How to Get Better at Basketball: Skill Improvement Tips


Basketball is an intensive game of strategy, and the more you know about strategic play, the better your performance will be. One of the best ways to hone your basketball skills is to practice various drills, which can teach you how to move better on the court.

You can get better at basketball by practicing a variety of basketball drills. The best approach is to practice dribbling drills initially, then shooting drills, and lastly, defensive drills. By utilizing these three categories of drills, you can significantly improve your overall game and bolster your skill set.

Below we will cover the three essential categories of basketball drills, including dribbling drills, shooting drills, and defensive drills. After we’ve discussed the groups, we’ll give even more information about how to perform the individual drills.

Dribbling Drills Should Come First

When it comes to training with basketball drills, the first category of drills you should practice is dribbling drills. That’s because dribbling drills will allow you to develop your ball-handling skills, and that’s the most fundamental concept behind basketball.

Drills offer some of the best tips and strategies when it comes to putting in the time and effort required to improve your game.

Once you understand how to handle the ball, shooting and defending the ball become very simple. Also, if you aren’t confident about your dribbling skills when you are on the court, you’ll be putting yourself at a significant disadvantage.

Coaches

If you’re a coach, then note that it can be challenging to inspire some basketball players to start with dribbling drills. That’s because dribbling drills don’t seem to promote the glory of the game of basketball in the minds of many players, but that’s not true.

If you don’t know how to dribble well, then you won’t handle the ball well. That means you’ll never be able to get the ball to the other side of the court and shoot it. So, if you can’t dribble well, you won’t be able to shoot the ball well, either.

Young Players

Many beginning players immediately want to practice shooting drills because they think that shooting three-pointers will make them a more successful player.

However, what many beginners don’t realize is that they’ll never get the opportunity to shoot three-pointers if they don’t know how to handle the ball well. Improving your ball handling abilities will not only bolster your confidence, but it will also make you a more reliable, successful player.

Dribbling skills are so essential in basketball because of the fast-paced nature of the game. Basketball players need to be in great shape, and they have to be able to go up and down the court at full pace handling the ball well the entire time.

However, if you aren’t able to effectively get the ball up and down the court when the game is moving quickly, then your coach and the other players won’t have the trust in you to pass you the ball during those situations.

By becoming a better ball handler, you’ll earn that right and be handed the responsibility more often than you’d expect.

So, now that you understand why we are covering dribbling drills first, we’ll move on and give you the list of our favorite dribbling drills so that you can improve your ball-handling skills quickly.

A Few Fundamental Dribbling Tips

If you’ve never learned how to dribble, then that’s going to be your first step when it comes to practicing your drills. The best way to get acquainted with dribbling is to practice. As you practice, pay attention to the movement of the ball and the way you can control it.

Hands and Posture

You should practice dribbling with one hand at a time first so that you can slowly get used to controlling the ball. Take turns bouncing the ball lightly, and then powerfully.

Here’s a great video explaining how to warm and start with some basic dribbles.

You’ll also need to ensure that you are using the right type of dribbling posture. So, make sure your knees are spread apart shoulder-width, and prepare your feet for movement.

Never lock your knees or allow yourself to become unbalanced; prepare for your opponent’s next move instead. Dribble so that the ball doesn’t go above your waist, which should also help you keep control of the ball.

Moving on the Court

As you move down the court and practice dribbling, make sure you alternate hands as well. Alternating hands is known as a crossover, and it’s an integral part of the game.

You’ll also need to learn how to keep your eyes up, not down, and focused on the ball while you dribble. While it will seem difficult at first to remove your eyes from the ball as you are learning how to dribble, it will become more natural as time passes.

Before we get into the actual drills, here’s another video with some dribbling tips to keep in mind as you’re practicing these drills.

Dribbling Drills You Can Practice

#1 Dribbling Drill: Basic Dribble

If you are new to the game of basketball, then the first dribbling drill you should attempt is the basic dribble. To perform the basic dribble, start with your right hand. Using your right hand, dribble the ball and count to twenty. Switch hands and count to twenty again with the other side.

Each time you play basketball as a beginner, you should do three sets of these before and after your practice or game.

When you complete your first basic dribble set, you’ll want to:

  • Initially standstill
  • Start moving around to practice dribbling while walking
  • When you feel good about dribbling and walking, start dribbling and running

#2 Dribbling Drill: Figure 8 Split

For the figure 8 split drill, you’ll want to begin with the ball in your left hand. Next, spread your legs, with your left leg behind you and your right leg in front of you. With your legs spread out, start with your left hand and move the ball between your hands and through your legs.

Once the ball hits your right hand, leap up and change your leg position so that your right leg is behind you, and your left leg is in front of you. Pass the ball between your legs again, and continue repeating.

Here’s a video that shows you how this looks.

#3 Dribbling Drill: Drum Dribbles

For this dribbling drill, you’ll want to use your fingertips to get a feeling for the basketball. You’ll use five fingers to begin, and then slowly, you’ll remove fingers until you don’t have any left. So, you’ll start by dribbling with five fingers. Then, you’ll dribble with four, three, two, one, and then no fingers.

When I encourage you not to use your fingers to dribble the ball, it means you’ll use your knuckles.

Once you’ve dribbled with your knuckles for a while, you can start switching the number of fingers you use to round back up to five, then back down to zero again. Keep practicing and try to dribble as quickly as possible as you perform this drill.

#4 Dribble Drill: The Blindfolded Dribble

For this drill, you’ll need to get a blindfold. Or, if you are a trustworthy person, you can shut your eyes, but you’ll need to keep them close. Some people find it disorienting to close their eyes and dribble on the court, so it might be easier to use a blindfold depending on how you feel about this drill. To start you must:

  • Power dribble the basketball for about a minute. As you do that, pay attention to how the ball feels
  • Move your drill into the center area of the court and dribble there
  • Dribble while walking around

To increase the difficulty level, you should then grab two basketballs and start dribbling with both hands while you walk around the basketball court. Here’s a video of professional basketball player Stephen Curry practicing his dribbling with a blindfold on.

#5 Dribble Drill: In and Out

Our last dribble drill is known as the in and out. When you perform this drill, you’ll start with the basketball in your right hand.

  • Begin dribbling with your right hand, moving forward as you dribble
  • Put your hand on one side of the ball and push the ball across your body to the left hand.
  • Next, push off using your left foot and move to the right again while you push the ball back to the right.

This dribbling drill will teach you how to fake a move to a defender correctly. So, you want to make sure the defender believes you. That means you’ll need to look like you are going to go one direction (switching from right to left), but you are going to continue to move to the right.

To complete a successful fake, you’ll need to move your head, eyes, and left leg as if you were going to move in the alternate direction.

Hopefully, after you’ve learned how to use this drill successfully, you’ll be able to throw your defenders off-balance and easily fake them out with your moves.

Now that we’ve covered some of the best dribbling drills you can use to improve your game, we’ll discuss the most effective shooting drills that can help you drastically improve your basketball skill level.

This video goes into more drills to help master the in and out dribble move.

Shooting Drills: Practice Makes Perfect!

Now that you’ve learned how to become a better ball handler by practicing some of your dribbling drills, it’s time for you to take those dribbling skills to the next level. Since you’ve now earned a better feel for the basketball and a basic understanding of how the ball moves, you should have enough experience to start practicing shooting drills as well as layups.

When it comes to shooting drills, it’s best to warm up and practice by going over your layups. We encourage you to practice layups of all types as you warm-up. That’s because it’s the shot that seems to most often to score.

Almost every time you do a layup while playing a game, you’ll be performing your layup while somebody nearby from the opposing team tries to prevent your attempt.

Making sure you develop your confidence in shooting can help bolster your overall basketball game.

To become an excellent shooter, you’ll need to learn how to finish your layup and make the shot whether an opponent is trying to block you or not. So, always warm-up with a decent amount of layup practice before you then move onto your shooting drills.

Here’s a quick video explaining how to teach a layup, but you can use these points to teach yourself if you need to.

Now that you understand the importance of practicing layups before you start your shooting drills, we’ll move on and cover some of the best shooting drills you can practice to improve your basketball skills.

#1 Shooting Drill: The One-Hand Form

Chances are, you’ve probably experienced or seen this shooting drill at one point in your life. This shooting drill has been around for so long because it’s been one of the most effective shooting drills around for decades.

To start the one hand drill:

  • Stand with your feet about shoulder length apart and keep your balance. I recommend staggering your feet a bit if you want that assistance
  • Make an “L” shape with your shooting arm.
  • Push your basketball up and out and end with your elbow higher than your eyebrows.
  • As you move the ball, push it through using your fingers

As you finish the move, either just your index finger or your index finger and middle finger should be pointing towards the basket. It doesn’t matter which finger or fingers you use as long as you feel out what is comfortable for you.

By learning how to shoot this way, you’ll be able to put backspin on the ball like the pros. Here’s a video to show what this drill looks like.

#2 Shooting Drill: Catch and Shoot

For this shooting drill, you’ll need two players. The first player passes from the chest to the second player. Then, the first player moves after the pass without blocking the shot. Instead, the first player will be moving in front of the second player.

The second player now has the ball and should take a shot without dribbling the ball, and then try to retrieve the rebound. Once that’s complete, the second player passes to the first player, and the first player now shoots.

You can have the two players alternate positions on the court and take shots from different areas of the court as you practice this shooting drill. That way, your two players will get experience with shooting the ball from all over the court.

Here’s a video showing another way to perform this drill. The point is practice catching a pass and shooting the ball in short time.

#3 Shooting Drill: The 99

The 99 is an excellent drill if you want to teach yourself how to shoot while your competition surrounds you. However, you’ll want to use a re-bounder or a shot trainer to do this drill. Even something simple like this Ball Return Training AidOpens in a new tab. (link to Amazon) will help.

If you’re really serious about basketball training, and willing to spend a little money on good equipment, I suggest this Basketball Shot TrainerOpens in a new tab. on Amazon to keep you shooting rather than chasing basketballs all over the place.

To Start:

  • Position yourself in different areas of the arc and take shots
  • Keep alternating your spot
  • Each time you make a shot, add three points to your score

If you miss one shot in a row, you don’t have to deduct points. However, most coaches will have the player deduct three points if they miss two times in a row. The goal of the game is to see how quickly the player can score a total of 99 points.

You don’t have to make the total point accumulation 99 if you don’t want to. It will all depend on the shooter’s skill level and how long of a time you want to be on the court. Whatever the finishing number is, it should be a multiple of three.

#4 Shooting Drill: Set to Go

This drill is designed to help a player master the top part of shooting, which should help you improve your overall shooting strategy. Most successful shooters extend their legs once the basketball is around their shoulders. If you’ve ever seen a masterful shooter like Steph Curry, then you know that the basketball moves upwards before the shooter ever extends his legs.

Trying to force yourself to shoot this way, however, typically throws off most shooters.

So, instead of trying to shoot like Steph Curry consciously, we use a progression of steps to help you get there. The goal is to learn how to extend your legs as you shoot the ball up through your shoulders.

  • Stand a few feet away from the basket to start in the set position.
  • Angle your arm 90 degrees and keep the ball near your shoulder.
  • Once you are ready to shoot, extend your legs and shoot simultaneously, doing it as if it is all the same motion.

You’ll be shooting a free throw, but you’re trying not to jump as much as you practice this skill. Shoot five to ten times, then step back. Repeat, and keep stepping back until you are right in front of the free-throw line.

Here’s a video explaining proper shooting form, this is what you want to focus on with this drill.

Avoid moving too quickly or allowing yourself to shoot as you practice carelessly. You don’t want to teach yourself bad habits, and it’s better to take your time and make sure you are practicing this drill correctly. The goal is to learn how to find the right position and move your legs successfully.

#5 Shooting Drill: The 3-6-9-12-15 Drill

If you’re looking for a drill that will help get you in better shape, then this might be the drill for you. You’ll also learn a lot about game shots and game speeds when you perform this drill.

You’ll need to start by shooting three shots. After that, you’ll run to a spot on the court based on the shots you missed, which helps bolster your physical shape, and then you’ll go back to your place. After that, you’ll repeat your shooting, trying to earn a better score.

You should perform this drill until you’ve made around fifty shots. Sometimes I’ll do 20 shot quick rounds.

Here’s a helpful video of a coach explaining how he uses this drill to train his players.

Now that we’ve finished covering the best shooting drills you can use to improve your basketball game, we’ll move onto discussing some defensive drills. That way, you’ll be able to improve every aspect of your game, from your offensive skills to your defensive skills.

Helpful Gear For Shooting Drills:

Defensive Drills: Don’t Overlook This Important Aspect!

While most older, mature basketball players understand the importance of defensive drills, some players, including those that should know better, will still try to avoid putting a lot of time or effort into their defensive strategies.

However, that’s an unfortunate way to approach the game. For many younger players or people that want to seek glory and fame through basketball, the route to stardom lies in having strong offensive skills, so that’s where they put their focus.

While there is nothing wrong with wanting to become a solid offensive player, if you don’t know how to play defense, you are only excellent at fifty percent of the sport. Defense is still half of the game, and you’ll need to know how to perform it effectively from time to time to succeed.

Some of basketball’s greatest players were known not only for their offensive skills, but also their defensive abilities.

Defensive Drill #1: Defensive Lane Slides

Once you understand how to do lane slides, they’ll be easy for you to perform. However, it does take some time and practice to know how to do the perfect lane slide. Part of the problem lies with the fact that it’s incredibly challenging to master the defensive slide as it is, and even more so while you are in the middle of a game.

By practicing your lane slides, you’ll learn how to:

  • Stay low
  • Position your feet correctly
  • Pivot successfully

Here’s a video showing the lane slide drill in action. It’s an old video, but the info still stands true, this is a drill for quick feet.

These are all skills that will bolster your defensive game. By practicing your lane slides, you’ll build up the muscle memory you’ll need to be more effective at lane slides during your next game.

Defensive Drill #2: 4 on 3 Overload Drill

The four on 3 overload drill is designed to help you understand how to match yourself up to players as the situations in the game change. You’ll need to know the fundamentals of rotating out and some necessary defensive skills.

This drill will help you understand how to match yourself up to another. By using a four on three situations, you’ll always have somebody open on the offense. However, if you position yourself correctly and stay focused, you should be able to control the situation well.

To begin this drill, select three players to work as defenders, and four players that will act as offensive players. Begin with your basketball on the wing. Have the offensive team move the ball, and the defenders will have to leave one player open and keep moving and matching to stay in position.

Keep practicing until the defense understands rotating and scrambling. Then, you can have the offense try to score as the defense blocks.

Here’s a video showing the 4 on 3 overload drill in action.

Defensive Drill #3: 4-Point Closeout

For this drill, you’ll begin with your defensive players staying below the basket. After that, they’ll sprint and close in on the four offensive players that are on the three-point arc.

Once they’ve finished closing in, the defensive players need to retreat to the basket, then cover the next offensive player. By practicing this drill, you’ll get better at your closeout technique, your balancing skills, and improve your footwork.

To practice the 4 point closeout drill:

  • Place four offensive players throughout the three-point arc area and instruct the other players to be under the basket.
  • Each offensive player will hold a basketball
  • The first defensive player in the line will run out to the first offensive player and move in on the ball. They’ll need to stay there for a few seconds to practice pressuring the offensive player, and then they’ll move back to the next offensive player.
  • Once the first defensive player has moved on, have the next defensive player sprint out, put pressure on the offensive player, and then move on
  • Then, the next defensive player in line comes out, etc.
  • As soon as the defensive player has closed in on all the offensive players, then he or she goes back to the line and comes out again when it’s his or her turn again.

After you’ve practiced the drill for a while, swap the offensive players and defensive players so that everybody gets a chance to experience both sides of this drill.

Defensive Drill #4: No Paint

Start with four offensive players and four defensive players. You’ll also need somebody to manage the drill, who can be a coach or another player. We’ll call that person the manager for now. The manager will begin by passing the ball from the top of the court. As the ball is passed, you want to remember to avoid penetrating the paint.

If you want to make this drill a bit more challenging, you can put some tape on the court to make the lanes larger. Each time the offense penetrates the paint while passing or driving, they get the point. Then, possession can be alternated as:

  • Points are scored
  • Turnovers occur
  • Defense rebounds happen

You are playing a regular game using half the court, but you only score points when the offense penetrates the lane. The first team to score five points can win, or you can make the score lower or higher as you see fit.

Here’s a video to show how this drill works.

If you keep practicing these drills, you’ll notice an improvement in your basketball skills. There are also some fun games to play for when you get sick of running drills over and over. Check out my list of 14 Fun Basketball Games to keep the game interesting. Even playing games will help increase your skill level, just keep playing basketball.

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Robert Sampson

I'm Robert Sampson and I live in Colorado where I spend a lot of time in the backyard with my family either grilling, playing games and sports, or working on a project to make our backyard a better place to be.

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