Exploring the social power of Queen's pick-up basketball scene

The lesser-discussed pastime has one of the most welcoming communities on campus

The pick-up community is a place to forge friendships on and off the court.

For those who know it, Queen’s is home to a very vibrant pick-up basketball scene, and like many pick-up basketball communities around the world, its social roots run deep.

Though there are a large number of students playing during pick-up hours, most of them are regular or semi-regular attendants. Not unlike classes, residence, or clubs, the more students show up, the more people they remember.

“Everyone who plays is one degree of separation, at most, from everyone else,” said regular pick-up player Alex Gittens, ArtSci ’21, in a brief interview with The Journal.

“Once you meet a few people, you’ll meet the people that they know, either at the courts or outside of it. You get to know everyone really fast.”

Typically, the biggest barrier for someone looking to join an unorganized sport community, like pick-up basketball at Queen’s is a feeling of intimidation. However, according to Deshane Richards, ArtSci ’21—another regular pick-up basketball player—the notion that Queen’s students need to be skilled to play and enjoy pick-up basketball on campus is a fallacy.

“Effort is what matters,” he said in an interview with The Journal. “If you hustle and work hard on every play, people will enjoy playing on your team, no matter how good you are technically.”

Another pick-up fanatic, Ethan Tighe, ArtSci ’20, spoke to how pick-up can lead to strong social bonds.

“During the game, you want nothing more than to beat who you’re playing against. That intensity brings people together,” he told The Journal.

“Competing builds mutual respect between people. So once the game’s over, you’ve already built a friendship with whoever was involved in the game.”

As a form of athletic competition, pick-up at Queen’s can naturally be a high-intensity atmosphere. Yet, as Tighe mentioned, the competitive circumstances which define it allow players to develop strong social bonds with one another.

Playing basketball with relative frequency comes with physical health benefits, but it can also have positive impacts on players’ mental health, too.

According to a 2019 study by University of Georgia Kinesiology professors Katja Sonkeng and Jepkorir Rose Chepyator-Thompson, whilst examining the “healing touch”—a form of energy therapy based on physical touch—they found that even small interactions like high-fives and handshakes provided “a sense of affirmation, and acceptance that may lead to enhanced human connections and relationships.”

Additionally, pick-up basketball games can often be some of the most diverse spaces around, and their ability to bring people from all backgrounds together is certainly worthy of attention—particularly at Queen’s.

A 2014 dissertation by Gonzaga sociology professor Michael Francis DeLand explores how pick-up basketball creates such diverse and inclusive spaces.

After four years of research and observation, DeLand wrote that pickup basketball games acted as a space where “[a] Buddhist philosophy enthusiast, Israeli immigrant carpenter, a [B]lack hip hop band leader, a white real estate developer, and a Latino bartender arrive at the park to build, populate, and dwell together inside a vivid gaming context before bidding farewell and re-entering their separate biographical trajectories.”

The difference between DeLand’s study, done at a public park in California, and the pickup basketball at the ARC, is that instead of leaving to their separate spheres, nearly everyone that plays pick-up basketball at Queen’s lives within walking distance of one another. The connections that DeLand writes about are still likely made, but they also carry the potential to grow outside the gym as well.

Currently, the ARC isn’t able to offer open gym time for basketball, but the parks around student housing—places like Victoria or Friendship Park—have become hotbeds for pick-up while we continue to recover from the pandemic.

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