8 Ways to Improve Your Basketball Skills
When implementing the following tips into your practice routine, remember that hard work and consistency are the keys to seeing results in your game.
- Prioritize ball control. Developing stronger dribbling skills is the easiest way to become a better basketball player. To work on this skill, start in a centered athletic position: keep your nose behind your toes and your hips loaded without leaning your body forward. The key to ball handling is balance: keep your body static and in an athletic position, and move the ball around your body. When handling the ball, dribble aggressively and to the side of your foot, maintaining a bounce height that reaches between your knee and hip. Dribbling at that sweet spot keeps the ball near your shot pocket, helping you become a more efficient shooter. The more power you put behind each dribble, the more control you’ll have over the ball. Practice dribbling with both hands during your daily practice. You should also work on mastering three basic ball-handling moves: the crossover, between the legs, and behind the back. Once you build a solid foundation with these moves, create combination dribbles that you can utilize during games. You can use your new dribbling skills to beat defenders and create open jump shots for yourself.
- Identify and improve your weak spots. To become a better player, you need to focus on improving your weaknesses. For example, if you struggle at the free-throw line, dedicate more time in your practice sessions to improving your free throw percentage. Are you comfortable dribbling with your non-dominant hand? If not, use dribbling drills to improve your ball handling with that hand. To become an elite player, you'll need to identify and eliminate your flaws so that you're well-rounded in all aspects of the game.
- Practice at game speed. Any player can use good form during solo dribbling or shooting sessions, but it can be challenging to maintain that form during a game when the pressure is on, and fans are cheering in the stands. If you excel during daily practice sessions but dribble poorly and take bad shots in a real game, there's a good chance you're not practicing at game speed. When practicing your basketball skills alone, pretend that defensive players are guarding you to help you mimic the pace of a game. Defenders won't give you several seconds to plant your feet and slowly follow through with your shooting motion, so when taking practice shots (or doing any practice drill), move at a game-time pace. Otherwise, all the hours you spent practicing may not translate come game time.
- Improve your physical fitness. Basketball players need good endurance to run the court for an entire game. Even if you master fundamental basketball skills, you can’t use these skills to help your team if you're struggling to keep up after five minutes of play. To build endurance for the court, you need to go on light runs, hit the weight room to gain some muscle, and perform wind sprint drills on a daily basis. Implementing these endurance-building exercises into your daily routine will increase your stamina on the court. The added muscle mass will allow you to become a more aggressive player and take your game to the next level.
- Work on your lower body shooting mechanics. A great shooter relies on solid mechanics, and every part of their body must work together to form the foundation of their shots. Every good shot begins in the lower body. Begin by pointing your toes in the same direction, first squaring them with the rim, and then working through practice to find the most natural stance for your body. Your legs give you power and consistency, so load your lower body by pushing the arches of your feet into the floor. Keeping your knees behind your toes, concentrate on letting power and energy flow from your feet up through your hips and glutes. Square your toes, knees, and shoulders, and remember to flex your legs on every shot. To practice your lower body mechanics, stand in front of a mirror without a ball. Focus on your foot positioning and lower body alignment, loading your hips, bringing your shooting hand up through your eyebrow in a clean line, and releasing with your elbow above your eye and a gooseneck finish.
- Practice your hand alignment on the ball. Hand positioning is key to becoming a consistent shooter: it affects the feel, proper spin, connection, and control through your release. To find a proper hand position, place your dominant hand’s index finger on the ball’s air valve. Take a few form shots to get used to the centered feel of this position. Always hold the ball with your finger pads, leaving some breathing room between the ball and your palm. As you line up your shot, aim your eyes at the two or three rim hooks facing you, and think about dropping the ball just over the front of the rim. A higher release point makes it harder for a defender to interfere with your shot. As you release the ball, keep your elbow and wrist in line with the basket, extending your arm fully so that your elbow ends above your eye at the point of release. To practice hand alignment, put the index finger of your shooting hand on the basketball's air valve and let the ball rest in your hand to feel the center of the ball. Standing just a few feet from the basket, take 10 shots, finding the air valve first. Then take 10 more shots finding the ball’s center with your hand, without searching for the air valve.
- Watch more college basketball games. The NBA is exciting and fun to watch, but young players who tune in hoping to learn more about the game of basketball won't find much to apply to their own team’s gameplay. The NBA utilizes a short 24-second shot clock that provides little time to run offensive plays, and players instead rely more on individual athleticism than teamwork. On the other hand, college basketball has a longer shot clock and emulates the more traditional playing style used by high school and youth teams. If you want to study the fundamentals of team basketball play, watch how college basketball teams move the ball around the court and create scoring opportunities.
- Work on creating space from your defender. Scoring against a defender is all about forcing them to make a decision, then reacting to that decision. Pay attention to your defender’s feet, hands, and nose: their positioning can indicate how you should handle the ball and give you opportunities to create space using jabs, jab steps, and crossovers. Use your shoulder against your defender’s chest to leverage more space, making your body a shield between your defender and the ball. A pull dribble is a simple tool for making defenders react, so you can read them and counter. If you pull dribble and your defender doesn’t guard you tightly enough, you can use a plyo step to explode past them. If the defender squares you up, you can step back into space to shoot. If the defender overcommits, you can counter and beat him or her in the opposite direction. When creating space from a tight defender, focus on these three goals: disrupting their balance, protecting the ball, and creating a driving lane to the basket.
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