How to Form a Five-Person Bowling Team

Danielle McEwen, Alex Cavagnaro, Anthony Pepe, Matt O'Grady, Matt McNiel
Photo courtesy PBA LLC

A five-man bowling team is the most common team size in league bowling, and putting the right five people in the right spots in the lineup goes a long way in helping your team win. There’s a strategy to putting together a team (much the same way baseball lineups are devised with specific goals in mind). Whether a three-, four- or five-person team, arranging your teammates in the optimum order can help you maximize your victories over the course of the season.

It’s important to note these tips are not steadfast rules, but rather what appears to be the consensus among the majority of five-person bowling teams. In a scratch league, bowling in a strategic order is especially important, as you have no handicap to help your score. If you’re by far the worst bowler on your team, but you’re in the fifth position, you will almost definitely be going against their best bowler, and thus you will almost always lose. Not ideal.

With handicaps, things are a little more even as you’re essentially competing against yourself. That is, you’re trying to be more above your average than your opponent is above his. Still, the basic strategy applies.

A Typical Lineup

In most cases, the best bowler on your team should bowl fifth. Your next best bowler should bowl fourth. Your third best bowler should bowl first. Your fourth-best should bowl third, and your bowler with the lowest average should bowl second. See the table below for a less confusing explanation of this lineup.

First Position

This is your lead-off bowler. This person gets you started every week and is, at the minimum, an adequate bowler. As the first bowler, he can set the tone for the night by instilling confidence in his teammates or intimidating their opponents. Typically, his average is the third highest on the team and is trusted to lead off because of his ability to consistently bowl strikes or, when he doesn’t throw strikes, pick up spares.

The best first bowler is someone who doesn’t leave a lot of open frames and can get each night started with a strike or spare, setting his entire team on the right track.

Second Position

The second bowler is typically the least experienced or simply the bowler with the lowest average. Bowling second puts as little pressure as possible on this bowler, as he can rely on his teammates to pick up the bulk of the scores.

This can be a valuable spot in the lineup, as a lot of bowlers in the second position struggle with consistency, leaving a bowler who can consistently bowl at or above his average open to win a lot of games and points for his team.

Third Position

Much like the second position, this bowler will likely have less experience (or merely a lower average) than his teammates, and his spot in the middle of the lineup takes a lot of pressure off him.

Also, like the second position, this can be a valuable spot in the lineup if your third bowler can consistently improve over the course of the season.

Fourth Position

Commonly referred to as the set-up man, this guy can bowl in the clutch, regularly throw a hooks tenth and could likely be an anchor if necessary. The set-up man should not leave a lot of frames open, picking up strikes or spares almost every frame.

The best set-up man is someone who can perform well no matter how the third bowler is doing, setting up the anchor to close out the victory.

Fifth Position

The anchor is generally the best bowler on the team. When you need a strike, or series of strikes, at the end of the night, which team member do you trust the most to do it? It should be this guy.

The best anchors are not only good bowlers statistically but can perform well under pressure and in competitive environments. This is important as they’ll be bowling against the other teams’ top bowlers every week.

A Typical Five-Person Bowling Lineup

Lineup Order Average Rank
1st Bowler 3rd Highest Average
2nd Bowler Lowest Average
3rd Bowler 4th Highest Average
4th Bowler 2nd Highest Average
5th Bowler Highest Average