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Silly Bowling Superstitions

bowlingball.com continues our series of Editorial articles with another amusing approach to our beloved game and its participants. This article is titled silly bowling superstitions and is intended as a means for us to enjoy our own shortcomings and those of our fellow bowlers. No maliciousness is intended in any way but rather only a glimpse at things we may sometimes think but seldom say regarding this great game.

If you are spooked by Friday the 13th, you're in for a whammy of a year. And it would come as no surprise if many among us hold at least some fear of freaky Friday, as we humans are a superstitious lot. Many superstitions stem from the same human trait that causes us to believe in monsters and ghosts: When our brains can't explain something, we make stuff up. In fact, a 2010 study found that superstitions can sometimes work, because believing in something can improve performance on a task.

This premise can be expanded into bowling. Silly bowling superstitions typically emerge during the competitive aspects of the sport such as gambling for money, in league play, or in tournaments with prizes and prestige for the winners involved. Most bowling superstitions revolve around good or bad luck. Most superstitions are widely acknowledged to be mythology and figments of one's imagination.

For fun, let's check out a few superstitions relating to bowling and think if we, as readers of this article, have had coincidental experiences with these fables:

1. Beginner's Luck - Usually grumbled by an expert who just lost a game of friendly bowling score to a novice, "beginner's luck" is the idea that newbies are unusually likely to win when they try out a sport, game or activity for the first time.

Beginners might come out ahead in some cases because the novice is less stressed about winning. Too much anxiety, after all, can hamper performance. Or it could just be a statistical fluke, especially in chance-based gambling games.

Or, like many superstitions, a belief in beginner's luck might arise because of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is a psychological phenomenon in which people are more likely to remember events that fit their worldview. If you believe you're going to win because you're a beginner, you're more likely to remember all the times you were right — and forget the times you ended up in last place.

2. A rabbit's foot will bring you luck - Talisman and amulets are a time-honored way of fending off evil; consider the crosses and garlic that are supposed to keep vampires at bay. Rabbit feet as talisman (talisman is an object believed to have supernatural powers) may hark back to early Celtic tribes in Britain. They may also arise from a form of folk magic and superstition that blends Native American, European and African tradition. In bowling, we sometimes place superstition value is a lucky bowling ball, a lucky pair of lanes to which we often refer as "My pair of lanes", your best bowling center, or your luckiest day of the week to bowl. We are all guilty of believing in luck relating to positive results in bowling.

3. Bad luck comes in threes - Remember confirmation bias? The belief that bad luck comes in threes is a classic example. A couple of things go wrong, and believers may start to look for the next bit of bad luck. You stay "clean" ( no open frames) through the first two games of league and then you chop a spare. Then you leave a split and open again. Now you are just waiting for the next bad break even though you try not to think about it. Another open frame would constitute the third in a series of bad bowling breaks.

4. 666 - Three sixes in a row give some people the chills. In bowling it would be a 666 series for three games in bowling, a very good game average of 222 per game. The problem is that 666 is a superstition that harks back to the Bible and some bowlers would likely rather have a 665 or a 667 series instead. In fact, I know of a bowler who would make certain he never rolled 666 in league.

In the Book of Revelation, 666 is given as the number of the "beast," and is often interpreted as the mark of Satan and a sign of the end of times. According to State University of New York at Buffalo, anthropologist Philips Stevens, the writer of Revelation was writing to persecuted Christians in code, so the numbers and names in the book are contemporary references. Three sixes in a row is probably the numeric equivalent of the Hebrew letters for the first-century Roman Emperor Nero.

5. Cross your fingers - Have you ever been excited at the prospect of getting an important strike right after delivering your bowling ball and caught yourself crossing your fingers? Or you need a critical spare conversion to win the game in league for your team or perhaps to roll your season high series and you find you have crossed your fingers in hopes of attaining the result you seek.

Those wishing for luck will often cross one finger over another, a gesture that's said to date back to early Christianity. The story goes that two people used to cross index fingers when making a wish, a symbol of support from a friend to the person making the wish. (Anything associated with the shape of the Christian cross was thought to be good luck.) The tradition gradually became something people could do on their own; these days, just saying "fingers crossed" is enough to get the message, well, across.

6. Friday the 13th - We referred to Friday the 13th earlier in this article as a superstition one becomes concerned with on a given month when that day comes around. Here is something you may not know about Friday the 13th:

If you're not scared of Friday the 13th, you should be scared of the word used to describe those who are: "friggatriskaidekaphobics." (An alternative, though just as tongue-twisty, word for the "fear" is "paraskevidekatriaphobia.")

For a superstition, the fear of Friday the 13th seems fairly new, dating back to the late 1800s. Friday has long been considered an unlucky day (according to Christian tradition, Jesus died on a Friday), and 13 has a long history as an unlucky number. According to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in North Carolina, about 17 million people fear Friday the 13th. Many may fall prey to the human mind's desire to associate thoughts and symbols with events.

"If anything bad happens to you on Friday the 13th, the two will be forever associated in your mind," said Thomas Gilovich, a psychologist at Cornell University. "All those uneventful days in which the 13th fell on a Friday will be ignored."

As a bowler, one might learn to fear Friday the 13th if you have a history of poor bowling performances on that day or if you lost a close match in league or in a tournament. One the other hand, if you excelled on the lanes that day, you are just as likely to believe that Friday the 13th is a lucky day for you and actually look forward to the day rolling around next.


So we must ask ourselves, are we phylactery containers of bad luck belief. Are we bowlers who carry the superstitions that good things and bad things happen in patterns or do we merely take life one day at a time and accept it's non-predicted outcomes? What is your belief? Are you superstitious?

Please send us you comments and share some moments of good fortune on the lanes and any lucky charms you may possess which have led to noteworthy bowling results. Remember, this has all been in fun.

Hope you have enjoyed this little departure from the norm of straightforward bowling articles.

Rich Carrubba
bowlingball.com