A night at the bowling alley

Village Bowl is the last remaining bowling alley in town.  The alley has been open over 60 years.  The building is rather small and has 16 lanes.  There is a snack bar and a small arcade with video games.  This is league night and the house is full.  Most week days there a bowling leagues and the house is packed to over flowing.

The participants range from old to young.  From experience to new bowlers.  The range of attire is vast.  From polo shirts and slacks to baggy shorts.  There are a few teams that take this very serious.  They even have matching bowling shirts.  The more experience bowlers seem to walk with an air of confidence.  Balls are on the counter being cleaned and polished.

As the games begin you begin to see the many personalities come to life.  Some are quiet and reserved when they do good or bad.  Others are very animated, weather it is a good shot or bad.  Many are drinking and just plain having fun.  Others are very serious and to the point.  For some they only interact with those on their lanes.  While others walk lane to lane and have fun. 





On Feb 9th I visited the Village Bowling Alley.  I spent 1 hour watching and observing.

This was a league night and the Alley was full.  There are 16 lanes with 4 people to a lane.  So there were 64 people in the league and at least another 20 watching.

When I first arrived people had just started to show up.

One of the first thing one noticed it the variety in age and class. 

There are people ranging from 24 to 79.

There are bowlers ranging from 100 avg to 225 avg.

Everyone is friendly and talking and having fun.

As you look around you can see the many rituals being performed in preparation for the league.

Many have bags full of balls while many others have lockers and their balls stay at the ally.

There are many styles of dress.  The older bowlers seem to be dressed in collars and slacks or jeans.

The younger bowlers are wearing baggy shorts and lose t-shirts.

Many are just getting off work and are rushing to the snack bar for dinner.

As the games start you begin to see the different rituals among bowlers.

Some just grab the ball and throw.  Some are very deliberate in their approach and throw

For many this is a just a chance to hang out with friends and drink beer.

As you walk up and down the lanes the scene changes from lane to lane. 

On one a man is real upset because his game is not going as he thought it should.  He is storming around and mad at himself.  The thing is he just bowled a 200 game but is upset.

On the lane next to him is a girl that is super excited.  She just bowled a 123.

One thing you learn is that each person has an idea as to what they should bowl. 

Bowling is really a game of competing with one’s self and this becomes very evident. 

One of the rituals between bowlers is when every someone bowls a strike or spare everyone slaps their hands and says good job.

But if you listen close you can hear someone say man I wish he would miss just once.

The hierarchies are played out in the tenth frame.  As the games come to an end the better bowlers are expect to come through for their teams.


The strengths of this kind of observation are that people tend to be more them self’s if they are not aware they are being watched.  To me the weakness is the lack of connection.  I am a people person and like to be part of the action.  You do tend to get more true information and can see people at their natural state.  At the same time being apart from the action you also lose the intimacy of the moment.

This method of observation was a little hard for me at first.  I had at first tried another location and did not get the information I needed.  I felt out of touch with the scene and could not connect.  When I switch to the bowling alley I had much better results.  I went on a night when I was not bowling and could just set back and watch.  I still knew some of the people there but was left to watch and learn.  I bowl in a league on another night and have been for several years.  It was fascinating watching all the different actions instead of being part of it.

In doing this kind of research I do not really see any ethical issue.  As an observer you are just taking notes of the actions you see.  You are not taking names and naming people and the things they are doing.  You are just a bystander and recording what you see. If doing this research included taking pictures and finding out names, then posting those without consent.  Then I would see and ethical issue.  As this research did not include that information I believe it is fine.

The data I gathered on this observation was tremendous. I was able to see the scene in a different way than I have before.  I did try a different location first and was not able to get much information.  This may have been because I was disconnected form the location.  I myself felt out of place.  With the bowling alley I felt at home.  I could move around at the bowling alley and no one really thought anything of it.  At the previous location I was seen as an outsider.  People tended to avoid me and made observing very difficult. 

If tasked to do this assignment again I would approach it a little differently.  I believe I would look more at the underlying scene.   This my first attempt at such research and I was not sure of just what to look for.  Now that I have completed this assignment I can see where I could have changed my approach.  I would try a different location and try to connect.  Or if I stayed at the same location I would attempt to look deeper into the actions.  I would try to get into the heads of the participants and what they were thinking more. 

By Dale Ralston


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