How To: Make Your Spares

By Nick Pahr
Click Here to watch a video tutorial

“Strikes are for show, spares are for dough.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard that while growing up and working on my game and this still holds true today. Having a solid spare game can do wonders for your game, whether you are looking to increase your average in league by 10 to 20 pins over the length of a season or just want to be sharper all around with your game. Spares are a huge asset to our sport and the bowlers that have the best spare shooting tend to still always have a chance to win at the end of the day. I am going to give you my best tips and tricks that I have learned along the way so that you can become a better spare shooter.

There are several key points that I would like to go over with you regarding spare shooting and they are:

  1. Hand Position
  2. Type of Ball Used (Plastic, Reactive, Urethane)
  3. Pre-Shot Routine
  4. Targeting System

The first thing we will look at is how to get comfortable with a “spare release”. Some people just like to think that they can just throw their normal strike shot harder, and will cut down the rev rate and allow the ball to go further down the lane without hooking, allowing them to make the spare they are shooting at.  That isn’t always the case. If you watch a lot of the professionals out on tour, you will notice that a lot of them have a “spare release”, where their wrist is broken in a way that they are not trying to create the ball to hook, but tone down their rev rate and have a more end over end roll. 

This is something that is very effective, and I encourage everyone that would like to improve their spare game to try and work on this. Positioning your hand in a way where your thumb is on the upper equator of the ball when shooting spares allows you to have a weakened wrist that will not produce much tilt or rotation and will allow you to have a straighter release towards your target with a lower rev rate.  With a weakened wrist, we can make the hook variable non-existent so the only thing that we are concerned about is hitting our target when shooting at our spares. For me, I use my thumb as a pointer, try to align my thumb with my shoulders, and draw a line through my target with both my shoulders and thumb. This is my way of aligning everything I need in order to make the straightest shot towards my target and spare that I can.

The next thing we need to be aware of when shooting spares is what kind of ball we are using to shoot these spares. Are you just a normal league bowler that may only have 1 or 2 balls that are both reactive? If so, I would highly recommend looking at investing into a spare ball of some sort in order to help have a straighter ball motion when shooting your spares. Spare balls are essential for younger players or beginners that are trying to pick up the sport and see improvement. Now, that is not to say that you cannot use the information provided above about weakening your wrist position in order to make a reactive or urethane ball do the same thing as a spare ball, but the spare balls are intentionally designed to not hook.  The spare balls will give you even more forgiveness if you just haven’t quite figured out how to flattened your wristt and should allow you to hit the ball a little bit at the bottom without it hooking by on your spare shots. With reactive and urethane balls, they are a bit trickier to get them to not hook down lane and potentially miss your spares since the covers try and dig in the oil.  They also have a core in them that is designed to create hook. Take some time on the lanes to practice YOUR spare release and see the differences between using that spare release with a spare ball versus a reactive or urethane ball.  The more confidence you have in knowing your ball is going to go exactly where you want it to will improve your spare game immensely.

When you get up and are about to throw your strike shot, do you have a routine that you do consciously or sub-consciously? Maybe it’s just putting your hand over the hand dryer for 3 seconds, lining up on the approach, and then making your shot. Maybe it’s taking a wire brush to clear off your slide sole and then making small slides on the approach to make sure your feet feel good. Whatever it is, do you do this before every strike shot? Most people will say yes and that is their pre-shot routine, which is great to have!

But now I ask you this, do you do that exact same routine when shooting a spare? I’ll bet a majority of people will answer no. This is imperative to creating a great spare game. Having consistency between each and every shot is key. You should adopt your strike shot routine to your spare shot routine to achieve this consistency.

So many times I see people let their strike shot that didn’t strike affect their next shot, the spare. People get frustrated they left a corner pin and quickly grab their spare ball to shoot the spare, rush up to the line, throw it hard, and more times than not miss the spare. Treating each shot the same creates a better routine for you and your body and will allow you to feel more comfortable when shooting your spares.  

Lastly, and possibly the most important thing, is finding your own targeting system for your spares. This one may take some time and I encourage you to devote some practice time to just shooting spares. You will see massive improvement and have much more confidence with your spares if you do this.

Targeting is completely different from bowler to bowler. From the way they set up on the approach, their target on the lane, etc. This is the fun part where you can experiment and try different alignments for each spare until you feel as though you have a system in place that allows you to feel confident shooting each and every spare. For example, you will see in the spare shooting video that I talk about the alignment of my feet and what part of my foot I use to get myself aligned on the approach. I always use the inside of my left foot to know what board I am standing at when starting my approach. Also, I always use 20 (middle arrow) as my focal target on the lanes. This allows me to always have the same target at my spares.  I then adjust my feet accordingly, depending on whatever pin I am shooting at.

For instance, when shooting at a 10 pin, I know that my feet are going to be lined up at 34 on the approach and my target will be 20 at the arrows. The rest is just going through my pre-shot routine and setting my hand and wrist to allow me to throw my spare shot as straight as possible towards my target. For a 6 pin, I simply move my feet 2 boards right in order to cut my angle across the lane down and another 2 boards right with my feet when shooting a 2 pin. The same goes for me when shooting at left side spares as well. I still target 20 on the lanes and move my feet accordingly by 2 boards to have the correct angle for the pin I am shooting at for my spare.

This will take some trial and error on the lanes as everyone gets to the line differently. With that said, there is no better way to find out your own targeting system than to get out on the lanes and try and find what is comfortable for you with each and every spare, until you have a system that allows you to feel confident. You may notice that you have to move more than 2 boards for each pin as you progress from 10 pin to 2 pin, or maybe you have a different target for each spare. Whatever that may be, you just need to go out and practice your targeting on spares until you feel comfortable and confident each and every time you go up to shoot a spare. 

Try each of these keys until you feel comfortable on the lanes shooting at your spares.  I assure you that the more confidence and routine you have when shooting your spares, the higher your spare percentage and ultimately higher scoring average!

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