23 Questions with Will Thompson

23 Questions: William Thompson

As highlighted in our recent feature with Mikayla Sanderson, scores at the recent Regina Classic were through the roof, and NOBODY had a higher 8 game score than Will Thompson.

Just 21 years old, Will had an incredible YBC career that saw him attend 7 Nationals, bringing home 3 Gold, a Silver and two Bronze medals. This includes Singles and Trios Gold in 2018 and winning Doubles Gold last year with his brother Alex where he also earned the Carl Malcomson Scholarship for high average. In addition, Will won the Seniors Singles Scratch portion of the National YBC Shootout.

Will also made a successful jump into the adults ranks last season, making the Manitoba tournament Masters team that won Silver in Newfoundland.

Will already has a perfect game on the docket, and came close to another one with a nice 420 as part of his monster 2529 qualifying shift at Golden Mile. In the Sunday finals, Will lost a close A-Side match to Mark Miller before knocking off Francois Talbot and Anthony Streit on the B-Side. Will would then oust Tim Wiseman in a match where Tim on was on pace for 900+ but was already shut out. Will would then lose to B-Side winner and eventual finalist, Tyler Tytgat. Still, an outstanding WCBT debut!

A member of the 5PL’s newly formed Peg City Avalanche, Will recently took time out from his busy university and bowling schedule to reflect on Regina, and his bowling career.

Thanks for doing this, Will. To start, you had at least one exam right after Regina so how difficult has it been to balance a busy university schedule and bowl competitively at the same time?

  • It has been extremely difficult to balance everything in my life right now honestly. Sometimes I unfortunately need to bring school to league because there is not enough time to do them separately. I was actually doing biomechanics homework between my matches on Sunday at the Regina Classic. I try to do my best to keep bowling separate from school, but I also know that if I am stressed about school then it is harder to bowl well. When I know this will be the case, I cave and bring school to bowling. It is odd though because I am currently holding my highest league average by far along with having a pretty successful season so far with Masters, and other tournaments. Maybe I just need a very stressful schedule to really bring out the best in me haha!

Biomechanics? Yikes. I’m glad you’re making it work! I’ve seen a lot of folks your age head off to school, but then just can’t find the time for everything and eventually they drop out of bowling.

How did you get involved in bowling and how old were you when you started YBC?

  • I got involved with bowling because my dad is a bowler who also participated in YBC. At the age of 5 I got enrolled in the YBC program at Dakota Lanes and spent my whole youth career there. My dad became my coach very early on and is 100% responsible for my development and the way that I throw the ball (so if anyone has any qualms, blame him hahaha). I was and still am very fortunate having had Don, Chad, and the entire VanDale family host my youth career in such a quality establishment. I continue to be grateful to have Dakota Lanes be a place close to home where I can work to grow as a player.

Nice! Do you remember what your average was in last year of:

Bantams? 192
Juniors? 240
Seniors? 261

Was your progress through the years gradual or was there a certain point where your scores really improved?

  • In my very young years, I would say that my progress was decently consistent as one would expect. My largest leap as a player was probably after I had reached around the height of 5’11". This may seem oddly specific to some, but this was when my major growth spurts were over, so my throw was not constantly going through deconstruct-reconstruct periods every 6-12 months. In the subsequent years where I grew a few more inches, it never affected my throw enough to require extremely major adjustments. This is where I was able to make a major leap in average and finish juniors around a 240 average. The other leap that I would say I had was averaging 255 in my first year of seniors which was also helped by the fact that I was mostly done growing. This may have also been due to knowing I needed to step up my game as a 15 year old competing with 19 year olds.

I like how you mentioned the “growing” thing! We often see youth bowlers who have a smooth approach at the end of a season come back a few inches taller in the fall, and suddenly they are off balance or uncoordinated.
In addition to your Dad, are there other coaches who have helped you along the way?

  • As mentioned above, my dad has been along with me for my whole career as my coach, so I would owe the majority of my thanks to him. He has played the largest role in shaping me as the player that I am today, both from a physical and mental aspect. I have had the fortune of being surrounded by many coaches who have helped my progress along the way. Probably the next largest influences on my game have been Kyle and Natalie Wong (formerly known as Young). Natalie is an amazing coach who gives great technical pointers that have helped me improve my game. Kyle is also great with technical coaching, but has definitely played a large role in the mental aspect of my game. Having him coach me in YBC was beneficial because I look up to him a lot as an elite player. He is basically “coach chill” and always knows what to say when you are in a stressful situation during competition. I continue to appreciate having him behind me in competition, most recently at the Regina Classic.

Do you use a target or do you play by feel?

  • I always look at the arrows when I am shooting. Does this mean that I always pay attention to my ball going through that target? No. It gives me a spot that I am aiming for but probably at least half of the time I am shooting and know based on where my ball is on the lane whether I hit my target or not. When I am bowling my best and free-wheeling, I am never specifically paying attention to my ball going through the target.

Do you try to hit a certain pocket, or just aim for the middle?

  • I usually do not aim for a pocket. The Regina Classic was a weird exception. I found that bringing my target about 3 boards further away from the headpin helped me avoid the headpin problems that I had in my first 4 games of my first qualifying shift. Consequentially, I was aiming for the right pocket. It was odd though because I was still throwing lots of balls in the left pocket but hey, whatever works right?

That makes sense! Sometimes my own “preferred” pocket would have more to do with my errant shot tendencies (if I’m often going to pull it left, then I align so that a perfect shot is right pocket but a pull will still catch the left pocket) than strike percentage.

If you’re punching the headpin a lot, what is your first adjustment?

  • First adjustment is always moving to the B-line. I normally stand on the right side of the headpin, but the B-line is a mirror image of where I stand switched to the left side of the headpin. This is an extremely aggressive (more head on) line, but I find that when the A-line isn’t working, for some reason I start throwing bombs from the B-line. If it’s more of a clear technical problem then I will also often slow down my pace and try to get the ball out off the fingers and onto the lane.

In tournaments or match play, do you pay attention to the scoreboard?

  • For the most part, no, but I do sometimes feel that it is beneficial to monitor the scores. While I throw shifts, I do not pay attention to other people’s scores but often monitor mine here and there. I try not to look at where I am at in a game during qualifying shifts. I find that when I only look after the game is over, I am often positively shocked about where my score was because I assume that it is lower. This is beneficial for keeping the mood positive, especially looking up and seeing a 350-400 when you only expected a low 300 based on how you felt it was played. For match play, I generally have a rule not to look unless I feel as though it’ll benefit me knowing that I am still close in a match that I feel I am letting slip away. The only time during the Regina Classic that I looked while knowing I had a safe lead was in my match against Tim because I fully knew he was capable of throwing a perfect game (especially after opening with the front 5 or 6) and I began struggling in that game, so I wanted to monitor what I needed to shut him out or run him out of frames.

Tim will enjoy that shout-out! Take us through that monster 2529 set in Regina? You started on 10 and threw 420 in game 6? How were you able to refocus so quickly and throw 650 your last two?

  • It was honestly surreal when I looked up at the board and read a number over 2500. I knew that I had broken 2400, but was expecting that I finished just below 2500. It was one of the most calm competitive bowling experiences that I have ever had. My body and mind were fully at ease the whole way through. Even on the perfect game attempt, I was not nervous in the tiniest bit. I do feel as though I owe credit to the people who were in my pit during that shift though. It was a super friendly atmosphere and we were all chatting and joking around for the whole shift. It also felt like we were all openly routing for one another to succeed and qualify which was amazing. After the shift was over, I was honestly shocked with how well I played those last 3 games while remaining calm and not overthinking. I only say this because that triple is my second highest triple ever and other times when I had a 400 game and continued playing after, the comedown game usually wasn’t the prettiest. I feel like a big thing that helped me in this scenario was that after my 420 game, we had about a 10 minute wait between games 6 and 7 due to other lanes finishing. This gave me time to settle down and dial back in for the next game. It may have also helped that Taylor threw his perfect game in that same game, so I had something else exciting to direct my focus on as a distraction from thinking too much about scores and how I was playing.

In the bracket rounds, you played 3 people in your first 4 matches who have won a major tournament this year; after losing a squeaker to Mark Miller on the A-Side, how did you rebound to throw such big scores your next 3 matches?

  • The fact that I was playing many tournament winners from this season did actually enter my mind after I completed my match with Anthony and knew I was moving on to play Tim. Honestly, my loss to Mark did not affect me mentally because I felt that I played pretty bad in that match, so I honestly would have been extremely lucky to win. I’m still pretty happy with the fact that I struck out to put the pressure on him in the last frame to get a whole 3 points. But jokes aside, I finished that last game and felt like I had re-found my throw, so I rode it out for the rest of the day. Going into the B-side, I reset my mind and went into the match confident. I then carried that into the next matches.

Was the atmosphere different between YBC Nationals and Masters Nationals?

  • It was extremely different honestly. YBC Nationals feels a lot more based around the bowling aspect of the competition. That is not to say that YBC isn’t fun outside of the lanes, but Masters definitely has more emphasis on the out-of-lane experience with the banquets and fun nights in rooms that they rent out. In YBC we still have a blast and I feel as though that is the best place to make close bowling relationships with people that are around your age. Once you enter the adult ranks, there is far less social division based on age. I definitely have to say that Masters Nationals is another level of competitive compared to YBC Nationals. With YBC Nationals, every time I went, I was fully confident that I or my team and I had a very good shot at gold. With my first Masters Nationals, I knew that we had a team that could fire, but was also aware that it would not be a cakewalk to get onto the podium. Masters Nationals was the first National where success meant being on the podium rather than finishing first. I most definitely wouldn’t have been opposed to first though. One other factor that is different is the ability to have very deep and technical bowling conversations at Masters that would never happen in YBC. I would assume that this is because of the passion of bowlers that play at Masters Nationals. These are the people who completed YBC and continued to play afterwords and work even harder than they did in YBC. Both are amazing experiences though and I would wish on anyone that they have the opportunity to play in both in their career.

Not including Nationals, what has your favourite bowling event been?

  • I would probably have to choose this past weekend in Regina at the Regina Classic. This was honestly such a special experience for my first time travelling for a cash tournament. This tournament was and is so well run, I have so much thanks to send out to all of the staff and volunteers. Coming in with no expectations but to hopefully qualify and coming out the way that I did was a very cool experience. I came out of that weekend feeling as though I had placed myself on a lot more people’s radars than I was already on prior to the event. It was a really amazing feeling having bowlers that I look up to or know of and hope to one day be as accomplished as, coming up to me and sharing kind words. It was also extremely special to me playing with Geno for the first time and having the opportunity to chat with him and learn from him. I was also very happy having Megan behind me the whole weekend as my biggest supporter and cheerleader (who also played a managerial role as my Gatorade and food getter). Honestly an amzing experience, and it has me excited for more tour events.

With a multitude of National events to choose from, which have been your most memorable?

  • My most memorable event that I have played has probably been Masters Nationals. I am fully willing to admit that I am biased because it was also my first Newfoundland experience, but how could I not pick it?? This trip created memories that will stay with me for life. Seeing such a beautiful part of our country and having the opportunity to compete in my first adult National was something special. Even better, I got to play with potentially what was the youngest team to ever play Master’s Nationals and we finished second in a nailbiter of a last game. The fact that I sat in the pit crying for an hour after we won that last game probably tells you how much it meant to me. Especially when I had never cried over any gold medals in YBC Nationals (though I came close when I won Nationals with my brother while my dad coached).

Name a few of favourites centres from around the country and what do you like about each?

  • Dakota Lanes has to be number one because that is where I was able to develop as a bowler and become the player that I am today.

Neb’s would definitely have to be up there because… well do I even need to explain? It is going to become one of the Wonders of the World if they keep adding activities in there.

Nortown Lanes in Regina would be on my list because in the two YBC Nationals I have played there, I am undefeated in matchplay. So it has the good vibes.
It would be silly of me not to add the Golden Mile on there after my tournament there. It now holds my high 8 game set and with the renovations is a beautiful facility to play in.

What has your favourite province to visit been, and are any left on your “must-see” list?

  • For me, I love the sight seeing aspect of travel. By default, my favourites have been BC and Newfoundland. I have been fortunate enough that bowling has brought me to every province in Canada aside from the more Northern areas/Territories. If I had to make a must-see list, I would probably add BC/western Alberta and Newfoundland over again. On the West side of the country, I love the mountains so much. On the East side, I become far more interested on the ocean views.

Of Singles, Doubles and team play in YBC, which did you enjoy the most and which did you find most challenging?

  • I personally enjoyed team play the most in YBC. I always wished that they would bring it back for my last years of YBC because we would have had a stacked Dakota Lanes team. Playing on a team makes the experience a lot more fun in general and gives you the opportunity to sometimes be off for half of a game. With teammate that you trust, you can just work on finding your shot again rather than worrying about a single opponent that is gaining a hundred points on you in 5 frames. Singles is definitely the most challenging because of what I said in the last sentence. When you are alone, any time where you are off for a half-game or more will likely have a very negative effect on your results. This creates a scenario where you need to always be on or figure things out quickly when they are off. It is also a lot more pressure to play singles because with single game one-on-one, it is far more likely that the match comes down to the tenth frame.

How cool was it to win a National title with your brother, Alex? And with your Dad as coach?

  • It was easily the most special National title that I have to my name. This was my first time ever getting to play on a team with my brother (counting in-province 4-steps) and we knew that we wanted to do something special with our one opportunity. It was even better than my dad got to coach us in this first-time opportunity. We finally got to do the “team Thompson” that my dad had always wanted to coach and we had my mom as our amazing manager and cheerleader. It felt amazing in that final match when we had mathematically shut the opponent out and had officially achieved our goal. Regardless of any gold medals I win in the future, this one will always be one of the most special ones because it was with my family. I hope to play on many Masters teams with Alex in the future and hopefully add to the collection.

Incredible! As a parent, I can only imagine how special that was for your Mom and Dad. Are there any successful or winning shots that stand out vividly in your mind?

  • Though my lack of celebration in the video would say otherwise, throwing the 12th strike for the perfect game will always stand out in my mind. It’ll be hard to forget the feeling of nerves that I felt because this was my first time ever having the front 9, let alone actually finishing it off. That and one other moment stand out as the most nervous I’ve ever been for a tenth frame in my career. The other moment was the last frame of the last game of Masters this past summer. We were basically playing Quebec for the silver medal and the match was within less than a ball coming into the last frame. When I was up, my opponent was counting more than me, so I knew that I needed a big frame to keep team total close. I was extremely nervous but ended up striking out. Though I wasn’t the anchor, nor could I have done it without my team behind me, this felt extremely clutch in my mind. I am even more proud of it seeing that I hadn’t been bowling good earlier in the day and I let go of that negativity and just focused on the shot at hand.

Are there any shots you’d want back? If so, did you learn from any of them?

  • Honestly, I don’t have any shots in particular that come to mind because when I lose something due to a shortage of points, I always know that I likely left up too many earlier in the set or maybe even in that single game. Whenever I have a horrific 8 frame I always want those back, but I’m sure most people do. If I had to choose specific scenarios, I’d probably take back my headpin in the perfect game attempt in Regina, and the miss on my perfect game attempt in league this year.

Are there any experiences that didn’t go your way that you’ve learned from?

  • I have had my share of close losses and feel like I have learned a lot from those. Particularly, the losses that are by less than 10 have really shaped my mindset on cleaning the deck every time. Most young bowlers don’t fully understand the importance of trying to have clean games when in competition. It is likely that most young bowlers will need to have a few heartbreaker losses in order to be woken up to the fact that every single point matters. So my main goal this year was to have the lowest wood left on the lane in my Dakota Superleague, but unfortunately I think my former captain Aaron Alblas will be defeating me hahah. But I believe that I am currently sitting at a sub-4 points left on deck per game average.

When things are going well on the lanes, it’s often because….

I am controlling my speed and not overthrowing.

If I’m struggling on the lanes, it’s often because I’m….
being a silly little goose by going too fast or overthrowing. Sometimes I also jab my second step or my leg and arm fall slightly out of sync.

Are there current bowlers you enjoy watching or have learned from?

  • There are definitely many players that I enjoy watching. My go-tos from Manitoba would be Kyle and Dwayne. Both of them are such elite bowlers and are also great competitors. I had the chance to work lots with Kyle in my later YBC days and have had a lot more opportunity in the last year to work with Dwayne. At the Regina Classic I was really enjoying watching Mark Miller’s throw because as he pointed out to me early on when we played the last shift together, we have very similar lines. His throw is extremely smooth and has lots of stuff on it so it is nice to watch. There are many other people with very nice throws but I will just call out a few more that specifically come to mind. I have always been a fan of Tyler Tytgat’s throw because of how smooth and consistent it is. Finally, I love Brandon Hagen’s throw because it is so unique but also so smooth and effective. It has been awesome seeing him blossom into the spotlight more recently.

How are you enjoying the 5PL experience and how do you like the unique format of playing against other teams remotely?

  • I think 5PL was and still is an amazing idea and am extremely grateful to all of the people who are a part of running the league. It is a very different format, but I got fortunate enough to play with a great group of people who know how to make this experience feel less foreign. Unfortunately, I have not played the best in 5PL this year, but I sure have had a lot of fun being a part of the league. I look forward to play in the league for many seasons to come!

What do you like most about 5 pin bowling?

  • I think that my two favourite parts are the community and the competition. I grew up playing high level sports, so it is in my nature at this point to be competitive. Having the opportunity to travel the country to do the thing that I love with the people that I love really is something that means a lot to me. The people that I have had the chance to meet both in-province and out-of-province are important parts of my life. I have had the chance to make close friendships, gain life experience, make memories, and learn from my peers. Bowling is just one part of why being in this sport is so fun.

Can you think of any changes you’d like to see in the sport moving forward?

  • It is tough to think of things that I would change honestly. I know that it’s sometimes difficult, but more in-province scratch events would be really nice. There are tons of extra fun tournaments that are run, but most are handicap. This is not particularly what I enjoy the most if I had to choose because I am someone who has worked very hard to be playing at a competitive scratch level. For this reason, I prefer scratch run tournaments. Another thing that I would change would be headphone use on the lanes. I know this may be controversial and that there are already rules around this in some places, but I personally don’t think that headphones should be allowed in-ear while on the lane in any scenario (other than maybe warmup for league or whatever event is being played). Finally, I think that the approach to get new kids into bowling should be changed to a more modern approach. If we want the competitive sport to continue, then it is important to engage the youth. I don’t have all of the answers for this, but do think that it is important to discuss across the country.

Based on your experience, what advice would you give to a YBC player whose making the jump to adult ranks?

  • For any YBC player looking to make a jump from being an elite youth player to being an elite adult, I would recommend a couple of things. First off, it is so important developmentally that you do not get mad at corners and instead make sure that you turn it into a spare. And honestly this goes for anything spareable. Making your spares could help your average jump 20 points. Imagine if you have a 60% spare percentage and jump that to 80%. That can easily gain you an extra 1.5 spares per game, and if you count good on those, your scores will make a large leap. So, make sure you aren’t negative when you leave a corner and practice enough that it would be out of character for you to miss that shot. It is just as important that you pick all of the wood that you can. When you are playing against the best adults in the country, there is no running away with matches because you can throw strikes. Everyone punches, everyone gets the dreaded 8 on their second ball after missing the middle, but you want to give your opponent as little to gain on as possible. Sometimes against adults you get lucky and someone has a 12 point frame against you, and it pays wonders going up for your frame knowing that you are gaining at least 3… maybe 18… better yet 33. You’d also hate to have a 8 point frame and lose something by 5 so PICK THAT WOOD! The last pointer that I’ll give is to not focus on the scoreboard regardless of whether you’re playing a set or a match. For some, this may be good, but for most young players it will just cause them to press too much and lead to not so great results. Give yourself time to become consistent at a high level and then you will be able to start having the ability to throw shots when you know that you need them.

Amazing! Thanks again for doing this. I know that all our readers, young and old, will enjoy your honesty and insight!

And for our readers out there, be sure to pass along any questions you’d like asked, or any players you’d like to see featured here!

Spoiler alert- stay tuned for features on two of Canada’s best players, one from the east and one from Alberta, and both of whom happen to be ladies.