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.