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Conquering Psych Outs Q & A – Part II

Q - Competitors sometimes psych me out. What’s a good way to cope?

A – There are an endless number of things competitors can do, both subtle and heavy-handed, to interfere with an opponent’s bowling. Psych-out ploys can be aimed at distracting, upsetting, undermining confidence, and/or disrupting rhythm.

The top bowlers effectively block these moves. The lanes pose enough of a challenge – you simply can’t afford to let others get into your head. We’ll first alert you to some examples of what goes on in order to increase your awareness. Then recommendations will be provided concerning what it takes to combat these actions.

Comments about an opponent’s physical game, or any aspect of play, may lead to self-consciousness. This is true even if they’re positive. Calling attention to arm swing, tempo, release, etc. could break the effortless groove and absence of thinking on the approach that characterizes good bowling. On that approach, your aim is to be externally focused on the target and line. Remember, the computer is loaded; just press print and go. Thinking about what you’re doing is like throwing a wrench into finely meshing gears. If the comments are negative, they potentially create doubts that are doubly distracting and increase anxiety.

Observations that don’t directly involve the bowler can also undercut. Seemingly innocent remarks such as “the approach is sticky today” or “the lanes are real dry” could be intended to set off thinking and concerns (whether or not they’re accurate or misinformed). Obviously there’s no limit to comments which can be made about equipment, ball reaction, scores, the standings, prize money, or outside events. All have the potential to distract and some may cause negative thinking.

Other tactics can be more blatant. These include slowing/delaying play in order to change an opponent’s rhythm, creating a commotion through physical gestures and loudness, making provocative comments, and being belligerent. Become riled up by these and other psych out maneuvers and you’ll play right into your opponent’s hands.

The bad news is that there are so many potential psych out tactics. The good news is that you can defend against each and actually turn them to your advantage.

First and foremost, bear in mind that bowling comes down to you and the lane. The core of the game is making adjustments to get lined up. Nothing anyone says or does can hold you back if you stay dialed in – unless you let them. So you’re in control of how you perform. It’s up to you to solve the condition and execute. Use mindset to reinforce the reality of your being in charge of your bowling. Tell yourself that you (and your team, if applicable) will successfully reap the benefits of your hard work and dedication and that no one will knock you off your game.

To maintain concentration, lock into focus and refocus if need be, using whatever methods you’ve mastered for this purpose. These can include adhering to pre-shot routine, immediacy, process orientation, thought stopping, and visualizing. Imagery of a bubble shielding you from distractions can be readily used here.

Remain positive in outlook. Keep your attitude optimistic, self-talk positive, and self-acceptance high. Instead of emotionally heating up, stay cool and calm. To do this, sustain concentration and a positive outlook; apply relaxation techniques; and maintain a consistent sense of self-worth.

If you’re sufficiently prepared and disciplined, no psych out attempt can get to you. You’ll simply disregard them or psychologically swat them away.

More than that, once you become aware of a psych out attempt, turn it to your advantage through re-framing. Think of psych outs as a sign of respect for your ability, even an act of some desperation. The need to psych you out shows that on some level opponents don’t believe they can win just on ability. And, consider this: So long as competitors are thinking about you, they’re neglecting their game. Finally, by remaining unfazed and bowling well, you create frustration. These thoughts can actually increase your confidence.

We neither teach nor condone psyching out tactics. They run counter to sportsmanship. We hope that, above all, you take pride in your skills and truly value those achievements that are a result of your excellence, not your opponent’s failure.

Q - I’m a left-handed bowler. It bothers me a lot when I bowl great in a tournament and hear comments about the lefties having an
unfair advantage. What can I do to not let this get to me?


A - Start by grounding yourself in the truth that achievement in sports means handling the conditions whatever they are. Whether it’s poker or bowling, you’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt. That’s the challenge. You deserve to feel proud about your effort if you play to your potential, if you meet the challenge.

You can’t control the conditions one way or the other (we believe in the long run that conditions, like ‘breaks’, even out), so it’s pointless and counterproductive to let that affect you. Those grumbling about unfairness are looking for excuses when they should be looking for answers. They would be far better served by focusing on their own game and how to cope with the lanes, no matter what they present. It’s actually to your competitive advantage if opponents complain, since that suggests they’re distracted, lacking confidence, and frustrated.

Here and generally, don’t give others the power to bring you down by their negative reactions. It would be irrational to let what they say have some bearing on how you feel about your game and yourself. Stay positive in your perspective. Trust those you respect and slough off remarks from those who haven’t earned it.

If complaints about unfair conditions are intended to psychologically undermine you during or after play, handle them like other psych out attempts (see our previous recommendations on that topic). Overall, use whatever methods are needed to stay focused, optimally energized, and positive.


(This information is an excerpt from the book, “The Handbook of Bowling Psychology” by Dr. Eric Lasser, Fred Borden, and Jeri Edwards.)