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I saw my friend's six-year-old son playing on this door mini basketball hoop alone at home. It came to me, "Is it right to call this playing basketball in English?" at the same time I thought of some who go around the yard having a basketball while bouncing it against the ground like they're dribbling with no hoop around. "Can I call this playing basket ball?"

And while we're on it, I'm also interested in a possible word to describe the occassion when two players play on one hoop together. Is it simply basketball, too?

I thought maybe I can call these three descriptions practicing basketball but I'm not sure and I think practicing implies there is a game ahead and they're getting ready for it or something, plus I really would like to know how native speakers naturally describe these in English. Also I thought of playing hoops I checked it and hoops means basketball so I'm back to square 1.

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    You've got a problem here because play can mean "amuse oneself" and also "compete in a sport". You could say that the child is playing at basketball, or playing with a basketball. – Mick Dec 19 '16 at 8:33
  • @Mick interesting, I didn't look at it that way. so the one with a basketball dribbling also can be described as playing with a basketball, am I right? what about the third cotext with two players on one hoop? any suggestion? – Yuri Dec 19 '16 at 8:54
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    If you are practicing dribbling, etc, then you are simply "practicing basketball", or "doing basketball practice", or even "practicing ball control". If you are playing competitively against someone else, then are definitely playing some game, whatever it may be called. – Mick Dec 19 '16 at 8:59
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Usually when on

plays a sport

one of the important objects is to keep score, in situations when there is no score it is usually considered "practice".

In your examples, the six year old is

playing with a basketball
His son was playing with a basketball in the backyard.

the case where someone is bouncing a basketball without any other intent is merely

dribbling a basketball
He was dribbling a basketball while walking down the street.

In the case where two people are shooting at the same basket, if they are playing a game against each other, it is called

a one-on-one game

an official basketball game has five players on each side, but games may consist of any number of players, but usually no greater than "five a side". If they are both shooting at the same basket then they may only be

practicing their shots

You are correct, a nickname for basketball is "hoops" this is because a ball one tries to get the basketball through a "hoop"

People can "practice" any number of things (dancing, singing, basketball) without any future intent, but merely for the fun of it!

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Your six-year old is "shooting hoops." Which is the most common expression for playing basketball in an informal manner.

You can shoot hoops alone or with friends, but it usually implies that you are not engaged in a formal game, or in rigorous practice.

"Playing basketball" is acceptable because it's understood that a six year old is not in a real game.

It's more appropriate for the situation described than "practicing" because the child's goal is apparently fun as opposed to improvement. It's better than "dribbling" which specifically describes bouncing the ball, and it's better that "playing with a basketball" which refers to any type of play that uses a basketball (and not necessarily a hoop), such as spinning it on one's finger or throwing it at one's little sibling.

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