Does bowling make you think of cool shirts, ugly shoes, and the 1950's? It's time to think again. Bowling is a sport that your whole family can share, and that your child can continue to enjoy for a lifetime. The game is easy to learn, and youth bowling allows your child to experience team play without a big commitment of time or money. (And speaking of money, the U.S. Bowling Congress offers more than $6 million in annual scholarships to kids who bowl.)
The basics: In ten-pin bowling, players roll a heavy plastic or resin ball down a 60-foot-long wood or urethane lane, trying to knock over the 10 pins set in triangular formation at the end of the lane. A bowler gets two attempts (this is called a "frame") to knock over the pins before play passes to the next player. A match is made up of 10 frames. Bowlers score points based on the number of pins they knock down.
Variations: Candlepin bowling is popular in New England and the Maritime provinces of Canada. In this variation, the bowling balls are much smaller and the pins are thinner. Players bowl three balls per frame.
In Canada, five-pin bowling is popular. Again the balls are small, and the five pins players must knock down are smaller than those used in ten-pin, and have a heavy rubber band wrapped around them. Scoring is based on their location in the V-formation.
In New England and the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area, duckpin bowling is common. Again the balls are smaller than ten-pin balls, the pins are shorter and lighter, and players get three roles per frame.
Age kids can start: As young as two or three. Bumpers along the lane help beginners avoid the dreaded gutter ball. Metal or wooden ramps can help kids aim the ball and give it a little more speed down the lane. If you want to take your toddler or preschooler bowling, call your local bowling center and ask if they have bumpers, ramps, and shoes in your child's size (or if little kids can bowl in their street shoes instead).
Skills needed/used: Balance, coordination, upper-body strength
Best for kids who are: Almost anyone can enjoy bowling!
Season/when played: Year-round.
Team or individual? Both; bowlers compete individually to earn points for their teams. USA Bowling youth teams have three to five members, and can be all girls, all boys or co-ed.
Levels: The U.S. Bowling Congress (USBC) has several levels of membership and youth leagues for kids, starting with the "Roll 'N Grow" membership for kids 7 and under. Its USA Bowling youth teams have three divisions: under 10 years old, under 12 and under 14.
Adults can also consider various membership and league options, including sport leagues that emphasize challenge, skill, and competition.
Appropriate for kids with special needs: Yes. Ten-pin bowling is a Special Olympic sport—in fact, it's the most popular Special Olympic sport. Bowling is also popular with kids on the autism spectrum.
Fitness factor: Low. Although bowling requires balance and strength in the upper body and core, it doesn't elevate the heart rate significantly or burn a lot of calories.
Equipment: Bowlers need a ball and bowling shoes. You can rent these at any bowling center. Buying your child his or her own ball will be $50 or less (for a plastic ball; resin balls start at about $100). Having the holes drilled into the ball may cost extra, up to $30 or so. But having a ball custom-fit to your child's hand will make it more comfortable and easier to use.
Costs: Youth bowling is inexpensive. Open play can cost anywhere from a few dollars up to about $15, plus shoe rental for a nominal fee. Joining a youth league costs around $10 a week which includes lane rental, instruction, social events, and often a team shirt. USBC memberships for youth start at just $5.
In the summer months, sign up for the Kids Bowl Free program. Kids can play two games a day free for the entire summer at participating centers.
Time commitment required: Youth bowling programs and leagues usually run eight- to 12-week sessions, with one hour a week of practice and one-and-a-half hours of matches.
Potential for injury: Low. Common injuries include sprains, strains, and soft-tissue injuries to the fingers, trunk, and ankle, feet, or toes. Young children (under 7) sometimes hurt themselves by dropping the ball onto their feet.
How to find a bowling center, instructor, or kids' program (you can find leagues through bowling centers):
- USBC bowling center finder
- USBC Coach finder
- Youth Bowling Canada
- Kids Bowl Free participating bowling centers