As with all sports, to get better at basketball you really need to practice. That being said, there are a number of ways to help you use that practice time to make quick progress and really turn up the heat on your game in a minimal amount of time. The following tips, tricks and thoughts are designed to get both your body and your head in the right place to really up your game on the court.
Ok, so I’m going to start off with what I think is kind of a cheap trick but that being said, everyone can use some time up close and personal with the net to improve those under-the-rim area shots. It can take a bit of time to take a shot from the three, go retrieve the ball and and then get back to the three point line to take another shot. Practicing threes takes a bit of time if you don’t have someone feeding the ball back to you. But you can make 5 shots in the same amount of time when your close to the basket.
If your not great under the net this is one of the quickest things to work on that will really up your game quickly thanks to the sheer volume of shots you can take. Just stand there and focus on good form and getting your hands up as close to the rim as possible with every shot.
I like to do 100 bank shots each from 2, 4 and 6 feet away on a bit of an angle in a single practice. It takes some time but I try to keep focus and form the entire time.
I think when I began playing, I under appreciated the amount of skill that you could introduce to your game just by simply being a fast runner. Working on your stamina and cardio will give you the energy you need to make fast breaks and really move from one end of the court to the other with breakneck speed.
Sometimes better speed comes with better form. Work on the dynamics of running and practice them so that they become part of you, part of your muscle memory. This will help you ditch old, bad, slow habits in exchange for proper movements and a better running foundation that will give you that added boost your looking for.
There is No Substitute for Practice
Sorry, you all knew this one was coming. It just can’t be avoided. You need to put in the time. Now if you really love basketball you won’t mind one bit putting in the time. Though it does get a little harder to be motivated when you are going strictly to work on some specific parts of your game rather than just playing a game of pickup but trying to imagine yourself playing a game while your practicing can take the edge off a bit.
The bottom line really is that someone who practices will ultimately be better than someone who doesn’t with the exception of natural born talent but I have seen many a player go from terrible to really good over the course of a year when playing regularly.
If you have trouble getting out there than treat your practices like workouts (which they really are anyway) and create a schedule. Mark down what aspects of your game your going to work on that day and then stick to it religiously.
That brings me to my next point…
Basketball has evolved over the last hundred plus years and has become a sport where strength can really boost your performance. Leg days and arm days will make all the difference when it comes to your vertical leap and your ability to out-rebound your opponent.
Strength training is important in any sport you play and can really reduce the amount of injuries you sustain. Take the time to schedule your workouts and really put some effort and focus into tailoring them for basketball. Interestingly however, just having legs like a horse doesn’t mean your going to have a striking vertical jump. You still have to do the work on the court to figure out the rhythm and form you need to get your body up high enough to dunk or even get near the rim.
Focus On Quality Over Quantity
It’s really not enough to hit the court and stand in the same spot and shoot hundreds of balls. Yes that does help but you can get so much more from moving and grooving as you shoot. The number of times in a game where you have the time to stop, line up the shot, calculate the wind resistance, account for the curvature of the earth and make the shot is few and far between.
In a real game you could be going from a full tilt run to a dead stop, popping up into the air and releasing at the peak of your jump and hopefully doing so with the grace of a swan. This is what you do in a real game so why not practice the things you do in a real game?
When you shoot a three, don’t just stand at the three point line a shoot. Start with your back to the hoop and pivot, then shoot. It’s just a bit more realistic.
When your playing one-on-one don’t concentrate on winning, focus instead on your release, your posture, your ball handling.
I can’t stress how important it is to practice good form, AT ALL TIMES!
Work the Court in Practice
I see this all the time. Someone has a sweet spot on the court. Maybe they excel at free throws so the majority of their shots go of from the free throw line or maybe they are a three point champ and take three points like the game depended on it.
If you find yourself doing this, stop! Mix it up. You will have a much stronger game if you can make that ball drop from multiple areas of the court and you will be much harder to guard if you can be unpredictable. I know that means giving up some points at first that you might have made from your safe space but expand your horizons and don’t be afraid to get taken to the cleaners in the name of improvement.
Another benefit to moving about is that you will confuse your shooting muscle memory. It can become second nature hitting two points from the top of the key but you want it to become second nature to hit that shot from anywhere on the court.
Try dividing the court into 3 areas. Left, middle and right. Now mix those three area up as you shoot while playing two-on-two or three-on-three (assuming your not playing some sort of zone set up). It may help confuse your opponent a bit as a bonus.
Don’t miss any areas of the court during practice. Hit your threes from the sides near the baseline. It’s a tricky shot to master but if you do, it can get you out of a lot of sticky situations. Don’t forget about that slightly weird, off angle shot, just back and to the side of the free throw line.
Bring Your "A" Game to Practice
We all have our off days. Maybe we were up late or maybe we are doing an early morning practice. That’s all good but don’t let that stop your progress. If you don’t feel like practicing one day, change things up.
Go for a run and get things pumping before practice starts. Just getting moving can turn an early morning slump into a great warm up. Or skip the practice (not too often though) and hit the weights instead. Just do something to keep the momentum up.
Warm up with some Barry Manilow! Ok, maybe not Barry but get the tunes pumping and work to the beat. It will help you zone-in on the practice and get your head in the right space.
Playing ball with other people when your mad or upset is not usually a good idea but practicing mad is great! It can really help relieve tension and pressure from the day or week. Basketball in itself can help you forget for a while, your challenges and give you a bit of a break.
Playing angry can also bring another dimension to the practice that you may not otherwise get in a game and that anger can get the adrenaline moving inside you at higher rate than just a regular day. You may find that extra little bit of adrenaline helps you jump a little higher.
Don’t be lazy when you play. Use that time to work and hustle. Your not there to just shoot around. If I play with someone who’s not really into the practice that much we end up spending more time talking than really shooting with purpose. In that case I can get a better workout on my own than I can with someone who doesn’t feel like getting their heart rate up at all.
Determination is key to quickly improving your game and no one can be determined for you. It’s all on you. If you fail because you didn’t want it enough, well that’s on you unfortunately.
Take it one practice at a time and remember before each practice that one determined and focused practice is worth ten lazy ones. Putting out the effort consistently will help you progress not just in your game but your attitude, your cardio, your strength and your stamina.
Be a Better You Each Day, Not Better Than Someone Else
The number one mistake players make when trying to get better at any sport is comparing themselves to others. Yes you want to be better than others, that’s the competitive side of the sport speaking to you but that will come on its own naturally as you focus on being better today than you were yesterday. Focus on improving yourself each day and you will actually improve yourself each day until you are better than others, that’s just the way it works.
Watch NCAA/NBA Games
Need a new move? Maybe some motivation? The NCAA games are where it’s at. Top athletes competing for a the NBA and working their tails off to get there. I prefer the NCAA to the NBA because I find that it feels like they are trying to impress the scouts to make the leap into the pros. They also seem to have a greater love for the game at this point.
That being said, don’t watch too much TV! You really want to be playing the sport not watching it. I find there are tons of people who know every player, score and coach on every team but put an actual ball in their hands and it might as well be a brick. Be a player, not a spectator.
Watch for smart plays that solve a specific problem. A turn that gets a player out of a pinch. A tricky pass at the right time that sets up his or her teammate. Watch their crossovers and dribbling moves and remember them. Mimic them in practice. And if you can’t quite get them than go back and watch replays on youtube to help you figure out and master the technique.
Play Pick-Up With a Purpose
Pick up games are the best! You make new friends, meet new people and best of all, steal other players moves! I doubt there are many players that wouldn’t be happy to teach you a move you like of theirs. I can’t think of a better compliment to be given then to have someone ask me to show them how I did “that” move. Some of my favorite moves are from others I’ve watched and copied.
Playing with strangers gives you greater experience with a wider variety of player types and can help you hone your techniques.
Don’t focus on winning, focus on the technique while in a situation with a little pressure. Besides, the more you play, the better you get. Extra games are always a good thing.
Take a Personal Day
It’s ok to be a loner once in a while. To take time to focus. You don’t need others to get good with stationary shots, work on your layup or really spend some time on your ball handling.
Personal time will allow you to focus on any weaknesses and use repetitive moves without boring others. Sometimes there is a new move we’ve been dying to work on and if you aren’t sure your ready to let others watch as you fail miserably trying it out this will give you space to fail on your own until you get it.
Another important reason to go solo is to commune with the game and really develop a personal relationship with it. If you never play alone than when you do you will notice your love for the game really grow during these workout sessions. It will become more a part of your day to day life.
Play With Players That Are Better Than You
This is by far the MOST important tip you can learn here. This will improve your game almost over night. Well maybe not overnight but crazy fast. Stop looking for players you know you can beat and find the ones you can’t and stick with them until you can.
The idea is that you up your game by upping your competition. Your creating an atmosphere of greater challenge and by doing so “Challenge” becomes the norm and you will get used to overcoming it. You will learn ways play better under pressure.
They say that if you want to be rich, surround yourself with rich people and learn from them. The same can be said for sports. Watching others with better form and taking notes will improve your game massively.
Focus on your technique at all times. You can make leaps and bounds improving your game if you work on improving your techniques. Get that basketball shot just right and make it repeatable. Make it second nature and you will gain confidence and beat out the competition.
Again, there really is no substitute for daily practice but hopefully these ideas will help get you thinking out of the box a bit and help you improve your game a bit quicker than you would if you just went to the court and shot around.