Bowling is the latest youth sport to come back into style, with alleys luring kids and families back to their lanes with spruced-up features like glow-in-the-dark bowling, all-inclusive birthday party packages, and child-friendly food and entertainment. Get the scoop on what our NYC-area bowling alleys have to offer.
Bowling hasn’t always been considered the hippest of sports. In fact, thanks to movies such as The Big Lebowski, bowlers are often perceived as overweight guys who drink too much. Many may also remember the bowling alleys of their youth, where men in polyester shirts with their names emblazoned on breast pockets spent evenings eating nachos and greasy bar food while surrounded by a thick fog of smoke. Others, though, depending upon our generation, might recall our dads tuning in to ABC’s Wide World of Sports -- with its popular Saturday lead-in, the Pro Bowlers Tour (which typically outdrew college football and college basketball in the ratings during the ’70s and early ’80s).
But those days are long gone. In this latest resurgence, bowling is less gritty, more fun, and -- dare we say -- even cool. We’ve entered the age of a kinder, gentler alley sport appealing to people of various socioeconomic backgrounds who want to spend time with family and friends.
“Bowling is perceived as much more family-friendly than it might have been in previous decades,” says Gary Beck, who was the driving force behind bringing the Annual Teen Masters Bowling Championship to Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall last August. (The event will return this summer.) “Bowling is growing in popularity as a great way to have fun with family and friends.”
The Annual Teen Masters Bowling Championship, which is in its 15th year, allows eight teenage bowlers to compete for $64,000 in college scholarship money. The NCAA also offers bowling scholarships to women who are interested in playing at the collegiate level. The New York State chapter of the United States Bowling Congress offers college scholarships for both men and women.
Lanes Spruced Up for Youth
Although your child might not be an advanced bowler, it doesn’t mean that he or she won’t enjoy the sport in one of our area’s bowling alleys. Some locations, such as AMF 300 Bowl at Chelsea Piers, have large facilities where bowling is just one entertainment option, making it a great place to take first-time bowlers who may only want to play one game before rock climbing or heading to the batting cages.
Other bowling alleys, like Lucky Strike Lanes in Midtown, realize that a fresh look (including glow-in the-dark lanes, lots of lounge space, and gourmet kid-friendly food selections) will hold kids’ interest. Lindsay Carlton, special event coordinator, says that Lucky Strike also plays up its family-friendly focus during times when kids are more likely to visit: Monday through Friday, it caters to families until 5:30pm; on Saturdays and Sundays, it maintains that vibe until 7pm.
Whitestone Lanes in Queens, which offers a children’s bowling league on Saturday mornings, also arranges for special birthday party packages, including children’s parties. The party fee includes bowling time, shoe rental, and time in a party room for children to eat pizza, drink sodas, and open presents. Paper goods for the party and invitations are also included.
Whatever tactics bowling alleys are taking to lure young customers, they’re working. According to White Hutchinson, a consulting firm that creates compelling leisure and recreation venues, more than one-third of all children age 6 and older bowled in 2007. And those who are convinced that their daughters won’t like bowling would be surprised to learn that 46 percent of bowlers are women.
“Everyone can bowl. Not very many people are that good at it, but on the surface it’s a relatively simple game,” says Derek Dobson, who runs one of the bowling leagues at The Gutter in Williamsburg.
The key to a successful bowling experience, like in any sport, is solid fundamentals. Children will need a ball that fits their hands and isn’t too heavy. They’ll also need to learn the proper stance, arm swing, approach, and release. Taking lessons from a certified bowling coach will help ensure that your young bowler doesn’t pick up bad habits.
Parents might also want to call ahead to the lanes where they plan to bowl to see if the bowling center has youth programs after school. The chosen bowling alley should also have children’s balls, shoes, bumpers for those who throw gutter balls on a regular basis, and accommodating hours. Families might have a better experience bowling during specific times when kids dominate the clientele.
“Bowling is a unique sport, too, in that the parents can play right along with their kids,” Beck says. “It offers kids the opportunity to challenge themselves as they attempt to master the skills necessary to be consistent in making spares and rolling strikes.”
Those who still can’t banish the image of that cinematic, pudgy ’70s-era bowler should remember that there are physical benefits to the sport as well. The Bowling Proprietors Association of America reports that bowling burns roughly 240 calories per hour while strengthening and toning the bowler’s arms, shoulders, and chest as well as leg muscles. Bowling also improves heart and respiratory fitness, increases endurance while maintaining bone density, and speeds up your metabolism.
Unlike other sports, children may not even realize they are improving their physical fitness. “After all,” Beck says, “what kid doesn’t like to knock things down?”
Check out our list of the best bowling alleys in the NYC area for families:
New York City
Westchester County, NY
Rockland County, NY
Fairfield County, CT