Bowling League Rules

Bowling League Rules

Have you ever considered joining a bowling league? Bowling is an excellent sport and hobby, and many people enjoy participating in leagues to improve their own skills and compete at a higher level. Not everyone has a league close to home, but even local leagues follow similar rules to those larger leagues that represent a greater region. Additionally, those who have no local league can always create their own. Read on below to learn the rules behind establishing and running a league.

General Requirements

To establish and run a league, the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) has a list of important requirements:

  1. Apply for USBC Certification.
  2. Consist of four or more teams.
  3. Adopt USBC Rules and Prize Lists.

These are not all of the rules to follow when creating a bowling league, but they are the three most important things to consider when starting up your league. Making sure that you have enough teams, and that all of the teams and players are compliant with the USBC Rules and Policies, are the key first steps you will need to follow when starting a league of your own.

League Types

There are three main league types in bowling: Adult, Youth, and Adult/Youth. There are also Senior leagues, which is a subcategory of Adult leagues. Adult leagues are the most common type of league you will see at your local bowling alley due to there being a much greater range of eligible participants. Participants in adult leagues must be at least 18 years old and be members of the USBC. Senior leagues are made up of players over 55 years old. A mixed league is made up of male and female participants.

Youth Leagues are made up of children up to 17 years old. They are typically mixed leagues with adult volunteers who serve as coaches, referees, and supervisors. Adult/Youth leagues are made up of people of any age and are also generally mixed leagues.

Membership and Fees

Every bowler in a league must maintain a membership with the USBC. This includes paying membership dues. Currently, an adult membership with the USBC costs $13, while a youth membership costs only $4.

Every league also has its own fee to play in it, determined by the league. The league fees go towards running the league and the prize pool for the winners. The USBC also offers scholarships for youth members who cannot afford the annual dues and league fees.

Board of Directors

Every league will have a board of directors. The board holds meetings to discuss league rules, fees, prizes, and schedule, among other important topics that go into running a league. The board is made up of the following members:


The president is responsible for managing the league’s banking and finances. They assign committees to perform specific tasks, such as auditing and enforcing league rules and regulations.

Vice President

In the absence of the president, the vice president performs the same duties as the president.


The secretary ensures the membership of every member of the league. They also record the scores and standings of the teams and individual members in the league and maintain contact with the USBC to ensure that league rules are upheld.


The treasurer manages the banking account and accounting of league funds. They distribute prizes to teams and players and maintain financial records for the league.

Sergeant at Arms (Optional)

The sergeant at arms, an optional position in most leagues, performs duties assigned by the president or Board of Directors.

General Playing Rules

A regular game in the league is played with the American Tenpins rules, which are as follows:

  • Players play 10 frames.
  • Players bowl two balls per frame unless a strike is scored in the tenth frame.
  • In the tenth frame, a player bowls three balls if they score a strike or spare.

Points are scored by knocking down pins on each turn. A strike is when all 10 pins are knocked down. For a strike, a player is awarded 10 points plus the number of pins they knock down in their next two deliveries. To get a maximum score of 300, a player must bowl 12 strikes in succession.

A spare is awarded when some pins are knocked down on the first bowl and the rest of the pins are knocked down on the second bowl. A spare scores 10 points plus the number of pins knocked down on the next delivery.

There is a set of rules involving legal and illegal pinfalls. Legal pinfalls involve:

  • Pins knocked down or off the lane surface by the ball or another pin.
  • Pins knocked down by a pin rebounding off of the sweep bar before sweeping pins off the deck.
  • Pins that lean and touch the side partition are deemed “dead wood.”

Illegal pinfalls are not counted despite the delivery being counted. Illegal pinfalls involve knocking down pins when:

  • The ball leaves the lane before reaching the pins.
  • The ball rebounds from the rear cushion.
  • A pin is touched or knocked down by mechanical pin-setting equipment or a human pinsetter.
  • A player commits a foul.
  • A delivery is made with dead wood on the lane or in the gutter, and the ball comes in contact with the dead wood.

A foul occurs when a player crosses the foul line when delivering a ball. Fouls result in any pins knocked down not being counted.


The prize committee must submit its proposed prize list to the bowling league at least five weeks prior to the beginning of the league. The prize list must comply with league rules and be approved by the board of directors. Once the prize list is adopted, it can only be changed with the written consent of all team captains. To qualify for individual prizes, bowlers must participate in a set number of games.


Bowling averages are determined by dividing the total number of pinfalls credited to a player divided by the number of games played. Partial games or games played by multiple bowlers do not count toward averages. Each league establishes a minimum number of games to be bowled before an average may be calculated. For a game to count toward their average, a right-handed bowler must always bowl right-handed, and left-handers must always use their left.


The league determines the number of teams competing. Team captains assemble teams and are allowed to make replacements if their team is underperforming compared to the rest of the league.


Scores must be recorded on a score sheet in plain view of opposing players. Every frame bowled must be recorded. A recap sheet must be kept in addition to the score sheet, and they must match at the end of the game. The score sheet is the official record of the game, and any discrepancies must be immediately corrected by the league officer.

Roll-Offs and Playoffs

Roll-offs are competitions separate from normal league play used to break ties. If two teams are tied, roll-offs are used to determine the championship, decide first place in an individual category, or break any other ties, if necessary. Playoffs are scheduled competitions within the league used to determine the championship.


Leagues are permitted to put in place rules that require a team to forfeit if they have fallen behind in league fee payments. A league that fails to utilize such a rule is responsible for losses as a result of unpaid fees. A team that refuses to bowl with a full team forfeits any games they are unable to bowl because of missing members. To earn forfeited points, the non-forfeiting team or bowler must score no worse than 10% less than their average. This promotes competitive bowling in forfeit situations.

Disciplinary Procedures

The main disciplinary method in a bowling league is dismissal from the league. A player must file a written charge, and the board of directors must vote in a two-thirds majority following a hearing for the dismissal to be final.

Players may be dismissed from a bowling league for the following reasons:

  • Conduct derogatory to the league
  • Deliberate actions detrimental to the best interest of the team
  • Violation of USBC or league rules

Bowling League Rules Summary

  • Bowling leagues are groups of bowling teams that operate as a collective, playing against each other during a bowling season.
  • Bowling leagues can be Adult, Youth, Senior, or Adult/Youth, and can be all-men, all-women, or mixed-gender.
  • In order to form a bowling league, the intended league must apply for USBC Certification, consist of four or more teams, and adopt USBC Rules and Prize Lists.
  • All bowlers in a league must be USBC members and pay a membership fee.
  • Leagues may also have league-specific membership fees.
  • Every league must have a Board of Directors consisting of a President, a Vice President, a Secretary, a Treasurer, and (optionally) a Sergeant at Arms.
  • All bowling leagues must follow the USBC Rules when bowling.
  • Prizes are determined by the prize committee and must be approved prior to the start of the league.
  • Averages are calculated only on full games in legal play after a certain number of games has been bowled.
  • The league determines the number of teams.
  • Scoring must be done on an official scorecard in plain view of the opposing team.
  • Roll-offs are used to break ties in championship and prize situations as necessary.
  • Playoffs are scheduled games used to determine the championship.
  • Players or teams forfeit if they break the rules or do not have enough bowlers.
  • Players can be dismissed from the league for serious ethical or rule violations following a vote of the board of directors.


Can a youth member join an adult league?

A youth member cannot join an adult league, as all members of adult leagues must be at least 18 years old. However, there are adult/youth leagues that allow players older than 18 and 17 or younger to bowl together. Likewise, all members of a youth league must be 17 or younger.

Where can I find more league rules?

All league rules are listed and can be consulted in the USBC Rulebook.