Handling Pressure

Handling Pressure

By Carolyn Dorin-Ballard, USBC Hall of Famer



As we become better bowlers and start bowling more tournaments, especially at the advanced or elite level, we continue to focus more attention to the physical game, completely forgetting about how important the mental aspect of the game.

I’m sure at some point you have experienced the anxiety of knowing your team needs you to strike to win or having to throw the last strike for a 300 game. These are just a few examples of pressure situations in which your body may not always follow what you want it to do. This is where mental preparation, a good thought process and breathing can help to relax the body, clear the mind and allow you to execute.

Trust me, I understand completely about the body taking over even though your mind says not too. Even today, I react differently to pressure situations because I find it harder to keep my mental game in focus. I have had to re-program myself mentally because situations are much different now. During my tour years, I bowled every day in competition with no days off. That made you mentally sharp and tough. Now with so few tournaments for the women to bowl, a different approach to the tournament pressure is necessary. Pressure is tough no matter who you are, but how you handle it in the moment can be the difference between an ok shot or a great shot.

Remember, you cannot control what your opponent does, but you can control what you do. Anyone who has seen me bowl on TV, has seen how methodical I am, my pre-shot routine does not change and breathing is my best friend.

How many times has someone said to you, just get up there and throw the shot and remember to breathe? Yea, ok, while 99 other things are running through your mind; hit your target, throw it good, don’t rush, etc. Be honest, we have all experienced it and to this day, it still happens to me, no matter how prepared I am. I had one of the greats of our sport tell me one time, “If you’re not nervous you don’t care.” I tend to believe that, or you’re just that darn confident.

Being prepared mentally is an on-going process as situations and your body are always changing. In the heat of the battle, nothing is simple but there are a few tricks of the trade to help you get past the point of nerves and put everything into perspective:

  1. Continue your pre-shot routine throughout your event. This keeps you focused on what your task is and allows you to stay in the moment.
  2. On the way to the ball return, take a deep breath in through your nose, hold it for a second and breathe out through your mouth, slowly. This will help keep your heart rate from beating uncontrollably. (I’ve been there before and breathing is the key)
  3. Commit to what you have decided to do.
  4. While at the ball return, close your eyes for one minute and see the perfect shot. Visualize your ball going down the lane over your intended target. See the shot in your mind, open your eyes and execute. (This is key to seeing your thought clearly)
  5. No thoughts once you get on approach. The only thing left is to execute – oh and breath.
Make sure to practice these techniques when you are not in competition to give yourself time to develop a routine. When you are out practicing, make sure to practice the mental game as this is a perfect time to reflect on certain situations that may arise.
While practicing for a tournament or league, take these steps to help prepare your mind:

  1. Imagine yourself in a pressure situation; needing a strike for a 300 or 800 series, needing a mark to win the U.S. Open. Putting these thoughts into your mind and then seeing how you perform can help you adjust quicker when the time actually arises.
  2. Bowl against your friends. Having matches while you are practicing is a great way to motivate not only yourself but your teammates. Friendly competition adds a different kind of pressure and helps you to once again, understand what you are trying to accomplish.
  3. Mental imagery is a very powerful tool and as we all know the mind is very willing to take over your thoughts at any moment. Stay positive in practice. Though what you may be working on is not going exactly the way you would like, keep reassuring yourself about the progress you are making and remind yourself about the desired outcome.
  4. Always have a goal. No matter what, with the mental game you should always have a goal. This will help you process the execution, the outcome and the analysis. 
    1. I want to be aggressive on every shot
    2. By being aggressive I will give myself the best chance to win
    3. With this chance, I will be closer to my goal; to win the U.S. Open

Some of the greatest in the game use breathing techniques and a focus routine before a shot especially in a pressure situation. Incorporate this tool into your bag of tricks.

For more information on the mental game, check out the Coaching section of USBCBowlingStore.com.