7 March 2021

Basketball workout

I hate the gym. In fact, I’d do anything to avoid the gym or so-called “workouts”. But I love sports. In other words, I need to have fun – to play – when I exercise. Critics would say I need to win too. Okay. Let’s just say that if we play in teams, you are free to join my (winning) team.

There’s perhaps one exception though and that’s swimming because of the pleasure of feeling water on my skin. But I get bored while swimming (besides always being a little scared of pushing myself too much and risking another pneumothorax) so swimming in the lake always means a waterproof player will be streaming music or podcast episodes in my ears.

It hasn’t escaped me that the notion of “fun” is subjective and that any activity can be made a game (this has even become a verb: “to gamify”). It’s even become an entire industry with the likes of Peloton selling outrageously expensive equipment and corresponding subscriptions because our brains love artificial targets – and since we’ve paid for them, we'd better get a move on.

It may well be that I miss the sand volleyball games, or the tennis or pickleball matches, that I would play when working out of Silicon Valley; or my badminton club in Zürich; or indoor football in Paris in yonder years. Without being the most sociable person, I miss the kind of connection found on the sports field.

From an early age, I’ve always invented new games to make do with whatever I had at hand, even if that was just a piece of paper, a pen and a couple of marbles. I would calculate statistics on outcomes. For board games, I would create additional rules to make them more interesting. For instance at Monopoly, I would allow the bank to provide loans (with interest), so my siblings could still continue playing. It may well be that I undercut the bank’s interest rate with a loan of my own at a lower interest rate: it was more than likely unfair because I was also managing the bank, but you’ll forgive the 10-year old I was back then.

Like many across the planet, I haven’t been able to interact with many humans for a year now. Basketball courts are however ubiquitous, including in most places I’ve travelled to. While I may not have the height nor the skills required to be a good player, I’ve created my own little game/workout. 10 minutes of high-intensity interval training (HIIT for the purists) during which I aim to score as often as possible from 9 spots located along the trapezium line (also called the lane line or the key, although I just discovered that this is now officially a rectangle and no longer a trapezoid since October 2010): as such, one spot is exactly on the free-throw line, and 4 spots are symmetrical to one another on each side of the net. I’m allowed to move from one spot to another only when I score, starting from the spot closest to the net; I can of course try as often as I need to. Once I finish a full round of 9, I start again and try to complete as many rounds as I can over the course of those 10 minutes.

Basketball workout, May 2020

Based on hundreds of such workouts over the past year (yes, I can be very persistent when it comes to repeating the same thing over and over), I estimate that a perfect player would be able to score 9 baskets per minute, which gives 90 baskets in 10 minutes. My technique is undoubtedly not standard: as you can see in the photo, I throw the ball with one hand, not using my other hand to guide anything unlike what I have observed in others. But it works for me. On average, I score 34 baskets (so almost 4 complete rounds) with a personal best just a week ago, with freezing hands, of 49* which would make it a roughly 50% success rate – not too shabby I think.

When something’s on my mind, I can immediately notice a drop in the total number of baskets. I really need to focus on my throw to be able to perform well – which is incidentally a good method to disconnect from the stress I’m feeling a little too much lately. I also wonder whether I would perform as well if competing against someone else. Challenge me?

* Update: new record of 55 on 3rd May 2021, woohoo!