Improving your skills

It is important not only to practice as a team and by playing games, but also to improve your ball handling skills by doing ball drills on a regular basis. Even half an hour every day spent doing some simple drills can dramatically improve your performance on the court. The following ideas are taken from Basketball Drills And Plays, Basketball Plays And Tips and The Guide to Coaching Basketball. These websites are excellent resources for tips if you would like more advice about how to improve your skills.

Handling the ball

Becoming adept at handling the ball is perhaps the most important skill a basketball player can hone. There are a number of simple drills you can practice to improve your general dexterity and ability to handle the ball. The following are just a few examples:

  • Keep your knees apart and bend them slightly. Pass the ball behind your knees with your left hand and pass it to your right hand between your legs. Then pass the ball around to the front of your knees and pass it back between your legs. Do this as quickly as you can, and reverse the direction after 30 seconds. When you can do this easily, try to perfect the drill by keeping your head raised and avoiding looking at the ball.
  • Stand up straight with your feet apart and hold the ball in your right hand. Pass the ball around your back with your right hand and receive it on the other side of your waist with your left hand. Reverse direction every 30 seconds and practice until you can complete the drill quickly.
  • Stand with your feet close together and your knees and waist slightly bent. Hold the ball behind your knees and let it drop to the ground. Move your hands in front of your knees, clap twice quickly and bring your hands to the back of your knees to catch the ball before it can bounce again.
  • Sit on the floor with your legs crossed and dribble the ball with your right hand. Dribble as far towards your left hand side as possible with your right hand, receive the ball with you left hand and dribble the ball around your front with your left hand to receive it again with your right hand.


Basic dribbling is a vital skill in basketball. Whilst it might seem counter-intuitive, try to resist the temptation to look down at the ball: if you are always looking down, you will not be able to pay attention to what is going on on the court. Make sure that you use your fingertips and the upper part of your palm to push the ball down into the floor. Take care not to ‘slap’ the ball with the palm of your hand, and do not push down too hard. Ideally, the ball should bounce just above your knee; if the ball is bouncing above your waist, you are definitely pushing down too hard. While you will probably feel more comfortable using the same hand you use to write with as your favoured dribbling hand, you should try to become equally confident with both hands.

Once you have mastered basic dribbling, you can begin to practice using dribbling to improve your game. One of the most common ways to use dribbling as a tactic during a game is to fool a defender into believing that you are going to slow down or stop in order to pass to a team-mate. If you are being closely guarded, slow down and look around as though you are looking for an open team-mate to pass to. If the defender loosens his stance, quickly pick up your pace and power past the defender as quickly as possible.

Another common tactic is dribbling the ball between your legs in order to move the ball from one hand to the other and change dribbling direction to escape from a defender. The best method is to dribble the ball low, and push it down between your legs in the direction of your other hand, which should be prepared to receive the ball and continue dribbling. This can take some practice to master, but is very useful when it comes to dealing with defenders.

Shooting Free throws

Most players in the NBA succeed in scoring from 70-80% of their free-throw attempts. In excellent players, this will be closer to 90%. Whilst an amateur player might not be able to equal this success rate, there are still certain steps that amateurs can take to improve their shooting skills. Proficiency at shooting free throws depends upon an ability to combine the correct technique with a positive mental attitude and a willingness to spend a lot of time practising.

Above all, it is important to check that you are using the correct technique when attempting free throws. Firstly, make sure that you are facing the basket directly before you shoot. Basketball courts are marked with a small circle in the centre of the free throw line, which you can use to ensure that you are standing in the correct place. It is also vital to ensure that your elbow is directly aligned with your shoulders. Many players make the mistake of angling their elbow slightly to the side, which will send the ball off-course. The ball should be ‘flicked’ towards the net with the fingertips, rather than pushed with the palm. As the ball is released from the fingertips, the shooting position should be maintained: this has the effect of putting the correct spin on the ball.

Finally, do not under-estimate the importance of positive visualisation: as you shoot, try to imagine the ball going through the net. Whilst this might seem trivial, negative thoughts really can impede your success. Do not be afraid to remind yourself of these steps as you prepare to make a free-throw: you have 10 seconds to release the ball, and there is no reason not to take advantage of this time.


Games can be won or lost depending upon whether a team is skillful at taking advantage of the second chances rebounds can offer. You can improve your skills alone by standing about 5 feet away from a wall and throwing the ball firmly over your head in the direction of the wall. When the ball rebounds off the wall, practice grabbing the ball. If you have people to practice with and a basket, line up in a row facing the basket. The first person in the queue should dribble up to the basket and shoot, deliberately hitting the back board. The next person in the line should grab the ball as it rebounds, and pass the ball to the next player in the queue.

For some more detailed looks at how to improve your game – then check out some of our other pages: