In a way, Dave Hanson’s night at the New Frontier Lanes in Tacoma, Washington, on December 23, 1991, was absurd. He bowled incredible consecutive scores of 278, 300, and 300 while running around the bowling alley doing his nightly chores as an employee. Shouldn’t it be hard enough to knock down 878 out of a possible 900 pins without checking in other people’s bowling shoes and fixing machines between shots? However, we may be able to learn something from his feat.
Athletes report greater success under arousal when they are concentrating so well (or are so relaxed) on their performance, or their task, they are unaware of things happening in the outside world. It becomes like a task vision. Perhaps while they are in this task vision, their programming kicks in not only their training and skills, but the hormonal programming which is allowed to reach close to optimal levels.
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Back to Dave the Employee. Another oddity on his stunning night was that he’d had little to eat all day, no breakfast and just a sandwich for lunch. But he did drink six cups of Folger’s coffee over his four-hour performance (from 6:30-10:30 PM), plus an espresso. Caffeine has been known to boost short-term performance. I always drink a lot of coffee, Hanson said. Hanson’s other explanations for his feat were that it was two days before Christmas and he’s always in a good mood before Christmas. And his son, David Walter, had been born two months earlier. Hanson wasn’t even supposed to play that night in the Tacoma handicap league, but the New Frontier Card Room Team needed an extra player to fill out a roster that included Dave’s father, Walter, and his co-worker Mike Muller. Although Dave had a nifty 220 average, he explained that he probably wouldn’t be able to contribute much that night because during the action he had to see to his usual functions of working behind the front desk and picking up loose pins from other bowlers’ shots.
Yet, Hanson sort of looked forward to playing that night, because it was a lower league than he was accustomed to and because his close friends were watching. I wanted to show that I was better than them. I wanted to show some talent and to shoot a 300 I wasn’t thinking about it. I think it was subconscious. My subconscious took over. I wasn’t consciously aware of what was going on. I’d grab my ball and just throw. Prior to each shot, Hanson would visualize his shots going down the alley and knocking down all the pins. I concentrated on the mark without thinking about my footwork or arm swing and I did not think negatively. I always try to stay positive. Hanson’s mark or aiming point was a discoloration on the pine board about 27 feet past the throw line. Between many shots, Hanson was called to his duties: running down a nearby lane and cleaning the gutter of a wayward pin, and running into the back to fix the pin placement machine, but the distractions never hurt his form or results when he returned for his next shot. I could forget about all the other problems by focusing on each shot, he said. I got the ball back in my hands and really concentrated.
As the successful shots started piling up, Hanson said the discoloration mark in the pine board where he was aiming got bigger and bigger. It seemed like my target became larger and larger as the night went on. My arm swing became more free; I had more room for error because the mark was getting bigger.
In the 10th frame of his third and last game of the night after missing a handful of pins, somebody mentioned that Hanson needed the next strike to break the Washington state record of 866 for a three-game set. Uh-oh. Suddenly, Hanson stopped to think: I could be the state record holder! I pressured myself with that next shot, he said. I was thinking about making it. His shot missed his mark on the pine board and was off to the right of the pocket, but the pins fell. Another strike! With his last two balls, the pressure was off and Hanson returned to his subconscious world and threw two more strikes for a final three-game total of 878.