ITRC technology dazzles Team USA in training camp

The International Training and Research Center in Arlington, Texas, played host to its first men’s Team USA Training Camp this week and the 12 elite bowlers found many tools in the new facility to help them improve their game.

Among the attendees were Professional Bowlers Association Tour stars such as reigning PBA Player of the Year Walter Ray Williams Jr. as well as Chris Barnes, Rhino Page, Wes Malott, Tommy Jones and 2010 U.S. Open winner Bill O’Neill.

“It has been a treat to be able to run this training camp here in this facility, because we have the tools and the capability now to do things that we’ve never been able to do before,” Team USA Head Coach Rod Ross said. “The players have been very responsive to it because we’ve got instantaneous video; we didn’t have to set up cameras and get them running, and we had ball-tracking going the whole time, too. We also have machines that allow us to distribute the patterns very easily throughout the week; before, you had to call the mechanic to get that done.”

Home to some of the most innovative and cutting-edge coaching technologies available in the bowling industry today, the ITRC’s abundance of instructional tools was enough to prove to even the most seasoned bowlers that their games still have room for growth.

“There’s always something you can learn,” said Walter Ray Williams Jr. “It’s always important to get a different way of looking at something. I like the C.A.T.S. that they have here. It would be nice if any time I went to practice I could take it with me to see how well I am throwing the ball in different situations and work on hitting my target, because to me being accurate and repeating shots are two of the biggest things about being a top player. I think most anybody feels like they can improve on that.”

C.A.T.S., which stands for Computer-Aided Tracking System, consists of a series of sensors placed along the lane that measure aspects of a bowler’s game such as ball speed, accuracy, launch angle, and break-point control.

“We mainly use C.A.T.S. as a training tool to gauge a bowler’s ability to repeat shots,” explained Assistant Head Coach of Team USA, Kim Terrell-Kearney.

“The C.A.T.S. system doesn’t lie when it shows you what your ball is doing and how fast you’re throwing it, so you get a good idea of how well you’re throwing it,” said former PBA Rookie of the Year Rhino Page. “But here you also have Bowler’s Map on a couple of pairs and you can see yourself from multiple angles and really analyze your game in that way.

“Then they have the new thing, the goggles, where it shows where your eyes are looking throughout your whole swing. They just have a lot of cool stuff here and everything you need to stay up on your game.”

The “goggles” that Page speaks of are one of the most highly anticipated pieces of technology now available at the ITRC.  Officially termed “Bowler’s Vision Goggles” by coach Ross, the eyewear features two mini cameras which enable coaches to see exactly what target the bowler is looking at when throwing a shot.

One camera tracks the movement of the bowler’s eyes throughout the shot, while the other focuses on the lane itself. Coaches take that information and interlace the two different perspectives on video in order to gauge what the bowler is looking at against the path that the ball actually takes down the lane.

For former PBA Player of the Year Wes Malott, who is notorious for looking straight down at the foul line when he releases the ball, the technology was as instructive as it was a source of humor.

“They put the goggles on me yesterday, and obviously I have a very unique style of looking down at the foul line when I throw the ball,” Malott explains. “So to really see the feedback from that analysis was quite hysterical. The whole team was looking on and we all had a good laugh. So now we have proof of it; I really am looking straight down when I throw the ball.”

“For us as a coaching staff, it’s really beneficial to be able to see how steady their eyes are or how steady their head is,” coach Ross explained. “We’re also interested to learn about where they pick the ball up as it is traveling down the lane. When the ball hits the pins, are they watching the ball? Are they watching the pins? Are they looking at the six-pin wrapping around the 10-pin? That information is very valuable.”

The two most immediate events on Team USA’s competitive schedule include the World Youth Championships in Helsinki, Finland and the Men’s World Championships in Berlin, Germany. Both events are scheduled for August of this year.

The Team USA experience may not offer the glory of ESPN cameras and prize checks that the team’s exempt PBA Tour players are accustomed to, but for seven-time Team USA member Rhino Page, money and celebrity are among the last motives behind his long-standing commitment to the team.

“There’s nothing more special than being up on a medal stand in a foreign country and seeing the U.S. flag raised and hearing your national anthem,” Page said. “Competing on tour is one thing, but when you beat everybody in the world and you do it as a team, there is nothing more special than that.”