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A Gentleman’s Guide to Pickup Games

  • Kempt Staff


Your days of organized sports are most likely behind you. (Save for an office softball league walk-on or two.)

But that doesn’t mean you can’t relive the glory with a few hours of roundball, pigskin or doubles squash every so often. And with ballparks, courts and fields everywhere alive with the spirit of summer, there’s no better time than now to get out there and mix it up a little this weekend.

Luckily for the pickup-game uninitiated, we’ve put together a handy little guide:

Play to Your Strengths: Basketball might be the most accessible of pickup games, with courts everywhere, a quick game-turnover rate and a relatively small number of people needed to get in line for the next one, but if you’ve never really dribbled a ball, spotted up for a jumper or grabbed a monstrous, elbow-clearing rebound à la Charles Barkley, you might want to stick with a game you know. (Exceptions include times you’re playing with a group of guys you’re mostly familiar with and you’ve made them aware of your beginner status. Just keep your hands and eyes up and the ball moving around the perimeter until you get a lay of the land.) Or perhaps you’re more of an Ultimate Frisbee guy. Nothing wrong with that.

Getting In There: If you’re rolling solo, it’s going to take a bit more chutzpah to get yourself into a game. Apply the same sort of eye contact, forthright congeniality and confidence you would at a business luncheon. If you’re with a couple of friends, that puts you close to five deep for a basketball team (or an outfield squad) and probably more comfortable with approaching a game already in progress. But that doesn’t mean rolling solo is without its benefits. You could be the scrappy rebounder a four-man crew didn’t realize they were looking for. (Extra style points for fully embracing your newfound Kurt Rambis-ness with sports croakies and high socks.)

Calling “Next”: Once you’re ready to mix it up, you’ll need a solid game plan—and, for basketball especially, a fully formed team (of five) ready to take on the winner of the current game. For larger team sports, like soccer, you should be able to pick up a few players off the waiver wire (from the losing team) to round out those of you waiting in the wings. Assessing the Level of Competitiveness: This one is tough, but also essential to a good time. You don’t want to be the guy barking at everyone, or earn the reputation of the sharp-elbow-thrower. You also don’t want to be the guy getting passed up for open shots because you’re not fully committing to some good old-fashioned competition. A little good-natured trash talk never hurt—especially if it feels like a two-way street. Related: you probably don’t want to get in too far over your head in terms of skill level. Find the group that looks like they’re moving at your speed.

Make It Count: The greatest benefit of getting over that hump of putting yourself out there is that you might find a solid Sunday afternoon game that you can stop into whenever you’re feeling like getting the blood flowing. So make sure to inquire about the regularity of the game.

And while no one in their right mind ever keeps stats during these things, you can still feel free to tell people that last week you messed around and got a triple-double.