Sheep's Heid Bowling

Image by Tom Parnell via Flickr

I was sitting in the car on a sunny Saturday, reading the paper whilst waiting for my brother-in-law’s football (soccer) game to start in a suburb in the inner west of Sydney. The windows were down to let a bit of Spring in, the radio was tuned to the ABC 702 Grandstand program. Not sure why, I guess I just don’t listen to radio much at 1.30pm on a Saturday. One of the guests was an Australian ten-pin bowling champion who was asked to explain one thing everyone experiences when bowling that we don’t realise has an impact on the pros.

The guest began to explain how bowling lanes are not covered in a type of lacquer as we might think, but rather a particular kind of bowling oil that is actually buffed into particular “patterns”. This is an actual thing – check it out here. It happens all around the world and has rules and standards.

Essentially, for us amateurs (who forget how big our shoe size is according to the standards of AMF, who pick up balls much too heavy or light for the game, who have no idea about technique except to make sure we hold the ball close enough to smell with a determined look on our face) they actually make the sides of the lane curve the ball back towards the centre and make the centre of the lane much quicker so your strike is more likely.

For the pros, the patterns are agreed upon and implemented and checked and monitored. However, the 702 guest argued that actually it’s not that simple. It’s like being a golfer who has bunkers and trees and rough, except you can’t see the course. Everything is invisible and you only have the reaction of the ball to the surface to judge whether or not your throw will take a particular path. You can watch your competitors and teammates, you can mimic or contrast their technique but essentially you need to try something in order to see what happens.

On top of this, the path isn’t just invisible but it’s also subject to change: every time a ball is thrown down the lane, it changes the grooves in the lane. All the competitors use the same lane or lanes, they have the same goal – bowling “at a 10 cent piece from 18 metres away”(60 feet). They use different techniques and clearly have changing circumstances to deal with. However, how do we get used to the grooves and all the other factors that can influence that perfect throw.

The point of all this – as I’m sure you’ve gathered – is that this is the same experience for many of our students. We set them a goal (let’s be honest, it’s usually us not them), we show them the lane (often with a bit of scaffolding) and say “throw”. We watch, mark down their score, maybe give a bit of advice, and we all move on to the next game. We don’t often look for the grooves or notice how they change, and we certainly don’t often take into account the different patterns that exist in the minds of the students themselves.

If we (teachers and students) do things right, should all our bowlers get a strike? What if they don’t? How much pressure do we put on the throw? And what if bowling isn’t their strength? Even when we line all our bowlers up for what we think is the same throw, poised at the foul line, what do we hope will happen?

Let’s make this a week of doing the best we can. Of throwing the ball and seeing where it goes and reflecting on why. And maybe, just maybe, it’s not all about the strike.