Playing organized basketball, in a league or at school, can get stale over time. Between the ball handling and shooting drills, running plays, and overall emphasis on defense, many players begin to long for the days of fast-paced pickup basketball at the park. Now, maybe your local parks and recreation centers are different, but all of the basketball courts near me live by the rules of pick-up basketball. So, before you head out to the nearest neighborhood court, consider reading through this refresher course on the unwritten rules of pick-up basketball.


Indoor vs. Outdoor

While you can apply the rules of pick-up basketball in an outdoor or indoor setting, pick-up basketball is typically played on an outdoor, concrete court. If the hoops have old school steel chain nets, even better. Pick-up basketball games can be limited to halfcourt, or played across a full-court. It depends on court availability, number of players, as well as the age and athletic ability of players.

No Referees

Another pillar of pick-up basketball, is that there are no referees. While some folks play with fouls (with or without free throws), the one consistency throughout all pick-up basketball games is no referees. Pick-up basketball takes a more relaxed approach to the game, basing most (if any) fouls on a self-regulated honor code. If you think you were fouled, call it. If you know you fouled someone else, own up to it. Otherwise, pick-up basketball requires a short memory in order to quickly move on from one play to the next.

Picking Teams

One of the more varying elements of pick up basketball, is the choosing of teams. A more popular method used to divide up players, involves having each player shoot a free throw. Once all players have gone, the captains will select the players they feel have the strongest skill set. Another option involves having all players engage in a single game of rock, paper, and scissors. The winners will be on one team, while the loser will form the opposing team. 

How Many Points to Win

Like the selection of teams, determining the amount of points to win the game is another open ended element of pick-up basketball. Depending on the number of players and amount of time available, some hoopers will play a quick game to 7, 10, 11, 15 or for longer matches 21. The most consistent rule throughout the game is that the winning team must win by two points. 


No Harm, No Foul

Circling back to the fact that there are no referees to call fouls — a general rule of thumb is “No Blood, No Foul.” This self-explanatory phrase pretty much sums up the concept of fouls in pick-up basketball. In the event you do get blatantly harmed, you can call a foul. However, if a player commits a transgression and no one is harmed, the game continues with no fouls. 

Winner Keeps the Court

Another self-explanatory expression used throughout pick-up basketball is, “winner keeps the court.” This basically means the winning team gets to stay and play the next challenger(s) in an effort to maintain control over the court for as long as they desire (i.e. until the sun goes down or the lights turn off).


Overall, pick-up basketball is a fun and great way to spend quality time with friends and/or family. If you are considering trying out the sport, make sure to look over these rules.