How to Get Better at Basketball in 9 steps

You’re looking to get better at basketball. Not, like, going pro type of improvement, you just want to be a little more better.

Well, we all want to be better. The getting there is the part that makes things complicated. It’s so dependent on who you are as a person.

So what I want for this to be is not some kind of David Goggins, grind through the pain style of basketball mastery guide. I want you to find some tricks and routines that are going to work for you in your daily life.

I’m a pretty normal dude and I’ve found a lot of joy in bringing this game into my daily life. My approach is maybe relatively casual, but I get a little better most every single day.

This is a living document, not really like any other guide you’ll find. I simply want this thing to help you figure out how to get better at basketball. And I think you can apply the tips you find here whatever your age or skill level. If you’ve got feedback or you’ve found some gems in here, leave them in the comments.

Alright… Let’s get started.

Why Get Better at Basketball?

If you’re already onboard, skip to the how. But if you need a little motivation, let’s run a quick review on just how beneficial basketball can be in your life. Regardless of age, There are a ton of reasons to shift some focus in your life towards improving your basketball game.

One of the best things about basketball is that this game can follow you deep into your later years. Some sports (football and rugby for instance) have a shelf life. It’s almost to the point where the physical benefits of the sport outweigh the toll it takes on your body. As long as you can stand and move your arms, you can shoot around. You might not be competitive in your 70’s, but you can still work on your free throw because basketball is not a contact sport.

In the same vein, the physical benefits of playing basketball regularly are fantastic. It involves physical endurance, but is not expressly dependent on endurance. The type of long extended cardio required for other sports is not really neccesarry for basketball which is better served by the type of short bursts that have been proven to contribute to overall health and longevity.

Basketball is also a fantastic sport to share with your friends and family. There’s a distinct element of strategy to the game. It employs similar mental processes to something like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, pushing you to synchronize your mental and physical movements in a way that both challenges and hones the types of skills that are widely applicable in daily life.

Plus it’s fun. At any age and skill level, you can work to hone your shooting mechanics, study ball movements to improve your court position, etc. Getting better at basketball is a widely beneficial activity that will serve you throughout your life.

Steps to getting Better at Basketball

1. Mindset

It all starts with where your head is at. And this is by far the toughest part to get right. Genetics can give you a massive advantage from the start, but it’s practice and conditioning that are going to translate to forward progress. And if you want to progress in practice and conditioning, you need to be in the right head space.

I’m not saying that you have to have that ‘Mamba Mentality’ today, or ever honestly. In fact, please don’t. Set reasonable goals for yourself in all of the topics we discuss here. You need to have goals that are going to push you to grind without grinding you out. Too easy, and you lose interest. Too hard, you give up. But only you can know how best to push yourself.

So step 1 is to know yourself and know what you want. From that, you can take account of what you know about yourself and install the systems that are going to help you succeed. But never forget. Don’t stop having fun. If you lose that joy, you’re gonna take a big hit on every advantage you’ve built for yourself on the court. All of this points to getting your headspace together as the most important step in getting better at basketball.

2. Conditioning

Yeah, this is boring. My Dad put me in an Aikido class when I was a kid and I remember all I wanted to do was learn how to kick. Needless to say, Aikido didn’t last long. Don’t worry, we’ll get to shooting and defense, honing your basketball IQ, all of that stuff, but this is a physical game and getting your physical form in order is the best way to become better at basketball in a hurry.

Endurance

You’re gonna want to work on your motor. You want to be able to run at game pace for as long as possible without getting gassed out. What’s great is that improving this type of endurance can improve your life in ways far beyond the court. The downside is that it’s tough.

If you can get game minutes, that’s great. But it’s not always easy to pull a pickup game together. One trick I like to use is pushing myself to hit 7 full court layups in a row. If that gets easy, just increase the number or set a time limit.

Vertical

And then there’s your vertical. If you’re at all interested in basketball, you might probably want to jump a little higher. Even if that 10 foot mark is just not in the cards for you physically, adding vertical is going to make it that much easier to get at that ball and get it in the net.

Conditioning is a personal thing. I was a chef for almost ten years so I love to eat. I can usually kinda balance that with a solid drive. But when it comes to conditioning, you just have to find the tricks that work for you. In my case, I’ve managed to make morning shoot-arounds with my daughter a huge part of that.

3. Practice

You need to play. If you don’t want to play, what’s the point of getting better at basketball? It’s the proverbial “Practice. Practice. Practice…”

Basketball has a sort of a magical quality of attracting people. That is to say that you should be pretty comfortable going out on a court alone and having fun, all by yourself. You’ll probably be surprised how often people will randomly ask for a game or to shoot a few.

But playing alone all the time isn’t always ideal either. Get in on some pickup games or think about joining a league. Get those hours in. We’ll go a little deeper on what to do with those hours, but the main thing is that you get the hours.

4. Shooting

Improving shooting can make you better at basketball. Photo courtesy of Markus Spiske: https://www.pexels.com/photo/basketball-hoop-in-basketball-court-1752757/

Here we go. We’re finally going to learn how to kick…

I don’t know if you’re aware of this but the best way to score in basketball is to get the ball in the net. Unless you’re Shaq (which would be weird) you’re probably going to need to work on your form a little.

This is really a vast and unruly world. There are as many schemes out there to improve your shot percentage as there are stars in the sky. I have a full post dedicated to just improving your shot, and detailing how I’ve improved mine over the years.

I can offer one piece of advice that is tough to argue against. Refer to step 4. Practice. Shoot a lot of shots, all over the court.

Another piece of advice. A little easier to argue against, but it has served me well. Watch a ton of Youtube. There are plenty of Youtube videos offering shooting advice.

It can be a little overwhelming and not all of the advice is right for you. But once you’ve seen enough of these videos, you’ll probably end up with some little tricks to manage your consistency. Getting your shot mechanics down might just be the single most impactful adjustment to your game. And don’t forget to work on your lower body movement. Those hips can be the key to unlocking that perfect shot.

And finally, keep track of your stats. It can be annoying to try and remember or document your shooting. My trick is I always try and hit free throws in groups of ten, keeping a rough estimate of my percentage over time.

I’ve also got a deeper dive on shot mechanics for you where you can really dig into all of the little details of improving your shot from focus to physiology.

If you’re really committed, think about a smart basketball. It’s a little pricey, but there’s really only one option at this point and you can get some accurate stats without having to think about it much at all.

But for a free option, that might take a little more effort, but is much more reliable. Check out the shot logging app I built. I’m always trying to improve it, so give it a shot, leave some stars and let me know what I can do to improve.

5. Handling

Technically, you can score without moving your feet. But getting past your opponent and under the basket is going to make it a lot easier.

This is another one where the Youtube videos can come in handy, but practice is crucial here. The more you dribble, the more comfortable you get with the ball. Any time you hear from the real wizards of ball handling, they’ve just spent years with the ball in their hands. Dribble to school. Dribble to get a hair cut. Dribble up and down the halls.

It’s pretty awesome when you’ve logged enough handling drills that you can start to take some of those moves into a game. A clutch shot can be nice, but if you ask me there’s nothing quite like breaking ankles.

Working on your ability to keep the ball under control in all kinds of crazy situations is going to boost your game like crazy. It’s incredibly fun to throw down some insane bounces, and keeping the game fun and interesting delivers in multiples by keeping you committed to improving. It’s also crucial to blasting by defenders and getting into scoring position. Improving your shot positioning is a fantastic way to improve your shot efficiency and make you better at basketball.

7. Defense

This one should probably come earlier. What is that they say? Defense wins championships? One of the best things you can do to improve your effectiveness on the court is to make yourself a true two-way player.

It’s not that flashy I suppose to totally demoralize your opponent by crushing every attempt to score. It’s a subtler beauty than a netted jumper.

Apply pressure and manage your balance with proper footwork. Get those hands up, but control your matchup. And the hardest part; don’t give up the wrong fouls. It really is one of those magic things where you don’t know what you’re after, you just know when you see it.

But ultimately, any improvement to your ability to control scoring is going to save you work and energy on offense and ultimately do wonders to make you better at basketball.

8. Work on your IQ

I never watched a lot of basketball as a kid, or played on any organized teams. So this has come particularly tough for me.

A lot of it comes down to watching games and footage. You’re probably not going to get a lot from watching an NBA game just because they’re playing at a level so far enough beyond any normal realm of play. Still you can start to build a feel for how a group of five should move in various situations. High School or College games might slow the game down enough for you to get a better view.

And this is probably the easiest step for most players. If you like the game already, you must like watching it. So kicking back and watching games is definitely the easiest way to get better at basketball.

I’ve done a pretty extensive job of trying to break down a bunch of the most common defensive formations. While this isn’t comprehensive by any means, I think that focusing on defense will help you see the underlying strategy of the game.

Getting an advanced understanding of the rules can be helpful too. I’ve got a quick primer on some of the most misunderstood rules of basketball that might help you get caught up. And the NBA maintains a video rule book as an excellent resource in helping to understand play, officiation and strategy. Each rule includes multiple videos of violations to clarify rulings.

Beyond the basic study though, I don’t think there’s any real replacement here for team play. You can watch footage all day, but that’s never going to translate as well as actually being there, maintaining court awareness, and making the right decisions.

9. Read the Ball

So pickleball is getting pretty popular. There are a bunch of NBA players getting in on professional pickleball teams. This got me thinking…

Pickleball is largely about understanding how a ball wants to move. And this movement is influenced by all of the impacts and rotations the ball encounters. There’s something to the ability to see a ball and anticipate its behavior. Maybe it’s really not all that different from basketball, just a slowed down version where you carry the backboards with you. I’m probably overthinking it.

But Rodman made something of a career of anticipating ball movement. He had some other gifts as well, for sure. But he’s mentioned an obsession with understanding a ball’s rotation and predicting deflections so that he could position himself for rebounds. Over 13 rebounds per game over 11 years in the NBA, he’s at #12 all time. There’s probably a little something to that.

Takeaways

That’s all I’ve got. You can certainly spend years exploring each one of these elements of the game. And you can probably tack on a few more elements after the fact.

One resource that has been incredibly helpful in my own journey towards becoming a better basketball player is Youtube. If there’s a specific skill or concept you’re working on, you can easily find and binge some videos on that exact topic. Check out my post about all of my favorite Youtube basketball channels if you want some recommendations.

You can even dive deeper on this very site. I’ve got other breakdowns to help you improve your shooting, understand defensive formations, and take your conditioning to the next level. Check those out and let me know if you’ve got any questions, comments, or feedback.

As they say, ‘Ball is Life”.