What Exactly is a Sports Pattern and How Can You Bowl on One?

For many participants in the bowling community, the transition from casual play to a more serious or professional level involves a significant leap in skill development, focusing on techniques and equipment.

The complexity of bowling terminology and jargon can sometimes intimidate those looking to delve into the competitive side of the sport.

To excel in competitive play, it’s crucial to grasp concepts like lane oiling and the distinction between ‘house patterns’ and ‘sport patterns’.

Moreover, knowing how to adapt your strategy to these patterns is essential for success.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to understanding and navigating sports patterns in bowling.



As a beginner, you might not immediately recognize that bowling lanes are typically coated with oil, often mineral oil which makes up 98% of modern formulations.

While this might not have crossed your mind during casual play, understanding this process is key.

When a bowling ball makes contact with the lane, there needs to be some level of lubrication to facilitate its movement. This is crucial for the ball’s speed and trajectory.

The type of material the ball is made of plays a significant role here. There are four common materials for bowling balls, each interacting differently with various levels of lane oiling.

Most lanes feature varying degrees of oiling. Some lanes are slicker, necessitating a ball with a surface that provides more friction, while others have less oil, requiring a ball with a smoother surface.


Common ‘House’ Practices

When you visit your local bowling alley, especially those not geared towards competitive matches, you’re stepping into a recreational setting rather than a competitive one.

These venues often adhere to specific practices that differ from those found in competitive bowling alleys.

For instance, the bowling balls provided are typically referred to as ‘house balls’. These are usually polyester balls, the most economical and conventional type. Because plastic isn’t the most grippy material, many bowling alleys infrequently oil their lanes.

However, when these recreational bowling alleys oil their lanes, they do so in a manner tailored to enhance recreational play rather than competition.

This practice is often termed a ‘house pattern’. Typically, the oiling is concentrated in the middle of the lane, with less oil applied near the gutters.

This setup aids gameplay, making it less challenging as the ball naturally gravitates towards the ‘pocket’, the primary area players aim for.

If you’ve ever found playing in a competitive bowling alley more challenging, this discrepancy in oiling patterns is likely the reason, as different approaches are used in competitive settings.


Understanding the ‘Sport Pattern’

In contrast to the relaxed atmosphere of recreational bowling alleys, competitive bowling alleys implement a specific oiling pattern known as a ‘sport pattern’.

The primary objective of a sports pattern is to increase the difficulty of the game, aligning with the competitive nature implied by its name.

While a house oiling pattern simplifies bowling, it makes sense to raise the bar for competition by altering the lane’s oiling technique.

However, pinpointing a sport pattern isn’t as straightforward as identifying a house pattern. While house patterns are relatively consistent across alleys, sports patterns can vary significantly from one bowling alley to another.

This variation in sports patterns adds an element of unpredictability to gameplay, offering bowlers and competitors a unique challenge with each lane they encounter. It prevents professional bowlers from relying on the same strategies repeatedly, fostering adaptability and skill development.

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Furthermore, the diversity in sports patterns influences a bowler’s choice of ball, affecting their success on the lanes.

Sport patterns are typically categorized into two ‘generations’: first-generation patterns, reflecting classic styles historically used, and second-generation patterns, standardized in 2013.

To gain a clearer understanding of these patterns, visual aids such as images can be helpful, in depicting their shapes and intricacies.

While terminology may vary across bowling venues, sport patterns are often identified by names inspired by wild animals, adding an element of intrigue and excitement to the competitive bowling experience.

First Generation ‘Sport Patterns’


At 39 feet in length, the ‘original’ sport pattern used in competitions stands as one of the oldest and most enduring.

This pattern presents a unique challenge, compelling players to target specific sections of the lane. Formed primarily in strips, it requires bowlers to discern the most effective approach.

Various types of bowling balls can excel in this pattern. Utilizing a low-friction ball in less-oiled areas and opting for a higher-friction option in well-oiled sections can optimize performance.

However, different bowling styles warrant distinct approaches to navigating the sport pattern. There isn’t a singular style that reigns supreme; rather, bowlers must adapt their techniques accordingly.

Among the myriad sports patterns, the Chameleon pattern reigns supreme in many competitions, favored for its balanced difficulty and strategic nuances.



At just 35 feet in length, the Cheetah sport pattern stands as one of the shortest patterns utilized in bowling. This compact size serves a strategic purpose, often deployed on lanes that exhibit more wear and tear. It effectively maximizes the utilization of the area closest to the gutter, a region typically less affected by wear.

Named after the swift and agile big cat, the Cheetah pattern demands rapid and precise gameplay to navigate successfully. Players must employ quick decision-making and focus on achieving the ideal hook to excel in this challenging pattern.

Dealing with the Cheetah pattern adds an element of excitement to the game, as every strategic move and adjustment becomes crucial for achieving success on the lanes.



Spanning 42 feet, the Scorpion sport pattern ranks among the longer patterns in bowling, requiring precision and accuracy from players.

Characterized by its higher oil volume, the Scorpion pattern presents a challenge as the bowling ball may encounter areas of significant oil slick, causing it to wobble unpredictably.

To conquer this pattern, bowlers should aim for a direct line to the pocket with controlled speed. Additionally, using a ball with optimal friction can enhance the chances of success, allowing for better grip and control on the lane.


Second Generation ‘Sport Patterns’:


Measuring a lengthy 44 feet, the Shark sport pattern stands out as one of the longest in the lineup. Its distinctive shape requires bowlers to maintain their position in the center of the lane, akin to a shark navigating the depths of the ocean.

The key strategy is to maintain a direct line to the pocket, similar to the approach needed for the Scorpion pattern. This minimizes the impact of oil on the ball’s hook and roll, reducing the likelihood of missed shots and low scores.


At 40 feet, the Bear pattern may seem shorter, but it’s widely regarded as one of the most challenging sport patterns encountered on a bowling lane. This difficulty arises from the entire length of the pattern being coated with slick oil from side to side.

Bowlers often find that attempting shots on the outside leads to frequent washouts, while inside shots can yield spare opportunities and more manageable formations afterward. However, the optimal approach is to aim for the third arrow on the lane, striking a balance between precision and control.



In summary, many casual bowlers may not be aware of the intricacies involved in the sport, such as the variety of bowling balls available and the strategic use of lane oiling to influence gameplay.

In competitive settings, lane oiling is a common practice, but it’s done in diverse ways, leading to a dynamic and unpredictable playing experience. House oil patterns, designed to simplify the game, are prevalent in recreational settings.

The presence of different sports patterns encourages bowlers to adapt their playing styles, injecting excitement and unpredictability into each match. Factors like line selection and ball choice add layers of complexity, providing bowlers with additional challenges to navigate during gameplay.

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