Pickup basketball is the most popular way that basketball is played. Millions of people around the world play pickup daily. It’s where many find their “love” for the game. Pickup is completely random. There are no coaches. Every court has different rules. The teams are always changing. The only thing that’s consistent about pickup basketball is that it’s always changing. When players play in pickup games against good competition, it gives them a great opportunity to develop and improve. The problem is that as good as one pickup game can be, the next can be really bad. It all depends.

Many consider pickup “work”. It’s when they “work” on their game. That brings up a lot of questions.

1. Do you know what you really need to work on?
2. Do you know how you need to work on it?
3. What are you working on when you play?
4. Who are you working on it with?
5. Who are you working on it against?

When I’m evaluating an AAU program, one of the things that I want to do is watch a practice. This is true for high school too. I think many players have been conditioned to think that “work” is playing 5 on 5. Don’t get me wrong, being able to play in that setting is super important. Success in the game is being able to play 5 on 5 at the highest level. The problem is that so many players don’t do anything else.

So here’s what happens in a lot of situations, they only play in pickup games where they are comfortable. Maybe they are the best player and maybe they aren’t. But they don’t really put themselves in situations where they are completely uncomfortable. They don’t play in such a way where they are truly working on their game.

In a lot of pickup games, players will try to do things that they wouldn’t normally do in a game with coaches and fans. That’s not bad. The problem comes in they let the success or failure of those attempts change their mentality and effort. The problem comes when they aren’t working on those things outside of the pickup game. The real problem is that they aren’t working on true game-like actions or skills that would be of more benefit to them.

In so many cases, a pickup game is a place where bad habits are reinforced. There’s something to be said about learning how to make it work no matter what the situation is. However, if you don’t know what you should be doing, if you’re not playing against people who can challenge you to do things that you’re not comfortable with, then the best you’re doing is getting a little conditioning. From what I see though, so many players don’t even do that. They walk around and they don’t cross half court most of the time.

In those situations, nobody is getting better. Is it fun? I guess that’s up to the individual. But seriously, if you’re calling pickup “work” but the games aren’t competitive or played at a high intensity, then you’re kidding yourself.

1. Do you know what you really need to work on?
This all comes back to the evaluation. Can you evaluate yourself? Do you know someone who can help you with that? Do you have a film of yourself? Do you watch it? Do you know how to watch it? Do you know what to look for? Do you know how strong your strengths are?

2. Do you know how you need to work on it?
That last question came with a ton of questions. This one gets really tricky when it comes to pickup. Knowing what you need to do to work on something might require some help from a coach. Are you working on it in the right way or are you building bad habits that are going to be harder to break later?

3. What are you working on when you play?
This has to do with you making the conscious decision to actually work on whatever you identify. Win or lose. Good or bad. You must make the conscious decision to actually work on it.

As we talked about before, pickup is a really unpredictable environment. Some things are really hard to work on in a pickup game because you might not be able to work on it without your teammates.

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