I just went bowling for the first time in over twenty years. I never was a good bowler, & seldom went, but back in the day I did go bowling some times on date nights. Since I did not go that often, so my expectations of myself were really pretty low. Even though I am typically a pretty competitive person who does not like to lose, I lumped bowling into the same category as BUNCO, which is that of something fun to share & experience with others without putting too much effort into it.
I entered the bowling alley that day with a light hearted spirit, intending to just enjoy the day with my son & some other friends, despite the ill-fitting, stretched out, dirty bowling shoes that they force you to wear. That is my least favorite thing about going bowling – it’s bad enough to have to wear shoes that have been worn by countless total strangers, but it kills me that they are less than clean. I always try not to look too closely at them as I put them on. However, after I threw no less than five – YES, FIVE!!! – gutter balls in a row (who knew that was even humanly possible??) – I sat down on the vinyl bucket seat & hung my head in humiliation, staring down at the hideous footwear that were on MY feet. I literally wanted to find an eject button & blast myself out of there, PRONTO! I did not even want to make eye contact with my bowling companions, two of which were children. All five of my fellow bowlers were faring significantly better than me. HOW EMBARRASSING!!
Fortunately, one of them was my son, a young adult who used to bowl frequently. He very kindly came over to me, & told me that I probably needed to find a lighter ball, & then he assisted me in doing so. Nonetheless, by this time my mind was too rattled to go up to the line again, so I insisted that he go up & throw a ball on my behalf, so I did not have to look up & see the zeroes proclaiming what a Loser I was. I stared down in disdain at the horrid shoes that were still too loose, even though I’d already traded them in once, & they were tied as tightly as was humanly possible.
When my turn rolled around again, I was offering to bow out & be the Scorekeeper. Since the computer keeps score for us, & no one laughed at my extremely lame attempt at a joke, I had no choice but to try again. Somehow, I began knocking down some pins. My son instructed me to “SLOW DOWN!” In an effort to get my turn over with as quickly as possible, because I did not want all eyes upon my dismal failures, I was rushing too much. My impromptu Bowling Coach literally walked alongside me, & coaxed me to walk, not run, up to the line. This also improved my “game”, if it can even be called such.
My son began offering me strong encouragement. If I knocked down two pins, he said, “That’s good, now you can go get the rest of them.” If I knocked down zero, he told me, “That’s okay, you get another try.” If I knocked down eight in my two tries combined, he assured me that there was nothing wrong with that frame. He told me to focus on accuracy rather than speed, & cited an analogy involving Tom Glavine, an accomplished Major League pitcher whose career hinged on that very principle.
I had a flash back to the hundreds of baseball, soccer, basketball & football games that I had watched my son play, & I recalled how many times I’d uttered words in a similar vein to him. If he struck out, I reminded him of the fact that Major League players strike out more often than they hit the ball. If his pitching was off, I reminded him that even the best players have an off game. I thought about all of the coaches that had taught my son that discipline, persistence, & practice are essential elements for success in any sport. I reminded myself that conquering the mental game is the most important part of all – that not allowing oneself to focus on one’s failures, no matter how many times one has failed, or how humiliated one might feel, is the mark of a true winner. I listened to my son’s soothing, encouraging voice, & I threw the ball again. And again.
Eventually I even bowled a few strikes, & got to turn & face my audience with my head held a little higher because I’d actually done it right. However, my lack of experience, my nervousness at having some companions I do not know well, & my lack of discipline kept my game inconsistent, & I would throw a strike followed by three gutter balls. Finally, I realized that I was accidentally picking up a different, lighter ball half of the time, & that every time I did so, it changed the way I threw it. My son pointed out that I needed to keep my shoulders square to the front, & that helped. Another companion noted that I had drifted too far to the left, & needed to move farther right, & this also helped. Nonetheless, my high score out of five games was only a whopping 88! (And in my last game I failed to break 60 by three points.)
Though I was without a doubt the worst player out of the six of us, I had a really good time. The excursion reminded me of some things that are at the foundation for success in anything in life: That practice makes perfect; you get out of something what you put into it; that you need the proper tools in order to succeed; that no matter who the audience, you, & you alone are responsible for your performance; that you cannot let temporary failure become permanent; that success is earned, not given; that you can enjoy life & have a good time even in the midst of less than perfect circumstances; & that some times it is all right to participate in something that you do not excel in. I was, for once, able to be on the receiving end of my son cheering me on when I was feeling embarrassed, tentative, & inadequate. His calm, caring, & soothing voice made all of the difference in keeping me from quitting. Had I done so, my day would’ve ended much differently. A weak finish is still a finish, & is infinitely better than sitting on the sidelines watching life pass you by.
I marvel at the fact that the little boy I used to coax into taking one more swing or throwing one more pitch is now a young man capable of coaxing someone else into digging down deep within themselves for one more attempt. I am thankful for each of the coaches & teachers that helped form him along the way.
Maybe next time I go bowling I will do it differently: I will choose my ball more carefully, ensuring that I have one that is the right size from the start. I will make sure that I use the correct ball each & every time. I will take a deep breath. I will slow down my approach. I will focus on my technique. I will block out mental distractions.I will refuse to act silly when it is my turn. I will try to do my best. Then, if my high score is a dismal 57, then I will own that, knowing that I did my very best.
But if I decide to go bowling just to socialize, & not worry about all of the things that are needed to improve my game, then I will also own that. You get from life what you put into it. There are times when winning is the ONLY thing, but other times when winning means nothing compared to the bigger picture of forming bonds & making memories. I KNOW that, due to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, I will never be able to compete with my son, whose own high score for the day was a noteworthy 242. However, I refuse to allow this fact to prohibit me from going out & enjoying that time with him. Sometimes watching someone else excel is even better than excelling yourself, especially if that person is one of your own kids.
Meanwhile, I will continue to recall how the importance of cheering others on when there seems to be nothing whatsoever to cheer about can make an enormous difference in their game of life. The simple act of hearing words of encouragement from another human being can be the catalyst that is needed to reach a turning point, & to continue moving forward. “It’s okay. You’ve got this. I’ll help you.” What beautiful, sweet words for someone to hear when they are feeling humiliated & hopeless! I hope that I will always remember to offer this same encouragement to whomever happens to need it from me.
Now, about those stinky bowling shoes …………………………………………..