How to Improve Passing in Basketball

Improving passing in basketball comes down to understanding the basics of a pass. To understanding the rudimentary pieces that go into completing a successful pass and to knowing those techniques inside and out.

Basketball is a multifaceted game with so many areas of skill needed to truly be a good player, but most areas pale in comparison to proper passing. Getting the ball from one player to another is as important part of the game and it may be even more important than dribbling. 

As simple a task as it may seem to be, there really is a skill set required to master it and to play as a real team. In this article we’ll touch on some ways to help you improve passing in basketball and increase your skill set.

Man holding basketball in both hands

Passing involves one player passing to another so it really makes the most sense to work in pairs to have someone to pass back and forth too. That being said, if your in a real bind you can also use a wall for bounce passing practice and chest passing. I don’t like it as much but it’s better than nothing.

Practice in Game Situations

Use a pickup game setting to work on your passing. Without overdoing it, concentrate on making smooth passes back and forth to each other working your way up the court to the net. Let shooting and scoring become a secondary focus. You may end up losing the ball in some normally preventable turnovers and you may also lose the game but don’t worry about that. Worry about your technique and take a technically well played game as a win instead. 

There is no room in basketball for ego. Congratulate the other players for winning and feel good that you got in some practice time that may help you when it’s actually important. Competition time.

Build Muscle

Two men exercising

Muscle building in your arms can really make a big difference in your passing speed and give you a competitive edge over other players. Here are a couple exercises to throw into your workout routine to help with this.

Plank to Pushup

    • Start with your forearms on the floor underneath your torso.
    • Keep your legs straight and feet together.
    • Push your body most of the way up into a push up pose with one hand and then use your second hand to push the rest of your body up and lock your arms.
    • Now lower your body back down into the starting position one forearm at a time.
    • Repeat

Dips

    • Sitting on a bench or chair, place the palms of both hands on the either side of you.
    • Lock your arms.
    • Place both feet on the floor in front of you and slightly further away than a normal sitting position.
    • Using your arms as support and without moving your feet, move your body away from the chair or bench so that your body is suspended. This is your starting position.
    • Now bending your legs and arms, dip your hips towards the floor in an almost backwards push up.
    • Use your arms to push yourself back up into the starting position.
    • Repeat

Watch Your Distance

If you’re new to the game and just beginning to get the passing techniques down, be mindful of the distance between you and the person your passing to. This is actually a bit challenging to get right at first. You need to learn what level of strength you have and how that translate into passing distance. And don’t forget that you need a little speed behind your passes so they are not easily picked off in a game.

Passing Requires Practice

I really struggle to understand a coach that doesn’t take a practice now and again to drill down on passing techniques. Getting a team to work in unison is no simple task and passing can really be the skill that brings you together or pulls your team apart.

Keep Passes Simple

Woman basketball players passes basketball

Don’t complicate your passing. I have seen so many basketball players make fancy passes trying to showboat their talents only to have the ball stolen from right under their noses. 

This happens in dribbling as well. If the same pass can be made using a front pass as it can by an around-the-back pass than take the front pass. It will be a safer bet and will allow your teammate ample time to react. It may also be a shorter path to the player; decreasing the amount of time the ball is in the air and away from your team. 

For every moment the ball is airborne that is one more moment or opportunity for the opposing team to intercept the ball. Make good and smart passes and you’ll be on the winning side all day long.

Pass Like a Team

“Don’t worry about holding high position; worry rather about playing your proper role” –Confucius [1]

Remember that passing is not just a way to get yourself out of a tight spot or to get the ball up the court more quickly. It’s also a technique or a tool to be used to really bring your team together. Basketball can be a solo sport as well as a team sport. Having a ball hog on the team can bring down the moral of the group really fast. 

Take the time to emphasize the importance of passing when talking to your team as a group. There is no room for a one-man show. Help them realize that it’s the key to winning. Teach them how to build those “one-person-show-boats” into a monster of a team ready to battle anyone.

Concentrate on the Two Basic Passes

Focus your energy on perfecting the two most basic passes. The chest pass and the bounce pass. These two passes are the basis to a winning game. Spending valuable time on passes that are only used now and again is something that should be reserved for teams that have truly mastered the basics. If the team struggles at all with bounce and chest passes they will have difficulty playing in sync with each other.

Chest Pass

Man passing basketball on basketball court

Photo by: Jenn Vargas

Begin by working on chest passes. Grab a ball and hold it at chest height with hands spread wide on either side. Try to almost palm the ball on both sides with your fingers pointing forward and your thumbs at the back of the ball. Bring the ball into you so that it’s almost touching your chest. Look at the eyes of the player you are going to pass to and ensure that she or he knows the ball is coming. Now push the ball away from you towards the player at a decent speed. Not so fast that they can’t catch it but not so slow that it won’t get to them. 

Repeat this process over and over at different distances between you and your team mate until you get a good feel for how hard you need to pass.

Bounce Pass

Bounce passing is just as it sounds. Simply passing the ball by bouncing it off the ground and into the hands of the other player. This is an effective pass when trying to get around a player who’s guarding you. It forces them to get much closer to the ground than they may like to make any effort to intercept the pass. It also adds dimension to your passing so that you are less predictable. A valuable asset when trying to fake out your opposition. 

Bounce the ball slightly closer to your teammate than to yourself. Trial and error will dictate the appropriate distance as it’s really a feel that you get to be more comfortable with as you practice. 

With experience and time you will become proficient at knowing where to bounce the ball so that it gets to your player at the right moment and with the right force almost every time.

Think About the Receiver

I think it’s important that players remember that there is always two sides to every pass the thrower and the catcher. It takes great skill to make difficult and instinctive passes but it’s even more difficult to foresee the proper catch of those passes by the other player. 

If I bounce pass a ball behind my back to a teammate with some serious force while she’s being aggressively guarded and the ball messily gets to her is that a good pass? Maybe if that’s the only pass but more likely I was taking far too many risks and would have been better off slowing the play down.  I need to wait until I see a real and smart opening, then pass. That sought after opening should not involve a hope and a prayer. 

My teammate will not be happy with me if I pass to her or him in a way that puts them in an immediately difficult situation. Take the time to think about the receiving side of the pass.

Remember that the goal of a pass is to have your teammate catch it. Aim to have your pass reach them at chest level. This is a comfortable height to catch at and allows the receiver to transition quickly into a dribble or a shot easily.

Focus

As with every aspect of basketball, focus is key. If your thoughts are all over the place your passing will be too. When your struggling to make your passes connect with the desired targets take some time to refocus your mind. Stop thinking about winning or losing and concentrate all your energy on making the next pass count.

When Does Your Team Need to Work on Their Passing?

If you are suffering through a high turnover rate it may be an indication that there is a problem with the team’s ability to work together. It doesn’t mean the team can’t work together, just that they are not in sync and that could very well stem from their ability to read each other’s moves. Working on passing drills helps solve a certain degree of this as it forces players to coordinate to some degree. They gain a better understanding of each others timing and can foster improvement in their ability to communicate on the floor.

Communication

Injured basketball player sitting on the ground

Look for the open man when passing and if you are open for the ball let your teammates know it. Communication on the court is the only way to really play as a single entity. Talking, making eye contact, hand gestures. These are all important so create a non-verbal language that allows you and your team members to signal when your open for a pass and when your not. 

Often communication is in the form of a look or just being away from opposing players. If the communication is not getting through to every player than pause or take the time-out and get that language down for each and every team member. 

Proper on-court communication can also help prevent many injuries including being hit by an unseen ball, running into other players and having to react too quickly to changes in play unnecessarily. 

Receiving the Pass

I could write a whole article just about being ready for the pass but for now, lets just sum it up and say, keep your eyes on the ball. If you have your back to the ball, or your head down, or your in La La Land, than be prepared for a broken nose. 

Remember that it’s not only the responsibility of the player doing the passing to get the job done. He needs competent hands open and waiting for the ball to be passed to them. Be prepared at all times to receive a pass and make every effort you can to catch a wayward ball. Not every pass will be perfect and it can make all the difference if you can quickly react to recover the ball.

Tips

  • When passing the ball make eye contact with the person you are passing to if possible so you know they won’t be receiving the pass in the side of the face.
  • Put your dominant foot forward as you release the pass. This will assist with your balance as well as add power to your pass.
  • My favorite technique for working on passing skills in a team setting is to play a game with zero dribbling. Every effort to move the ball up the court must be done through passing from player to player. this can be tricky but a lot of fun too. It’s one of the more entertaining practices to watch as well. There are a number of variations on this drill but don’t over complicate it. Just get your team passing.
  • Resit the urge to try and make it easier for the player with the ball to pass to you by moving closer. Studies show that this a common habit in youth basketball and it facilitates the defenses work and causes crowding around the ball preventing them from taking advantage of open play area. [2]

Final Thoughts

Proper passing techniques will keep your team working together and on the same page at a more consistent level but it all comes down to spending the time practicing. Yes, this does mean less time for working on more complicated plays but what good are complicated plays if they result in turnovers? Get the basics down pat and work on them continuously and you’ll begin to make the real strides needed to win consistently.

Sources

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