Pick-up games are constantly running in parks around Berkeley, consisting of groups of people who come together — often spontaneously — in a public place to play sports. These games are for recreation and are unaffiliated with particular teams or leagues. Despite the impromptu nature of pick-up games, a website called Meetup is adding a level of organization to pick-up soccer in the East Bay.
The most famous pick-up sport is basketball, but there are many different sports played in the greater Bay Area, where athletes of various disciplines are always on the lookout for extra hours with their sport. Through pick-up games, athletes find a community that shares a love of their sport, as well as an environment in which they are able to grow.
A range of players partake in pick-up games, from casual participants to more skilled athletes who may use these games as a way to improve their skills outside of their normal training schedules.
Joaquin Almanzan is a sophomore at Berkeley High School (BHS) who enjoys the ease of pick-up games. “I enjoy playing pick-up basketball because of all the sports, it’s one of the easiest to grab a ball and go out to play,” Almanzan said. When asked about the range of players in the pick-up environment, he said, “I think this is really the point of playing basketball entirely, to play with people who have different skill sets than you and learn to play against them or with them.”
Like many other days, on a Friday in November at around 4:00 PM, a pick-up basketball game was started at Ohlone Park in Berkeley. The game was an intense three on three, with contested shots, feats of athleticism, and a fast pace. The pick-up game ran for hours, until the sun went all the way down, and after the competition, all the players went their respective ways and didn’t look back.
Antonio Nordman, a sophomore at BHS, likes to stay active during his off-season with pick-up basketball. Nordman, who played in this Friday night game, shared his thoughts on the relationships one makes when playing in a pick-up game. “A lot of the time, you don’t know almost everybody you play with, and you don’t really plan on knowing them any further,” he said.
However, this does not mean that people are disconnected or icy when engaging in a pick-up game. “It’s this camaraderie. In a game, if you drain a three, you’re gonna get this nice dap up. It’s a very good time,” Nordman added.
Although pick-up games can be much fun, there can be downsides to playing with strangers. With such a spontaneous event, you have no idea whose team you’re going to be on, and it’s possible to end up with poor chemistry or an unhealthy sense of competition.
Scott Friedman is from Portland, Oregon, and he has enjoyed playing pick-up basketball since childhood. He spoke a little about his experience of playing in toxic pick-up environments. “Basketball is at its most beautiful when you have five guys playing as a unit. When you have even one selfish player on your team, it breaks the flow of what it means to play team basketball. At that point, everyone else starts playing selfishly, [and] the game loses its fun, its beauty,” Friedman said.
Pick-up culture has been embedded in sports since their creation, and people throughout the country have come to understand an unwritten set of rules for the pick-up versions of their games. These centers of informal yet authentic play have ultimately helped to popularize many of the sports we know and love.