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Quiz the Coach: I Wanna Play Basketball

Jun 17, 2009

Hey Coach,

This year our school isn't having any basketball teams. I want to play a sport, but all the other sport deadlines have past. What are some ideas I can use to be active and stay healthy, but involve basketball? It would really help, THANKS!

B-Ball Lover

Hey B-Ball Lover,

Great question! I’m sorry to hear your team isn’t offering any basketball teams for you to join this year. But I’ve got some suggestions that can help you stay healthy and active anyway – and all of them are related to basketball in one way or another.

Join A League

You don’t have to play for your school to enjoy all the thrills and benefits of basketball. My first piece of advice to you is to look around at your local community organizations (youth groups, church groups, community centers, community sports leagues, etc.) to find out if any of them offer a chance for kids to play basketball on a team outside of school. You can also check your local community centers and parks/playgrounds to see if there are any basketball drop-in programs you can go to after school. Drop-in basketball usually happens on a certain day and time each week. All you have to do is show up and pay a small drop-in fee and you can play a game of basketball with other kids your age.

Gather A Group

If you’ve got enough basketball-loving friends to make a couple of teams, why not get everyone together once a week or month and play a game together? You can even start centering some of the events in your own life around basketball. For example, whether it’s your birthday or not, you can throw a basketball party. Invite every player you know to meet you at a local public court (or you can likely rent space in a community or rec center for a few hours), bring along some music, snacks and drinks, and play a game together.

Lobby Your School

If you’re feeling passionate and up to it, how about lobbying your school administration to create more basketball teams? You can ask a teacher or go to the school coach to ask how you should get started. If you know other students at your school who are also disappointed that there aren’t many basketball teams this year for them to join, get together to brainstorm ideas of how you can bring this to your school’s attention. You never know – you may get your school to change its mind about basketball!

Basketball Games

There are lots of other games you can play with a basketball on a court that don’t require the number of players you’d need to make two teams. Here’s are a few variations on the game of basketball.

Different Roster Sizes

An actual competitive game of basketball can be played with as few as two people. The game may be referred to by the number of people on each team; a six-player game may be referred to as "three-on-three" or "3-v-3" ("v" stands for "versus"). Each team's roster is typically the same size, but an odd number of players may force one team to play with one less player. Sometimes the odd player will be designated as a "switch" player, so that the offensive team always has the extra player. Roster sizes above five players per team are uncommon even in informal games, as the court generally becomes too crowded to allow movement and space to develop between players. Six-on-six basketball was a form of basketball played in the twentieth century mainly among high school girls. Three-on-three basketball remains competitively played by amateurs, for example in tournaments organized by the Association of College Unions International.

Variations In Scoring

Because free throws are not generally used, baskets made in pick-up games generally count as 1 point. However, some courts have begun to add the 3-point goal to their pick-up scenario. Some courts keep scores inside the 3-point goal as 1 point and scores beyond it 2, while others use standard basketball scoring rules: 2 points for scores inside the 3-point goal and 3 points for scores outside.


Full-court games usually only commence if there are 10 players, and it can be difficult to reserve a full court for only 2 teams. Basketball is therefore frequently played in a half-court setting, essentially doubling the number of players that can play on a court at once, and this mode of play is frequently required in busy locations like public gymnasiums or health clubs. It is sufficient for most aspects of practice, other than transition plays and pressure defense which specifically require a full court, and is often used in coaching situations; a common sight at games is a coach with a small chalk or dry-erase board with a printed half court diagram, suitable for drawing up plays during a timeout.

In half-court games, only one basket is used, with the requirement that the ball be "cleared" whenever possession of the ball changes. To clear the ball (or in more common usage to "backcourt" it), the team acquiring possession must pass or dribble the ball across the half court line (or 3-point line, see below) before attempting a shot. This simulates the time that would be required for the offensive team to advance the ball into the frontcourt, gives the defense a chance to take position, and provides all players with a visual and mental cue that their roles have reversed, making the half court game an excellent simulation of the full court game.

Slight variations on this basic clearance rule are common, and some situations may not require the new offensive team to clear the ball upon every change of possession. A clearance is almost always required after a defensive rebound, but it may not be required in turnover situations such as a steal, blocked shot, or airball (a shot that doesn't touch basket or backboard); this simulates, to an extent, the fast break that might take place after a turnover. Common variations in clearance rules include:

  • "one pass out"- that on change of possession the ball must be passed to a teammate being the only requirement for clearance
  • "the bottle" the ball need only to be taken outside the foul lane/ foul circle; this is generally a good rule for very young players;
  • a combination of either clearance to the 3 point line or to the foul line.

  • Failure to "take the ball back" before shooting generally results in the ball being awarded to the opposing team or the team having to redo the possession.

    The origin of the half-court game is unknown, but some form of it is likely almost as old as basketball, simply because it allows a small number of people to play without quickly becoming exhausted from running the length of the court after every change of possession. In modern times, the 3-point line is more commonly used as the clearance line (in fact the half-court line is often considered an out-of-bounds marker). The 3-point line is a shorter distance from the basket and allows a clearance in almost any direction, rather than directly opposite from the end line. When the half-court variation was invented, however, the 3-point line probably did not exist (it was invented in 1961 and was not widespread until the 1970s), and so the name "half-court" has stuck.

    As well, there may be differences in restarting play after a violation or other stoppage of play in a half-court game. In full-court contests the ball is generally thrown in from a point near that of the infraction. This may also occur in half-court games, but more often play resumes from "out front", that is, at a point on the court above the three point line; in either case a "courtesy" rule (also referred to as "checking the ball") is commonly in effect: before the ball is put into play it is handed to a player of the opposing team, and may only be played upon its return. The goal of this is typically to ensure that all members of the opposing team are aware that the ball is about to be put into play, and it is usually the job of the person to whom the ball is being checked to ensure that his teammates are ready. Often the player who begins play is required to make a pass before he or his team is allowed to shoot for a basket; this rule variation is called "doubling in".

    One variation commonly seen in the half-court game is the "make-it-take-it" convention (also called "buckets," "keeps," or "winners-out"), followed in some regions, whereby the scoring team retains possession of the ball.

    Other Games Using Basketball Skills & Equipment

    Steal The Bacon

    Steal The Bacon is where two balls are placed in the middle of the court. Teams are divided up evenly with unlimited players, usually only 10 though. They each get a number. When their number is called the two run out to the middle and get the balls, the first one to make it gets a point for their team. Two numbers may be called out for a team effort. Also, you can use only one basketball and it is a race to get the ball and make it first.


    "Twenty-one" is a game that can be played with two or more players. Each player has his own score, with the winner being the first to reach 21 points. The game begins with one of the players "breaking", which is to shoot one free throw with the ball to determine if he of she starts the game. All other players attempt to stop the score; no player has any teammates at any time in the game. The player with the ball may shoot at any time, and may collect his own rebound and shoot again. On a defensive rebound, the rebounder takes possession and must clear the ball by dribbling it beyond the three-point line before taking a shot. Whenever a basket is scored, that player receives two points and goes to the free throw line, where each made free throw tacks on another one point to their score. The player is allowed to shoot free throws until he misses, at which point another player must rebound the ball, and the sequence starts again. This game can be played with the concept of tipped shots, where a player tips the ball in the basket off of a rebound of an opposing player's missed shot, the original shooter's score is reset back to zero. The game can also be played with deductions, such as minus one point when a player air-balls a shot or commits a traveling violation. Twenty-one is nearly always played in a half court game.

    "The One"

    "The One" is a variation designed specifically for five players, providing a solution for an otherwise inconvenient number. "The One" shares similarities with "Twenty-One," but was invented to allow for a greater variety of offense and gameplay, rather than just repeated sessions of "one-against-all." One player is chosen to start as "The One," and the remaining four players pair off into two teams of two. It is important to note that despite the teams, each individual keeps track of their own score. Whoever reaches a designated total first (usually 21) is deemed the winner.

    To start the game, The One checks the ball with any opponent at the top of the key and tries to score against all four opponents. If successful, he takes the ball back to the top of the key, checks the ball, and tries to score again. While a player holds the title of "The One" his baskets count double: 2 points for a field goal and 4 points behind the arc. If The One misses a shot, whichever team controls the rebound clears to the three-point line, and tries to score as a team. At this point, the game is effectively 2-on-3, with the teammates trying to score against the other pair of teammates, while The One provides an extra roaming defender. This is the key variation from "Twenty-One," allowing for picks, passing, and other team-related play. When either teammate scores, both teammates receive equal credit for the basket- 1 point for a field goal and 2 points from behind the arc.

    When a basket is scored, whichever teammate scored swaps positions with "The One", himself becoming "The One" for the next round, while the previous One takes the vacated spot on the scorer's old team. The new One checks the ball, and play continues as before. Play continues in this manner, with the most recent scorer becoming (or continuing as) The One, until one player has accumulated enough points to reach the designated total. The one exception is that you may not win the game as a result of a teammate's basket. In other words, you must score your final point yourself.


    Basketball "war" allows three or more teams to compete in the same game. Two teams will begin playing a standard basketball game. When a team scores, that team will stay on the court, while the losing team is replaced by the next team in rotation. The game is common in Physical Education classes as an instructor needs to get a large number of people to play a game without crowding the court excessively.[citation needed] It is also sometimes used by high school coaches for practices to give one third of the team a quick break while the other two thirds are playing.

    King Of The Court

    King of the Court is played with a group of people, usually 10 or more, but with a one on one occurring on a half-court at any time. The one on one plays out until one person scores from 1-3 point(s). Then, the winner stays, and the next person can ask to play next, and if nobody else opts to play, then that match occurs until all the players except the winner is left, and he is deemed King of the Court.

    The "Cubbard Bear"

    The "Cubbard Bear" originated at the University of Oxford and typically involves a player of Lithuanian or Finnish descent. The Lithuanian/Finn is designated as the "Bear" and is invariably the least skilled player on the floor, a fact for which he is constantly mocked and derided. Playing the "Cubbard Bear" is great fun for those players of English and American descent.

    Knock Out

    Knock Out (Sometimes referred to as "Bump" or "Lightning") is played with at least two players although as many players as possible is suggested. Two basketballs are used. After an order is established by forming a line from anywhere on the court (usually the top of the Key or the free throw line), all players must attempt their first shot from this point. The first and second players in the line start with the basketballs. Play begins with Player #1's first shot; after that shot player #2 may shoot. If the first shot by a player is missed they must follow their rebound and try to make a basket from anywhere on the court. The game at this point is between player #1 and #2; if player #2 makes a shot first, player #1 is "knocked out" (eliminated from the game). If a Player #1 makes a shot first, he passes the ball to player #3 (or if only 2 players are left, or it is a 2-man-game, they must return to the starting point and attempt to "knock out" player #2). The object of the game is to "knock out" the other players. Players may only touch their own ball.

    Variations of the game include the ability to knock or bump the other players ball with your ball; the point of this is to put a player far away from the basket in a vulnerable position to be "knocked out". A player may also attempt in preventing being "knocked out", usually by standing under the basket and throwing the ball up through the basket. Because this rule can sometimes make the game unfair, another variation is that when knocking or bumping another players ball the ball must leave the players hands to make bumping more difficult.


    Establish a set order of player rotation that never alters during the game. Allow the first person to shoot a free throw to start the game. This is called "breaking the ice". The first successful free throw of the game counts as two points no matter who makes it. All subsequent free throws are worth one point. Let the second player rebound the ball and shoot it if the first player misses the free throw. The ball can't bounce more than three times before being retrieved and shot. If the ball bounces more than three times and the player doesn't get it, the player's turn is forfeited.

    The ball is bounced by another participant for the next player. Make sure you jump every time before you handle the ball, you must be in the air when retrieving and shooting. Unless you're shooting the free throw, you're never allowed to touch the ball while your feet are on the ground this is called "grounding" and causes you to forfeit your turn. Play continues in this manner, rotating in the set order until a player makes a basket. Any shot made during this part of the game counts as two points. Shoot free throws after making a basket. Each free throw is worth one point. Continue to shoot free throws until you miss one. After three consecutive free throws the shooter then moves to the 3-point line (shots are still worth 1 point). There is no set limit to the amount of shots taken. Play continues after a missed free throw in the same manner as before. The game goes to 21 points. Although if a player misses the free throw with 20 points on the board they then drop to 15 points.


    In H-O-R-S-E, the object is to NOT accrue the five letters, H-O-R-S-E. Often, the shots in H-O-R-S-E are trick shots and/or lucky shots designed to make the other person miss. H-O-R-S-E is played with two or more persons. In H-O-R-S-E, player #1 is allowed to shoot from anywhere on the court. If he makes the shot, then player #2 must duplicate the same shot from the same position. If player #2 misses, he/she receives the first "letter" from the word "horse", "H". However, if player #1 missed his original shot; then player #2 would be free to shoot from anywhere on the court and, if he makes it, force the next player (player #1 if there are only two players; or #3 if there are more than two players) to try and duplicate his made shots. A player loses the game once he spells the word "horse". The game is essentially the same with three or more players, possibly with some slight tweaks to the rules. In most cases, all players must make the same shot as the first player or receive a letter, until the turn returns to the first player. In some variations, control of the ball will cycle indefinitely until one player gets a letter. In this case, the person who made the original shot could wind up with a letter, if he or she is the first one to miss.

    Other variations and rule-changes include:

  • O-U-T or P-I-G, a faster version of H-O-R-S-E.
  • Players may not repeat a "made" shot. Once a shot has been made in one place or style, it cannot be taken again.
  • Proving the Shot: After some gets H-O-R-S-E, the person who originally made the shot must make the shot again from the same spot to prove that the shot was skill and not luck. If he makes it, the other player is out, but if he misses, the other player stays in.
  • Insurance Shot: Taken when a player reaches the last letter. If made, it allows the player to stay in the game with one letter less than the maximum.
  • Tipping, or "tip-horse": The player whose turn is immediately after the shooter may tip the ball back into the basket on a miss, giving the shooter an extra letter.

  • Around The World

    Around the world is a basketball variant played by two or more players. In this game, a series of shots must be made in and around the key, allowing a player to advance to the next position. The first player to make a shot at each position advances until he reaches the end where he wins the match. Play typically starts at the edge of the key on one side of the basket. If the shot is made, the player advances to the next position mark on the key. When a player has made shots on every position mark, they then advance to the corner of the free throw line. When a free throw is made, the player then advances down the other side of the key back toward the basket. After the player has moved around the key, a shot must be made from directly under the basket. After that the player must make a shot from the center of the three point line. If at any point a shot is missed, a player may 'chance', meaning he gets to take a second shot. If the second shot is made, the player advances as normal. If the player misses the second shot, then the player must go back to the start. The player has only one chance the whole game. At any point a player may decide not to take the next option, and cease play. If a player exhausts his options or chooses to stop, play proceeds to the next player. The sequence of positions and shot options (chance) vary drastically between players and regions. Some games require you to start with a layup, then once you go "around the world" you end with a layup on the opposite side that you started on, instead of having you shoot a three pointer.

    Another game similar to this is called School. There are three different "layers" around the hoop similar to around the world. The first shot, which is the easiest, is called "Preschool" and it goes up to the hardest and farther away, which is called "College Senior" (unless you choose to go higher or lower). After the first six shots (which is close and the first layer) they move back to the second layer, and after those six shots, they move back to the final layer.

    Another game which is similar is played exactly like Around the World, except you start directly in front of the hoop and move a step backwards after each shot, usually ending at half court. You can not give a letter if you take two shots.

    One-Shot Conquer

    The game of "one-shot conquer" begins at the starting line, which is usually the foul line (though it is occasionally moved to around the three point perimeter). The first player takes a shot from the starting line. If he makes it in, he gets one point. If he misses, he runs after the rebound. He then must shoot the ball from where he picked it up. However many shots it takes him to make the ball in, that is how many points he gets. If it takes him 4 shots, he gets four points, etc. Some games set a limit as the maximum number of points you can get in a round, so it doesn't get too out of control.

    If the ball bounces far away from the rim where it is impossible to make it in or goes far behind the hoop, he can choose to take the shot from where he stands, or take that shot from the starting line, with a one shot penalty added to his score. Also if you are playing this outside, the court may be on a slant, and the shooter may let the ball roll closer to the hoop before picking it up. To prevent this type of cheating, some games feature a set limit on when the ball must be picked up.

    In terms of rebounding the ball, the player must take the shot from where his feet were when he picked up the ball. He cannot knock the ball forwards closer to the hoop in an attempt to pick it up. If this is done, he has to take the shot from where he first touched it. Also, the player can jump in the air and catch the ball, and then shoot from where he landed. Once the first person finishes, the next person goes. Once everybody goes one time, the first round is complete, and the game proceeds for another four rounds. At the beginning of the fifth round, whoever has the most points goes first, second most goes second, etc. and it goes in order from highest to lowest in points.

    If there is a tie after the final round, those people go into overtime (aka extra rounds), one round at a time, to see the final outcome. After five rounds (or overtime), whoever has the most points is eliminated. Then you play another set, with everyone's scores reset to 0, etc. You keep doing this until there is only two people remaining, and then you ultimately get the winner. To save time and have more games be played, some people play with out elimination, meaning that whoever has the least points after five rounds (or overtime) wins, regardless of how many players. The game is very similar to golf.


    This game of "fives" is played by 2 or more players. The shooting line is typically the top of the key, but can be moved to the foul line for younger players. Before the game starts, select an order of play. All players (except the one shooting) should remain behind the shooting line, out of the line of play. The first player shoots from the shooting line. If the shot is missed, the player must retrieve the rebound, and shoot from the spot that the rebound was retrieved. The other players are not permitted to interfere with either the ball or the player. The player continues to shoot until a basket is made, to a maximum of 5 shots. When the first player has made the shot, the next player begins shooting, again from the shooting line. This player must make the basket in the same number, or fewer shots than the preceding shooter. The next player then shoots, again from the shooting line and must make the basket in the same number, or fewer shots than the player that immediately preceded incoming player in shooting.

    If a player takes more shots than the player that immediately preceded the incoming player, a point is added to that player's score. Additionally, if a player is unable to make a basket in 5 shots or less, another point is added to that player's score. A player is eliminated from the game upon reaching 5 points. When a player is eliminated from the game, the player immediately following that player has up to 5 shots on the incoming turn. The game continues until all but one player have been eliminated.


    "Tips" is played with three or more players. The game starts with one of the players shooting a foul shot. Foul shots are worth 2 points and any other shot is worth 1 point. Once a player gets to 11 points they must give another player a strike; after 3 strikes the player are out. After a player shoots, the other players may try to tip (a tip is when a player is in the air and catches and shoots the ball before hitting the ground). A two hand tip takes away all of the shooter's points, taking them back to zero. A one hand tip gives the shooter a strike, but they keep their points. All rules may be modified suit the players. These may not be the rules everywhere, these may just be the LBG rules (Leechburg). Some players become quite creative with the "shoot from where the ball was retrieved" rule, using one foot as a pivot foot, allowing them to adjust their shot. If the ball is retrieved quite far from the basket, a player may play a "lob shot", advancing the ball closer to the basket, but this counts as a shot taken.


    Play begins with the first player taking a freethrow. If the player makes the free throw, they receive two points. They receive one point for each consecutive free throw. If a free throw is missed, the next designated player (maximum of 5 players) must let the ball bounce once off the playing surface, and attempt to make a basket, grabbing the ball while the player is in the air before the ball hits the playing surface a second time The shot must be released before either the player or the ball touch the playing surface again. This continues until a player makes a basket. If the player to make a basket is not the player who took the freethrow, the cycle repeats. If the ball bounces twice or lands out of bounds, the player who took the freethrow resumes taking freethrows, but each freethrow is worth one point. Before a game starts, players must decide on two point values that will takes a players point value down to zero. Bounce is generally played to twenty-one points, so players usually choose seven and thirteen.


    Forty-two is a four player game with two players on each team. Both players shoot three-pointers from the corners, the wings and facing the basket. If someone makes the shot on a bank, it's worth 4 points and if he or she makes the shot without banking it, they get three points. The other two players are at the basket and if they tip the ball in without their feet touching the floor with the ball in their hands, they get one point. An air ball is minus one and whoever gets to 42 first without going over, that team wins. But if a team gets 42 and they shot first, the other team still has to shoot because both teams must take the same number of shots. If one team goes around the world without either player making one shot, they go back to zero.

    Firing Squad

    Firing Squad is a variation of "Around the World". The game is for 2 or more players and there are no teams. Each player has their own ball and must be the first to complete a series of predesignated shots(in terms of location and order) around the key, the foul line, and generally 3 shots behind the 3 point line(the corners and dead center). There is no predetermined order for the players to shoot in, nor do the players have to take turns. Players must retrieve their own rebounds after a missed shot and return to the spot they just missed from. Players can only advance after successfully making a shot. The game is completed when a player makes the final shot, but play can resume to determine a second place or more if necessary. The game's necessary skills are shooting accuracy and speed, as a missed shot from longer range may lead to the need to track down a long rebound.

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