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Bowling Taught Me Lifelong Lessons

January 6th, 2022 by dk

Everything I needed to know about life I learned in my 4th grade bowling league. Our games started at 8:30 every Saturday morning and arriving late to Hoffman Lanes was not an option. I’ve been an early riser, even on weekends, ever since.

My mother sent me to Scott Cruickshank’s house with $1.10 in my hand, which covered the cost of three games, plus the shoe rental. I was always afraid of losing that dime. I keep track of little things pretty well to this very day.

I honestly don’t remember anymore how we got to the bowling alley. I think we walked. No, I’m sure we did, at least some of the time. As my fingers started this paragraph, I began to recall debating with Scott whether we had time to cross the highway at the corner or whether it was necessary to cut through back yards and cross a drainage ditch to save time. 

That road was a busy one — four lanes with a median strip in the middle. Did our parents really trust two ten-year-olds to make that trek? Apparently so. I’ve jaywalked with the best of them since childhood.

Scott and I always got to the lanes earlier than necessary because if we were late, they might not still have bowling shoes in our size. Then we’d search for a ball to fit our small fingers. Rich kids had their own ball and shoes, but we didn’t know any rich kids. We’d only heard about them. We didn’t have embroidered bowling shirts either. We dressed for comfort. I still do.

We figured rich kids didn’t bowl because their fathers didn’t. They played golf instead. They played to fill a hole. We tried to empty one. Filling a space is easier than clearing one.

Last week’s scores were always posted on a bulletin board near the restrooms. There was my name, on the board, every week! It was my first published work.

My name was always listed among three others — my teammates. This lesson continues for me — in me. Each of us performs as best we can, but the score that matters is collective. The value of our effort lies in what it contributes to the whole.

You’ll notice that I’m nearly finished with this reflection and the game has not yet begun. The game itself is like a holiday dinner’s centerpiece — it’s beautiful to look at, even if it’s the one thing on the table you can’t eat.

I never got very good at bowling, but I loved the sport anyway. I thrilled watching players handle pressure, focusing on their technique. The outcome was always 60 feet away. You wish you could run down the lane and kick the pins over, but I’ve literally never seen that happen.

Yes, it would be wrong and not allowed. But also this: it doesn’t exist. Most things that are that wrong also don’t exist. Most dimes don’t get lost. Tight shoes hurt but do no harm. Even when my scores were bad, I was still glad to see them posted.

Finally, there’s something unique and important about how bowling is scored. No one knows who to thank for this. The scoring of strikes and spares was standardized in 1895, but the scoring system was invented earlier. 

Knocking down ten pins with one throw is worth ten points more than two gutter balls. But if that frame is nestled at the center of five consecutive strikes, those felled pins account for 60 points, not 10. No other sport aligns success and stress so elegantly.

Self-help gurus tell us to live in the moment and they’re not wrong. We can control only what’s in front of us, even if it’s 60 feet away. But the consequences of our actions can extend and compound. Ten pins in certain contexts can count for 60.

Excellence rewards those who sustain it. Where did I learn this lesson? Say it with me now! At the bowling alley.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at He hasn’t been inside a bowling alley in decades.

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