Day in and day out, hoopers of all kinds are playing some sort of basketball. Whether it be a scrimmage in practice, an organized game for a school or AAU team, or even a game of pickup at the local gym or playground. There is something that tends to separate those players on the playground into a category above all of the others. These are the players that everyone wants on their team because they know they’ll have a better chance of winning and staying on the court. What these players tend to do differently is play with a purpose.
Many players come into a pickup game with the mindset of, “I’m going to score, and we’re going to win,” or even “I just want to get a run in.” You will not find many players that say, “I want to make sure I work on this skill today, and I’m going to do it at a high level.” These kinds of players who find specific aspects of their game to work on during pickup games represent a small minority of the pickup community.
What good will all of your practice and training do if you don’t use those skills in game-like situations? Let’s say you’ve been trying to add one of our moves of the week into your arsenal. Working on the move by yourself with some cones and making drives to the hoop is necessary to start out with, but to improve even more, adding a defender is key. So, you can either just find a random friend to do it, or you can work on it while you’re playing a game anyway.
When in a pickup game, I know that no one wants to be the guy that makes his team lose and then wait five games to get back on the court. However, if you keep thinking that way during pickup games, it’s not going to help you in the long run. Take that move you were working on, and make it a goal to use that move a specific amount of times in a game. Tell yourself that you’re going to use that move three times in one game, and try it out in different scenarios throughout the game. This will get your mind thinking about the times to utilize this new skill that you have learned. Want to improve your defense? Make it your mission to limit your man to two points or less in every single game.
Humans are goal oriented people. If you don’t make a goal for yourself each game, then you’re just going through muscle memory motions and not adding more aspects to your game. Set a reachable goal for yourself the first few times, and then consistently raise the bar so that you can hone the skill that you want to utilize when your playing for your high school, college, or whichever team you’re on.
Even those who aren’t Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan fans should be able to respect and admire one thing they both have, and that is a relentless work ethic that forced them to keep setting the bar higher for themselves and in turn, it allowed them to reach the level that everyone saw.