Quite often there is a lot of emphasis put on the importance of playing against people who are better than you are as a means to get better, and this is completely true – you want to be challenged in a way that forces you to adjust to the higher levels of game speed, game physicality & opponent skill level.
However, it is important to realize that sometimes it can be beneficial to play down a level too! And this is something that is far too often overlooked by many players (and parents of players) when they are chasing opportunities to play. Let me explain….
As a player, whenever you step on a court, an unspoken hierarchy occurs which tends to dictate the role that you may play on your given team. Depending on the situation, this role can be based entirely on each player’s subconscious understanding on which players are better at what (in the case of pick-up basketball), or what the coach determines it is according to his/her perceptions.
This hierarchy also often dictates how much court time you get, how much responsibility you have while on the court, even down to how many touches you may get with the ball.
For example, someone who is good scoring at a certain level, may become a facilitator/spot up player at a higher level – because they end up on a team which has players with better scoring abilities than themselves.
So, using this knowledge to improve our game, we want to be getting exposure to games & trainings in which we get to be at both ends of the hierarchy as well as somewhere in between.
– We want to often experience heightened intensity of playing with players who are better than us, going up against higher levels of skill, speed and physicality.
– We also want to often play to our level/down a level, putting us at the top of the hierarchy, putting added responsibility on our shoulders and allowing us to develop skills that we would not get the opportunity to develop at the higher level.
This is the reason I am always advising players to go out and ball regardless of who it is with/against. When offering invites along to a training or a run I often hear the question: who’s going? As if it matters for some reason. The players I see improve the most, are often the ones who don’t care who they play against, and as a result, they get themselves exposure to, and practice in a vast variety of situations.
It is also why I believe the 11th/12th players on a representative A team should purely be reserves and hold a solid rotation spot on the B team.
The key thing here is, as a young up and comer, don’t worry too much about always trying to play up a grade. You want to be exposing yourself to multiple different levels so you can develop your skills in multiple different roles, experiencing multiple different levels of on court responsibility.
Go train down a level and kill it, then go train up a level and get your ass kicked, then go train at your level and get locked into a close match up that goes down to the wire. There are things to be learnt in each setting and this will allow you to improve steadily, while maintaining confidence and drive!
Catch you next time! - Coach Zac