Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Careers: Has age changed your game?

I thought I'd follow up Old School's retirement post with another perspective on handling the ravages of time. I think that anyone who plays ball beyond their prime has got to consider changing the way they play.

This issue is beginning to loom large for me, as I am a guard, and get by primarily on speed and quickness. At 31, I'm not getting any faster or any quicker, and my vertical is approaching Cherokee Parks-like patheticness. Luckily, I am still agile enough to hold my own in most pickup games, but the time has obviously come to think about adaptation. Ain't no intelligent design bullshit on the court; you either gotta evolve or go the way of the dinosaur.

Here are some things I've done to compensate for the effects of age:

1. Play without ego. Think about the whole game, and every single thing I can do to benefit the team. This includes a lot of unglamorous stuff like setting screens off the ball and making "the pass that leads to the assist." Also, play better defense.

2. Think harder about team selection. I realize now that playing with unselfish, hardworking players is better than playing with talented self-centered players. When I put together Yellow Fever -- my 2004 NYU intramural squad -- I mainly looked for players I knew who were nice, unselfish, and diligent. While we didn't win the championship, we advanced fairly deep into the playoffs, and we had a great time the whole season because we all got along and respected each other on the court.

3. Shoot better and with range. I can't get to the hoop like I used to, and am unwilling to absorb the degree of contact that I could in my early twenties. So I have become more selective about when I drive, and what will happen when I get into the lane. Jump-shooting opens up my options a lot. I need to keep my defender off balance by convincing him that I can hit 18-20 footers with consistency. This is a mental game, and when it is successful, it becomes easier to drive, and I find a lot more ways to force awkward defensive rotations without getting whaled on.

4. Misdirection and chicanery. No-look passes are not enough. Now, I try to use my entire body and soul to convince the defender that I'm passing left before dishing right. I've developed a bunch of ballhandling tricks which are not always effective, but when they are, they can be demoralizing. I also have some off-the-ball fakes, like pretending to follow the trajectory of a shot with my eyes. When the defender turns to look at the (nonexistent) shot, I run away from him. Here's another one: when my opponent has tipped the ball and it is going out of bounds, but he still has a shot at it, I run towards the ball and pretend I'm going to save it. I get close, but instead of saving it, I just let it go. It's still out off him, but he will have instinctively backed away from the action, or hesitated too long to get the ball.

5. "Clean-dirty" play. I never try to hurt anyone, but am not too proud to hold someone's shirt for a second to disrupt a fast break, move a little on screens, or give a gentle poke in the belly-button when I arrive late on a shooter (this really works).

Add your own strategies for dealing with the effects of age below.

1 comment:

billter said...

Here's a big one: conditioning. Younger guys can get away with playing ball twice a week and spending the rest of their time drinking beer. But as the years pass you have to make a real effort to hit the gym, do some cardio during the week, and keep you weight down. Not that I always do those things--I am weak and lazy--but when I do it defnintely helps. You even find sometimes that younger guys who think they're in shape actually aren't and tire easily. Then you can beat them downcourt not through superior speed but because you're not gasping for breath.