Basketball in Madrid

Simon Wallace headshot
Simon Wallace
December 15, 2023
Pacifico park

Going into my semester abroad, I was interested to see if the style of basketball played in Spain differed from that of America. The contrast in the pick-up games I’ve played here in Madrid versus back home wasn’t as stark as I was expecting, and I didn’t necessarily notice any differences as soon as I stepped on the court for the first time. That being said, after a few months of being here there are a few tendencies I’ve noticed in Spanish basketball games that I don’t see in America.

For one, the physicality is a bit more restrained. I was even told a couple of times that I was being too aggressive on defense. And it’s true that I was, but that’s typically something I’m used to being congratulated for as opposed to criticized. Players also call out when they are fouled much more here, sometimes even yelling out “Falta!” because of a light brush on the arm. I’m personally pretty anti-calling-out-fouls-during-pick-up-games, so I struggled to capitalize on the Spaniards’ liberal use of this judicial freedom. They don’t completely disallow physicality, though, as they’re quite sturdy and stubborn when it comes to boxing out for a rebound, and on offense they lower and drive their shoulder into the defender with a lot of force. In fact, for as much as they call out fouls on defense, I never once saw someone call an offensive foul. For how strict they are about defensive fouling, they are quite lenient when it comes to letting the offensive player be physical. 

I’ve also found that the stereotype of Euro ball consisting of better shot selection than America holds true. They don’t take many of the statistically inefficient mid-range shots, but they do take about the same amount of three-pointers—albeit it with seemingly less accuracy (some of the Madrid locals’ shooting mechanics are even a bit wonky and catapult-like). So then, where does their efficiency come in? They get a lot of easy looks at the basket because they’re a bit more team oriented. For one, the ball movement and passing is better. There’s better screen-setting, disciplined spacing, and more timely cutting. This all creates easy looks at the rim. To add, while I haven’t found players here to be more athletic, I do think they’re a little more quick-footed and decisive moving off-ball. All of these traits can make it extremely tough to guard sometimes, and I think this is really where Spain’s strong roots in soccer starts to show.

Basketball is always capable of devolving into an individualistic sport, but here in Spain they do try to make it a little more selfless. The inefficient pull-up jumper isn’t glorified like in America, and I certainly feel a little self-aware when I take those mid-rangers. In America, you sometimes find people guilty of playing “hero ball,” and that just isn’t the case as often here in Spain.

There is one final thing I’ve learned—or was reminded of—while playing basketball in a foreign country. A sport, like basketball, has a special ability to form even a superficial connection with someone without any words being exchanged, and that’s something I knew I could count on as I entered Madrid with essentially zero Spanish-speaking skills. Even if you’re not the most skilled, playing hard and simply caring goes a long way in gaining the respect and admiration of people that may not speak the same language as you. So, if you find yourself studying abroad in a foreign country and are unable to speak the local language, maybe try speaking basketball—or any team sport you like.

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Simon Wallace headshot

Simon Wallace

I'm from Williamsport, Pennsylvania and I am a senior at Penn State University studying computer science. I enjoy being physically active, whether that's organized sports, going to the gym, or just spending time outdoors.

2023 Fall
Home University:
Penn State University
Computer Science
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