The Therapeutic Value of Bowling

You don’t have to roll your eyes, I know what you are thinking….A Recreation Therapist discussing bowling. Chances are you spent some time in a bowling alley with your clients–or soon will. I know I spent many afternoons at the bowling alley with my clients. It’s amazing how the simple act of throwing a ball at wooden pins brings joy. As Recreation Therapists, however, we know there is therapeutic value to bowling. This article discusses the need areas addressed in bowling. Also, I included a couple bowling-related activity ideas in case you can’t get to an alley.

Why is bowling a great activity for most populations?

It’s age appropriate.

From preschoolers to seniors, this activity is appropriate for all ages.

It’s easy to learn.

Take a ball and throw it down the alley. Knock down as many pins as possible. That’s it. That’s bowling. Find a proper ball, show your client how to safely hold and throw it, and let him experience and learn.

It’s accessible.

From lighter bowling balls to bumpers in the gutters, bowling is accessible to the masses. Adaptive bowling balls and ramps for wheelchair bowlers give everyone the opportunity to experience the rush of throwing a strike. Even with these adaptations, however, the client still has to develop skills to play well. I fondly remember my years helping individuals in wheelchairs bowl. They all had their own approaches to angling the ramp and pushing the ball down it.

It gives opportunity for success.

A perfect 300 game is rare. Many would be lucky to reach a score of 100. That simple fact makes bowling great–you don’t need to bowl a three hundred to feel successful. Rolling a strike, picking up a difficult spare, or beating your personal best gives accomplishment.

Need Areas Addressed

A variety of needs could be addressed by bowling. Here are some:


Bowling is a physical activity. Strength, balance, and coordination all come into play as one throws the bowling ball. The arms, legs, and core all work together for a common goal. Since it is relatively low impact, many people with physical deficiencies find this activity engaging.   


Bowling brings a sense of accomplishment. This improves self-esteem and confidence. Participating in this community activity decreases social isolation and encourages connectedness with others. If the client enjoys bowling, their attitude towards positive leisure and recreation will benefit.

Social Skills

Bowling presents an excellent opportunity for a social experience. Most bowling common areas are set up so the participants could easily socialize when not bowling. Also, clients could work on their bowling etiquette including waiting their turn and being patient. Encourage discussions about picking up spares or improving approaches.  As a community activity, it gives a normalized experience for those socially isolated or residing in facilities.


There are opportunities for decision-making and problem-solving with each throw. Basic counting or math could be addressed when teaching scorekeeping. Each of the pins have a designated number, which could be a useful teaching moment. Learning new skills or relearning the activity could easily be addressed.

Digging a little deeper, you could even employ the following strategies:

Mindfulness of Body

Yoga with a ball? Maybe. Anyone watching an inexperienced bowler could instantly see body position is crucial for success. If the participant’s chest and hips are pointing towards the gutter as they throw, the ball will go in the gutter. Attention to the body during the approach will help keep the ball on the lane. Encouraging the participants to be mindful of their body posture fosters a mind/body connection.


Visualizing is common for many professional athletes. Imagining their performance prior to competition increases mental focus and performance. In a previous article, I discussed teaching visualization techniques to help with various need areas. Bowling offers a chance for your clients to try a simple visualization technique and see if it improves their outcome. Before throwing the ball, instruct the client to take a couple deep breaths to clear her mind. Encourage the client to visualize throwing the perfect strike using multiple senses. For example, feeling the ball leaving her hand, hearing the pins fall, seeing the strike. It doesn’t have to be anything major, just a few seconds mindful seconds.

bowling activity ideas logo

Activity Ideas

Here are a couple bowling-related activities you could do with your clients to get them excited about an upcoming bowling event.

Bowling Ice Breaker

Bring some pins and a ball to group. Tape some ice breaker questions to the bottom of the pins. Set up the pins however you find appropriate. The clients could answer the questions based on whatever pins they knocked down (or left standing).

Leisure Categories Scored Like Bowling Frames

Adapt a Scattergories-type game with bowling scoring. Create categories, leisure related or otherwise, that would be difficult for your clients to come up with ten answers.

During group, have the participants break into teams or pairs. The first person on the team will try to name ten items from a chosen category. If they name ten or more, that’s a strike. If they do not name ten items, the second player on the team will need to come up with enough original answers to equal ten. That would be a spare. For example, if the first teammate gets 7 original answers, the second teammate would have to come up with 3 different answers for a spare.   

Each category would be a frame for the team. Score it like a bowling game. If you are not familiar with bowling scoring, here is a resource.

Spare Teambuilding Challenge

Set up a bunch of pins in a way one ball could not possibly knock them down. Have your team of participants figure out how they could simultaneously throw two or three balls to knock the pins all down at once. The only limits are the size of the room and your imagination. Make sure to debrief the experience afterward.

Bowling Trivia

Trivia is great for creating interest and seeing and activity from a different perspective. Thanks to the internet, simple facts and trivia questions are easy to make and cater to your population. I developed the following trivia question sheet. Feel free to use it if you think it would be appropriate for your clients. Check it out below or at this link.

bowling trivia

The answers: 1. C  2. C  3. B  4. D  5. C  6. B  7. C  8. A  9. C  10. D

Bowling is Therapeutic

There is no doubt bowling has value in a Therapeutic Recreation Program. Since it is so versatile and adaptable, many populations have a great time while addressing need areas. From my experience, bowling alley employees are great and accommodating especially if you schedule something during the alley’s down times. If you can’t make it to a bowling alley, but you have some room in your facility or recreation area, make your own bowling alley. Of course, someone will have to keep setting up the pins. If you have a population with bowling enthusiasts, use the above alternative activities to add a twist to your groups.


However you choose to use bowling in your programming, cater it to your clients. Like most great recreation activities, they won’t even know their need areas are being addressed.


Here are a couple links I used to come up with the bowling trivia questions:

I also came across a great article on this topic on the Mama OT Blog:

The article was written by a guest blogger, Cara Koscinskiso here is a link to Pocket OT blog.

Both blogs have a ton of useful information.

Let’s Hear from You!

How do you use bowling in your programs?

What are some need areas you address?

Are there any bowling related activities you do?

Feel free to share in the comments.

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