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How I tried to download new basketball skills, and only partially failed

basketball skills internetRemember that scene from The Matrix where Neo is strapped into a dentist’s chair and is fed all sorts of skills right into his cerebral cortex? He downloads drunken boxing and kung fu, and then challenges Morpheus to a fight?

Sorry to disappoint you, but that’s still not possible – although we are getting closer. If it were, I would be a much better basketball player than I am now. I would just type in “John Stockton” (I don’t want to be too greedy, although I might download Wilt Chamberlain’s sexual prowess on a temporary basis) and would suddenly own my Monday night over-30 league.

I haven’t played competitive basketball since middle school, but considering I spend most of my time at home, I figured I needed an outlet for exercise and socialization. I’m not the most athletic person, but I do have skills in other sports. Most importantly, I’m competitive and have high standards for myself.

So what do I do with my flexible schedule and my superiority complex? Do I go to the local court and shoot free throws for hours at a time? No. I seek out online ways to improve my basketball game so I don’t have to practice.

The first stop was YouTube. I spent the 30 minutes or so watching Blake Griffin highlight videos, as they were the first hits when you search for “basketball skills”. Although they were quite inspiring, they didn’t really show me how to maximize my own abilities. He’s a definitely candidate if I ever get the skill-download machine working, though.

It turned out there were a lot of instructional videos out there. They ranged from individual skill drills (what part of “no practice” didn’t you understand, YouTube?) to broader discussions of offensive and defensive strategy. I was learning a lot about the game, but strategy doesn’t tend to play a big part in my league. In an over-30 league, most participants are happy if the paramedics aren’t called by the end of the game.

WikiHow basketball I’ve found that Google will occasionally bounce you to WikiHow, but this was the first time I dug through the site without Google’s direct assistance. What I found were 182 crowd-sourced articles about basketball. The first I clicked on was the aptly titled “How to Avoid the Basketball.” I have already mastered that skill, so that was a confidence boost. Overall, the site was helpful and kept me from buying a basketball book or checking one out at the library. And isn’t avoiding books the goal of any website?

But no matter how helpful YouTube and WikiHow were, it was becoming more obvious that practice was unavoidable. I’ve never been good at practice, so what I needed was some sort of system to provide the exterior pressure I need to go out to the court.

There are quite a few of these sites, such as 21 Habit and Beeminder, that have you put some money up as added pressure. You’re basically betting on yourself. I looked into the most polished and notable of these sites, stickK. You simply set a goal, choose an amount of money to bet, appoint a referee to confirm that you are doing what you’re supposed to be doing, and publicize your goal through your social networks so other people start pressuring you about your goal as well. If you like being constantly asked about your weight loss, this system is for you!

The problem with all of these sites is that they are designed for measurable goals. They want to see you losing weight or exercising daily. Some even can be hooked into wireless scales. Considering my overall goal is to avoid embarrassing myself on the basketball court, my measurement is subjective. As proven by the first three games of the season, my embarrassment threshold is pretty high. I can say I’m going to practice every day, but it’s not possible for someone to babysit me in this.

I was struck by something I read in one of the WikiHow articles, “Play basketball well without being athletic.” The first tip was to hustle. As the anonymous authors put it, since I’m not the most athletic person in the world, I have to out-work everyone on the court. I don’t mind if I’m not the leading scorer, as long as we win. If my job is to run around antagonizing the ball handler until he makes a mistake, I’m good with that. It will definitely give me exercise.

See? The Internet did make me a better basketball player after all.

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