Everyone has an innate sense of how to bowl, even those bowling for the first time. In its most basic form, you walk onto the approach, throw a ball down your lane, and hope to knock down all ten pins. If you don't get them all the first time, you get a second chance.
However, there are some unspoken courtesies that beginners may not know. This is also known as lane etiquette or lane courtesy. In general, lane etiquette means to be mindful and respectful of other bowlers around you.
In bowling, the approach actually has two different meanings:
- The surface area of the lane between the foul line and the ball return/seated area. It is approximately fifteen feet in length.
- The way a bowler winds up and releases the bowling ball, typically completed in either a 3-step or 4-step pattern.
For the sake of this article, we are referring to the first definition of the approach – the fifteen foot surface area of lane before the foul line.
Bowling is a social game. Chatting with your teammates or friends is a natural part of the activity. However, if it's not your turn, you shouldn't be on the approach. It's not the place to hang out or have a conversation.
Reserve any chit-chat for the seated area behind the approach and keep your voice at a reasonable level. Now, it’s not quite like golf where even a whisper can throw off a player’s shot. Bowling lanes are a concoction of loud noises and most bowlers are immune to these noises. Still, be respectful and avoid shouting or jeering.
When it’s your turn to bowl, walk up to the approach and check the lanes on either side of you. If there is another bowler already on the approach, wait until they finish their shot. Once the lanes are clear, you are free to step onto the approach and prepare for your shot. Think of this like a three-way stop while driving: yield to the people there before you.
After you make your shot, walk off the approach. Don't dance along the foul line or jump up and down. Don’t wave your arms, willing that remaining pin to fall. Despite what you’ve seen in cartoons, that stubborn pin will hold its ground and you’ll only delay others from taking their shot.
If you get a strike, congrats! Walk off the approach and celebrate with your teammates. Now, if you left a few pins standing, don’t take your next shot right away. Retreat off the approach to allow the bowlers to your left and right to take their shot. While you wait, your ball will return and the pinsetter will clear the fallen pins.
Now you understand the basics to bowling etiquette. While bowling lanes are typically noisy, casual atmospheres – sometimes even dominated by children’s birthday parties – it is important to remember to be respectful of your fellow bowler. Watch the lanes around you, only walk onto the approach when it’s your turn, and restrict socializing to behind the lane. If you keep these essentials to bowling etiquette in mind, you’re golden and your fellow bowler will respect you for it.
Most of all, have fun!