How To Get Better At Basketball - The Ultimate GuideNov 21, 2023
Become great at basketball by mastering the necessary physical and mental skills
How do you become a better basketball player? Answering this question has really been my life-long goal. I've been on a never-ending quest to figure out how to improve in basketball and continually take my game to a higher level.
What do I need to work on? What skills do I need to improve? Is there anything else that can give me an edge besides just practicing in the gym every day?
This guide is the culmination of all my research and experience as a player, coach, skills trainer, and now mindset trainer.
What I've discovered is that to become better at basketball, you have to improve your basketball skills, get in shape, and work on your mental game.
In other words, the key to getting better at basketball is to train both physically AND mentally.
And that's because, basketball is a sport that requires a unique combination of physical skills and mental toughness in order to be successful.
Whether you're a beginner or an experienced player looking to improve, this guide will provide you with practical tips to enhance your basketball skills, both physically and mentally, so that you can develop into the best basketball player you can possibly be.
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Improve Your Basketball Skills
The first step to becoming a better basketball player is to enhance your basketball skills (things like shooting, dribbling, finishing, etc). Here are some tips for improving the first characteristic of a great player: your on-the-court skills.
Master The Fundamentals
To excel in basketball, mastering the fundamental skills of the game is critical.
Here are the main skills for basketball that are the foundation of any great player:
- while moving
- midrange + 3 pointers
- dribble moves (crossover, through-the-legs, spin move, etc)
- dribbling under pressure
- creating separation
- finishing off 1 foot, finishing off 2 feet
- chest, bounce, overhead passes
- taking charges
- defensive stance (staying low, on the balls of your feet)
- boxing out
- tracking shots/anticipating misses
Practice these skills regularly. As with anything, the more you practice, the better you'll get.
Be patient and continue to work hard even if you feel like you aren't improving that much or you hit a wall.
Some skills (like shooting) can be hard to master. Don't let that discourage you or shake your confidence.
Keep practicing and with lots of repetition and time, you will get better as an offensive player and defensive player.
Ways To Improve Your Basketball Skills
Here are some more tips for how to improve your game:
1. Proper Technique + Repetition = Improvement
To get better at any of the skills I mentioned above, all it takes is practicing with proper technique over and over and over again.
With time and repetition, you will improve.
Keep this in mind as you work on your game and draw confidence from the fact that you will eventually improve if you stay persistent. Remember that struggle, off-days, or setbacks are all part of the process of getting better.
If you are a young basketball player or you're not sure if you're using proper technique, watch YouTube videos, consult one of your coaches, or maybe hire a local skills trainer to help you out.
2. Game Scenarios At Game Speed
If you're wondering, "What drills should I do to improve my basketball fundamentals?"... a good rule of thumb is to practice your skills in the context of a game scenario.
For example, when working on your shooting, practice shots that you would take in a game. If you're working on your ballhandling skills, work on a dribble move or change-of-speed move and combine it with a certain type of finish like a layup or a floater. Or, when doing dribbling drills have someone act as a defensive player and try to steal the ball from you.
The second part to this is practicing at game speed. It's not always possible to simulate the high speed of a real basketball game, but to the best of your ability, always practice at full speed so that when you get in a fast-paced game you are comfortable.
3. Get A Little Better Every Day
To improve in basketball, you have to put in the time.
The more (high quality) reps you get in, the better a player you'll become. Ideally, it's important to practice every day in order to maximize your basketball development.
Work on some part of your game each day so that you make improvement - even if it's just a small amount of improvement - tiny bits of improvement each day eventually lead to something great.
Players who continue to improve their basketball skills in some way every day are the ones that eventually separate themselves from other players.
Sometimes life happens though and you can't hit the gym for whatever reason. In that case, make sure you get better in another way.
Check out some of the tips below on improving your mental game so that you still get better in some way even if you can't make it to the gym.
When you're willing to work hard, not only will you improve your basic skills for basketball, but you'll increase your confidence in your abilities too.
Read also: What Is The Mamba Mentality? >>
4. Improve Your Weaknesses
To become the best player you can be, it's important to analyze your game for weaknesses and aim to turn those weaknesses into strengths.
This requires a certain level of self-awareness and also the willingness to put your ego aside and really view your basketball abilities for what they are. Your weaknesses will help teach you where you need to get better.
In what areas of your game do you need to improve? Where can you be better? Do you need to improve your shooting or increase your dribbling skills with your weak-hand?
There's no need to judge or criticize yourself for these weaknesses in your game, just use that knowledge as motivation to work on those things and transform them into strengths.
Don't forget to keep in mind the things you do well too and continue to work on those things. Having an awareness of your strengths and weaknesses is how you continue to evolve as a player.
5. Play Against Stronger Opponents
Playing against stronger players will expose you to different playing styles and force you to think and react faster or in different ways on the court.
Finally, playing against stronger competition will show you what areas of your game you need to improve in order to take the next step as a player.
Read also: The 24 Best Kobe Bryant Mamba Mentality Quotes >>
Get in Peak Physical Condition
Basketball is a physically demanding sport that requires strength, agility, and endurance. To become a better player, it's important to work on these things in addition to your basketball skills we just talked about above.
Try to incorporate strength and conditioning workouts into your routine at least 3-5 times per week. This will help you build the foundation for a long and healthy career by helping you to avoid injury too.
Increasing your upper body strength and core stability helps you deal with contact.
This is especially helpful when trying to score around the rim. There will certainly be contact. Strength helps you absorb that contact and still finish strong.
Really any upper body workout or core workout is helpful for basketball.
Lower body work is also important. Basketball players need to have strong legs because of all the cutting, changing direction, and lateral movement that is required in the game of basketball.
Here are some lower body exercises that specifically help basketball players:
- single leg RDL's
Conditioning and Endurance
Basketball can be an exhausting sport. The length of games plus the stop/start nature of it makes it demanding on the body. You need to be in tip-top shape so you can play longer without getting fatigued.
Another part of being a good player is even if you are feeling fatigued, still being able to play at a high level while tired. This is why building endurance is so important.
Some players like to run on the track or treadmill, some like to use the bike. Whichever piece of equipment you prefer to use to get in shape, the one thing that's critical is that you use the HIIT method or high intensity interval training.
Basketball is just like HIIT, there's a lot of stopping and starting. Running for 10 minutes straight is a different kind of "in shape" then playing basketball for 10 minutes straight.
So when doing cardio to improve conditioning, add a "stop-start" component. For example, if you're running on the treadmill run at full speed for 30 seconds, then jog or even walk for 10 seconds. Then go right back to running full speed for 30 seconds, and then jog or walk for another 10 seconds.
Keep repeating this until you hit your desired workout time. You can apply this same concept to the bike or the elliptical or track, whichever you prefer.
With all that said, the best way to get in basketball shape outside of playing games or pickup is, in my opinion, to incorporate cardio into your skill workouts. That way, you use your time on the court to work on two things at once.
For example, when you practice shooting, add sprints in between drills, or in between sets of shots. If you're working on spot-up shooting let's say, you could make 10 shots at the corner and then sprint up and down the court before moving onto your next spot.
Working on your skills and your conditioning at the same time helps you maximize your time. Personally, I never do any form of cardio outside of basketball. I only do cardio as part of my skill workouts like in the example I just gave.
Speed, Agility, and Plyometrics
Speed, agility, and leaping ability aren't completely necessary to be a great basketball player (looking at you Nikola Jokic), but they definitely help in some ways.
Speed and agility help you score more by making it easier for you to blow by your defenders, and they help you on defense to move laterally and keep up with your opponent, or sprint back in transition just to name a few examples.
Vertical jump ...well, I'm sure you know how that helps offensively...as for defense, it helps you with rebounding.
Here are some exercises that will help you in these areas:
- ladder exercises
- box jumps
- squat/lunge jumps
Work On Your Mental Game
As I've alluded to already, basketball is not just a physical game. Sure, you need to have the talent and master your basketball fundamentals. You have to be able to shoot, dribble, pass, etc. And you need to be in peak physical condition in order to play at a high level.
But the other piece of the basketball puzzle is the mental side. The mental side is just as, if not more important than the physical side.
You can have all the athleticism and skill in the world, but what happens when you're having an off-day? What happens when you're in a shooting slump? Or your team just lost 5 games in a row?
Do you have the confidence, the resilience, the mental toughness, the focus to bounce back. Are you mentally strong to get through those tough times or challenges. That's where the mental aspect comes in to play.
You can be a great shooter, but can you knock down shots when the game is on the line and everyone's watching and there's a ton of pressure on you? That's where the mental aspect comes into play.
In order to be a great basketball player, you have to work on your mental game. Here are 4 ways you can work on your mental game and sharpen your mental skills.
Read also: How to Mentally Train for Basketball >>
1. Practice Positive Self-Talk
Your thoughts and beliefs have a massive influence on your performance on the court.
Negative thoughts like doubt or fear make it harder to play well. They make you less likely to succeed.
On the flip side, positive thoughts full of belief and confidence in yourself make it easier to play well. And they make you more likely to succeed on the court.
To improve as a basketball player, become aware of the thoughts you tend to have while playing.
Do you believe in yourself? Do you have confident, positive thoughts while playing? Or do you tend to think negatively and have doubt in yourself or have fear in certain situations?
Take notice next time you're on the court. It's important to learn and become aware of the thoughts and beliefs you tend to have.
There's no need to judge yourself for these, just notice them. And then whenever you notice yourself thinking negatively, replace that thought with a more positive one.
Keep doing this process whenever necessary. Practicing positive self-talk like this will increase your performance and chance for success on the court.
Guided Meditation: 25 Positive Self-Talk Affirmations For Before a Game >>
2. Practice Meditation
Meditation helps you in basketball in a variety of ways. It can help you:
- improve focus, concentration, and ability to "lock-in"
- shoot at a higher percentage
- help you become more consistent
- play with more confidence
- play better and with more poise under pressure
To help you with basketball, try meditating for 5-10 minutes each day. Here's how:
What to do:
- close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath
- pay attention to each inhale and each exhale
- try not to let your mind wander, but if it does that's ok, just bring your attention right back to your breath
- do this for 5-10 minutes either at home before the game, or on the bus or in the locker room
If you're interested in learning more about meditation and its benefits for basketball players you can check out the resources linked below:
3. Visualize Your Success
Like meditation, visualization is another powerful exercise for improving your mental game and basketball performance.
Visualization is when you close your eyes and you imagine yourself doing something in your mind's eye.
In basketball terms, it means closing your eyes and picturing yourself playing basketball, imagining yourself on the court practicing or playing in a game.
For example, you could close your eyes and imagine yourself practice dribbling and shooting. Or you could picture yourself at the free-throw line making free throws in a pressure situation or hitting a game-winning shot.
Studies have shown that getting mental reps through visualization is an effective
What to do:
- close your eyes and imagine yourself either practicing a certain skill or playing in a game
- imagine yourself playing well (making shots, making layups, playing good defense, etc)
- also imagine yourself being confident and fearless while you play
Pro tip: Add a quick 5 minutes of visualization to the end of your meditation while you are already in a relaxed state of mind.
Visualization Exercise: Manifest the Basketball Career of Your Dreams >>
4. Read Positive Affirmations
Affirmations are powerful statements that you read or say to yourself that help you program your mind. They are used to help you rewire your mindset to be more positive, confident, fearless, grateful, etc.
Reading affirmations every day is an easy
- I am a great basketball player.
- No one can guard me.
- I am fully confident in my basketball abilities
- I believe every shot I take is going in
- I play with zero hesitation
- I do not fear failure
Affirmations are one of the easiest
More on affirmations:
- 25 Basketball Affirmations For Before A Game: Read | Repeat Affirmations in a Guided Meditation Format >>
- 21 Affirmations to Increase Your Shooting Confidence: Read | Guided Meditation >>
For a deeper dive into your basketball mental game, you might like: the complete online mental skills training program >>
Improve Your Basketball IQ
The final piece of getting better at basketball is to improve your basketball IQ.
Basketball IQ refers to a player's understanding of the game, including reading the defense, making smart decisions, and anticipating plays.
When you have a high basketball IQ, you have a high-level of court awareness - you're able to read the play that's happening as it unfolds and react correctly by making the right play.
Here's how to improve your basketball IQ:
- get lots of playing experience - the more you play, the more you'll recognize different basketball scenarios and know how to appropriately navigate them
- study the basics - learn about offensive and defensive concepts and strategies
- watch a lot of basketball - study professional basketball games and analyze the techniques and strategies used by top players. Pay attention to their footwork, positioning, and decision-making
- watch full games
- watch video breakdowns on YouTube about basketball X's and O's or skill breakdowns
- watch player interviews to get an idea of their decision-making and also their mindset
By enhancing your basketball IQ, you'll be able to make better decisions and play at a higher level on the court. You'll learn how to give yourself more ways you can score and increase your ability to have a bigger impact on the game.
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