It is Tournament of Champions week! My favorite week as a bowler and now my favorite week as a coach/fan! Why not the U.S. Open you ask? Because that week is such a grind, it never really becomes fun - the lanes are just too tough - and as a fan I do want to see some strikes!
But being here at the T of C as the tournament got underway on Monday, I could actually feel the excitement starting to build as the Champions field narrowed down to 21. Tuesday is the start of the Elite field qualifying and, after 20 games, the top 25 will join this year’s 11 winners for Thursday’s Round of 36.
As I watched the many stars who will be bowling later this week practice for the tournament, I couldn’t help but notice the differences in how they get ready for this event compared to how we did in my generation. First and easiest are the shoes - I had a pair of Linds, period! If the approaches were a little tacky, cigarette ashes always did the trick. If they were a little slick, either a wet towel or a lick of the hand to add some moisture to the sole. Today, Chris Barnes has a bag of heels and slide soles - with some even cut in half for about 30 different combinations! The advantage goes to today’s player.
Second is the arsenal, and for us this was easy. For me it was one dull Columbia Black U Dot, three shiny ones, a Wine U dot, and a Slate U dot: that’s six balls total with room to drill two more to fill out my four Don Johnson double totes (yes, totes, we actually carried them over our shoulders!) Today’s player HAS to have three to five times as many balls. Nobody is good enough to get by with just six because the lanes just change too fast and too much! The advantage on this one goes to my era because I could carry my entire arsenal on my shoulders into any airport, tip the sky cap $20 and never pay for extra bags!
Now the biggest difference - the lane conditions. Not how hard or easy they were, but actually what they were going to be. I bowled 280 events in my career and never had a clue what the “shot“ was going to be until I bowled the practice session - and even that was no guarantee on what they would be the next day. Did we ask about the lane conditions? You bet, but the only answer I ever received was, “Let your ball be your guide.” Here in 2012, Sunday was the official practice session, and most players had a game plan. And then after watching the Champions qualifying round on Monday, the same group was rethinking their game plans. In our day we usually changed our game plan around frame 15 of the first round. It was actually an advantage to have absolutely nothing in practice rather than have a good shot, (we didn’t know about having a “good look” like the bowlers of today are always talking about, but we did have Brian Voss!) Bottom line, the game has changed - like everything else in life – and, in fact, our game has changed so much that I’ve written a book to help bowlers of all skill levels make sense out of the best ways to sift through all the information and help to improve their own bowling games with that very title: The Game Changer!
All I can say about writing a book is, “WOW, what an undertaking!” I’d been talking about doing an instructional book for years but that’s about it - lots of talking, no writing - and now I know why, it’s not EASY! Lucky for me I found the right partner in Jason Thomas to help me write it. He started by attending one of my camps to see my coaching style in person, and then videoed over 20 hours of answering questions on my coaching system. This was 16 months ago. After all this I thought he’d write for a few months and then hand me a completed book, right? Wrong!!!! That was version 1 - the final version is #6 - that’s right, I made him rewrite it six times - and we’re still friends!
Why so many rewrites you ask? Because you only get one chance to write your first book and it was very important to me to get it just right. What is the goal of the book? Well, the question I thought the book had to answer in order to be a success was, “How can I help a bowler in Minnesota (or anywhere in the world, for that matter) to improve without ever seeing his game?” I also wanted to write something that wouldn’t bore the reader or get bogged down in technicalities. I wanted to the reader to feel like he was getting a lesson from me through the book, and then be able to refer back to the book to continue his/her improvement until that person reached whatever goal they set out for themselves in the sport of bowling.
We also had the help of one Mr. Chris Barnes, who provided great advice throughout the process and even wrote an excellent foreword that explains why he never really understood the reasons for his own bowling success until we started working together and I shared my coaching system with him.
But ultimately, I wrote this book for all the bowlers I’ve worked with and the ones who would love to work with me but – due to geography, time or expense - just can’t get out to see me for help. In the end, I think the finished product will make the bowlers I’ve given lessons to feel like I am preaching the exact same things we’ve always worked on during our lessons and, given the results I’ve been able to achieve with thousands of clients (not to mention several of the best bowlers in the world), will give a much larger audience of bowlers seeking to improve their games a chance to get something out of my coaching philosophies as well.
Mark Baker is one of the most sought-after bowling coaches in the world and works with several of the PBA’s top players, including Chris Barnes, Mika Koivuniemi, Tommy Jones, Jason Couch, Bill O’Neill and Mike Fagan. Copies of his new book, The Game Changer are currently available to order here.