Lane Management Techniques

Lane Management Techniques
Jeff Richgels

 A member of the USBC Hall of Fame, Jeff He has won 5 USBC Eagles, 2 Gold Medals bowling for Team USA, 29 PBA Regional titles, and more than 100 state and local tournaments.  Read his interesting bowling blog at


Lane management is a term I began using after the 2003 USBC Open Championships. That year, the tournament went to fresh oil for all team squads, so our (formerly Turbo 2-N-1 Grips) teams began attacking the pattern in a systematic manner.


Prior to 2003, we always bowled on the second team shift. We did so because we felt it allowed the teams from the first shift to break down the track area, allowing our teams to play inside lines that offered a little swing area to the right and some hold oil to the left.


We all tried to play roughly in the same area, which was just left of where the guys in front of us had played. We would then adjust together as we depleted the oil on the lanes.


Contrary to popular belief, lane management practices are not something that just developed in the era of resin-ball technology. I learned the practice in the 1980s when I joined the well-known Kendor/Faball teams put together by USBC Hall of Famer Rich Wonders. The process of managing the lanes wasn't as thought out then as it is today, but we worked together to find “the shot”, and we played it together.


Prior to joining that two-team group, 1,780 was my best all-events score at what was then known as the ABC Tournament. The first three years I bowled with that amazing group of champions, I totaled more than 1,900 each time – tying the record – and won my first eagle. To put into perspective how much scoring has changed at this event, my current teammate, Mike Shady, has never bowled under 1,900 in 17  ABC/USBC tournaments.


The difference between the polyester/urethane-ball era I started in and the modern-ball era is how fast and how much the lane conditions change. Still, in both eras, we sought/seek to play the lanes “correctly.”


Figuring out where the shot is and what our plan will be starts with the publication of the USBC Open Championships lane pattern on the tournament website. Don't listen to anyone who says it's wrong to publish the pattern. Every golf course has a scorecard with the distance and layout of the holes, and that's essentially what a lane pattern is in bowling. And it's the only fair way to do it because if it was kept a secret, somebody inevitably would get a hold of the pattern before they bowled, giving them an unfair advantage over the rest of the field.


Deciphering a lane pattern can seem like figuring out the tax code, but it's really not that difficult once you know what to look for. My doubles partner, Steve Richter, a USBC Silver coach and Roto-Grip staff member, wrote up a very understandable tutorial on reading patterns. I edited that tutorial a bit for this article. In order of importance, here are the things to look at with lane patterns:


Pattern length

The length of the pattern tells you where your ball should exit the pattern to give you the best reaction to consistently hit the pocket.  Use pattern length minus 31 to find your exit point, plus or minus one board. So, for example, a 40-foot pattern would produce an exit point range of 8-9-10 board coming out of the pattern. (Your breakpoint may vary from your exit point depending on the angel of your ball trajectory.)


Editor’s note: See for resources on exit point


Volume of oil

This information will give you an indication of the strength of ball and surface you will want to use. A typical league pattern is perhaps 20 milliliters of oil. The last few years of USBC Open Championships patterns have been around 25 to 26 mL. Obviously, a higher volume of oil warrants a more aggressive ball and/or a rougher surface.


Load structure
This gives you a basic way to tell how to attack the lanes at the start. How you play them determines how they transition, which is why it's important to get everyone to work together on the fresh. The thing to look for in the load structure is where the loads increase (if they do). Areas where the loads go up in a small area of perhaps three or four boards often is the area to aim for at the start.


It's important to note that lane surface plays a huge role in how patterns react. A pattern will play very differently on an old wood surface with tons of built-in friction as opposed to the various synthetic surfaces.


Once the pattern details are released, at least some of us try to bowl on it a few times at a bowling center with the same kind of surface as the one being used at the Open Championships; however, unless this is done at a new center with the same kind of lane machine, oil and even weather conditions as that of the Open Championships venue, what you experience probably won't be close to a copy of what you experience at the tournament.


We also spend a lot of time exchanging information with others who've bowled on the pattern and eventually in the USBC Open Championships itself.


With a couple weeks to go before tournament time, Shady, Richter and I develop a basic game plan that includes recommendations on balls to ship/bring and how we plan on attacking the lanes. We email that information to all of our teammates.


One thing in ball choice that is consistent year to year is that we won't be starting with shiny balls because they react too much on fresh Sport patterns. We usually have surfaces of 1,000 to 2,000 Abralon and occasionally 500.


Once we get to the tournament city, we either do a team practice session at the Showcase Lanes or bowl a set of the BTM 1-2-3 on the pattern, while one or two of us may get a lesson with famed coach Mike Jasnau on the pattern.


You've got to come up with the correct plan that fits your team members' styles to the pattern, and then you've got to execute that plan properly. I also believe it's a huge benefit to have a group of guys with similar styles. That has helped us because we don't have any real straight guys, and, more importantly, we don’t have any super high-rev guys.


The goal of proper lane management is to break the oil down in a small part of the lane to create a dry area so that you eventually can move inside and have hook to the right and skid to the left – miss area, to put it bluntly. I believe doing that with a straighter trajectory creates a much more playable area. If you have some guys that go real straight and others that typically play far deeper and swing the ball a ton with high revs, it's tough to break down and take advantage of a spot on the lane.


The fact that we have 10 guys working together, I believe, is a key factor that benefits us compared to other teams that may not have a companion team that works with them. No way would we have the success we've had without the guys on our second team – eagle winners John Wittkowske, Bret Faulkner and Tom Howery and near-eagle winner Dan Goepfert and Mike Walters. That’s why we split brackets 10 ways.


Obviously, another huge key to USBC success is making the right adjustments and ball changes (if needed) as the lanes transition.


It's not a simple exercise of playing an area to the right for the 10 minutes of practice with a sanded ball and then grabbing a shiny ball and jumping left when you start. Proper lane management is a continuous process from the first practice ball to the final shot of the night. Our goal always is to use the plan that we think will give us the most playable reaction for the longest time. We also try to come up with a plan that will enable us to keep the ball in play early in that first game, so we don't dig too big a hole when the lanes are at their toughest.


There is no advice I can give on making those decisions that would apply all the time. It's a matter of educated guesses based on experience and instinct and reading ball reaction. After bowling together for so many years, we know each others' games very well  and do a lot of talking as we are bowling, trying to figure out what the lanes are doing and when to move and how. A team of minds is better than one!


The things in this article also can be applied to Sport leagues and tournaments, even those where you're moving pairs and not bowling with teammates who will work together with you. In those cases, it's vital to observe where other bowlers are playing and what balls they're using. Hopefully you can use that information to make the right decisions and adjustments before you leave that washout or big split.


For example, when I'm bowling qualifying in a PBA regional, I try to see where and how the players ahead of me are playing the pair I will be moving to for the next game. During match play, I pay close attention to how my opponent is playing the pair and the reaction he/she is getting. These strategies help me manage the lanes efficiently, and that is what allows me to put up big numbers or at least to remain in the hunt at all times. If you can learn to employ them for yourself, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your scores and tournament finishes improve.