Finding Focus

There are many different things I enjoy in life. I feel like I have a very well rounded multifaceted life. It is always special when those different facets come together. The way things I love and enjoy in my daily life, the things I learn in my academic pursuits, and my life experiences intertwine always fascinates me. I have always loved sports throughout my life. I love watching sports, but I especially love playing sports. I have played, many times not very well, several different sports. Last year I decided not to participate in any organized sports for the first time in a long time. I felt I was losing my enjoyment of sport through other frustrations involved in participating.
This year I was asked if I would like to join a bowling league, two leagues in fact. I had not bowled in a league or on any regular basis since I was a young child and I had never really considered joining a league as an adult. I decided to give it a shot. I was not expecting much out of myself, or our teams for that matter. We were just there for the fun of it and I was just learning how to bowl.

As the bowling season went on I gradually improved and out teams gradually improved. I had the potential to bowl well but remained wildly inconsistent. I bowled many games over 200 as well as some games where I did not even reach 100. Towards the end of the season I became a little more consistent. In one league going into the last week our team was locked into second place. In the other league we were one game ahead in first place and bowling the team in second place. The second place team was a very good team, which we had not beaten many times during the season.
I was very nervous going into this matchup. I did not expect to bowl well under the pressure of bowling for first place. In several games this season when I had been bowling well I cracked under the pressure of simply finishing out a good game and getting a good score. In the first game I was clearly nervous and bowled a 125 which is 26 pins below may average at that point. We lost that game by eight pins. We were now tied for first.
In the second game I was a little more relaxed because I think in my mind the pressure was off because I didn’t think we could win. As the second game progressed I was bowling pretty well. I had 125 in the fifth frame. I felt the pressure building as I began to think I could have a good game and we could win this game. I had to work real hard to just relax and not feel the pressure. I did not finish out the game as well as I would have liked but I was able to bowl a 193. I did not have a single open frame in that game.
In the third game the pressure was still on. Neither team had locked up first place. We still needed to bowl well to win, and this would be the third and deciding game. I was really feeling the pressure now. I felt the pressure of the moment. I also felt my own internal pressure to bowl well. I am a competitor and when presented with a chance to win, even if I didn’t expect to have the opportunity, I really wanted to win. Once again I stated off the game bowling well and that increased the pressure. I began to be able to feel my heart race and fell it beating against my chest. When I stepped up on the lane to prepare to bowl, I felt the trembling. My legs were weak and unsteady. I physically and mentally struggled through that game but through my focus and determination was able to bowl a very good game for me. I matched my season high of 233.
At the end of the third game we were in a tie for first place, but not just a tie with the second place team. The third place team bowled well and caught up to us too and now we had a three-way tie. There would be a one game bowl off for first place. Team with the best score wins.
Just when I thought there couldn’t be any more pressure, I was wrong. This whole thing was a very unique experience for me. In all my sporting life I had never been a significant contributor on a winning team. As an adult I had never been on a winning team at all.
In the bowl off, I continued to be stressed out and nervous. It required all of my focus and effort to bowl well, and bowl well I did. Despite the anxiety I was feeling I was able to manage a 195. I was very happy and impressed with my performance. I was also very surprised. I had just bowled the best three games in a row of my life. I had a better three game stretch than anyone else on my team and I was a first year bowler. How in the world did I do that? I think a large part of it was luck. I also think a large part of it was due to my knowledge and education. There may also have been a small component of skill as I have always been a decent all around athlete, never really excelling in any one area.
I give the most credit to my mind. In order to have any chance to bowl well I had to get my physical manifestations of the psychological pressure I felt under control and that meant I had to get my mind under control. Each time I stepped up to bowl I took several deep controlled breaths to release the tension and energy causing me to shake and to help relax myself. I tried to tune everything else out around me. (It didn’t help that many people from the league stayed to watch the bowl off.) When I went back to my seat after each frame, my heart was pounding. I tried to sit relax, take some deep calming breaths, and maybe chat with people around. I just tried to take my mind off of the game and off of my performance while there was nothing I could do to affect it. I also took the time to do some mental imagery of myself performing what was for ma a perfect shot, using the right arm angle, hitting my mark, throwing the right speed with the right amount of rotation. This helped especially after occasions where I did not throw good balls. I was able to apply my knowledge of stress management and some sport psychology techniques to my personal
experiences. It is particularly gratifying to use my education in my own life for something fun.
I also think there is a component to me bowling well that has to do with the fact that I did not expect to bowl well. In most sports, I have played as an adult I am pretty good and usually one of the better players on the team. This usually puts more pressure on me to play well, especially when we don’t have a particularly good team overall. However, in bowling I was our weakest bowler. I was just learning. I had no prior expectation to do well. I did not go into this with any pressure to bowl well. I think in some way that I cannot quantify this helped me.
My other thought is why was I suddenly able today to put three good games together in a row? I had bowled two good games in a row before but never three. I think another big part of that is psychological. I think it has to do with the fact that there is an optimal level of anxiety/arousal needed to perform well. For most of the season there was no real pressure to bowl well. I often lost focus and could tell when I did. This resulted in poor shots and poor games all together. In this game because of the pressure and fact that I wanted to win I cared more about this match up and intentionally paid more attention to my level of focus. This helped me to be more consistent from frame to frame and game to game. There was also a point in the match where I consciously decided I was going to stop trying to make adjustments and just trust my natural motion to work. I am not sure when this was but I know it was at some point after the first game. I would like to believe it was right before I strung together a series of strikes in the second game. That would really illustrate the point, but I cannot be sure that is when it occurred. So once I stopped thinking about every little component of my bowling motion from where to stand to my arm angle to my wrist position and amount of rotation I began to bowl better. I simply focused on my mark and bowled. This also illustrates another sports psych principle that when you have a natural motion and then start breaking it down in your head and try to control each little component of it as you do it you actually hurt your performance instead of help it. The motion or skill is automatic and performed better when left to the unconscious mind. My biggest problem was that I did not believe I had an automatic learned skill. I thought I needed to pay more attention because I was still learning, but once I let go I bowled better.
I was just glad to see all these pieces of my life come together. I makes me happy and makes my life complete.

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One Comment on “Finding Focus

  1. Hey Kyle- just found this blog while looking at some of your AMAZING photos. So great! Anyway- this is such a neat blog post because I can totally relate to what your saying (though not the sports backdrop;)

    Anyway thanks for sharing, it helped me clarify tonight that I need to do a better job in some circumstances, actively managing my own nerves. And letting the adrenaline serve as a focus…but not letting it take me to a place where I am physically shaken.Lots of stuff to think about here- thanks:)

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