughness will be tied to your bank of mental game strategies.
You should have a contact list in your brain for mental game options in the face of all the situations with which playing competitively can challenge you.
13 Essential Tools
Focus and visualization are amongst the most powerful tools in all of sports psychology. The ability to dial-in to what you are going to do is essential to success in bowling. You can greatly strengthen your mental toughness by practicing the following:
• Rock solid clarity about what you intend to focus on. The clearer you are about what you want to focus on, the more likely you’ll be to stay honed-in to the factors that allow you to score, and to make spares. Break-point, body, commitment, decide what is the most important thing on your mental screen.
• Take charge. You have control over yourself. This includes your own visualizations, attitudes, and ultimately your actions — that is it! As noted, there are only three effective points of action, (a) where and how you will play the lane, (b) what you intend to activate or feel in your body, and (c) whether you will “autograph” your delivery in an open, vulnerable, committed way.
• Make friends with competition feelings. Contrary to popular belief, becoming entirely relaxed is not the mission here; Finding a way to execute effectively is the target. Focusing on the right things (see above) is your best bet. That said, emotion regulation strategies like taking a deep diaphragmatic breath, stretching affected muscles, powerful self-talk, and clear visualization, can be part of a super effective pre-shot routine.
• Use centering words or trigger points. Anchoring words are inspirational or action-oriented words and phrases that remind you of your focus and mission. Using words and phrases such as push, post, play with heart, go for it, focus and etc. will center you.
You can also develop a physical action that will cue the same thing if you associate the action with the proper competition attitude, for example, press the thumb and middle finger together, or practice your grip and pressure on the opposite wrist. Repeatedly associate those actions with the competition thoughts and intentions that you find effective. Soon the finger or hand action will activate your desired action state of mind.
• Have an ironclad pre-shot routine. A pre-shot routine is like a multi-lane road that narrows the vehicle of your mind into one focused lane. For example, towel off your ball, take a deep breath, focus on your line, sense your moment that you feel the internal signal to go. And then go when you have the feeling or impulse that says yes in your mind.
• Have an ironclad post-shot routine. The commitment to a great post-shot routine is one of the most underrated elements of the shot cycle. Immediately after the ball is off your hand, you have to be like a cat staring at a bird in flight, fascinated and curious.
Your investment in knowing what your body did, how you executed, and what happened on the lanes, will cue what you need to attend to and adjust for the next shot. It also lets you enjoy and reinforce the feeling of a great shot. If knowing exactly what happened is more important than your feelings, and your immediate results, you are on a growth path. That path steers you clear of a pattern of choking.
• Use some form of visualization on every shot. Just like your mind forms an impression of what a handshake should feel like before you actually grasp someone’s hand, you can know precisely how you would like to feel before you execute a shot. You can also image your ball path, or you can even know how open and free you will choose to be when you go through your approach.
You can do one of three things here. You can see yourself following an ideal model of how someone great bowls. You can see yourself executing from the outside like watching a video. Or the most powerful mode, is to see and feel yourself from the inside. Practice seeing yourself perform exactly as you want to perform, tuning-into the exact way you want to execute.
• Rate your shot on the A.C.E. scale after shots, games, practices, and tournaments A.C.E. stands for awareness, commitment, and enjoyment. Keep track mentally, or start a journal in which you rate your level of focus before and after each shot, practice or competition. Simple daily evaluations are critical to improving your focus. By consistently being consciously aware of improving and evaluating your play, you’ll automatically raise your awareness and level of play. This type of daily “mental muscle” work will gradually improve your focus in practice and games. You can literally rate your shots from 1 to 10 on level of Awareness of all aspects of the shot, body, and pin reaction, Commitment to the shot, and Enjoyment of your bowling motion (A.C.E.).
A Word on Confidence. At the end of the day, your confidence will be highly correlated with your scoring pace, and your spare completions. You can strengthen your confidence by incorporating the following.
• You should be aware that your confidence level waxes and wanes. It’s not that you just do or do not have confidence, any more than you do or do not have muscles. There are, however, days and situations where you feel more or less capable.
You must have the ability to generate the internal drive we call confidence, which simply stated, is faith in yourself to execute. You can do this most easily by doing three things. First, trust your training. You know that you know how to execute. Second, imagine and generate the optimum feeling of execution-mentally, emotionally, and physically, before you roll. Lastly, trust yourself to keep your simplest word, e.g. to post, to play with heart, to roll to your breakpoint.
• Keep your universe small, with no intruders. If you attend to fans, teammates, or opponents while you play, you may as well be staring at them when you go through your delivery. Keep your work space small. There is nothing for you outside of the approach area, unless you benefit from supportive connection in the immediate area.
• Allow yourself to enjoy the parts of your shot, and your history, that have been rewarding. Your successes, from the past, and from your immediate experience, will build a sense that good things happen when you play, all the time. This is true especially in practice. You have to love the feeling of great execution.
• Focus on the controllable outcomes. All goals are outcome goals. It’s just that the ones closest to you are the goals you are in charge of, and the ones that lead to the bigger ones. Confidence comes from knowing that you can deliver. So, the answer is…deliver. Back up from pin-fall and pick a physical goal that you can hit, e.g. clean thumb exit, focusing on your mark, or a heart goal, e.g. complete commitment to a shot. Your confidence will rise with your perception of control of the elements closest to you.
• Set a governor and a timer on your emotional reactions. Feelings are a natural result of action. When we feel good we reinforce what occurred. Enjoy that…briefly. When we feel bad, we are reacting to something we didn’t like. So, if you feel bad after a shot, simply decide what you will change, and move on.
You have to know that feelings are like fire kindling. So, we must be careful to limit how carried away we get by them. Keep your emotional reaction brief, and generally underinflated. You have another frame just ahead.
“Any player can get emotional during the course of a game. That is the most normal thing in sports. But to have feelings about the right thing, with the right intensity, at the right moment, for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within most athlete’s repertoire, and is not easy to master.”
Dean Hinitz, Ph.D. (adapted from Aristotle)
©2018. Reprints with permission from the author only