imagesI’m trying to take up basketball. It’s un uphill struggle, but not for the reasons that you might think (lack of fitness, delusions of NBA grandeur etc) but rather because there’s apparently very little in the way of opportunities for anyone over the age of 18 who’s never aimed a ball at a basket before to start to do so.

I’ve been working on trying to find a class or coach for around two years now, and have been entranced by the sport for a great deal longer. There are no beginner classes at Stanford, where I have been based for the last 18 months. The YMCA and other gyms I contacted either said they didn’t offer anything for adult beginners or just didn’t return my calls and emails. Three private coaches have turned me down, saying they’re too busy and don’t teach team sports. Organizations like “Hook on Hoops” only work with kids. And the aptly-titled “It’s Never Too Late” company that is meant to cater to grownup rookies only operates on the East Coast at the moment, though the owner told me that he used to hold workshops in San Francisco. (That It’s Never Too Late exists at all is a miracle to me and I am on the organization’s mailing list in the hopes that a return to the west might eventually happen.)

In the meantime, I’m shooting hoops and practicing my dribbling skills solo on my neighborhood court two or three times a week, reading up on the sport, watching live games at Stanford and in Oakland, the home of  The Golden State Warriors, gorging on YouTube videos of Larry Bird and Shaquille O’Neal and hoping that I find my way on to a court with real, live teammates and opponents eventually. I don’t quite feel ready to join a pick-up game, as some people have suggested I do. I haven’t ever set foot on a court that had another human being on it, so I don’t think I’m quite ready to play on a team yet, unless it’s a team of equally inept starters.

I mention my hoop woes here at ArtsJournal because it occurs to me that the arts are much more receptive to adult beginners than the major sports are in this country.

If you’re past your teenage years and want to learn to ballet dance, play in a taiko ensemble, join an improv theater troupe, throw pots or make a documentary film, it’s quite easy to do so.

Here in San Francisco organizations like The Community Music Center and ODC Dance Commons are just two of the places where anyone of any age can turn up as a total newbie and pick up enough skills to quite quickly be at ease undertaking their art both on their own and as a group. Even ultra-pro organizations like The San Francisco Symphony — arguably the arts equivalent of the San Francisco Giants — offers playing and singing opportunities for people with no musical experience through its Community of Music-Makers scheme. While participants at the adult beginner level are unlikely to become the next Itzhak Perlman, Matthew Barney or Suzan Lori-Parks, opportunities for mature neophyte art-makers can certainly help people develop competence, exercise creativity and have fun.

So what’s up with the world of basketball then? And is the trouble I’m experiencing unique to this sport, or do adults who want to pick up baseball, football, hockey and other mainstream American sports have similar trouble starting out? Adults deserve to have learning opportunities across a wide array of activities. Learning is a life-long thing after all. This is something that the arts, thankfully, are beginning to understand. Now it’s time for sports to catch up. Here’s to more little leagues for big people.

PS Thanks to Michael Robinson for sending me his interesting article linking basketball to music.

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