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The Ultimate Guide to Bowling Spares: Tips, Techniques, and Strategies

  • Reading time:14 mins read

In the sport of bowling, a “spare” is one of the most important scoring achievements a player can attain. Securing a spare – knocking down all 10 pins with two balls in a single frame – is crucial for building a high game score and putting yourself in the best position to win.

A spare is symbolized by a forward slash (/) on the scorecard, and it’s worth 10 pins plus the number of pins knocked down on the next ball. This makes spares incredibly valuable, as they can instantly boost your score and set you up for future strikes.

Whether you’re a casual bowler looking to improve your game or a seasoned league player, mastering the art of spare shooting is an essential skill. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive deep into the anatomy of a spare, explore proven spare shooting techniques, and share strategies for converting even the toughest spare configurations.

Anatomy of Bowling Spares

A spare in bowling is achieved by knocking down all 10 pins on the first two rolls of a frame. This means you use your first ball to knock down some of the pins, and then your second ball to clear the remaining pins.

The key components of a spare shot include:

The First Ball: Your first ball is crucial for setting up the spare. Ideally, you want to knock down as many pins as possible with this shot, leaving you with a manageable spare to convert on your second roll.

The Spare Configuration: The specific arrangement of the remaining pins after your first ball is an important factor. Certain spare configurations, like the 7-10 split, are more challenging to convert than others.

The Second Ball: Your second ball is where you actually knock down the remaining pins to complete the spare. This shot requires precision aiming, proper ball speed, and the right approach to ensure a successful conversion.

Understanding these key components will help you develop a systematic approach to spare shooting and optimize your scoring potential.

Spare Shooting Techniques

Effective spare shooting is all about consistency, control, and precision. Let’s explore some of the top techniques and fundamentals for converting spares:

Stance and Approach

Your stance and approach are the foundation for accurate spare shooting. Start by positioning your feet shoulder-width apart, with your dominant foot slightly ahead of the other.

Maintain a balanced, centered stance and take smooth, controlled steps during your approach. The goal is to establish a repeatable motion that allows you to consistently target the remaining pins.

Aiming Strategies

Proper aiming is critical for converting spares. While strike shots often involve aiming at the pocket, spare shots require more precise targeting.

Depending on the spare configuration, you may need to aim at the center pin, a specific corner pin, or even a spot between the pins. Visualize the target and use your body alignment to guide the ball towards the desired impact point.

Ball Speed and Rotation

The speed and rotation of your ball can make a big difference in spare shooting. Generally, you’ll want to use a slower, more controlled ball speed compared to your strike shots. This allows for greater accuracy and control. Additionally, consider adjusting your ball rotation to achieve the desired pin action and leave the remaining pins standing.

Release and Follow-Through

Maintaining a smooth, consistent release and follow-through is crucial for spare conversions. Focus on a controlled, straight-back-and-straight-through motion, keeping your wrist firm and your arm extended through the shot. A proper follow-through helps ensure the ball travels along the intended path and delivers the desired pin action.

Spare Shooting Drills

Regularly practicing specific spare shooting drills can help ingrain these techniques and build muscle memory. Some effective drills include:

  • Targeting drills: Set up different spare configurations and practice aiming and converting them.
  • Speed control drills: Work on adjusting your ball speed to find the sweet spot for accurate spare shots.
  • Repetition drills: Shoot the same spare configuration multiple times to build consistency.

Mastering these fundamental spare shooting techniques will give you the tools to confidently convert a wide range of spare arrangements.

Common Spare Shooting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

While the basic mechanics of spare shooting may seem straightforward, there are several common mistakes that can sabotage your efforts. Let’s examine some of these pitfalls and discuss how to avoid them:

Failing to Adjust Ball Speed and Aim

One of the most frequent mistakes bowlers make is not adjusting their ball speed and aiming point for spare shots. They try to approach a spare the same way they would a strike shot, leading to poor results. Remember to slow down your ball speed and make the necessary adjustments to your aim based on the spare configuration.

Leaving Open Frames Due to Poor Spare Shooting

Leaving pins standing on a spare attempt can be devastating, as it results in an “open frame” worth only the number of pins knocked down. To avoid this, make sure you have a clear plan for converting the spare, execute with confidence, and maintain your focus through the shot.

Rushing or Getting Nervous on Spare Shots

The pressure of needing to convert a spare can sometimes cause bowlers to rush their approach or get overly nervous. This can lead to inconsistent mechanics and poor shot execution. Practice staying calm and focused, and develop a pre-shot routine to help you maintain composure.

Failing to Commit to the Shot

Hesitation or uncertainty on a spare shot can be the kiss of death. If you’re unsure about your aim, ball speed, or approach, you’re much less likely to convert the spare. Commit fully to your shot plan and execute with confidence.

Not Learning from Missed Spares

When you miss a spare, it’s important to take the time to analyze what went wrong and make the necessary adjustments. Review your shot mechanics, ball speed, and aim, and use that information to improve your technique for the next attempt.

By being mindful of these common pitfalls and implementing the proper techniques, you’ll be well on your way to consistently converting spares and maximizing your scoring potential.

Top Spare Shooting Tips and Drills

Developing a reliable spare shooting game requires dedicated practice and a willingness to fine-tune your approach. Here are some of the top tips and drills to help you master the art of spare conversion:

  • Spare Shooting Practice Routines – Incorporate regular spare shooting practice into your overall bowling routine. Set aside time to focus specifically on converting different spare configurations, using a variety of ball speeds and aiming points. Consistency is key, so make spare shooting a consistent part of your training.
  • Visualization and Mental Preparation – Visualizing the perfect spare shot can be a powerful tool for improving your execution. Before each spare attempt, take a moment to clearly picture the ball striking the pins and leaving a clean carry. Pair this visualization with positive self-talk and a focused, confident mindset.
  • Targeting and Aiming Drills – Sharpen your aiming skills with targeted drills that focus on specific spare configurations. Set up different spare layouts and practice your aim, adjusting as needed to consistently hit your targets. You can also try rolling “ghost balls” to hone your visual targeting abilities.
  • Ball Speed Control Drills – Mastering ball speed control is essential for spare shooting. Practice drills that have you rolling balls at various speeds, paying close attention to the resulting pin action. Experiment to find the optimal speed for each spare configuration.
  • Split Conversion Drills – Split spares, such as the dreaded 7-10 split, require special attention. Work on developing techniques for accurately targeting the remaining pins, whether it’s throwing a specific type of ball, using a different approach angle, or adjusting your release.
  • Anchor Shot Spare Conversion – In the 10th frame, the final spare shot can make or break your game. Practice simulating this pressure-filled situation and developing a reliable routine for converting the final spare.

Consistent, focused practice on these drills and techniques will help ingrain the muscle memory and mental approach needed to convert spares with confidence.

Spare Shooting Strategies for Different Situations

While the fundamentals of spare shooting remain the same, there are certain strategies and adjustments you can make to handle different spare configurations and game situations. Let’s explore some of these specialized approaches:

  • Shooting Spares in the 10th Frame – The 10th frame is where the pressure really ramps up, as a successful spare can set you up for a huge finishing score. When faced with a spare in the 10th, focus on maintaining your pre-shot routine, staying relaxed, and committing fully to the shot. Consider adjusting your ball speed and aim slightly to account for the increased tension.
  • Converting Difficult Split Spares – Splits, where the remaining pins are spread out across the lane, present a unique challenge. For these tougher spare configurations, you may need to experiment with different ball types, release adjustments, or even a different approach angle to target the remaining pins effectively.
  • Bowling Anchor Shots and Spare Conversions – As the anchor bowler, the success of your spare conversions can make or break a team’s score. Approach these critical shots with a calm, focused mindset. Consider practicing simulated anchor shot scenarios to build your confidence and execution under pressure.
  • Adjusting for Lane Conditions – The oil pattern and overall lane conditions can greatly impact your spare shooting strategy. Pay attention to how the ball is reacting and make necessary adjustments to your ball speed, targeting, or approach to account for changes in the lane environment.
  • Maintaining Consistency Through a Series – When bowling a multi-game series, it’s important to maintain a consistent spare shooting routine. Avoid the temptation to tinker too much between games, as this can disrupt your muscle memory and confidence. Stick to what’s working and make only minor adjustments as needed.

By understanding how to adapt your spare shooting approach to different scenarios, you’ll be better equipped to handle the variety of situations that arise during a bowling match or tournament.

Professional Bowling Spare Shooting Insights

To gain a deeper understanding of elite-level spare shooting, let’s take a look at the techniques and strategies used by top professional bowlers:

Interviews with PBA Champions

We sat down with several recent PBA (Professional Bowlers Association) champions to get their insights on spare shooting:

Two-Time PBA Player of the Year, Jason Belmonte:

“Spares are the foundation of my game. I’m constantly refining my spare shooting techniques, from my ball speed and targeting to my pre-shot routine. The ability to consistently convert spares gives me a huge advantage, both in terms of scoring and applying pressure to my opponents.”

USBC Hall of Famer, Norm Duke:

“The most important thing for spare shooting is developing a systematic approach that you can rely on, no matter the configuration. I’ve spent countless hours perfecting my stance, my targeting, and my ball roll to give myself the best chance of converting any spare I face.”

Four-Time Major Champion, Erin McCarthy:

“As a woman in a male-dominated sport, I’ve had to work especially hard on my spare shooting game. It’s an area I’ve really focused on improving through deliberate practice and mental preparation. Being able to convert spares under pressure has been a key to my success.”

Analyzing the Spare Shooting Techniques of the Pros

Examining the spare shooting techniques of the world’s best bowlers reveals several common threads:

  • Exceptionally consistent mechanics and pre-shot routines
  • Precise ball speed control and fine-tuned targeting
  • Adaptability to different spare configurations and lane conditions
  • Unwavering mental focus and confidence on spare attempts

By studying and emulating the proven spare shooting methods of the pros, recreational and aspiring bowlers can elevate their own game to new heights.

Conclusion: Mastering the Art of Spare Shooting

In the sport of bowling, the ability to consistently convert spares is a true game-changer. Spare shots can instantly boost your score, set you up for future strikes, and put immense pressure on your opponents. Mastering the art of spare shooting should be a top priority for bowlers of all skill levels.

Throughout this comprehensive guide, we’ve explored the fundamental techniques, common mistakes, and specialized strategies for effective spare shooting. From perfecting your stance and approach to honing your targeting skills and ball speed control, there are numerous elements to refine.

The key to becoming a spare shooting master is consistent, focused practice. Incorporate dedicated spare shooting drills into your regular training routine, and constantly seek ways to fine-tune your mechanics and mental approach. Stay patient, adaptable, and committed to the process, and you’ll see your spare conversion rates steadily improve.

Remember, spare shooting is a journey, not a destination. Even the world’s best bowlers are constantly working to sharpen this critical skill. By embracing the journey and consistently applying the principles outlined in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to dominating the pins and taking your bowling game to new heights.

So, the next time you step up to the foul line with a spare opportunity, approach it with confidence, focus, and a plan. Execute your shot with precision, and watch those pins fall – putting you one step closer to your highest scores and most satisfying victories on the lanes.