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Bowling Tips for Beginners

Just starting out in the world of bowling?  Then I welcome you to a fun and exciting arena of participating in such a sport that you can truly enjoy with anybody whether you’re looking to find a hobby, fill in a weekly outing schedule or even consider jumping headlong into as a career.

There are many differing factors that go into the game of bowling that may be very easily overlooked by the typical beginner.  First off, there is the whole mental game that you must recognize and hone as part of your overall game.

Sure, you can ignore this aspect once in a while if you’re just out ot have a good time, but if you’re looking really improve your game and consider jumping into a competitive arena, such as a bowling league, overlooking the mental aspect will be first mistake that will be the hardest to recover from.

We’ll cover the physical aspect of the game here, but again, don’t forget to focus on that mental game just as often as that’s where the real game is managed.

Bowling Tips for Beginners

First off, every bowler should start out learning to master some basic points of courtesy.  Keep in mind that there are more than likely going to be other bowlers around, so offer some respect to them just as you’d like that same respect offered to you.  If you become “that guy/girl” that fails to play by the unwritten code of bowling, it will only add some serious negative rep to you and your game.

  • Don’t Be Intimidated: When you first enter into a bowling alley as a beginner, you may experience a bit of a “culture” shock due in part that the bowling community is sometimes a close-knit group of individuals with their own language.  You may start hearing some new terms and phrases that may be gibberish to you and you may also notice some really good bowlers.  You’re there to have fun and learn at the same time, we all started out somewhere so don’t be afraid to take it all in.
  • Find a Bowling Ball that Fits: If you don’t have your own bowling ball already, bowling alley’s typically have some that you can use, called “house balls”.  These are generally designed for beginners and do not have anything fancy done to them as far as drilling goes, but make sure you find a bowling ball that fits your fingers snugly enough to where they do not get stuck, holes that are not to large and the weight of the bowling ball is easy enough to manage.
  • Bowling Shoes: First and foremost, although you may cringe at the thought of wearing bowling shoes in public and may fear causing a mass seizure amongst other bowlers, not every bowling shoe is made the same.  Rental shoes may appear a bit “different”, but they are a necessity unless you have purchased your own pair.  Much like regular shoes, ensure that the bowling shoes fit well and that the sliding surface is clean and free of debris.
  • Respect Your Fellow Bowlers: Before you go too far out on your own, remember these basic rules of bowling courtesy.  There are some “unwritten” rules of the lanes that you should be aware of, so so your research and if you’re not sure, just ask…we’d rather have some of the new players ask the questions rather than not, and end up causing tension.
  • Find Your Style (Delivery): Contrary to popular belief, bowling is not really a game of “chance” as far as simply rolling a ball sixty feet down a lane as hard and as fast as possible.  Fine tune your delivery in how you being your approach, match up your timing with the swing of the ball and finally, when and how to release the ball for maximum efficiency.
  • HAVE FUN: Unless you’re planning to be the next Professional Bowler’s Tour champion, and even then you should still be having fun, learning the game of bowling should be just as fun as it is playing the game.  Sure, go for the bragging rights by smearing your friend’s up and down the alley, but keep it respectable and fun for you and the rest of the folks playing as well.

Bowling is truly a game that can be enjoyed by just about any level and age group…although I don’t recommend getting junior acquainted with that 16 pound bowling ball while he’s still in the stroller.  Nevertheless, I’ve bowled with children as young as my own five year old, and with fellow league players well into their nineties!

How to Keep Score in Bowling

Although it’s very commonplace that just about every house you go to has fully automated scoring systems, it isn’t a bad idea to understand how to manually keep score of your bowling game.  You can use this knowledge in forecasting a potential final score, or better your trash talking when your buddy is about to lose the game even before you throw your last frame.  In this tip, I’ll cover the basics of how to manually keep score of your bowling game.

The Score Sheet

As seen in the example score sheet above, one individual bowling game is made up of ten frames.  A single frame offers two attempts for the bowler to clear all of the pins.  If a strike is made on the first attempt, the second shot is not offered and either the next frame is cycled, or the next bowler in line is up.

The highest possible score a bowler can generate in a single game is “300″, which is called, a “perfect game” and includes twelve total strikes in the game.  Yes, there are ten frames, but the tenth and final frame didn’t want to be normal and that is covered further on below (The Tenth Frame).

Since the object of the game is to finish off with the high score, we obviously want as many strikes as possible during the game, but don’t be upset if you never hit that perfect game, many of today’s pros haven’t either.

Before the game begins, write out the name (or initials) of the bowlers on each line to the far left of the sheet as to identify which bowler is in line to go next and to keep the scores organized.  When ready, start the game and let ‘er rip.

Each frame allows for two attempts to knock down as many pins as possible, after the first shot is made, count the number of pins that have fallen and mark that number in the frame box to the left of the smaller box in the upper right hand corner.  After the second shot is made (and there are still pins left standing), mark the number of fallen pins inside the smaller box in the upper right hand corner.  Add these two numbers together, and that is the final score for that frame.

If a strike is thrown on the first attempt, mark the frame with an ‘X’ in the smaller box in the upper right hand corner of the frame box.  Strikes are to be scored by waiting for the result of the next two shots, so we are not ready to put in an actual number just yet.  If the next two shots happen to be strikes, we would score the firstframe with ‘30′, since each strike is worth ten points.  Now, where it can seem confusing is that each frame that has a strike also includes the score of the next two shots.  As a result of this, it may appear that the bowler many not have an actual score for two or three frames.

If a spare is thrown on the second attempt, mark the frame with a slash, ‘/’ in the smaller box in the upper right hand corner of the frame box.  Spares are worth ten points, plus the outcome of the next shot.  After the next shot is made, include the number of fallen pins plus the ten points from the previous spare in the score of the previous frame.

Other situations that may arise to be aware of are “splits” and “fouls”.  If a split is thrown, the number of fallen pins are to be marked in normal fashion, but is to be enclosed within a circle as to represent the split condition.  If a foul occurs, (when the bowler’s foot ends up over the line between the approach and the bowling surface), any pins that do fall are not to be counted and an ‘F’ is to be placed in the scoring location, depending on if the throw was the first or second shot in the frame.  Keep in mind, however, that a foul does not necessarily forfeit the entire frame…so if the first attempt is fouled yet, the second attemp is a legit score, any pins knocked down on the second attempt may be counted for the frame’s total score.

Remember, the tenth and final frame is a bit out of the ordinary, as seen in the score sheet example image above, there are three potential opportunities for scoring.

The Tenth Frame

One of the most exciting, or frustrating, aspects of a bowling game is the tenth frame.  There have been many nail-biting endings to some intense tournaments that have made or destroyed dreams in the world of professional bowling, or to gain bragging rights during home leagues, or nights out with friends.

What makes the tench frame so hyped up?  The desire to put the final nail in the coffin of the game by throwing the elusive “turkey” to finish off the game.  There is an adrenaline rush when that first strike is thrown in the frame, opening the door for two more climactic, earth jarring strikes that can send your opponent home in ruins…as long as they’re not your ride home, as well.

Handing the tenth frame should be handled much like any other frame in your game, the main difference is how the frame is scored, more than anything else.  As mentioned above, the tenth frame potentially offers three scoring opportunities.  There are several different scenarios to consider for the tenth frame, so let’s dive in and take a look at what you can expect.

Strike in the Tenth Frame
The most coveted game finisher in the tenth frame is to hit all three shots as strikes, also known as a “turkey”.  When the first attempt thrown lands a strike, the bowler is offered two more shots.  If the next two shots are indeed strikes, then the bowler has achieved a “strike-out”.

Spare in the Tenth Frame
When the first attempt of the tenth frame fails to being a strike, much like any other frame, the bowler is offered a second attempt to deliver a spare.  If the spare converts, the bowler is offered the third attempt to finish up the game with whatever number of pins fall in the last throw.

Open Tenth Frame
If the bowler is unable to convert a strike or a spare in the tenth frame, they are not offered the third attempt in the frame and may only use the first and/or second scores in the frame. In other words, if a spare opportunity is missed on the second attempt, then the third opportunity in the frame is lost and the game is over.

Aiming for Accuracy

When you’re staring down your target, calming your body and mind as you prepare to throw the next strike…what are you aiming for, exactly?  Are you taking aim against the pins that are at least a distant sixty feet away?  Were you a sniper in a previous life???

Bowling offers, if nothing else, an extremely wide variety of methods, strategies and styles in chasing the almighty pin-fall counts.  When attempting to gain focus on your overall delivery, it may sometimes feel as though it’s just you and the pins with some wood lying there between here and there.

Luckily, there’s a lot more if you happen to look down just a bit.  You may have noticed that there are some marks on the lane including a series of dots and some arrows.  Those aren’t just there for decoration, my friend…those, are your secret weapons when it comes to aiming your bowling ball toward its goal.

Pin Bowling vs. Spot Bowling

When starting out, it may seem that the best approach when trying to knock down any target, is to aim for the main target itself.  Not to say that this approach isn’t worthwhile, but it’s not very efficient if you can shorten the length of your target.  Clear as mud, yet?

No, I’m not asking you to break the rules and begin your approach half-way down the lane.  Rather, I’m asking you to aim at the marks on the lane instead of the pins.  By doing so, as you learn your style and your bowling ball’s trajectory, you can essentially predict where the ball will travel and finally end up if you aim for a shorter target.

Pin Bowling
Pin Bowling may be defined as taking aim on the actual pins as you prepare for and begin your approach and delivery.  While focusing on the pins themselves, you are attempting to plot the course of your bowling ball the full sixty plus feet from the point of release.


One of the most common issues with Pin Bowling is, if you start making adjustments, it’s a bit difficult to “‘mark” where you have actually made those adjustments as again, your target is quite some distance from you.  That alone, makes it a bit challenging to “nail” the sweet spot and find your consistency.

Spot Bowling
Spot bowling consists of locating and aiming for a mark on the lane, rather than the actual pins.  Whether you choose to aim for the set of dots just before the foul line, or the series of arrows 15ft into the lane, these targets a lot closer to aim for than the sixty foot target if you’re using the pins.


With spot bowling, adjustments that may be required can be made on the actual marks, or “spots”, on the lane making it easier to tweak your aim and your overall delivery.  For example, the diagram above is actually very similar to my bowling trajectory and by aiming my ball at the arrows, it is much easier for me to adjust my aim if I’m not hitting the pocket as consistently as I would like.

If I end up making contact with the pins a bit high (hitting too much of the headpin than the pocket), I know that I can switch my aim to about two boards to the right of the arrow or move  my feet over a board or two to the left during setup.  If I was Pin Bowling, it would be much more difficult to gauge exactly where to aim if I simply went off pin location.

Keep Changing Conditions in Mind

The lanes are forever changing whether that be due to the inevitable breakdown of the oil in the lanes or other uncontrollable factors.  Even if you finally find that sweet spot, it’s not guaranteed to be there for the next throw so you must be prepared to continuously adjust your aiming and positioning.  Don’t get lazy and assume that one strike in one location will bring you a perfect game as long as you stay there.

Most Common Bowling Terms

To conclude this post, here is a list of some of the most popular bowling terms that you must keep in your arsenal.

The space before the foul line, approximately 15 feet. Can also refer to the steps the bowler takes before delivering the ball over the foul line.

Back-Up Ball
A ball thrown by a right-handed bowler that hooks left-to-right instead of right-to-left. If thrown by a left-hander, a back-up ball breaks right-to-left.

Back End
The last 15–20 feet of the lane, where the ball is supposed to develop the most friction (due to lack of oil) and hook into the pocket.

Always preceded by a number from three to eleven, denoting a string of consecutive strikes. (e.g., “six-bagger”)

The 7-10 split, considered one of the most difficult to convert. Also known as the fence posts or goal posts.

Beer Frame
In team play, the only bowler on the team not to strike in a given frame must buy a beer for his teammates. Many teams will consider a split conversion as “Strike” for a Beer Frame. Also known as coke frame when people not of drinking age are involved.

Beer Frame Opportunity: This is when three of the first four bowlers of a five man team have struck before the anchor man’s turn such that if he strikes it well be a beer frame. If all four have struck then the anchor must strike to prevent the Beer Frame, therefore also BFO.

Big Four
A very hard split to convert, this leaves pins 4-6-7-10.

Blocked Lane
Most bowling associations allow a “crown” of heavier oil on the middle lane boards to handle the heavier ball traffic. On a blocked lane, however, the difference in oil volumes on the middle lane boards versus outer lane boards can be severe enough to present a wider target area for the bowler. A missed shot to the middle of the bowler’s target can slide on the heavier oil and not cross over, while a missed shot to the outside catches the drier boards and still hooks into the pocket.

Bowling Establishment
A facility where bowling is played. Other names include bowling house, and the more common bowling alley.

A throw that results from the ball hitting the opposite “pocket” from the bowler’s normal handedness, i.e., a right-handed bowler rolls the ball but it crosses over and hits the 1 and 2 pins first, or a left-handed bowler crosses over to hit the 1-3. This may also be referred to as Jersey in the New York City area. This may also be referred to as Windsor in the Metro Detroit area.

A condition where a good shot (or even a less-than-perfect shot) rolled into the pocket results in a strike.

A condition where oil from the front of the lane is transferred farther down the lane than desired, usually due to excessive ball traffic in the same area of the lane. This condition can cause the ball to “slide” in the area of the lane the bowler would desire it to hook.

A term meaning 3 spares in a row. (Derived from the term “turkey” for three strikes in a row.)

An open frame where the front pin of a combination consisting of two or more adjacent pins is struck in the middle and neither the ball nor front pin takes out any other pins of the spare. (Example: The ball striking the middle of the 2-pin in a 2-4-7 combination, and leaving the 4-7 pins, is considered a chop.)

Located on either side of the lane to catch an errant throw. A ball that lands in the channel scores zero (0) points for that roll, even if the ball bounces out and knocks down pins. This is the official term used in the rules of bowling, whereas gutter is more widely used by bowlers.

Cheesy Cakes
Lanes on which strikes are relatively easy. May also be referred to as a “cake shot”.

Clean Game
A single game of bowling where the player has a mark (spare or strike) in all ten frames.

Refers to four strikes in a row, a reference to the 4-leaf clover.

Another word for a spare, often preceded by the number(s) of the pins left before shooting the spare. (Example: “3-6-10 conversion”.)

Refers to the number of pins knocked down on a given shot, particularly after a mark in the prior frame.

A bowler known for rolling the ball with extreme revolutions, making it hook more.

When a bowler releases his ball in such a way that it lands far down the lane; nearly to the marks. (See “Loft”.)

Two strikes in a row during a single bowling game.

Dead Wood
Term used for a pin that lies on either the lane surface or in the channel, and is out of reach of the pin sweeping mechanism. The rules of ten-pin bowling require all dead wood to be removed before the next ball is thrown.

Dutch 200
A game where the scoring consists of alternating strikes and spares, which will result in a score of exactly 200 points.

Fill Ball
The bonus ball earned for getting a spare or two strikes in the tenth frame. So named because it “fills” the third and last tenth frame box on the scoresheet.

Flat 10
Leaving just the 10 pin after the first shot, while the 6 pin lays in the gutter instead of flying around the 10 pin (as with a Ringing 10). For a left-hander, the equivalent is the “Flat 7″.

Any pre-game ritual that is religiously practiced before bowling, such as eating in the same restaurant or wearing the same socks.

A shot where the bowler’s foot crosses the “foul line” at the end of the approach (and start of the lane), which often results in a light and/or buzzer being triggered. A foul also occurs when any part of the bowler’s body touches the lane beyond the foul line, whether or not the foul light or buzzer is triggered. A foul counts zero for the ball roll in which it occurs, regardless of how many pins are knocked down. Crossing the foul line only results in a foul if the bowler releases the ball. In “lowest-score-wins” fun-games, a foul results in a strike.

Foundation Frame
The 9th frame. The 9th frame is thought to be the frame the 10th frame is built on, allowing the maximum scoring reward if one were to fill the 10th frame with three strikes.

A single turn for a bowler, constituting one or two rolls, depending on pinfall.

Front (#)
Getting strikes in a given number of frames, starting with Frame 1. For example, a bowler striking in Frames 1–6 is said to have the Front 6.

Fry Frame
In team play, the only bowler on the team not to pick up a spare in a given frame must buy French fries or an appetizer platter for his teammates. Variant of the beer frame.

Full Murray
Refers to a bowler leaving the 5-7-10.

Go Bland
The start of a new game.

(Go) off the sheet
To end a game with many consecutive strikes. (“He can go off the sheet for a 259 game.” See “Strike out” (below); comes from long ago when bowling was scored on paper.)

Grandma’s Teeth
The 4-7-9-10 or 6-7-8-10 split.

Greek church
The 4-6-7-8-10 or 4-6-7-9-10 split. Also known as a cathedral.

Synonymous with channel.

Officially, in junior bowling, it is the name of an award given by the United States Bowling Congress when the bowler rolls two strikes in a row during a single bowling game.  Unofficially, it is a term made up by ESPN announcer Rob Stone to mean four strikes in a row in a single game.  Not a bowler himself, he wondered why there was no name for four strikes in a row when there’s one for three (turkey), and coined the term without knowing that it meant something else.

The type of delivery in which the bowler seems to bounce his ball at the foul line upon release, as in dribbling a basketball.

Head pin
The 1-pin. In a full setup, this is ideally the first pin that the ball will hit.

Heavy or High shot
A shot that hits more of the head pin than desired, often resulting in a split.

Four strikes in a row during a single bowling game.

Hook: Rolling the ball with enough side-spin to make the ball curve as it rolls toward the pins.

Ice and Rug
A term used to describe the typical oil pattern on a bowling lane. The first 40–45 feet of the lane are oiled, providing the “ice” upon which the ball is supposed to spin and skid. The last 15–20 feet are the “rug” where the ball generates friction and hooks.

Light shot:
A shot that rolls into the pocket, but is closer to the 3-pin (or 2-pin for a left-hander) than the head pin.

A nickname for the 5-7-10 split. (See “Full Murray”.) Also known as a “sour apple”.

The path that a bowling ball takes down the lane. Also can be used to describe one game of bowling, as it takes up one “line” on a scoresheet.

Refers to the time and distance that a thrown bowling ball travels in the air before contacting the lane surface.  While some loft is considered necessary to get the ball to skid down the lane before starting to hook, excessive loft (e.g., beyond the arrow marks on the lane) is often frowned upon by the bowling community and bowling alley employees because of the potential damage to the lanes—especially lanes that are still made of wood.

A spare or a strike.

A pin that goes across the width of the pin deck and knocks down another pin or pins, resulting in a strike.  Also known as a birddog, scout, shrapnel, or rogue pin.

The conditioner used in the front two-thirds of the lane, which allows the ball with side-spin to roll the necessary distance down the lane before it starts to generate friction and hook.

Open Frame
Any frame in which a strike or spare was not made.

Perfect game
Getting all 12 strikes possible in a game, resulting in a score of 300.

The ten “targets” at the far end of the lane that a bowler attempts to knock down by rolling a ball at them.

The ideal place for the ball to hit the pins in order to maximize strike potential.  The pocket for a right-hander is between the 1 and 3 pins (1 and 2 pins for a left-hander).

Power Stroker
A bowler who combines the high hooking power of a cranker with the smooth delivery and timing of a stroker. Power Stroking is a form of “tweening”, meaning the form lies somewhere in between cranking and stroking.

Ringing 10
The situation where the result appears to be a strike, but a pin (usually the 6) flies around the 10 pin without knocking it over, leaving a pin-count of 9. For a left-hander, the equivalent is the “Ringing 7″.

A set of full bowling games, usually three, in league play.

Shadow Bowling
Bowling without pins.  Shadow bowling is done during practice, or during warm-up before a competition.  Eliminating re-racking of the pins speeds up the rotation of bowlers on a lane. It also helps the bowler place more focus on his bowling technique than the resulting pin carry.

In match play, a situation in which it becomes mathematically impossible for a bowler to match or exceed an opponent’s score, even should (s)he throw all strikes and the opponent throw all gutterballs for the remainder of the game.

A hidden pin left behind another pin after the first ball roll.  Common examples are the 8-pin behind the 2-pin, or the 9-pin behind the 3-pin. This is also occasionally referred to as a “ninja pin”, because the pin is hidden from sight, similar to the stealthy form of combat utilized by ninjas in fiction.

Term used in many bowling alleys to signify attaining four strikes in a row.

Solid 8
Leaving the 8-pin on an apparent good pocket hit. Left-handed equivalent is the solid 9.

All ten pins down on two ball rolls of a frame.

A spare leave where the head pin is knocked down and at least two non-adjacent pins are standing. (Example: the 8 and 10 pins left by themselves would be considered non-adjacent. The 6 and 10 pins are adjacent, and thus not considered a split.) Common jargon for certain splits include: “baby split” (most commonly 2-7 or 3-10), “big four” (4-6-7-10), “Greek church” (4-6-7-8-10 or 4-6-7-9-10) and “fit-in split” (most commonly 4-5 or 5-6).

All ten pins down on the first roll.  This is the aim of all bowlers at the start of each frame.

Strike out
To roll three strikes in the 10th frame of a game (the maximum possible). Also used to denote a longer string of strikes to end a game. (“He struck out after that open in the 5th frame.”) Also referred to as “going sheet” or “punching out”.

When a bowler’s ball misses the head pin but through pin action still gets a strike.  The last few pins usually fall like toppled dominoes. May also be referred to as a “backwash strike”.

Steener (variant)
The same as a STEENER but occurring when only the head pin is left standing.

Stroker: A bowler known for smooth timing and delivery with relatively low amount of hook on the ball.

A “true” tap is said to occur when a good shot hits the pocket properly and results in a standing 8 or 9 pin.  This condition is often caused by the ball continuing to hook aggressively after contact with the pins.  Many average bowlers tend to believe a tap occurs any time they leave a single pin (partially because it is how a “9 pin no-tap” game is played).  This is not true, as all other single pins left are the result of poor pocket contact (high/light) or a bad angle of entry to the pocket.  The most common is the 10-pin for right-handers (a 7-pin for lefties).  This often occurs when the ball is played on too flat an angle.

The pattern of oil left on a bowling ball after a shot.  This indicates what parts of the ball have contacted the lane on its path.

Track flare
The migration of the ball track from the bowler’s initial axis (the axis upon release) to the final axis (the axis at the moment of impact with the pins).  Track flare is used to expose fresh, dry ball surface to the lane surface.  While on oil, this means little to the performance of the ball, but when the ball crosses from the oil to the dry, the dry ball surface bonds with the dry lane surface to increase friction which causes earlier hook and greater overall reaction.

Three strikes in a row during a single bowling game.

Turkey Sandwich
When a bowler gets a spare and then a turkey and then another spare.

Uneven Frames
Marking (a spare or strike) in every other frame.

A spare left where at least two non-adjacent pins are still standing, but the head pin is also standing. Many bowlers consider this a split, but the official rules of bowling state that the head pin must be down for a roll to be marked as a split.

The name for a pin standing directly behind another pin, making it hard to see, e.g. 8 behind 2, 5 behind 1 or 9 behind 3.  Also known as a “sleeper”, “phantom pin”, “double wood”, “ghost pin”, or “mother-in-law”.  When a player hits one pin on his next throw and leaves the other standing, it can be referred to as “Chopping wood”.

A hand signal given at a pivotal moment during a game to encourage team mates to strike much in the same way rally caps are employed in Baseball.

That should give you a nice start in understanding some of the more common bowling terms that you may hear while at the alley.

What Say You?

Do you find pin or spot bowling to be a more effective method of aiming your shots?  What other methods can you think of that may be even more helpful for new bowlers in finding accuracy?