Bowling has never had any trouble attracting new bowlers to leagues — even in all the years when the number of certified bowlers declined, hundreds of thousands of new bowlers joined leagues.
The trouble is even more bowlers were dropping out of leagues.
I've agreed with the many who think a huge factor is a lack of coaching: No one enjoys doing something they aren't any good at — more important, that they see no hope of getting better at.
The powers of bowling finally are stepping up to the plate with a program that aims to alleviate that frustration, which hopefully will mean retaining those bowlers.
The new United States Bowling Congress "Welcome to Bowling" program is set to launch this fall and will offer new league bowlers access to proper equipment and coaching.
It looks like a huge step in the right direction and I've already talked to several people who are excited about its potential.
"Our data shows that 63 percent of first-year USBC bowlers do not come back to join a league the next year," USBC Executive Director Stu Upson said in this news release. "Industry research shows the primary reasons new bowlers quit the sport is they feel uncomfortable about their equipment and ability. A proper ball and some basic instruction appear to be the keys to reversing the trend."
The program will be offered only to USBC members in 2011-12 who have not been members the last three years.
The leading ball companies — Ebonite, Storm, Brunswick and 900 Global — will offer a select entry-level ball to the bowlers at a special price of $59.95.
"Balls will be shipped by the manufacturer or distributers to the bowlers with instructions to visit their local pro shop for proper fitting, drilling and to purchase additional accessories," the release states. "The shipment will also include information about the coaching components of the USBC Welcome to Bowling program."
With the decline in USBC certified bowlers, the bowling ball companies also have seen their balls sales decline, so it's easy to see why they got on board with this program.
"This program is designed to develop and grow a new customer base we do not currently have and includes coaching to get them engaged, which is why all of the leading ball brands are behind the initiative," International Bowling Pro Shop and Instructors Association (IBPSIA) Managing Director Bill Supper said in the release. "Many of these new bowlers are never stepping foot in pro shops and without action from the industry, they never will. This program creates a chance to build relationships with new customers, get people connected to the sport and grow sales for everyone in the retail chain over the long haul."
Pro shops should have no trouble with the program because it seems doubtful that many of those new bowlers would have bought balls on their own, they also might buy a bag and shoes, and keeping more of the new ones and introducing them to pro shop fitting and drilling could turn at least some into long-term customers.
The bottom line is that new bowlers who in the past would have quit in frustration now might keep bowling because they were able to get a ball with proper fit and coaching that puts them on the path to improvement.
More details on the program are to be released at BOWL.com in September.