Most basketball teams have three groups of players: the starters, the role players and the bench guys—you know, the ones sitting waaaaay far away from the coach, who don’t touch the floor for more than a few minutes each season. If you’re one of these players, here’s the bad news: There’s a reason you’re spending more time sitting than swishing. The good news? If you’re honest with yourself and can identify that reason, you can take action to address the weakness in your game—and even turn it into a strength.
To help you shed the zip-up and get off the sideline next season, we reached out to some of the best basketball coaches and trainers. They shared their secrets for helping players cure the soft spots in their skillsets and earn more time in their team’s rotation.
Step 1 is to get your mind right. “If you’re on the bench, you need to believe that, when you get your shot, you’re going to make the most of it,” says Dr. Rob Bell, a sports psychologist. “That’s the mindset someone on the bench has to take.”
Got that? Good. Now it’s time to put in some sweat equity. Here’s how.
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Problem: You’re tossing up bricks (or worse, air balls)
Solution: The Beat the Pro drill
“A poor field-goal shooting percentage can hurt the whole team, as well as your own playing time,” says Kyle Ohman, co-founder of basketballhq.com. “A big part of shooting percentage has to do with the type of shots that you take. If you are constantly taking bad shots, your shooting percentage is going to reflect that with a low number.”
Ohman suggests the Beat the Pro drill to improve your field goal percentage.
- Set up in the corner (from 3-point range or mid-range) with a rebounder under the basket.
- Alternate between the corner and the wing for each shot.
- A made basket counts as one point for the shooter, but a missed basket counts as two points for the “Pro.”
- The goal is to score 12 points before the pro does.
- You can also set this drill up going from elbow to elbow.
Problem: You look like Shaq at the free-throw line
Solution: Step Back Single Handed Shooting
“Free-throw shooting is no different than regular shooting,” says T.J. Allan, owner of Ageless Gym and a member of Alan Stein’s StrongerTeam nation. “Usually, a poor shooter is also a poor free-throw shooter. That’s what it comes down to.”
To improve your shooting percentage, as well as your free-throw accuracy, Allan suggests setting up close to the basket with a ball in your shooting hand and your other hand behind your back. Using just one hand, shoot the ball through the hoop executing “perfect makes,” where the ball doesn’t touch the rim or backboard at all. Extend your arm so your elbow winds up by your eyebrow and your middle finger points toward the back of the rim as you extend your hand for the shot.
After 10 perfect makes, take a step back and repeat the process. Continue until you reach the 3-point line, then step up to the free-throw line and shoot for 20 perfect makes.
“We’ll do one-arm shooting from [the foul line] and then add the second hand and see if we have an improvement,” Allan says. Run through the drill three times.
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Problem: You’ve Got No Handles
Solution: Two-Ball Dribbling, Tennis Ball Drill
“There are a lot of different ball-handling drills out there, but two kinds of dribbling drills that work very well for improving a young player’s poor ball handling are two-ball dribbling drills and tennis ball dribbling drills,” says Ohman.
Two-Ball Pound: Dribble two basketballs simultaneously, pounding the balls as hard as you can. Let the basketballs come up only to about waist height. Keep your eyes up and stay in an athletic stance.
Two-Ball Alternating Pound: Dribble the basketballs in an alternating pattern as hard and as fast as you can. Basketballs should only come up to about waist height. Keep your eyes up and stay in an athletic stance.
Two-Ball Windshield Wipers: Take both basketballs and dribble them in front of you with a sweeping back-and-forth motion. Don’t cross over, just get the balls as wide as you can on your sweeps. Focus on ball control, keep your eyes up and stay low in an athletic stance.
Tennis Ball Toss Pound: Dribble the basketball with your right hand as hard as you can. At the same time, toss a tennis ball in the air (underhand toss) with your left hand and catch it with the same hand. Continue for 30 seconds, switch hands and repeat. Stay low in an athletic stance the whole time.
Tennis Ball Windshield Toss: Dribble the basketball with your right hand in a sweeping motion in front of your body. At the same time, toss a tennis ball up and catch it with your left hand. After 30 seconds switch hands and repeat.
3-Dribble Tennis Ball Cross: Start with a basketball in your right hand and a tennis ball in your left hand. Dribble the basketball three times, then toss the tennis ball in the air. While the tennis ball is in the air, cross the basketball over to your left hand and catch the tennis ball with your right hand. Repeat the process, starting with the ball in your left hand. Continue this pattern for 30 seconds.
Problem: You Can’t Jump
Solution: Weight Training
If you can’t leap high enough to grab a rebound or contest your opponent’s shot, you’re likely to find yourself riding the pine. Allan recommends three moves to increase your ability to fly: Medicine Ball Overhead Tosses, Trap Bar Deadlifts and Bulgarian Split Squats. He suggests performing the movements with the following set and rep schemes:
- Medicine Ball Slam: 3×6
- Trap Bar Deadlift: 3×8
- Bulgarian Split Squat: 3×10
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Problem: You Get Scorched on Defense
The Solution: Four-Cone Drill
“If you are a liability on defense there is a good chance that you are not going to be playing a lot, especially at the end of close games,” says Ohman. “Coaches need players that they can count on.”
- Set up four cones, two on the blocks and two at the elbows.
- Start at one of the blocks, facing the baseline.
- When the drill begins, chop your feet until the coach calls out “turn.”
- Open turn and close out to the cone at the first elbow.
- Drop into a defensive slide and shuffle across the free-throw line to the opposite cone.
- Backpedal quickly to the cone on the block.
- Turn to face the baseline and shuffle back to your starting cone to finish the drill.
Repeat twice in both directions, four times total.
Problem: When you get in a game, you’re tired after half a minute
Solution: Conditioning Shooting Drill, Conditioning Ball-Handling Drill
“It doesn’t matter how skilled you are if you’re not in good enough shape to use those skills,” says Ohman. “It makes sense to work on conditioning while also doing basketball drills to help improve your game. This will maximize your gym time and help you become more skilled while you improve your conditioning.”
Conditioning Shooting Drill
- Start in the corner (either at the mid-range or 3-point area) with your rebounding partner in the paint.
- You must make two shots from five different spots on the floor: corner, wing, top of the key, opposite wing and opposite corner. Every time you miss, you must run to half court before the next shot.
Conditioning Ball-Handling Drill
- Set up eight cones approximately 6 to 8 feet apart in a zig-zag pattern.
- Start at one end of the pattern with a basketball in your outside hand.
- At the first cone, make a change-of-direction move (crossover, between the legs, behind the back, etc.)
- As soon as you make the move, sprint to the next cone, then repeat.
- Run through this sequence six to eight times, adjusting the moves you make at each cone every time.
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Problem: You’re getting outmuscled under the boards
The Solution: Rebounding with Resistance
“What we do is rebound with contact,” says Allan. “We actually get a pad that they use in martial arts, a kick pad, and we toss the ball off the boards and run into the player, give them a little resistance when they’re going up for the board.”
Allan suggests you and two other players (or coaches) set up with a shooter, a rebounder and the third person giving resistance with a pad. For five minutes, the shooter intentionally misses shots. The rebounder tries to grab the boards as the person with the pad bumps and pushes the rebounder as he or she goes up.