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Bowling, indoor game in which players roll balls along a runway called a lane or alley, attempting to knock down ten pins. Sometimes called tenpins, bowling is one of the most popular sports in the world.

The sport’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale des Quilleurs (International Bowling Federation, or IBF), has more than 120 member countries. The IBF estimates that more than 100 million people bowl annually. The United States alone is home to more than 6,000 local bowling associations that sponsor tournaments for more than 3 million bowlers. More than 10,000 bowling tournaments are conducted worldwide every year.


Playing the Game


Bowling centers (often called alleys) vary in size and sophistication. The basement of a church or community club can house one or two bowling lanes, and the largest venues contain more than 100 lanes. Most bowling centers are commercial and contain about 20 to 30 lanes. There are more 10,000 bowling centers worldwide.


Lanes and Equipment

The bowling surface is smooth, level, and made up of four parts: the approach, lane, pin deck, and pit. The approach is an area at least 4.6 m (15 ft) long. Bowlers take several strides in the approach area to gain momentum before releasing the ball toward the pins. A foul line marks the point where players must release the ball down the lane. A player’s feet may not touch or cross the foul line, even after the ball has been released. Lines and arrows in the approach area help bowlers aim their shots. These markings come at 4.6 m (15 ft), 3.7 m (12 ft), and .15 m (6 in) behind the foul line.


The lane is a narrow area 18.3 m (60 ft) long and about 1 m (41 to 42 in) wide. Arrows in the lane 1.8 to 2.4 m (6 to 8 ft) in front of the foul line help bowlers aim their shots. Two slightly lower areas called channels, or gutters, run alongside the lane to catch wayward tosses. Each channel is 24.1 cm (9.5 in) wide. A ball that enters either channel is recorded as a scratch (worth zero points) and is often called a gutter ball.

The pin deck at the end of the lane has ten dots, called pin spots, that are .30 m (1 ft) apart. Set on these spots, the pins form a .91-m (3-ft) triangle with one pin in the middle and the others surrounding it. Pins are generally made of wood and plastic, and weigh between 1.53 kg and 1.64 kg (3 lb 6 oz and 3 lb 10 oz). Each pin is 38.1 cm (15 in) tall. Pins have a narrow neck that gradually widens to a diameter of 12 cm (4.75 in) at the widest point, called the belly. The pin then tapers to a base 5.7 cm (2.25 in) in diameter. This design causes the pin to fall if tilted 10 degrees.

The pit lies behind the pin deck and houses a special machine that sends the ball up a track that runs to the approach area. The machine also gathers the pins and resets them. Other equipment in the lane area includes a scoring desk, an air blower that bowlers use to dry their hands, and benches. Many bowling alleys now use computerized scoring systems, allowing the bowlers to concentrate on their games rather than keeping score manually.

The only individual pieces of equipment that bowlers need are bowling shoes and a bowling ball, both of which most bowling centers rent to customers. Bowling shoes have special soles that enable a bowler to glide during the approach. Most bowling balls have three holes, for the thumb and two fingers. Balls are made of various materials—rubber, plastic, urethanes, and combinations of these compounds. Although bowling balls come in assorted sizes and weights, those used in competition measure 21.6 cm (8.5 in) in diameter and weigh between 3.6 and 7.2 kg (8 and 16 lbs). Many bowling balls are black, but color can vary. Some are even clear and can contain items such as flowers, insignias, and other decorative objects.


Basic Techniques

Choosing the right bowling ball is the first step toward successful bowling. Because the sport is based on timing and coordination, a bowler should select a ball that is easy to handle. The ball should not be too heavy or light, and should feel comfortable and natural in the bowler’s hand. The thumb of the throwing hand should fit into the thumbhole and rotate with only minor friction. As a measure of a proper grip, the bowler’s two middle fingers should then be stretched over (not into) the finger holes.

Most bowlers use a natural and relaxed four-step delivery method, taking four steps on the approach and then gliding while releasing the ball toward the pins. To determine the proper starting position, bowlers should stand at the middle of the foul line, facing away from the pins, and take four and a half steps forward. They should then turn and face the pins, remembering their relative position to the target markings. Each time a bowler steps up to make a throw, he or she should start the delivery from the same spot. As a bowler gains experience, minor adjustments can be made for comfort or preference.

After finding the correct starting position, bowlers should face the pins, focus on them, and with the fingers of the throwing hand in the holes let the weight of the ball rest on the nonbowling hand somewhere between the shoulder and the waist. The ball should be held slightly the right side (for right-handers) or left side (for left-handers) of the bowler’s body. Experienced bowlers keep their feet fairly close together, the left foot (for right-handers) slightly forward, and the knees gently flexed.

The bowler tosses the ball using a four-step delivery (described here for a right-handed bowler).

  • Step One: Move the ball and right foot down and forward in a slow, short movement.
  • Step Two: Keeping the arm as close to the body as possible, take a step with the left foot and let the ball swing backwards.
  • Step Three: Step forward with the right foot as the ball reaches the top of the backswing. The left arm should be extended for balance.
  • Step Four: Shift body weight from the right to left foot while bending the left knee and letting the ball swing naturally forward. No extra effort is needed.
The bowler should glide with the right leg extended back as the right arm lifts the ball over the foul line and releases it toward the pins. The follow-through after the release should be a continuation of the arc that started with the backswing.

Beginners should concentrate on tossing the ball at the front pin and developing a smooth, relaxed delivery. Common errors include throwing the ball too hard, concentrating too much on pinpoint accuracy, and not releasing the ball close to the floor.




A bowling game consists of ten turns, called frames, in which the bowler tries to knock down all ten pins. Score is kept on a sheet or video screen that lists the bowlers’ names, the frame, the number of pins knocked down with each ball, and the final score.

In each of the first nine frames the bowler rolls one or two balls. If the bowler knocks down all ten pins with the first ball, he or she has rolled a strike, the best roll possible. An X is recorded on the scoresheet or screen, and the bowler receives ten points (the number of pins knocked down) plus a bonus of the number of pins the bowler knocks down in his or her next two bowls. The maximum possible score in a strike frame, therefore, is 30: the strike followed by two more strikes on subsequent throws (10 + 10 + 10 = 30).

If pins remain standing after the first throw of a frame, the bowler takes another shot. Knocking down all the remaining pins results in a spare. A slash (/) is recorded on the score sheet, and the bowler receives ten points plus a bonus of the number of pins knocked down with the next throw. The maximum possible score in a spare frame, therefore, is 20: the spare’s ten points followed by another ten if the bowler can score a strike in the next frame (10 + 10 = 20).

If the bowler fails to knock down all ten pins with both balls, his or her point total is simply the total number of pins felled. When a bowler fails to knock down any pins, a scratch is recorded on the score sheet with a dash (-).

Players who roll spares and strikes in the tenth and final frame receive bonuses. Bowlers who roll a spare receive one extra ball, and the number of pins downed is added to the score. Bowlers who roll a strike receive two extra balls to try to add to their score. Some other common bowling terms include a turkey (three strikes in a row) and a split (a wide gap between the remaining pins after a throw).

A player achieves the top score of 300, known as a perfect game, by registering a strike in each frame and on the last two extra balls (nine frames of 30 points equals 270, plus 30 additional points in the tenth frame). Perfect games are rare. Top professional bowlers consistently average more than 230, while an amateur may have trouble breaking 100.




The Fédération Internationale des Quilleurs oversees bowling internationally, and many national, regional, and local organizations sanction competitive bowling on lower levels. These groups hold conventions to review rules, new products, and equipment specifications. They also promote the sport, sponsor clinics, and support a variety of outreach programs. The United States formerly was home to a variety of organizations governing bowling, including the American Bowling Congress (ABC), the Women’s International Bowling Congress (WIBC), the Young American Bowling Alliance (YABA), and USA Bowling. In 2004 the ABC, WIBC, YABA, and USA Bowling merged to form a single organization, the United States Bowling Congress (USBC).

Amateurs make up the majority of bowling enthusiasts and combine to participate in more than 200,000 sanctioned leagues each year. They typically play on teams made up of friends, fellow church members, or coworkers. Many bowling centers sponsor leagues of varying skill and age levels, meaning that almost anyone can enjoy the sport.

Professionals compete in the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) or the Ladies Pro Bowling Tour (LPBT). These organizations sponsor and conduct tournaments in cities across the United States and Canada. Pro bowlers also make instructional videos, conduct clinics, and participate in exhibition matches. Some famous bowlers from the United States have included Earl Anthony, Donna Adamek, Don Carter, Marion Ladewig, Betty Morris, Mark Roth, Aleta Sill, Dick Weber, and Walter Ray Williams, Jr.

In 2000 the PBA was purchased by software executives Rob Glaser, Chris Peters, and Mike Slade. Under the new ownership, tournament formats were altered to put more emphasis on match play (bowler versus bowler) rather than the total number of pins felled over the course of the competition. The tour also moved toward eliminating qualifying rounds in most tournaments, allotting spots based on rankings or other external factors.

There are currently more than 4,000 players in the PBA tour. The four major tournaments on the tour are the ABC Masters, the Tournament of Champions, the United States Open, and the PBA World Championship.




Although it is difficult to trace the sport’s origins to a single source, implements for games similar to bowling have been discovered at Egyptian gravesites more than 7,000 years old. Bowling games such as bocce (or bocci), quilles, skittles, candlepins, fivepins, and lawn bowls became popular in Europe during the Middle Ages. These games all involve rolling balls at targets, though in bocce and lawn bowls the targets are other balls, not pins.

During the 1620s Dutch settlers brought bowling to North America in the form of a game called ninepins. The game involved gambling, and authorities in many areas outlawed ninepins for that reason. Popular belief states that to circumvent antigambling laws, enthusiasts added a tenth pin, and modern bowling, or tenpins, was created.

At first the sport lacked standards and organization. Most bowling in the early 1800s occurred in cellars or basements attached to saloons. The rules, length of lanes, and weights of balls and pins varied according to who owned the lanes and who was playing at the moment.

The American Bowling Congress was formed in 1895, and soon after the organization established a standard set of bowling rules. The ABC’s rules and specifications, which have undergone only a few modifications, have been observed ever since.

Bowling became a popular game for both men and women in the early 1900s. Female bowlers formally organized the WIBC in 1916, and women’s leagues sprung up across the United States and Canada. The sport enjoyed another period of popularity following World War II (1939-1945), when it spread to countries in Europe and Asia.

In 1947 the American Junior Bowling Congress was established to oversee junior competition. The invention of automatic pinsetting machines in the early 1950s sped the pace of the game, drawing even more enthusiasts. (Previously, bowling lane employees had worked above and behind the pin deck to reset the pins by hand.)

Televised bowling began in 1947, and the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) was created in 1958. The PBA tour gained nationwide exposure in the early 1960s when network television started airing the tournaments. From that point through the early 1980s bowling was a popular broadcast feature. More recently, the men’s and women’s pro tours have been televised on cable channels.

In the 1990s automatic scoring machines, which calculate scores using computers, made the sport more accessible to beginners, and faster pinsetting machines also helped bring newcomers to the sport. Many bowling alleys now offer lanes with bumpers (also known as rails) on both sides, which eliminates gutter balls for beginning bowlers and children. Variations of the basic game, such as cosmic bowling, a game where participants use glow-in-the-dark balls and pins, have also attracted more people (especially younger bowlers) to the sport. In 2003 the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sanctioned women’s bowling as an official college sport.