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No Feet - No Game

Coaches' Corner SUSIE MINSHEW
Articles No Feet — No Game
Bowling shoes are the foundation of the game. When someone goes to the counter to rent shoes, they are not asked if they are right-handed or left-handed. They are just given a pair of shoes. This is because both shoes have the same sole so that either-handed people may use them. To be effective, you must have your own shoes. That means none of those $50 rental shoes you can buy…Real bowling shoes have different soles on each - one sole that slides and one that doesn't. For right-handers the left shoe should have a sliding sole and the right shoe a traction sole. You know from your experience that the next-to-last step is the power step. There must be a sole on this shoe which allows for traction so that you can really push off on that power step and drive into the slide.Shoes are so important in fact, that if you had to decide between buying real bowling shoes and buying a bowling ball, the choice would be shoes. (Keep this in mind if you are considering shoes for a younger player: if she is still growing and purchasing bowling shoes would require replacing them frequently because of that growth, a ball might be the better answer. A ball can always be plugged to accommodate that growth but you can't add on to the shoes!)However, you can't wait until a young bowler stops growing to get bowling shoes. The importance of having her own shoes is in the traction sole. Don't hesitate to put that foot in a tennis shoe. It is not illegal and will provide her with the stability to drive into the shot. She'll also be able to get used to the feel of a shoe that does not slip out from under her as rental shoes or shoes without a traction sole will. You can also take the sliding shoe of a pair of basic canvas tennis shoes to a cobbler and have buckskin put on it. That will provide her with a sliding sole while not being as expensive as bowling shoes.CHECKING APPROACHESYou must check your shoes and the approaches every time you prepare to bowl - practice or competition. If the sliding sole is not kept free of any wetness or dirt, a smooth slide cannot be achieved. Indeed, serious injury may occur. If someone has 'burned rubber' or left any residue from their shoe on the approach, you need to know that. You can never assume the approaches are okay.

You'll see folks checking approaches in some interesting ways. Some tentatively put the foot on the end of the approach and move it forward and back a couple of times. That's a great place to check the bottom of the shoe to see if anything might have gotten on it but since sliding doesn't occur there, is a pretty ineffective way to check approaches. After all, you check an approach to test both your shoes and the approach surface.

Some start at the end of the approach and run toward the foul line to see if they'll be able to slide. Duh! What if they can't? They'll realize the error as soon as they regain consciousness out by the arrows.

If you have ever arrived at a professional tournament before the competition begins you will always see the pros checking approaches. They do not want to be surprised by how approaches are behaving nor do they want to chance an injury.

Here's how to quickly and effectively check approaches:
• Stand in the middle of the approach about 3' - 4' behind the foul line. You are assuming you'll be sliding somewhere around the middle of the lane. WITH YOUR RIGHT FOOT ALWAYS ON THE FLOOR, bend your right knee and slide the left foot toward the foul line. There are several important points here. When you slide for real, your whole body is over your sliding foot. Therefore, to test approaches you cannot just stand upright and delicately slide your foot forward and back a few inches with no pressure on the foot. That is not how you slide and it should not be how you test approaches. Slide your whole body forward on the ball of your foot and then apply pressure to the heel to brake like you really do. Anything less encourages bad information and won't give you a true read of how the approaches feel. "

• Move to the left and slide at a slight angle toward the right corner of the deck with the foot between 25 and 35. This is approximately where you'll be sliding for right side spares. This is especially important on synthetics approaches. If there is a seam, be sure you test the feel of sliding across it. " Move to the right and slide at a slight angle toward the left corner of the deck with the foot between 12 and 17. This is approximately where you'll be sliding for left side spare conversions. Just in case you get to play the ditch, you'll also want to slide around 10 with your foot going in the same direction as the boards while you are out here. "

• The right foot MUST stay on the floor. Do not take a running start to see if you can slide. If there is something on the approach or on your shoe and the right foot is not in contact with the floor to protect your balance, you could fall. Don't take the chance. Do it right. "

• Once that approach at the foul line has been checked, you're not through. You want to slide into your starting position as a way to check the sole before each shot. If you saw the television broadcast of the PWBA event from Omaha a few years ago, you'll probably remember that Michelle Feldman fell due to a piece of tape being on the bottom of her shoe. Risky.


Taking care of your bowling shoes is as important as taking care of your bowling balls. They will last longer and most importantly, will help prevent injury rather than cause one.

• Use a steel brush to clean the bottom of the sliding shoe. You should always have that brush in your ball bag. The brush can also be used to achieve more slide or less slide. If you brush heel to toe, you will have more slide. If you brush side to side across the sole, you will have less slide.

• You won't believe this one but it works. Give it a try. If you are not sliding as much as you'd like and you're sure it's not the approaches and it's not your shoes that are the problem, tighten the entire lace on your sliding shoe. If you're sliding too much, loosen it.

• Stay in the bowler's area. Many centers are carpeted. You cannot always see a hazard (such as a wet spot) on carpeting. If you accidentally get your sliding foot wet, not only will you not be able to bowl; it takes lots of time and work to get the shoe dry enough to use again.

• There are several products on the market people sometimes use on their shoes to achieve slide. Without exception, they are not legal for use on the shoes. (Rule 12). Anything that could possibly interfere with another bowler's ability to execute a shot is not legal. If you use or depend on these powdered aids to help you keep your feet and you are forbidden to use them, it can affect not only your execution but become a weapon in the mental game for your opponent. Whether it is affecting their shot or not, they can insist that you be prevented from using the powder or cigarette ashes or soapstone, or whatever, and you'll have to stop.

• Certain types of carpeting can cause static electricity. This can cause you to stick at the foul line. It's just safer and makes more sense to stay in the uncarpeted and safe bowler's area where food and drink are not allowed and the danger of something being on the floor is reduced. Sometimes, however, that static electricity can be a good thing. If you need less slide at the line, rubbing the sole of the sliding shoe on the carpeting can create enough static electricity to help you not overslide.

• There is a product on the market that is effectively a sock for the sliding shoe. Those who wear it say they are not affected by slippery or tacky approaches. It fits over the sliding sole and the top of the shoe and is held in place with elastic at the heel. Your pro shop partner should be able to get them for you.

• There are shoe covers designed specifically for bowling which are easy to get on and off the shoe. Make sure you have a pair and use them anytime you leave the bowler's area, especially to go into a bathroom or snack bar where the floor is more likely to be wet.


There are several types of shoes in the game today which allow you to change the sole of the sliding shoe to be compatible with the surface of the approach. Sometimes you will need to slide more and sometimes less. These types of shoes allow for either. The entire sole and/or heel of Dexter® brand shoes can be exchanged with different combinations and Linds® shoes have small round disks that allow you to use different combinations of material to get just the right amount of slide for the condition. There are other brands as well but these two will serve for the purposes of this article.

Each brand comes with a description of the various uses of the soles. They are attached to the shoe with Velcro® and the Velcro is color-coded to make the proper exchange easier. Dexter's also have different types of heels that can be changed out. The heel of the sliding shoe is the brake. It is usually made of rubber to enable the bowler to stop the slide. The Linds heel has three holes for the different types of disks available for braking. Linds has up to four holes in the sole for the numerous disks available for controlling the slide. There are many types of sliding disks and therefore many different types of combinations to allow for the perfect slideability.

Understanding what each type of sole or sole combination or sole/heel arrangement does to you or for you is critical. If you need more slide or more brake, you must understand how to determine that and what combinations of soles and disks achieve that slide or brake.

With the Linds disks, mixing and matching disks for the perfect combination is possible. You should know that if you slide on the outside of your left foot and you are not sliding well, perhaps you need only to exchange the disk on the outside of your shoe rather than all four of them. If you use Dexter, the entire sole must be changed.

Dexter's have a lower heel than Linds and therefore require more applied force for braking than the Linds shoe. If you are familiar with the higher heel of the Linds shoe and switch to Dexter, you'll have to apply more force to stop. If you change from Dexter's to Linds, you'll stop more abruptly. Each brand has a very different feel because of this as well as the general construction of each shoe. The criteria for brand selection should include effectiveness, variety, life span of the shoe, and comfort.

Since one shoe will help you stop more quickly and the other will allow more slide (given the same amount of force on the heel), think of the different brands of shoes as adjustments you can use rather than one being better or worse than the other. Many elite bowlers carry more than one pair of shoes or wear one brand on one foot and another on the other. Bowling shoes are supposed to be functional so matching them with your outfit seldom knocks down anymore pins!

No feet = No game.

Knowing which disk or disk combinations give you what type of sliding capabilities or which sole/heel combinations will work for you is very important to your ability to compete well. You probably don't go to league or a tournament with only one ball, so why have only one choice when it comes to being able to get to the line well enough to throw all those expensive spheres you own?

Linds will make a semi-custom shoe for you if you desire. This means that different heel or sole or color combinations can be made especially for you. In my crazier days, I had a pair of Linds that were 10 different colors. I had to stop wearing them when the fashion police came.

Linds has many different types of soles for both the sliding and traction shoe as well as different heel choices for each. Given your choices, I would recommend a gummed - no leather - sole for the traction shoe. This type of sole must be custom ordered and is absolutely worth it. The gummed sole will provide wonderful traction. It will wear out more quickly but putting a leather tip on this sole negates the purpose of having the gummed sole. The traction shoe of the Dexter brand has a completely gummed sole with a tougher gummed substance toward the toe for better traction. In fact, the gummed sole is why some people wear a tennis shoe on the pivot foot. They are looking for the traction for a powerful push into the slide and they certainly get it. This is not illegal. However, if other bowlers complain that you are 'burning rubber' or leaving rubber on the approach, you might be forced to remove it. They won't make you remove your bowling shoes!

Where the gummed sole wears out depends on what part of your foot you use to push off. Some people wear out the ball of the shoe. Some wear the outside edge, some the toe. As long as you are getting a good strong push and wearing out something, you're in good shape. You should worry if no part of the shoe has areas of wear!

It's important that you purchase your bowling shoes carefully. Do your research. Ask a lot of questions. People have very strong opinions about bowling shoes. You will be spending a lot of time in these shoes and as we all know, if the feet hurt, the attitude sometimes suffers. It's important that your bowling shoes support your legs and body and don't contribute to fatigue. Make your decision based on comfort and function, not style.


• Some athletes put a piece of tape from the heel toward the sole in the middle to help achieve more stopping power. The type of tape used will affect how much this might help you. White textured tape will obviously slide less than smooth black tape. Be very careful here because any residue from the tape and its adhesive left on the approach is dangerous as well as illegal.

• If you are having trouble sliding too much and your normal shoe adjustments aren't working, you can wet the two middle fingers of your non-bowling hand and rub them across the sliding sole. This will last for one shot and should provide the ability to stop when you want. In a severe case, you can dampen the entire sole of the shoe very lightly. You could also rub your fingers across only the part of the sole on which you slide for stopping power. You could rub them on the beginning of the heel. Keep in mind that whatever you do may not affect any other participant or you will be forced to stop doing it.

• If you are stopping more suddenly than you wish, you can keep your torso more upright and you will slide just a bit more. If you have your torso more forward, you can slide less. Be sure these tricks do not affect your timing or delivery.

• If you are sticking at the foul line frequently, you could move back on the approach and just finish further from the foul line, hopefully staying out of the area of the approach where you are sticking. This will, of course, change your view of the lane and, most likely, your projection through the heads which might change everything. However, if you can't slide you can't play, so changing is a good idea.

• The most difficult of all approaches is one where you don't know if you are going to stick or slide. There are things you can do for sticking and things you can do for sliding, but if you don't know which one is going to happen, you might have a difficult time. You will have to be a little cautious and anticipate either one. Hopefully, everyone is having this problem. If they are not, you either have an equipment issue (you don't have the right combination on the shoes) or you have a mental game issue.

If you are 'toast', meaning because you have no feet your physical game is gone, it's time for you to sit down with your coach and have one of those lessons where you don't throw a ball and the two of you just talk about how you deal with this type of adversity. The problem, of course, is in the lack of control and dealing with the unexpected. You've hopefully know how to play what the lane gives you. Part of the lane is the approach. You'll have to learn to deal with what it gives you as well.

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