Know Yourself - Awareness

Know Yourself - Awareness

I think one of the greatest challenges in our sport is to truly know yourself physically and mentally while competing.  We all can recognize when we are bowling well.  The most challenging aspect of the mental game is learning to recognize when your performance is taking a turn for the worse and then developing a system to make the necessary corrections to return to a place of peak performance.


The recognition that you are having a performance breakdown is the primary and most crucial step in the process of playing this game one shot at a time and at a high level.  Recognizing where you are physically and mentally is called Awareness.  Nobody in our sport is perfect.  All bowlers lose control of themselves on occasion, but it is the performer who can correct himself the quickest through awareness who tends to perform consistently and has more success.


Awareness allows a player to have control.  The question that needs to be answered before each shot is, "Am I in control of myself?"  The answer can only be found by checking in with yourself - checking in to see if you are relaxed as you want to be, if you are thinking confident thoughts, if your focus is where it needs to be and if you are clear about what you are trying to do on the next shot.


Checking in on yourself gives you awareness.  Awareness is like your coach telling you what adjustments need to be made to improve your performance.   The best bowlers in our sport excel at coaching themselves.  Rather than rely on their coach, they recognize what adjustments are needed and when to make them.  Knowing yourself and having present moment awareness are essential to bowling confident and consistent because bowling is a game of constant adjustments.   Knowing yourself is essential for preparing yourself to compete.  Present moment awareness enables you to adjust shot to shot, and allows you to take ownership of your performance.  You can't control something you aren't aware of.


Performance awareness in bowling is similar to driving a car on the street.  To help you understand awareness, think of it like a traffic light inside your body.  When you are driving a traffic light tells you what to do as you approach a potentially dangerous intersection.  A Green Light means "go," continue with what you are doing.  You are confident, trust yourself, have positive thoughts and feelings and are ready to make a shot.


A Yellow Light means "caution."  Something in your game doesn't quite feel right.  Maybe you are nervous, mad, tense and/or are rushing your shots.  Perhaps you made a poor shot or saw the cut number for the tournament and your mind started to get out of the present moment.  That's a Yellow Light situation.


A Red Light means "stop."  You have lost total control of your shot making and are really struggling.  Maybe you just shot a 140 in qualifying, your self-talk is negative ("I can't bowl"," I'm terrible", etc) and your confidence is at an all-time low.   There are many possible Red Light scenarios in bowling.  We have all been there.  If you run a Red Light at an intersection something negative is going to happen.  You must recognize the Red Light and make the necessary adjustment (stop) before the negative occurs. 


The Green-to-Yellow-to-Red progression is the sign that a bowler is spiraling out of control.  When you are in Green Light you are in control of facets of your game (routines, breathing, confidence, etc.).  When the Yellow Light comes on, you are in the early stages of losing control.  If you continue to run Yellow Lights through intersections, eventually something bad is going to happen.  When the Red Light is on in your game, you have lost all control.


Get to know yourself as a player.  Learning to recognize when you have a Green Light and when you don't.  Regaining control isn't very difficult at a Yellow Light stage, but when a player gets into Red Light, it becomes much more difficult to gain control.


Unfortunately, when bowlers sense a yellow light they react similar to how most drivers would - they speed up to get through it.  Their heart rate becomes faster, self-talk slides toward the negative, doubt creeps in, routines tend to get modified and their overall response becomes stressful.  If and when it changes to a Yellow Light, keep your composure and make a wise decision about how to react and get it back into a Green Light.


Causes of Yellow and Right Lights


Failure is something all players experience in our sport.  When bowlers start experiencing compounding mistakes and/or poor shots, it tends to navigate the player toward a Yellow/Red light.  An example would be a bowler who starts off bowling very well and then starts to struggle due to lane transition. He started focusing on how he missed the transition and started to affect his confidence, self talk, present moment focus, etc.  You must be able to release your poor shots, decisions and/or breaks and not let them carry over into the next shot. 


Sometimes performance is affected outside the approach or even bowling center.  These adversities might be a disagreement with your coach, a relational issue with a teammate or competitor, some type of "storm" in your personal life, etc.  It is important that these things do not distract you from your present moment focus. You must focus on what your controllables and get back into your routines.


 Last, focusing on what you are trying to avoid, instead of what you are trying to accomplish, is a perfect recipe for a poor performance and a signal that you are in Yellow or Red light.


Steps for Gaining Control (Green Light)


When you have a Green Light keep things simple and just bowl and compete.  But when you recognize your Green Light changing to a Yellow or Red Light, it's time to make the needed adjustment so you get back to a Green Light.


1.  Know Yourself - Recognize that you aren't in control of yourself.  This could be your focus, not being present, heart starts to beat too fast and just can't stay relaxed.  Know your Traffic Lights!


2.  Breath (B.I.G. - Breath in Greatness) - The breath is the most important tool in gaining control of yourself.  The method I use for the breath is a 6-2-8.  Inhale in on a count of 6, hold for a count of 2 and exhale on a count of 8.  Breath until you start feeling in control.  Do not ever cheat on your breathing.


3.  Take Time - take as much time as you need to get back in control.  You should have routines developed in your process.  Redo your pre-shot routine as many times as you need to so you get back to a Green Light.  (we will discuss routines in a future article)


4.  Use a Release - you need to "flush" the previous shot and get back into the present moment.  This will allow you to eliminate the bad break, thoughts, feelings, etc.  The process of the release is very simple.  First, you must involve something that is physical.  Some techniques for the release:  pick up your rosin ball/bag and squeeze it tightly (put your frustration and anger into the squeezing of the bag).  Take off your wrist device, brush your shirt sleeve, pant leg, bottom of your bowling shoe sole, etc.  Find something that is unique to you.  After you perform the physical release tell yourself that you are throwing away the last shot, future shot, negative self-talk, nervous feeling, etc.  Develop a physical action that helps you turn negative thoughts into positive ones.  I personally use my sole on my bowling shoe.  As soon as I swipe it with my hand, the previous shot is released and I am back into my routine and present.  The release technique allows you to get back to the present moment.


5.  Focal Point - choose a focal point in the bowling center before the event begins that will help you gain control during your Yellow/Red Light moments.  It could be the number on the masking unit, an arrow on the lane, signage on the ball return, a logo on your bowling ball, etc.  Make sure that the focal point will be in the same location on all the lanes you bowl on and something that reminds you that you have paid your dues and are ready to compete.  It will also remind you to play this game one shot at a time and to focus only on the controllables of bowling.  I personally use the 2nd arrow on the lane.  It is a focal point that never changes location, it reminds me of why I play this sport and it really gets my mindset back to present and into a one shot at a time mentality.


6.  Be Confident - I can tell immediately what players on the lanes have lost confidence.  Their body language tells it all.  Usually it comes with shoulders slumped forward, the head and eyes are down and chest is sunken.  You must project an image on the lanes that says, "I'm in control and confident" regardless of how you feel.  Many times you may have to Fake It To Make It.  I tell my students to look like a UFC fighter ready to do battle in the Octagon.  The players shoulders are back, head and eyes are up and they are walking with confidence and in total control.  Do this regardless of your score and/or outcome.  Become a One Shot Warrior!


Knowing yourself and having awareness is vital because in competition you must coach yourself.  Your coach can't make you confident, create positive self-talk, control your breathing, etc.  You are in total control of these elements.  You are responsible for them because they happen inside of you.  You need to recognize your Green-Yellow-Red Light signals and make whatever adjustments you need quickly in order to get back to Green Light.  Compete with what you got at the present moment.  If you only feel like you have 75% today, then get into your Green Light and get a 100% of the 75% you have right now.  Remember the bowlers who optimize awareness performance become the consistent and peak performers in our sport.


Win The Day,

Coach Shady