In the last decade, one sport has risen to the top as one of the fastest-growing high school and collegiate sports. No, it’s not football; it’s not basketball, baseball, or soccer. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, it’s something a little less traditional: bowling.
David Gayton, head coach of both the boys and girls Varsity bowling teams at Southwestern, was on the bowling bandwagon long before anyone else. With more than five decades of experience in the sport, Gayton sat down with the Jamestown Gazette to discuss his team this year, how he gets players into the zone, and why it’s detrimental to high school bowling teams when people don’t consider them a “real” sport.
Cortney: What sort of bowling background do you have?
Gayton: I’ve bowled for 54 years; I started when I was 8 years old. I wasn’t a player that had to be motivated. When I was a kid, I would watch the pro bowling on T.V. on Saturdays, and I would try to imitate Dick Weber or Mark Roth the next day. It came easily to me, so for me to relate that over to someone else can be difficult. When I was learning to be a coach, they put us on lanes and said, okay, who’s right-handed? I raised my hand, and they said, okay, you’re left-handed now. Using my non-dominant hand gave me a feel for the struggles my new players go through.
Cortney: Bowling, and its training, is pretty different from more traditional sports. Take me through a typical team practice: what does it look like?
Coach Gayton: To start off with, I have to take each individual and evaluate them. For example, if they’re beginners, I have to go quite a way back to get them up to speed. Coaching is a different because bowling is a different type of skill. I think the old saying is, “bowling is mixing ballet with weightlifting.” It’s very difficult, in the beginning, to try to coordinate the two. It takes quite a while to grasp, especially if the bowlers aren’t necessarily athletes. I have a lot of bowlers this year who are very new to the sport. So there are a lot of things that I’m trying to instill in them to develop their skill.
Cortney: What is your team like this year?
Coach Gayton: We all practice together, but sometimes I’ll separate the boys and girls just so they can get a feel of playing with their specific teammates. And sometimes, one player bowling well will ignite another player to bowl well. I’m always looking for that interaction: seeing who’s getting along, who’s motivating someone else. One thing I’ve learned is, when you first meet a player, how are they approaching you? Do they walk with their head up or their head down? You try to get an insight into who you’re dealing with – that’s very important because the mental aspect of this game is crucial. Once you’ve established a physical game, it’s over ninety percent mental. It has a lot of similarities to golf in that aspect.
Cortney: So how do you cultivate that mental game for your athletes?
Coach Gayton: You talk to them about how to create focus. Also, one of the biggest things is convincing them to relax. You have to be focused, but relaxed. When you’re able to marry the two, we call it being in the zone. But it’s a very difficult thing to do.
Cortney: What sort of goals do you have for the team?
Gayton: We actually already achieved my goals, which was to get them to sectionals this year. I was hoping to do even a little better than that, but the hard thing with bowling is that it’s not viewed as a “real” sport. So a lot of kids that would’ve been good bowlers were teased out of it, or talked into other sports. I lost my top three bowlers for various reasons, so our record isn’t great, but it’s okay. I’ve got some solid bowlers and I’ve got new kids who are learning. They’re all starting to show signs of catching on. I think we’ll develop some pretty decent bowlers.
To read more of Cortney Linnecke’s creative and informative contributions to the Jamestown Gazette, please go to www.jamestowngazette.com.