Close this search box.

Why Do Bowling Balls Get Stuck?

Why Do Bowling Balls Get Stuck - Bowlingview

Welcome to the exciting world of bowling, a sport filled with thrills, strategy, and the occasional hiccup – like a ball getting stuck in the return system. It’s an issue almost every bowler has encountered at one time or another, but few understand the reasons behind it and how to respond effectively.

This understanding is crucial, not only for maintaining the flow of the game but also for ensuring the longevity of equipment and the safety of players.

Dive into the details as we explore this phenomenon from a bowler’s perspective, shedding light on why bowling balls get stuck and providing practical tips on what to do when it happens!

The Mechanics of Bowling

Bowling is a game where precision and understanding of the mechanics are crucial for performance. The process begins when a bowler rolls a bowling ball towards ten pins positioned in a triangular formation at the end of a lane. The pathway of the bowling ball is largely determined by the bowler’s aim, speed, and spin imparted to the ball.

The role of the ball return system is also fundamental in the mechanics of bowling. Once the ball is rolled down the lane, it enters a section known as the pit, where it strikes the pins. From here, the ball is directed onto a conveyor system, often referred to as the ball return system.

This system, located beneath or adjacent to the lane, propels the ball back to the bowler, ready to be used again. This system is designed for smooth, efficient operation, facilitating consistent game flow. However, issues can arise due to mechanical faults, incorrect ball size, or lane conditions, which may cause a ball to become stuck in the return system.

Reasons Why Bowling Balls Get Stuck

In the intriguing world of bowling, a player’s skill can be hindered by unforeseen obstacles, one of which is the bowling ball getting stuck. This issue, often overlooked, can significantly disrupt gameplay. Let’s delve into the primary reasons why bowling balls get stuck and examine how to prevent this inconvenience.

Incorrect ball size or weight

Incorrect ball size or weight is a common cause of bowling balls getting stuck in the return system. Bowling balls are typically manufactured in a range of weights from 6 to 16 pounds, with a diameter not exceeding 8.59 inches.

If a ball is too light, it may not carry sufficient momentum to navigate the ball return system, causing it to become lodged. Conversely, if the ball is too heavy or oversized, it may not fit properly within the machinery, creating a blockage. Additionally, inconsistencies in the weight distribution within the ball can cause it to roll unpredictably and potentially jam the return system.

Therefore, it’s crucial to select a bowling ball that is of appropriate size and weight for the individual bowler and the machinery to ensure a smooth and uninterrupted game.

Mechanical issues with the ball return system

Mechanical issues with the ball return system significantly contribute to the problem of bowling balls getting stuck. These return systems are intricate machines, comprising of various components, such as belts, pulleys, and ramps, which work synchronously to deliver the balls back to the bowlers.

Over time, wear and tear can lead to mechanical failures. Parts can break or misalign, belts can slacken or snap, and the lack of regular maintenance can result in the accumulation of oil and dirt, causing the system to operate inefficiently.

The ball, in such scenarios, can get caught in the system, disrupting the continuity of the game. Therefore, regular inspection and timely repair of the mechanical components of the ball return system are essential to preventing bowling balls from getting stuck.

Lane conditions or damage

Lane conditions or damage can also significantly impact the path of a bowling ball, possibly leading to situations where the ball gets stuck. Bowling lanes are meticulously crafted with specific materials and regularly coated with a layer of oil to facilitate the smooth movement of balls.

However, over time, constant wear and tear, scratches, or deficiencies in oil application can alter the lane conditions. These changes can disrupt the ball’s trajectory or slow its speed, increasing the chances of it getting lodged in the lane or the return system.

Moreover, any physical damage to the lane, like cracks, chips, or warps, can serve as obstacles, preventing the ball from reaching the pins properly. Regular inspection, timely repair, and proper maintenance of the lanes are thus crucial in preventing such issues from arising.

How to Prevent Bowling Balls from Getting Stuck

Bowling is a popular sport enjoyed by many, but encountering a stuck bowling ball can disrupt the smooth flow of the game. Here, we will discuss various strategies on how to prevent bowling balls from getting stuck, keeping your game running smoothly and efficiently.

Choosing the Right Ball

Selecting the right bowling ball can significantly reduce the chances of it getting stuck. Choose a ball that fits comfortably in your hand, with holes that fit your fingers snugly but still allow them to move freely. The weight of the ball also matters; a heavier ball may get stuck less often, but it could be harder to control. Try different balls to find the one that suits you best.

Regular Maintenance of the Bowling Alley Equipment

Regular inspection and timely maintenance of the bowling alley equipment, including the ball return system and the lane itself, can help prevent bowling balls from getting stuck. Clean the ball return system frequently to remove oil and dirt accumulation.

For the lane, ensure it’s consistently oiled and any physical damages like cracks or chips are promptly repaired.

Appropriate Bowling Techniques

Your bowling technique also plays a vital role in preventing the ball from getting stuck. A smooth, controlled throw with a consistent follow-through can help ensure the ball travels down the lane and returns without an issue.

Avoid throwing the ball too hard or with excessive spin, as these can cause the ball to jump the lanes or get lodged in the return system.

What to Do When Your Bowling Ball Gets Stuck

If your bowling ball gets stuck, don’t panic. The initial step to take is to refrain from re-racking or throwing another ball down the lane, as this could make the problem worse or potentially damage the equipment. Check the return chute’s visible parts for any obstructions; sometimes, a gentle shake can dislodge a stuck ball.

However, never put your hand or any other object into the return system, as it can be dangerous.
If the ball remains stuck after your initial attempts, it’s time to seek assistance. Most bowling alleys have trained staff members to handle such situations.

When seeking assistance, alert a staff member immediately and provide them with the necessary details, such as the lane number and the point where the ball got stuck. Always remember that safety should be your top priority, so let the professionals handle any substantial mechanical issues.


In conclusion, maintaining a smooth bowling experience necessitates multifaceted considerations. This includes, firstly, proper ball maintenance, such as ensuring no cracks or chips are present on the ball.

Secondly, adopting appropriate bowling techniques, featuring a smooth, controlled throw with consistent follow-through, is paramount. Moreover, when a ball gets stuck, it’s crucial to avoid exacerbating the situation by recklessly re-racking or throwing another ball.

A preliminary check of visible parts of the return chute may resolve the issue; otherwise, trained staff members should be alerted for assistance.
Ultimately, the essence of a seamless bowling experience lies not just in adept handling of the game, but also in understanding and caring for the equipment and the safety norms associated with its use.

Related Articles:


In the following section, we have collated a list of commonly asked questions and their comprehensive answers to help you understand better and address issues related to bowling balls getting stuck.

These FAQs aim to empower you with the knowledge to maintain your bowling equipment, enhance your performance and provide you with solutions for potential problems.

The most common reason for a stuck ball return can be due to the build-up of oil and dirt in the ball return system. This grime makes it harder for the balls to roll back smoothly.

It can also be caused by damaged or worn-out parts in the ball return machine. Regular maintenance can prevent these issues.

The issue could be related to the ball’s grip. Often, if a house ball’s coverstock (the ball surface) is not properly cleaned, it can collect excess oil, which can cause the ball to get stuck.

Also, if the thumb hole or finger holes are not the right fit, it might also cause a blockage in the return system.

There are a few steps you can take to fix this issue. First, clean your ball regularly to prevent oil buildup that can cause friction in the ball return. Second, consider having your bowling ball resurfaced by a pro shop if it continually gets stuck. If the issue persists, it might be best to buy a new one.

The condition of the ball greatly affects its performance and return process. If your ball has a buildup of oil or dirt, or if it has cracks and chips, it can hinder its ability to return smoothly. Keeping the ball clean with a proper grip will assist in a successful ball return.

A hook shot can influence how and when your ball returns. If you’ve developed a hook shot, you may need to adjust the weight or drilling of your ball.

You’re also more likely to run into issues with older or poorly maintained ball returns. A pro shop can guide you in making any necessary adjustments.

Before you buy a new ball, consult with a pro shop.

They can inspect the ball, and let you know if you need to resurface the ball if it’s an issue with the ball return at your bowling center, or if you actually need a new ball. It’s always good to have a professional’s opinion to save on unnecessary expenses.

Using tape in the finger holes can actually help improve your grip, which in turn can lead to a smoother release and potentially less likelihood of getting stuck. Always make sure to keep the tape flush with the surface of the holes to prevent any hang-ups.

Newer or reactive resin balls are more likely to absorb oil, which could lead to it getting stuck. If you have a new ball that gets stuck, your best bet is to wipe it down after every shot, maintaining its surface. You can also have it degreased at a pro shop if the problem persists.

Simple cleanup and maintenance of your ball can be done at home. Regularly wiping down your ball after each game and periodically giving it a deeper clean can help it return more consistently. If your ball is consistently getting stuck, it might be good to consult a pro shop.

Regular maintenance and a properly drilled ball can help prevent your ball from getting stuck.

Keep reading to learn about maintaining consistency in your throws and ensuring that your personal bowling ball’s finger holes fit your fingers and thumb well. Advisably, preventive maintenance is always better than patchy fixes.