How to Dribble a Basketball

Basketball is a game of many skills, but few are as important as dribbling can be. Knowing how to dribble a basketball as well or better than your competition can be the key to winning your next game. What’s even better is that there are very few items required to practice. A ball and a flat surface. That’s it. So there is really no excuse to not putting in the time to work on one of the key elements to the game.

Player dribbling basketball

Speed

A key element to dribbling is maintaining control of the ball and I don’t just mean controlling where the ball goes and when, I mean keeping possession of the ball at all times. It’s easy for an opposing player to steal the ball if you are slowly dribbling around the court. It can however be very difficult for someone to steal the ball when the ball is moving quickly through the air. The less time the ball is out of your hands, the less opportunity there is to have the ball stolen from you. Your aim should be to minimize the amount of time the ball is out of your hands.

How do you increase your speed when dribbling? Simply bouncing the ball harder will increase your speed but you shouldn’t feel like you’re forcing the ball away from you. You should feel like you are using just a little bit more pressure to increase the momentum of the ball as you crank up the speed.

Another benefit to increasing the speed of your dribbling is in it’s ability to make faking more convincing. There is nothing convincing about a slow fake and you would probably lose the ball rather than open yourself up for a shot or breakaway from the player guarding you. Work on increasing your dribble speed to increase your ability to fake and keep control of the ball.

Rhythm

Basketball is an incredible sport full of skill and technique, but it is also sport of rhythm. It takes timing, consistency and the ability to use those things to your advantage. It is a game that requires an ability to know when to break that rhythm as well and how to use it to your advantage.

 

There is a rhythm to bouncing the ball up and down. You get to know when the ball will return to your hand and and when it feels right to speed up or slow down that rhythm. If you don’t feel the rhythm when you first begin to play or dribble don’t let that discourage you. It can take many hours of trial and error to get the feel for the dribble. Once you do, practice altering that rhythm to get the ball to do what you want, to speed things up or slow things down.

 

Altering the rhythm is useful in preventing the player guarding you from anticipating your next move. If you’re dribbling at a medium pace and then switch to a fast pace to fake out the defense, you allow for a certain amount of surprise which can help you throw the competition off their game momentarily. Upset the rhythm to gain the advantage.

 

We talked earlier about speed and there are definitely times when you want time to slow the rhythm down, when you need to catch your breath and plan out your next move. At these moments you want to make sure the ball is protected. Keep your dribble away from prying hands by putting yourself between the player guarding you and the ball. This is not a super useful technique when your playing a team game but in a one on one scenario, this can be a life saver.

Don't Look at the Ball

In baseball they say to keep your eye on the ball. When it comes to dribbling In basketball things couldn’t be more different. Where should you be looking when you’re dribbling? At the ball? At the floor? Nope, you should be looking at the defense and your teammates.

Get used to looking away from the ball. When you learn to drive a car, they say to be mindful of the fact that you will often drive the car in the direction you are looking. You look to the left and unconsciously you begin to steer towards the left. Eventually you get to the point where you have overcome that natural urge to drive the car in the direction you are looking. The same goes for dribbling. Don’t look at the ball. At the beginning look where you want to take the ball or look at what others are signaling you to do or even just look straight ahead so that you see the court in front of you.

Most important is looking at the person guarding you. You want to be able to predict what they are going to do and the best way to do that is to watch them. If your eyes are on the ball that’s just not going to happen. Use this time to predict their next move and figure out yours.

Get used to having your head do one thing while your hands do something completely different. It takes A LOT of practice to get there but don’t get discouraged. Just make it a habit while your playing and practicing to keep your head up. This is also a safety concern. If you’re constantly looking down at the ball, you are not looking at where you’re going.

Let’s go back to rhythm again for a moment. Try looking at the ball and concentrating on your dribble while keeping a rhythm. It can be very difficult to keep even pressure on the bounce. It almost messes with your head a bit. Looking away from the ball is a much more natural feel after a while and it becomes very easy to feel that rhythm. Even rhythm can be affected by looking at the ball so keep your head up at all times.

Maintain control

Stay calm, keep control. You want to know where that ball is at all times no matter what’s going on around you. Remember, control and speed are intertwined. You can’t have one without the other. The less time the ball is away from your hands the more control you have. The faster you dribble the less time the ball is away from your hands. So that leaves only one conclusion. Speed equals control in many circumstances.

Now let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves with that. If you’re a hot mess of a dribbler on the court and your spending half the game chasing the ball you lost control of than go back and work on rhythm again but if you have the rhythm down and you normally maintain good possession of the ball, take it to the next level and work on your speed.

Some of the best dribblers I’ve seen aren’t good because of tricks or moves they can do. They’re good because they are just ridiculously fast. So fast that it’s near impossible for an average player to take the ball from them on a good day.

Take a good close look at some of the areas where you can improve and then come up with ways to improve through practice and help from others. The Journal of Sports and Science recommends that players should be aware of their own weaknesses as well as their own strengths when it relates ball control. They also need to consider ways to improve their dribbling skills.[1]

Use your finger pads

Use the pads of your fingers to control the ball. The span between the tip of your fingers to the underside of the knuckle area should be your main points of contact. That’s where all the ball handling should really be done. If the ball is constantly hitting the palm of your hand than allow your fingers to droop a bit more. Not a dead fish kind of droop but a spread, relaxed droop. Keep your wrist up as well. If your familiar at all with playing the piano, the same wrist position can often be used in basketball to maintain good hand posture.

Sway

Moving the ball in any desired direction is simply a matter of pushing it in that direction during the dribble. What’s the easiest way to practice that? I like to picture the ball swaying back and forth and then when I’m ready I push the ball in the direction I want it to go.

 

Your hand should move or sway gently in the direction you want the ball to move by pushing the ball ever so slightly as it leaves your hand. This is in keeping with the rhythm. If the ball is simply bouncing up and down, its predictable, but if the ball is swaying whichever way I want it to it seems more random, more a part of me rather than something I’m consciously trying to control. It becomes something you no longer have to think about; your body just makes it move with you.

Visualize

Basketball play plan

This is something I have trouble with. Visualizing a play before you make your move. When learning to dribble you want to know where you are going before you go there and you may spend a good amount of time just thinking about the dribbling moves necessary to get there.

 

After you have things down pat and you are a confident dribbler, you want to transition to thinking of how to outsmart or out move your opponent mentally and not have to worry about going over in your head exactly how to get the ball from “Point A” to “Point B”there.

 

Visualizing is a completely mental exercise that tells your body how to proceed but it also lays out a plan of success that gets the ball from the dribbling movements to the shooting, passing or attacking the net movements. Practice visualizing your next move, your opponents next move and how to beat her or him.

 

Picture your path to the basket and this will help you decide how to dribble the ball. Whether that is fast or slow, whether it will include a fake or a quick pop up to a jump shot at the last minute instead. Be constantly envisioning your next moves and constantly altering those moves as your competition reacts. It’s a game of chess in your head and you have but a split second to play it out so make it count.

Body Positioning

Keep your knees bent. A slight bend at the knees while being guarded will help put less space between your hand and the ball while its in transition to the floor for the bounce. Again, this helps decrease the amount of time the ball is away from your hand. The closer your hand is to the floor the less distance the ball has to travel with each bounce and the faster your dribbling will be.

 

There are a larger number of great dribbling drills to help increase your speed. Couple that with a lower body position and you can really increase the amount of work the player guarding you must do to steal the ball away.

Practice

It’s fairly easy to get good at bouncing the ball up and down while practicing on your own. It’s a totally different beast to tackle when you’re trying to dribble in an active game. Work with team members or find a small group of friends to play with to get in extra dribbling practice in a game situation without a whole lot of extra stress to worry about.

Start with a Warm Up

Just like anything else in the world of sports, dribble practice should start with a warm up. Start slow and build up momentum as you get into the groove. This will help you avoid unnecessarily injuring yourself. (Read Preventing Common Basketball Injuries)

 

There are some quick moves that will really get your hands and feet moving and it’s quite possible to pull a muscle, twist an ankle or have sore arms and legs the next day. Proper stretching will eliminate some if not all of these issues. It’s worth the time so make the time.

 

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Basic Stretches

Do some basic stretching to loosen up those muscles.

Sitting Hamstring Stretch

Hamstring stretch
  • Seated on the ground with your legs outstretched, bring one foot back in towards you to touch your inner thigh
  • Bend forward slowly until you feel a gentle stretch
  • Put your hands either holding your outstretched foot or on the floor on either side of your outstretched foot
  • Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds
  • Repeat with the opposite leg outstretched

Photo by: Marines

Arm Stretch

Arm stretch on beach

Photo by: Robert Wallace

  • Put one arm up above your head
  • While elevated, bend your arm so your hand reaches behind your head and touches your shoulder blades or back
  • Use your other hand to gently pull the arm behind your back in a gentle downward direction causing a slight stretching of your upper body
  • Hold this stretch for 30 to 60 seconds
  • Repeat with the opposite arm

Standing Lunge

Woman doing a standing lunge on beach

Photo by: Robert Wallace

  • Stand up straight with your feet together
  • Step one of your feet forward so that it is about 3 or 4 feet in front of the other so that your knee bends turning your leg into a right angle
  • Place both hands on top of each other on the forward outstretched leg
  • Straighten your back leg until you feel a bit of a stretch
  • You may need to adjust the distance between legs to get a good stretch out of it

Get Your Heart Pumping

Finally get your cardio up and the blood pumping a bit by doing some jumping jacks or by skipping rope for a bit. This also helps me get in the mood to work hard rather than starting right into the drills or practice.

Learn With Both Hands

Being able to dribble with both hands can have a huge impact on your game and your ability to throw off the defense. Practice dribbling with two balls at once, one in each hand so that your non-dominant hand is strengthened and so that you can become more efficient and ambidextrous.  

Practice Tips

Caged Practice

Use small areas with walls on all sides to practice new moves and to speed up your ball handling. When you lose the ball it’s a quicker recovery than chasing it all over the court.

Sway

Genty sway your body as you move the ball back and forth and from hand to hand to get used to the rhythm needed to be comfortable moving the ball around.

Go for a Walk

Take a walk down a walking path and dribble as you walk. It’s a little more interesting than walking up and down the court over and over. It also forces you to get used to avoiding hazards and finding creative ways to move the ball to avoid cracks and rocks, etc. Great for getting used to controlling the ball. Remember to use a walking path as it could be dangerous to dribble on sidewalks with busy streets.

Don't Get Discouraged

You will lose the ball, it’s going to happen over and over again. That’s part of learning to dribble and becoming familiar with the feel of the ball and the way it reacts to you. Just pick up the ball and try again. Don’t let it get you down.

Play a LOT!

Just getting out there and playing is one of the best ways to get a great practice in. Don’t focus on winning the game but rather concentrate on your technique and smooth dribbling transitions.

Beginner Dribbling Drills

Catch Into a Dribble

Chest pass to the wall and catch, turn and dribble.

Dribble Between Hands

Bounce the ball back and forth from one hand to the other.

Around the Back

Basically moving the ball in a circular motion around your body passing from one hand to the other in front of your stomach and behind your back repeatedly. This drill helps develop passing techniques as well.

Figure 8's Around the Ankles

Helps you get low and improves quick maneuvering

Pound Dribbles

Keep on your finger pads, dribble hard and straight down and straight back up. The ball should  come up to about waist height.

Kill Dribbles

Start dribbling at chest height for 5 seconds then bring it down low to ankle or knee height. Dribble there for 5 seconds then repeat at chest height again for 10 seconds.

Traffic Cones

traffic cone

Place a traffic cone or two on the court. Run at the cones while dribbling and move around them using them as fake players.

Some Trickier Dribbling Drills

Behind the Back Bounce

Bounce the ball behind your back from hand to hand hitting the ground only once.

Full and Half Court Layups

Running while dribbling is a key skill you need in order to really have a well rounded game. Start at the baseline or at half and run full tilt and do a layup. No traveling.

Transitions

It’s important to be able to transition from dribbling to shooting or to jumping or to passing.

Layups

Man doing basketball layup driving knee with ball

Dribble quickly running up the court and do a layup

Reverse to Layup

Same as layup but your facing away from the net, while dribbling turn and do a running layup

Pickup

Leave the ball sitting still on the floor 10 feet away from you, run, pick it up and continue running while dribbling without traveling all in one smooth motion

Rebounds

Standing near the net, throw the ball off the backboard and catch it, turn and begin running and dribbling without traveling. This helps in the transition from catching a rebound and beginning the trip up the court towards opponents net smoothly

Passes

Woman basketball players passes basketball

Throw the ball in front of you with some serious backspin. Catch the ball and quickly begin dribbling. Alternatively, you could pass off the wall to yourself and begin dribbling.

Final Thoughts

Learning to be a proficient dribbler can have a huge impact on your game. It can mean the difference between winning and losing in so many different scenarios. As important as shooting practice is, don’t overlook the hidden potential to transform your game. So take time out of your practices to work on your dribbling drills and skills!

Sources

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