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It appears the average professional bowler scores around 230-240 out of 300. In my opinion, this should be much higher.

In bowling, unlike other sports, there is one movement you need to perfect: the movement that gets you a strike. There are no other players to tackle you; just you, the ball, and stationary pins. The fact that pros rarely get a perfect 300 leads me to believe that there must be significant variables that I am missing. All I can think of is the ball being used (size, weight, etc.), floor friction, and pin size and weight. However, this doesn't seem enough to account for this semi-low average as these variables will only ever differ by a minuscule amount.

Why is this average so low? What factors contribute to this "semi-low" average?

  • 2
    One factor I can think of are oil patterns. – user527 Apr 2 '14 at 13:44
  • Also, welcome to Sports SE. The bowling tag's excerpt says, "Questions about the sport of bowling." – user527 Apr 2 '14 at 13:45
  • There is also the fact that no one is perfect. Take another sport like indoor track for example. You may run a 52 second 400 one day, and a 55 second 400 the next on the same track. Not many factors have changed. Its the same distance, same shoes, same track, etc. There is never a guarantee someone will be in the same mental state. So saying its strange for a professional to not get a perfect 300 just about every game is like saying its strange for someone to not run the same exact time every single day in the same race. – Lilnonie Apr 2 '14 at 13:59
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    I see what your saying and I understand the human error what was confusing me was why the average is low. Using your example of track running if this runner did the same track, same shoes etc. im sure his average would be pretty consistent and high, but bowling I would expect it to be high 280s or 290s but 230s just seemed low, and it appears that the oil as mentioned by @edmastermind29 cleared this up for me. Thanks for your response though – Srb1313711 Apr 2 '14 at 14:28
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There are several "environmental" factors, such as oil patterns and consistency, as depicted in comments above.

However, given your expectation that the professional bowler's scoring average should be 280-290 (as opposed to the actual average of 230-240), let's consider bowling's scoring mechanism.

A strike is worth 10, plus the value of your next two rolls.

A spare is worth 10, plus the value of your next roll.

Imagine the scenario of bowling eleven strikes and one nine-spare in a game. If the spare took place in the first frame, your max score is 290. If the spare took place in the second frame, your max score is 280. If the spare took place from the third to ninth frames, your max score is 279. 279 is still the max score if you finish the 10th frame "9/X." However, if you finish the 10th frame "X9/", the max score becomes 289.

What I am attempting to illustrate is that in order to have an average between 280-290, one would have to bowl, on average, eleven strikes and one (nine-)spare a game. Aforementioned factors along with a low margin of error would make this feat quite impressive.

  • That it would but if we imagine that these oil patterns don't exists and the lane is the same all the time every time then the feat you mention is only impressive for amateurs, I would expect a pro to score highly nigh on every time, but the oil patterns are there purposely to throw them off. Thanks for such a detailed answer! – Srb1313711 Apr 3 '14 at 8:39
  • Apart from oil and other technical aspects you should consider the mental game. I've played bowling for many years (amateur level) and one should not underestimate this mental impact. You could say the same for darts. Why don't they almost always throw 180 on a regular 3-dart? Being consistent is VERY HARD as it is. And then there is the mental game. Being consistent under pressure is even harder. – Paul Palmpje Oct 31 '17 at 19:51
  • BTW, without oil it's probably harder to get high scores. A perfect straight roll with a neutral ball with no lift / loft / whatever will give you a strike. Why do you think bowlers put so much effort in putting side roll on a ball so that it sweeps into the pins? They do this to increase the probability of getting a strike (get them pins turning and going horizontal to get the most reach). The oil actually helps here most of the time! Oil does not change that much over the course of a game. It does but you can usually adjust to that as the game proceeds. – Paul Palmpje Oct 31 '17 at 20:11
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Professional bowlers bowl on 'sport bowling', or 'sport shot' lane conditions, where the oil is applied much more evenly to the lane, in comparison with what recreational and league bowlers bowl on, known commonly as a 'house condition', or 'house shot'. On a 'house shot', the middle of the lane is routinely oiled with a MUCH GREATER amount than what's put down on the outsides of the lane, closer to each of the gutters, or channels. This is done for the 'house bowlers', so their strike shots stand a much greater chance to reach the strike pocket, even if they miss their targets inside (closer to the headpin), or outside (closer to the gutters). The result -- they get a 'funnel effect' - shots outside hit dry earlier, and hook back to the pocket as the ball gets down lane - shots inside hit oil immediately near the foul line and skid almost all the way to the pocket, preventing the ball from getting left of the headpin. Shots like these result in strikes VERY often. If this doesn't happen, then typically an easy, routine spare is left for the bowler to shoot at on their next shot.

Also, pros bowl WAY MANY MORE GAMES in a typical professional event during a week, than an amateur would bowl in their league/leagues would. As a result, lane conditions tend to transition more significantly for the pros during a tournament, than what a league bowler experiences. Plus, the league bowler typically has the 'consistent house shot' week to week, whereas the 'sport shots' for the pros typically change from week to week, as sport conditions can yield a vast array of different oil patterns, pattern lengths down the lane, as well as overall amounts applied. Lastly, the lane maintenance crew may or may not strip and re-oil between blocks of qualifying, match play, or final rounds (typically step ladder format), depending on the specific parameters or circumstances of the tournament.

So, to sum all this up, if the 'house bowler' is fairly accomplished and experienced, they can, and often do these days, post averages in excess of 200, with little to no coaching from anyone, or practice to help get there. If a particular 'house bowler' has EVER competed at an ELITE LEVEL, such as the PBA, and/or Team USA, they may indeed post an average that might exceed 240 or 250, because of this, plus todays' OVERTLY AGGRESSIVE REACTIVE RESIN bowling balls, which literally DRINK UP oil from the lane, and not PUSH, or carry oil down lane anymore, like their non-resin predecessors did.

As you now know the rest of the story, this would be why a PBA tour member has yet to break the 230 average mark for an ENTIRE year on the national tour.

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