This past Tuesday, November 11, 2014, I had the opportunity to visit the Sunset Recreation Center on 28th Ave & Lawton Street and observe their facilities; more specifically their very popular basketball gym. While I have spent time there before for recreational activity, I have never thought about the dynamics of this rec center (the environment, participants, activities offered, etc.). When thinking critically about the Sunset Rec Center, there are definitely changes the city can make to their facilities and programs that would improve the user’s experience and potentially spark a rise in attendance.
The Sunset Recreation Center is designed to cater to everyone, from toddlers to the elderly. The front of the center has a large place structure that will get extremely crowded with children on nice sunny weekends and holidays. When I went around noon there were nearly a dozen kids running around on the structure, playing on the monkey bars, and enjoying the slides. When entering the building, you immediately see a studio room where many older people recreate. While there was nothing going on while I attended, I did see flyers for ballroom dancing and salsa dancing. In my past experiences at Sunset Rec, I have seen people that appeared to be 60+ engaged in both of these styles of dance, as well as yoga and other similar relaxing, non-physical demanding activity. Making a left turn at the door for the studio, you head towards the basketball gym. The basketball gym is composed of six baskets, including one regulation-sized court with two baskets, and two much smaller “full” courts that use each half of the regulation court as its boundaries. Behind the each of the two smaller courts towards the entrance wall are sets of bleachers where players sit and converse while waiting for their turn to play the winner of the current game. The participants in the gym are of a large age variety. During my time there, I saw groups of high school kids waiting for their games in the bleachers, as well as a couple groups of late twenty, early-thirty year olds spending their time together while waiting for their games. While the participants were diverse in terms of culture and race, the participants were very predominately Asian.
On the court, in terms of the games being played, there is a friendly yet competitive feel to the games being played. Obviously, skill level varies from player to player, but the games I saw were pretty balanced between teams for the most part. I saw close games where the players were fully engaged in flow, especially as the games came closer to an end (whoever score 12 points first wins). The playfulness of having each player shoot, and try fancy passes and dribble moves would slowly turn into the best players trying to take over and will their team to victory. On the sidelines and in the bleachers, groups of friends watch the games, some more engaged than others. By watching the crowd, you can tell who had friends playing in the game, who was engaged in the competition of the game, and who was simply waiting for their turn to play and didn’t care about the result of the game. Because there are no referees and players are supposed to call their own fouls, there would be times where feelings of animosity would be present between teams, if a player didn’t like a call another made. This shows which players take these games more serious and more fully immerse themselves in the competition, and who is simply trying to get a nice, fun game in.
During my observation, I interviewed an SFSU senior by the name of Eddie. Eddie was there with a friend of his hometown, and told me that he comes there once over couple weeks whenever he has time off work. There are many gyms and parks in the city Eddie can go to for basketball, so I was curious why he chooses Sunset Rec. “What I like about [Sunset Rec] is that it is open whenever I need a place to play, and its free indoor basketball.” A lot of people have issues playing basketball outdoors, whether is due to weather conditions, or the fact that playing on cement is not as forgiving on your knees as hardwood. With gyms costing hundreds of dollars for annual memberships, a rec center like Sunset Rec gives people an opportunity to feel safer playing for no cost. Eddie also enjoys the competition level at Sunset Rec, because “there are plenty of players like me that have never really played organized basketball before, and people like you that have played your whole lives and are studs. But almost everyone out here is athletic enough and competitive enough for the games to be fun and exciting”. From personal experience, there are plenty of players that didn’t play high school basketball that are very good players, especially in a recreational setting where not every minor violation is called. Sunset Rec is a haven for these players, and it makes for very fun play.
As fun as the recreation center can be for passionate and casual basketball players, there are a few improvements that can be made. In our interview, Eddie said that “at times it gets really crowded, and it’s super hard to get into a game when teams are formed with people that all know each other jump in.” When the gym gets crowded, people rely on calling “I got next” to claim the next spot on the court. A simple way to fix the confusion of who should play next would be to add a whiteboard or sign-up sheet on the side of the court for people to sign up in order of appearance. Another improvement that can be made would be to make the courts bigger. People are playing full court games on virtually a half-court. A good shooter can stand at half court and knock down a shot on each basket without moving. Since that improvement is not very doable without reconstructing the whole building, another improvement idea I have would be to change the games from full-court to half court. The games played are all 4-on-4, and since there isn’t a lot of running or transition on the small court, it would be more practical and efficient to just play half court games to double the amount of players playing at once. 4-on-4 on a half court would not be too crowded on a half court, and there would be a maximum amount of happy, active players.