My sons have played in a high school rec basketball league for the past 6 years or so, I guess—Pete played 2, Kelly has played 4 now. I coached Pete’s last season and all of Kelly’s.
Coaching is a funny term, because there are no plays. The kids really don’t much listen to you. With Pete’s team, all his friends were on it, so I’d say, “Let’s not take a ‘3’ till we’ve gone up and down the court 5 times or so.” Sure enough, first trip down, “3.”
That said, I do consider myself a student of the game, and over time you come up with rules that help the kids. If they want to be helped.
Last year’s team, for instance, actually listened, and even though we weren’t a classically talented basketball team (we couldn’t shoot and weren’t very interested in rebounding, for instance), we nearly won the league championship.
Without further adieu, the keys to winning at rec hoops.
Drive. Rec basketball is a man-to-man game, thank god. The team that gets to the hoops most wins in rec basketball. I can count on one hand the times a team has shot its way to a win. Pete’s last team was one of those; that team could bomb. But the most valuable player in this league is an athletic, mid-sized kid with good body control and an OK handle who can put defenders on their heels and help on defense.
Defend. Because it can be hard to score in the halfcourt, transition baskets are huge. And turning the other team over above the free-throw line is even huger, because it gives your team the potential for an uncontested basket. I try to set the other team up so we get them passing the ball from the wings to the top of the key, then jump that passing lane and sprint for the easy bucket. It’s not as easy as it sounds—except when it is.
Move your feet. Tons of kids stop running halfway through an 8-minute period. If your team keeps moving, it will get lots of late, easy points. This is especially true in the quarters played by reserves, who are generally less fit.
Find a second team point guard. Your reserves almost universally lack ball skills, so you need someone you can trust to take care of the ball. If they can shoot a little, well, life’s good.
Never pick the ball on offense. Rec players love to set picks. Unfortunately, none of them know how to roll or pop or do anything productive from the position. Instead, when they pick, they have brought a second defender and effectively double-teamed the ball, with no easy obvious place for the ball to go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a turnover and easy layup because a pick (or even better, two picks, both set for the ballhandler). All that traffic. Defensively, as soon as a team does that, I instruct both players to attack the ball.
Work the refs with kindness. Angry and petulant doesn’t work in rec hoops. Be nice, laugh with the refs. It pays off late in games, when you need to mug the opposing point guard to get the ball back. Or you’re ahead and need your best shooter, who’s a little weak, to get the foul call before he gives up the ball. My oldest was a good shooter and the greatest recipient of this rule ever—he’d beat a path to the free throw line late in games and finish other teams off.
Never, ever take a “3” if you can help it. As I tell the kids early in the season, the reason they’re here is because they can’t shoot. Why exacerbate it by shooting from far away? It also gets in the way of other important considerations (see “Drive“).