gutterball bowling

How to React to a Gutterball in Bowling

Gutterballs are the most humiliating thing one can experience during bowling.

Throwing a bowling ball into the gutter is one of the more embarrassing individual moments one can experience in sports, even during non-competitive bowling with friends. Right up there with air-balling a free-throw in basketball and missing the dartboard altogether in darts, it’s a moment you hope no one witnessed. It’s one’s reaction to throwing the gutterball, however, that people are most likely to remember.

Paul’s Gutterball

Paul and his friends Keon, Bushy, and Dave were out bowling on a Friday night at the local alley. The beers were flowing, the music was blaring, and fun was being had by all. A group of ladies on the next lane over happened to look over just as Paul was about to roll the ball on the fifth frame. Needing a good score to stay in the game, Paul concentrated, aimed, and fired—directly into the gutter.

We’re not talking about a gutterball where it teetered on the edge and fell in the gutter at the last moment. This one went nearly directly in the gutter a few feet after release. Truly embarrassing. “Oh my God, did you guys see that?! That was hilarious!” shouted Keon. “Paul really sucks at bowling!”

In the heat of the moment, Paul had to decide how to react. Unfortunately, he chose the “I’m so angry at myself” route and screamed a stream of profanities, then kicked the ball return so hard he actually hurt his toe. A bowling alley employee gave him a stern warning over the PA system. Needless to say, the ladies on the next lane over weren’t impressed. In fact, they were rather rattled and asked to be moved to a new lane.

Paul wished he could have reacted differently.

Ways to react to a gutterball

  • Pretending to stumble or slip on the follow-through will make it look like you lost your balance, and that was the reason for the poor showing.
  • Faking an emphatic sneeze after release will show others that your failure was due to a sneeze that couldn’t be held back, affecting your release.
  • Shaking your hand afterwards and yelling “ouch!” can make others believe you jammed your finger while throwing the ball.
  • The moment the ball hits the gutter, grab your phone and pretend to take a call, running off. Now you’re not there to be the butt of friends’ jokes!
  • Short of faking injury, ailment, or blaming it on the lane, a popular reaction is to just be angry. Yelling at one’s self and taking the full blame for the mishap lets everyone know you mean business. Unfortunately, your friends will probably find your angry reaction funnier than the gutterball itself, further fueling your rage.
  • Conversely, a popular reaction is to join in with everyone else and laugh heartily at yourself. You could do a little jig or some slapstick physical comedy afterwards to show how lightly you’re taking the game.
  • One might also consider reacting somewhere in-between rage and comedy, with a remark of good-natured but sincere disappointment that may leave others feeling for you. “Oh, darn it! I really needed a good roll there. Shoot!”
  • Another reaction to the gutterball could be to confuse everyone and celebrate it as if it were an achievement! Jumping for joy and asking for high-fives is a great way to get everyone off your back.
  • No reaction at all will tell others you’ve already put it behind you and moved on. Simply head back to the ball return and silently await your next ball.
  • If drinking is involved, one may choose to head back to the table and gulp down a beer, informing others around them that you weren’t “lubed up enough” yet. There is some truth to the idea that alcohol can actually act as a performance-enhancing drug in some sports, as it can calm a shaky hand and put a person at ease during an activity where all eyes are on you.
  • One last option is to watch the ball all the way to the end, until it officially has gone down the chute. In rare instances, a bowling ball can pop back out of the gutter at the last second and hit pins, especially if a pin from a previous throw is already in the gutter.

In the end, it’s just one of many throws in a game. Chances are, everyone in your group will throw a gutterball at some point in the evening, especially if you’re all just novices. It’s best to not overreact, play it off, and move on to the next ball.

My Hot Take

I bowled like crazy in college. We had quarter bowling night at the local alley, and I was on a number of co-ed college teams, so I knew my way around the game. That doesn’t mean I was any good. I bowled as high as a 206 once, and as low as a 35 once, though I usually wound up in the 120’s. I frequently threw gutterballs, and more often than not, I reacted unfavorably and shouted a profanity and stormed around. In hindsight, that just made everyone around me uncomfortable and made me appear slightly off my rocker.

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