Saturday, March 15, 2008

Psychology: Scouting in pickup games

The other day I was waiting for next game at the gym, talking to a teammate-to-be about this teenage kid that was playing and that I would have to guard. The kid was fast and had some good moves, but he didn't seem to be able to shoot from the outside, so we decided that I should go underneath every screen and dare him to put it up. When we came on, I went with the scouting report and cut under every pick, letting the kid have any three he wanted. It worked. He had been the leading scorer in the previous game, but we held him to one basket.

I really enjoy scouting other players in pickup games, but I feel sort of alone in this. Not only do I find it hard to get others to talk about player tendencies and good counter-strategies, but many people look at me like I'm a nutcase when I start developing scouting profiles of opponents. And it's not like I'm doing Sabermetrics or anything out there, I'm just saying stuff like:

"He can't shoot with his off hand. Force him left."
"He's really out of shape, so you should run."
"He always spins to the middle."
"He won't shoot from beyond 12 feet."
"Watch his hips. That's where he's going."

Sometimes I engage in more psychologically-oriented scouting, like:

"He's mentally fragile. If you show some toughness in the post, he'll shut down and stop playing hard."
"His ego is bigger than his game. Let him shoot and freeze his teammates out."

I love this stuff because it takes the game beyond the physical aspects of play and introduces interesting strategic and psychological considerations that can be exploited. But again, it's hard to find players who are willing to have these discussions with me. Don't get me wrong, other players are usually gracious and they listen to me ramble, but no one ever seems as enthused as me about this facet of the game.

Why not?

I think that part of it is laziness. Many people just come for recreation and exercise, so they don't feel that they have to engage the game at this level--fair enough. Some other players just don't possess enough basketball knowledge to have these discussions. But I think that there are some, particularly alpha male types, who think that the game is really truly about physical dominance, and that if you can't beat the other guy with your game, you don't deserve to win. Thus, there is no need to talk about the strategic stuff. Just get out there, bust your man's ass and walk off like a stud.

Or maybe I'm just going about it wrong. Maybe I have to introduce scouting insights more gently and not seem like I'm taking the game so seriously. Whatever it is, I'm not going to stop scouting at the gym. Not only do I believe it to be effective, but it's really a lot of fun for me.