By Stephen Padilla on Sep 12, 2019, 12:28:49 PM
In bowling, footwork on the approach is sometimes overlooked among more glamorous things like the release, swing and photo-worthy finish positions, but footwork is one of the most important parts of the approach. After all, without footwork, how do you get from your start to the foul line?
Number of Steps
One of my favorite bowling rules is that you can essentially do whatever you want on the approach as long as you don't cross the foul line. You can take zero steps or a hundred steps-stay behind the line and you're fine.
Most bowlers use either four- or five-step approaches, as these tend to best align the tempo with the arm swing, but again, there's no rule as to how many steps you have to take. What's important is that you can repeat whatever you choose to do. You don't want to be taking four steps one frame and then seven the next, then five, etc. Sometimes, there are legitimate reasons to change your number of steps from shot to shot, such as when you're trying to stand in front of or walk around a ball return. Generally, you want to take the same number of steps every shot for consistency.
Length of Steps
There are two schools of thought on this. The first one, which I like to call the textbook version, says your steps should get a little longer as you go through the approach. The first step is short, next step is a little longer and eventually, your final step (often the slide) will be the longest.
The more advanced version, which you'll see in most players today, makes the pivot or power step the shortest step. If you use an advanced four-step approach, your first two steps will be medium-length, your third-your power step-will be the shortest, and the final step will be your longest.
In both styles, a big key is your overall acceleration from start to finish.
We're specifically talking lateral direction here. For example, if you start your approach on the 20 board, do you also finish on the 20 board? Maybe 18 or 22?
One term I want to clear up is drift. Some will say that if you start and finish on a different board, you're drifting, but I see a distinction here. If you're always finishing two boards (or however many it may be) left or right of where you start, that's a repeatable, lateral movement and is fine.
However, if you're inconsistent in your movement-that is, finishing two boards left one shot, three left the next, two right the next-now you're drifting on the approach. This is not ideal because it's not repeatable and will cause many inconsistencies in your deliveries.
Sticky and Slippery Approaches
Finally, let's talk about the approach itself. In order to maintain consistency and repeatability, you want to make the approach feel as close to normal-whatever normal is to you-no matter where you are.
Sometimes, due to humidity or spilled soda or some other factor, the approaches will be tackier than normal. Likewise, sometimes the approaches will be slipperier.
If you have shoes with interchangeable soles and heels, the fix is easy: change your sole and/or heel to balance out your approach conditions.
If you don't have that luxury, there are still some things you can do. For tacky approaches, try cutting off the toe of a sock and put it over the front sole of your slide shoe or look for a small amount of dust in the bowling center to put on your slide sole.
For slippery approaches, some players will scuff their soles or heels with a small wire brush. Others will shorten their approach to slow down their tempo and avoid having to slide as far on a slippery approach.
Without great footwork, it's hard to repeat shots, maintain consistency and repeat accurately on the lanes. When working on your game, don't overlook the footwork. You may find that fixing this part of your game will correct other issues as well.