The following drills are things that you can do by yourself to become a better player. Improving core, fundamental skills of basketball are key to all players – not just beginners - and can vastly improve your game. These drills are simple enough that they can be done every day in almost any environment and are not those that you would normally work on at practice.
Hold The Ball Correctly
Skills such as shooting, passing, dribbling and rebounding can all be improved upon by simply holding the ball correctly. We encourage all of our players – whether they be youth, high school or college – to always put the ball in the ‘triple threat’ position to allow the player to have options on what to do with the ball.
• Make sure your fingers are far apart. Not to where it is uncomfortable, but to give you a wider width to hold on to the ball.
• Your only contact with the ball should be your fingers. The palm and other parts of the hand do not touch the ball. You should be able to slide the fingers from your other hand into the palm of the hand holding the ball. Be sure to practice with both hands!
• Always look for opportunities to handle a ball – remember you are just holding it here and not dribbling. Go to triple threat to the right and to the left, check your finger spacing, are you only using your fingers and not your palm? These are the kind of things you can do just about any time, but will help many aspects of your game.
Use Your Wrists In Shooting, Passing, and Dribbling
The wrist skills, which include shooting, passing, and dribbling, involve the motion of the hand and wrist. This rarely practiced motion reaps incredible benefits.
• While standing, put your arms straight up overhead, palms facing forward. Keep your elbows straight and do not move your arms throughout the exercise; remember this is a wrist exercise.
• With your hands in a slightly ‘clawed’ position, flick your wrist backward and let it come forward without additional effort. Continue to flick your wrists backward. You are doing this correctly if your hand and wrist go back and forth with little effort.
• Continue doing this for one to two minutes. Initially this motion will be very difficult.
• This first part of the exercise helps with shooting and passing. For help with dribbling, lower the arms to your side with the palms facing backward.
• With elbows straight and arms stationary, flick the wrist forward and let it come back without effort.
• Continue doing this for one to two minutes.
Do these exercises as often as possible. Make them part of your normal practice warm-up. The more difficult this exercise is to do, the more you need it. Don’t underestimate the importance of ‘muscle memory’ in your wrist and your joints.
Improving your pivot
Do not assume that the only players who really need to have a good pivot are in the post. There are many times in a game where an improved pivot will allow you to get a better shot or make a better pass to a teammate.
You must be able to pivot forward and backward using either foot. So each exercise must be repeated four times: left foot forward, left foot backward, right foot forward, right foot backward. Be sure to not slide your foot and keep only the ball of your foot stationary. As you turn, the rest of the foot rotates about the ball of the foot. Diligently work to not slide or change your pivot location – which would result in a turnover.
• Start with the left foot as your pivot foot. If you have a ball – although you don’t need one for the drill - hold it in the ‘triple threat’ position.
• Pivot forward 15 times as you rotate in to a circle. As you find your balance, increase the rotation to a half turn.
• Repeat a backwards pivot 15 times; again in to a circle motion.
• Switch pivot foot and do the two drills listed above.
Be sure to keep your head up so you could pass in a game if you needed to, and be sure to not slide your foot.
Improve your defensive positioning
The key to defense is playing with your feet and not with your hands. By that, we mean that you are active on the balls of your feet – stay off your heals! – and able to slide in any direction without crossing your feet. Work to stay active, on your toes, and in balance with your feet at an even distance from your shoulders.
• In a standing position, move your feet to your shoulder width apart.
• Bend your knees (we call it ‘sitting down’), keeping your back straight and vertical, not bent, till you are in a comfortable, athletic position. Do not let your shoulders get over your toes because it will eliminate your balance and your speed.
• ‘Get Big’ by putting your arms fully extended from your shoulders. This will help you off the ball to keep your hands in the passing lanes. As you get more comfortable, you can pretend there is a ball handler in front of you and you can keep a ‘hand’ on the imaginary ball. Of course, if they cross over you need to switch hands!
• Now that you are in position, work on improving your speed by ‘tap dancing’ for as long as you can. Be sure to stay on the balls of your feet in the defensive position we detailed above.
• Take a breath and go again – we recommend at least 4 sets.
We won’t focus on movement too much in this drill as the purpose is to improve your positioning and playing on the balls of your feet.
Practice your shot – from 1 foot away only!
You don’t even need a basket for this, but it will greatly help you with the form of your shot. Too often players will shoot too far away and not use proper technique.
• Focus on the normal form of a quality shot – shooting with your legs, squared to the basket, good hand placement on the ball, good follow through with your off-hand providing balance, keeping your hands held high to look for mistakes, good ball rotation, etc.
• Take 10 one foot shots from the right side of the basket, then 10 from the left, and then 10 from the center. Use the backboard from all three positions. You can repeat this many times.
This may seem like a simple drill, but is much more beneficial to your game than shooting half court jumpers. Focus on the quality of the shot – not the quantity and as you expand your range work to keep the core tenants of your shot in check.