Basketball players may not agree on everything, but most of us agree that pickup basketball is about as good as it gets. When the season ends in spring, pickup basketball season is just getting started. From Rucker Park to Venice Beach, even NBA stars sometimes show up to play some ball. Obviously, balling out with friends is always a blast, but can it also help to improve a young basketball players game?

We believe it can. Today, we will go over how to use offseason pickup games to improve your skill, what to work on, and how to select the best pickup spots to improve your abilities this summer.

Offseason Pickup Basketball Improves Your Game

All of the offseason drills in the world can’t replace the real thing. And while pickup basketball is not the same as organized ball, the right games can still go a long way towards honing your craft. Youth athletes can benefit from pickup basketball in the following ways:

Getting in their reps - shooting, dribbling, passing, and the fundamentals of basketball require incessant repetition to master. Summer pickup games are a great opportunity to get in quality repetitions without any time limit or other complicating factors.

Getting experience against varied opponents - youth athletes primarily only face competition within their same age range and general ability levels. Sometimes playing against bigger, stronger, and more talented players can be a benefit in the long run.

Staying in shape - even the most relaxed pickup game offers a great workout. Keeping a young basketball player’s cardiovascular endurance, strength, and flexibility at a high level year round is much easier than building it back up each fall.

Only Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

There is one caveat - in order to make pickup games benefit a young player’s game, he or she must take them seriously. As Vince Lombardi once famously quipped, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” Truer words were never spoken. In fact, it can also be said that imperfect practice may actually make a player worse.

To combat this, youth athletes should treat pickup games like practices. Obviously, we want the kids to have fun. They can play with goofy rules, choose lopsided teams, and a dozen other things. A serious athlete should understand that his or her play during the summer months will certainly translate to this upcoming season.

Using Pickup Basketball Games to Build Good Habits

Along those lines, coaches and parents should tell young players that pickup games are an opportunity to become better by building good habits. It is possible to have fun and use proper fundamentals at the same time. In fact, for those of us who are endlessly competitive, it is the only way to have a great time.

Many youth players are quick to pass and hesitant to shoot. Still others will take outside shots without driving to the basket. Pickup games are great opportunities to build real basketball skills and confidence in young athletes. Summer basketball offers a freedom and a fun factor which allows many ballers to come out of their shell.

Some players may also need to work on something specific to improve their game. For example, if a player is a great scorer but lacks in play creation, he or she can use pickup games as a blank canvas. This athlete can try to drive and dish, make skip passes, and other techniques they may have never tried before without risk of repercussion.

How to Choose the Right Pickup Game for You

So where should young athletes be playing? Many kids will have a neighborhood hoop down the street or a few blocks over. Yet this might not be the best opportunity for kids who are interested in bettering themselves at players. Young basketball players and their parents should consider the following:

  • Safety - we have not touched on this, but the sad fact is that some basketball courts are not as safe as others. Pick a spot where kids will be comfortable and away from any bad influences.
  • Level of play - for a skilled basketball player, finding competition can be a challenge. Look around the area and call up some teammates if necessary.
  • Age of players - as we touched on earlier, sometimes playing against the older kids can be great. Other times, it may be a detriment. A physical mismatch can lead to sloppy play and potentially even injury.
  • Fun factor - at the end of the day, kids should have fun playing basketball in the summer. If we are splitting hairs between playing with our friends and playing with kids who are a bit better, playing with friends might be the way to go. If a young player is playing basketball with the right attitude, they will improve. The rest is details.

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