But that's great, because that's the first step towards becoming a true bowler. So, if you feel the same way, you just might be the perfect candidate for league bowling. Does that sound crazy? Well, the honest truth is, on any given night, I can hear dozens of people mutter the very same sentiment under their breath. The first step towards becoming a bowler is realizing that things will most certainly not always go your way. Pins will wobble, you WILL throw the ball directly into the gutter, and even the 'pro' with the 250 average will be unhappy with at least one, if not all of his games.
There's a lot you simply don't take into account when you only bowl once or twice a year. Bowling at the same house, or even multiple houses (allies), quickly keys you in that lane conditions change daily; and when you add in the potential to drink and eat while playing, well, it's unpredictable. I've blogged a few times about my league bowling experiences, and I often get the impression people think I'm a 'good' bowler; I'm not even a 'serious' bowler. I bowl for fun. And the best teams, and leagues, bowl for fun too. You see, the first thing you need to know is that ANYONE can bowl in a league, and ANYONE can WIN in a league too!
But why on Earth would I want to bowl for competition, or in a tournament, if the highest score I've ever bowled was a 69?
Okay, the second important thing to understand is that there are a variety of leagues. If you do not bowl professionally for a living, and an estimated 91% of USBC registered bowlers don't, you may bowl in a handicap league. There are currently 8 handicap leagues at my local house (alley), just to give you an idea how common this type of league is. A handicap league means you establish an average during the first night of the 'season' and you automatically receive the difference in pins as a 'handicap,' each game during the season. That is to say, if I bowl an average of 95 on my first night, I will aim to bowl 95 or better to support my team the remainder of the season. My goal is NOT to shoot a 200 game, because my handicap will automatically average my final scores out to 200, so long as I hit my average. Essentially, you are competing against yourself, and your own progress.
There are typically 2 'seasons' of bowling, Winter (which often ranges 7-8 months) and Summer (a shorter 2.5-3 months). You can walk into virtually any alley, right up to the front desk, and request a sheet with their current league information. Then it's as easy as finding the league you want to bowl in (there will be different times and days available to fit your schedule), showing up on a league night, and getting placed on a team. Naturally, you can always put together your own team and join a league as well. Leagues will vary in size from doubles (2) to a 5 man team. You will pay your USBC yearly fees ($21) on your first night, and any weekly bowling league fees due that night. Here in SoCal league fees range from $10-$20 a week, depending on how many prize levels will be given out at the end of the season. Teams bowl 3 games an evening and league bowlers are often offered free games and hefty discounts throughout the week.
There are many types of leagues, the most common handicap league being mixed (men and women, age 17+), but there are also specialty leagues such as women's, elderly, couples, and youth. There are even Mixed Youth/Adult leagues where a parent or family member can bowl alongside a youngster to earn scholarship money. These leagues are often cheaper per week, and can be a great way to get kids excited about team sports. Jay and Sabrina (11) just started one this Winter and are having a blast.
I think this is the number one reason that bowling leagues do not see more new sign ups each year. Once potential bowlers get over the confusion of how simple it really is to begin bowling in a league, they are intimidated by the social situation. This is the actual reason I began bowling- to be more social and push my comfort zone. The truth is, I've thrown a ball backwards twice; heck, I've even thrown a ball into the next lane over. I'm not a Master bowler, nor do I ever expect to be one. I've been bowling 3 years now, 6 seasons (8 different league sessions total), and my team has never taken first place. I started with an 86 average, and now have a 125. My highest game is a 189 (and boy did I go home glowing that night!), but I still bowl under 100 from time to time.
What I am trying to impress is that bowling in a handicap league is about fun- and the majority of the bowlers who bowl 'league' embrace handicap as a beautiful thing. In fact, some teams fight over those with higher handicaps! I bowl to compete against myself, I bowl to meet my average, not exceed my teammates scores. Our teams are made of friends, family, strangers- we've done it all. But the real reason I bowl is because it's fun. (Shhhh, don't tell anyone I admitted it.) I bowl because my league becomes my family, I make a myriad of new friends, I push myself a little each week, and I've learned that bowling is not about perfection (there are too many variables, as simple as the game seems)- Bowling league is about taking one night a week to unwind among friends and hurl balls into wooden pins. It's unbelievable stress relief- why not consider joining a league today?