This age-old debate seems topical to me again, driven by the recent Olympics and the fact that several of the 32 Olympic “sports” can’t really be sports.
I love watching the Olympics, and watched a ton of events this year as usual. To go along with watching, I’ve also followed several athletes on Twitter that has provided plenty of added entertainment. And if you follow @pbatour or @clarkPBA you have also gotten to see plenty of people mention that bowling should also be in the Olympics.
Bowling should be in the Olympics. It has grown into a hugely competitive game with lots of countries participating at a high level. That’s the very definition of an Olympic sport. But is bowling a sport? Here is the definition of ‘sport’ via www.thefreedictionary.com. “Physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively.”
Ok, I agree with that, however I like to break a “sport” down into four basic categories, and if it falls into at least three, then you’re probably a sport. If you don’t then you’re most likely a game.
1. There has to be something to win or lose.
2. If you are playing a sport then you should be playing it against someone else.
3. You should at least be in decent physical condition to play the sport, it should be physically demanding.
4. The sport should be difficult to do or at least very challenging.
So now that we have four categories defined let’s see how bowling measures up.
1. There is definitely something to win and something to lose in bowling, so I believe that bowling gets a checkmark for this one.
2. When you’re bowling, you’re bowling against the pins, but the score you get is put up against an opponent. That’s two for bowling.
3. This is where it gets dicey. You DON’T have to be in good physical condition to be a very good bowler. For almost all other sports you need to be in peak physical condition; in bowling it makes almost no difference. There will be some that argue that if you don’t take care of your body, then you won’t be a successful bowler. I disagree. I think being in good condition will help, but it’s not a difference maker. If I look at some of the top bowlers, or some all-time greats, I don’t see many that have ever taken the physical fitness route to be successful. There are some very good bowlers that do take physical fitness seriously like Ameleto Monacelli, Lonnie Waliczek, Shannon O’Keefe, and Stefanie Nation, to name few, but they are in the greater minority. I’ve always been out of shape, and I’ve spent most of my life as a very good bowler who competed at the highest levels. I’m not saying that you don’t have to be an athlete or athletic to bowl and bowl well, because I do believe that most good bowlers are very athletic, I’m just saying that physical fitness is not a prerequisite. Bowling does not make the cut on this one.
4. Last but not least; is bowling difficult or challenging? This one’s not even close. Bowling used to be tough, it used to be challenging, not today though. Last year on the PBA Tour, 20 players averaged 220 or higher. So at the top of the game on some of the most challenging conditions and venues the game has to offer, 20 bowlers had an AVERAGE score of 220. That’s way too easy. In 2010 there were only five that averaged over 220, six the season before that, and eight the season before that. That’s a trend that’s going the wrong way.
We are GIVING away high scores in this game. Sure league bowling is easy, but you would hope that at least the pros would be challenged, but they’re not. The point is that regardless of what level of bowler you are, it needs to be difficult, it needs to be challenging, and if it’s not, then this is just a game, not a sport.
So by my count there are two points in the column for bowling being a sport, and two points that say it’s not.
So what is bowling if it’s not a sport? I think bowling is a skill game, one that has certain characteristics of a sport, but not all of the characteristics. So the question is, does it matter if bowling is a sport or not? I think it does, I think the reason that bowling has never been on the stage it wanted to be on is because most people don’t view it as a sport. Bowlers view it as a sport, but nobody else does.
There is a video clip on PBA.com of Pete Weber talking about “is bowling a sport,” he relates it to golf. I don’t think golf is a sport either, but it has one thing that bowling doesn’t, at least golf is difficult. People sit at home and watch golf and know they can’t make the shot that Tiger Woods makes. People also sit at home and watch bowling and know that they CAN make the shot that Pete Weber makes. Whether or not that’s true, it’s NOT by the way, doesn’t matter because as soon as the fan thinks they can, bowling losses.
What ultimately stirred this all up for me was watching the BPAA Women’s US Open, the one where they bowled outside on the dust. That was the first time in about 15 years that I REALLY enjoyed watching a bowling match. The ladies were challenged on EVERY shot, having the “right ball” was not going to determine the winner; it came down to execution, determination, confidence, and out-performing your opponent. That’s what a sport looks like to me. On that day, those five ladies showed that bowling CAN be a sport.
Right now bowling is at a crossroad. It’s closer to being an entertaining game, than an entertaining sport. Bowling centers and ball companies have embraced bowling as a game by making it so easy to get strikes and shoot big scores. Effectively taking the challenge out of the game, and reducing it to entertainment.
So the question is how do we turn the tide and make this game difficult and challenging again? I badly want bowling to be viewed as a sport by the general public. I believe that if it was, then more casual fans would tune in to see something extraordinary. That’s why I pay money to see athletes perform in big-time sports. To see them do something that I CAN’T do. The playing field has been leveled considerably in bowling where the difference between mastery and very good aren’t that far apart anymore. I think bowling can get back to the point of being great, it won’t be easy, but then being great never is, or at least it shouldn’t be.