Friday, August 16, 2013

Why the Death of Pick Up Basketball is Hurting Our Game

Was talking with Coach Larry McKenzie (@coachmckenzie)  about pick up basketball, or the lack there of, the other night after our Round Table. He made a comment than when he drives around his neighborhood and sees young players actually playing pick up basketball he stops and takes a picture because it's so rare. For me, this represents a glaring problem with our basketball culture. Pick up has gone the way of the dinosaurs and passenger pigeons. Some would poo poo this and say that pick up is a waste of time. Before you do, let me run down the some of the main bullet points on the list of current complaints about our game: players don't play hard, players don't know how to play, players don't understand what wins, players are selfish and complain, and players lack leadership. Pick up basketball solves a lot of these issues, I'll explain below.

Players don't play hard....
When you play pick up basketball, you win you stay, if you lose you have to get off. This creates a culture of competitiveness. Also, you are not playing against a bunch of guys from a different city or state, your are playing for bragging rights in your neighborhood which, let me tell you, is worth more than any National Title. Players develop a culture of playing hard because their reputation is on the line, sounds weird, but think back and you'll realize it's true.

Players don't know how to play...
Of course they don't! They play in a structured environment all spring, summer, fall, and winter. When do they have time to experiment? They don't because they play high school ball where winning is important to an adult, transition straight to AAU where winning is important to an adult. Because winning is paramount to adults we structure it to win, so players don't experiment with different things. I grew up in a small town and we learned how to move after we got our butts kicked by the older guy who moved the ball, cut to the basket, etc. We learned first hand from more experienced players and actually there was a really special learning structure in place, the older guys took the younger guys under their wing.

Players don't understand what wins....
Similar to the top, they are always told what wins. You can tell someone what wins and that's great, but when the players are making the decisions and then examining if that helped them win or not, there is a higher level of learning that occurs. You also start to learn what traits to look for in other players when picking teams.

Players are selfish and complain....
Of course they do because they've got adults there to make sure it's "fair" on every foul, etc. Playing pick up takes the complaining right out because frankly no ones going to give a rip if you complain about foul calls. If you are a complainer you'll just get laughed at and left off the team for the next game. You'll learn quickly that no one wants to play with a primadonna. Pick up also accelerates the learning curve on selfish play. I remember playing with some selfish guys in our pick up games, we would just ice them out and not pass them the ball. When they complained we'd have a discussion, which leads me to my next point...

Players lack leadership...
Of course they do! They are now playing entirely supervised by adults. Where is the leadership development in that!? They don't have to pick teams, they don't have to call fouls, they don't have to call each other and get people together for a game, they don't have to call each other out on poor behavior (interpersonal and conflict resolution skills). They don't have to correct, teach, and coach their teammates. These are leadership skills that players a generation or two ago got.  Organizational skills and leadership skills are lost when kids don't have to do any leading in organized basketball because an adult does it all for them. The adult sets it up, coordinates it, coaches it, refs it, drives them there, picks the team, drives them home, etc. There is no reason or room to develop leadership skills.



The bottom line is that when PLAYERS are the driving force behind the sport, it's more pure, more fun for them, and much better experience. I believe many players lose their love for the game when the environment becomes too structured. No one starts playing to make the NBA or college, they play because they love the sport first. We end up killing the pure joy of the game by making everything so structured and not allowing time for pick up basketball. And I'm not saying that structure is all bad, but Brian McCormick (@brianmccormick) has said for years on his blog (developyourbballiq.com) that there is too much structure in American basketball he he's right. We need time set aside for guys to just play, unsupervised. Now the question is what do we do about it?

4 comments:

Brenda said...

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Unknown said...

When I was in high school in the late eighties they used to say Europeans were mechanical they played like robots. Its come full circle the Americans are now the robots thanks to AAU basketball. You can watch Boris diaw and see he spent his time on a playground. We played all day everyday cuz it was fun. The guys back then who didn't play on organized teams had higher basketball iq's then the players now. You would learn tricks from the old guys and you didn't act stupid because if you lost and they had to sit they would let you know about it. Game point you better take it to the rim. Kids know nothing now but running to the three point line. I can't believe the shots they settle for at the end of games. I m8ss it so much. I can remember going one day and I'd say today pearl Washington bank shots in the lane and no look passes. Then Adrian dantley another day do in work on the block or Walter berry all lefty post moves. Its just sad its gone but the truth is most 16 to 30 year old Americans today wouldn't have the toughness to hang anyway.

Greg Provance said...

When I was in high school in the late eighties they used to say Europeans were mechanical they played like robots. Its come full circle the Americans are now the robots thanks to AAU basketball. You can watch Boris diaw and see he spent his time on a playground. We played all day everyday cuz it was fun. The guys back then who didn't play on organized teams had higher basketball iq's then the players now. You would learn tricks from the old guys and you didn't act stupid because if you lost and they had to sit they would let you know about it. Game point you better take it to the rim. Kids know nothing now but running to the three point line. I can't believe the shots they settle for at the end of games. I m8ss it so much. I can remember going one day and I'd say today pearl Washington bank shots in the lane and no look passes. Then Adrian dantley another day do in work on the block or Walter berry all lefty post moves. Its just sad its gone but the truth is most 16 to 30 year old Americans today wouldn't have the toughness to hang anyway.