Solving the mysteries of the two-handed approach delivery


    USBC Coaching

    By Cary M. Pon, USBC Coaching Manager Coach Development and Certification

    Cornerstone concepts discussed at various levels of the USBC Coaching program include “coaching the individual athlete” and “coaching what you see.”

    Although drills are used to develop a biomechanically sound posture to deliver a ball, the reality and beauty of the sport of bowling is that there are a wide variety of styles successfully being used at the highest competitive levels.

    Just as the Fosbury Flop revolutionized the high jump and the two-handed backhand has become a standard in tennis, bowling is showing what a dynamic sport it is with the development of the thumbless delivery, helicopter release and now the two-handed approach delivery.

    There is a coaching axiom used in USBC Coaching bowling circles which states: “The rule is that there are no rules.” Tiger Woods is living proof of this statement’s veracity. Woods is not bound by the conventions or accepted practices that limit the use of a specific iron to a certain golf shot.

    For bowling purists, the thumbless and two-handed approach deliveries definitely falls outside the realm of accepted standards for bowling. Human nature tends to not accept what is different or what cannot be easily understood. If bowling is to flourish, the bowling community must take time to learn and understand why these styles are effective.

    Before discussing the mechanics of these two styles, the style of bowling commonly referred to as “two-handed delivery” must be more accurately labeled. This delivery actually is made with a one dominant hand. From the photos below, it is clear that the non-bowling hand is used to support the ball during the swing. Fractions of a second prior to the point of release, the support hand clearly moves away from the ball, allowing the dominant hand to impart all the forces to the ball. Thus the term “two-handed approach” more accurately describes this delivery.

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    First it should be noted that the contemporary style of the two-handed approach requires tremendous athleticism and physical skills. The common factor that allows elite athletes to be able to repeat shots is a loose, or “tension free,” ball swing. The muscle-free ball swing allows the torso to remain free of unnecessary motion. A quiet torso gives an athlete the best opportunity to consistently deliver the ball from a balanced, leveraged and strong position.

    What all two-handed approach bowlers have in common is the positioning of the hand in a high rev position under the ball at the point of release. From this position, the fingers remain in the ball longer through the release, creating the opportunity to impart tremendous energy in the form of revs to the ball.

     A firm, “straight” wrist position - where the fingers are positioned around the equator of the ball - is used by the majority of high level athletes. This position offers good rev potential.

     A strong, “cupped” wrist position - where the hand and fingers are positioned well below the ball’s equator - significantly increases rev potential.

    Click on the image to see it full size.

    The purpose of the non-dominant hand during the approach is to support the ball’s weight, allowing the athlete to maintain this high rev wrist position throughout the entire ball swing. It is interesting to note that some two-handed approach athletes use the thumbless grip while others keep the thumb in the ball.

    Timing is everything

    Denny’s PBA Tour players Tommy Jones (left), Mika Koivuniemi (center) and Norm Duke (right) get the ball to the top of the back swing well before the end of the power step (the next-to-last step of the delivery), creating early timing for these athletes.

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    This early timing allows these athletes to wait on the ball and decide when to initiate the down swing to make the delivery. Power is created by the late timing on the last step. Holding off on initiating the forward swing of the ball in the last step allows these athletes to “load up.” A strong leverage point, from which the athlete will deliver the ball, is created by the slide foot completing the majority of its forward motion before the ball passes the ball-side leg (see photos below). This style of early/late timing on the last several steps is used by many of today’s elite power players.

    CaryPonP5TommyJonesLateTiming.jpg CaryPonP5MikaKoivuniemiLateTiming.jpg CaryPonP5NormDukeLateTiming.jpg

    As with any bowling style, individual athletes will add their own personal flair to their deliveries. An athlete’s approach and delivery is influenced not only by physical abilities (flexibility and strength), but also by personality. When reviewing video for the two-handed approach delivery, two distinct types of timing were observed.

    Different timing equals different footwork

    When studying the timing for the two-handed approach deliveries of USBC Team USA’s Cassidy Schaub (1st row) and former USBC Junior Team USA’s Brian Valenta (2nd row), it was noted that the ball was late getting to the top of the back swing since the ball was still swinging slightly up as each athlete started to take the last step (see photos below).

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    Conversely, the timing of Australia’s Jason Belmonte (pictured right) and 2006 QubicaAMF World Cup men’s champion Osku Palermaa (pictured left) is considerably earlier than the Denny’s PBA Tour players previously mentioned. The notably early timing of thumbless players Belmonte and Palermaa results in those elite athletes using a quick shuffling of their feet as a power step, allowing the body to maintain its posture and create the proper timing required to deliver the ball.

    The photos below were taken just prior to the shuffling of the feet. After this quick foot movement, Belmonte and Palermaa are now in the same early timing posture as Jones, Koivuniemi and Duke, with the ball waiting at the top of the back swing as the last step begins. With later timing, thumb-in players Schaub and Valenta both clearly have a defined power step prior to their last step before delivering the ball. Though these athletes have different timing and footwork techniques, they have proven their ability at the highest levels of the sport. These differences are what makes for interesting debates among coaches.

    CaryPonP8OskuPalermaaEarlyTiming.jpg CaryPonP8JasonBelmonteEarlyTiming.jpg

    Bent elbow necessary for high rev rate

    The previous pictures illustrating the two-handed approach show that each athlete’s elbow is bent to some degree. Back in the day, coaches generally taught bowlers to keep the bowling arm straight. Today’s contemporary players are all about generating revs. In order to get the hand under the ball and into that strong, high rev position, the elbow will need to bend.

    This delivery ends with a long last step, shoulders forward and a good knee bend. The shoulders must be forward so the ball can be released near the slide foot in a strong, maximum leverage position. The combination of the shoulders being forward with a good knee bend creates a longer flat spot at the bottom of the swing when the ball is delivered.

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    A major advantage of using the two-handed approach is the ability to deliver the ball with the shoulders square to the intended ball path. By keeping both hands on the ball for the majority of the approach, these athletes are not prone to excessive shoulder movement resulting from an overactive non-bowling arm. An overly active non-bowling arm may create unnecessary shoulder movement, adversely affecting the ball swing and overall body posture which will directly impact the consistency and accuracy of an athlete.

    It is important for coaches and all bowling enthusiasts to realize the ever-changing and dynamic nature of the sport of bowling. Because of this, coaches should not limit their athletes by teaching them only one way to bowl. Broadening perspectives to include the non-traditional approaches used by Belmonte, Palermaa, Schaub and Valenta can prove to be an eye-opening and educational opportunity. After all, no one can argue with their success.

    Editor’s note: Special thanks go to USBC Team USA head coach and USBC Gold coach Rod Ross, USBC Gold coach Ron Hoppe, USBC Silver coach Steven Padilla, Ebonite and Kegel for use of some of the images used in this article.