Stress Exposure Training for Basketball

Stress exposure training uses game-like situations in practice to prepare players "to be comfortable being uncomfortable."

Many coaches believe that "you play how you practice" but don't actually introduce game-like situations. Stress exposure training is designed to allow players to practice in conditions similar to those they face during real competition.

Stress exposure training can benefit any athlete or team in any sport. I worked with a basketball team where the scout team players wouldn't give the starting players a true look, which had the starting players playing to the level of the scout team, rather than live opponents. After I noticed this, I realized the team needed something to get them used to the disadvantages they would encounter in their games. I wanted them to be comfortable being uncomfortable. This particular team was undersized and often outpaced in most games.

I created a drill called Man Down, which involved four starting players facing a five-man practice squad. At first the players didn't know what to expect, but this drill quickly required the handicapped team to react faster and compensate for their lack of manpower. The team had only won two games the previous season, but they won five the season I worked with them. This isn't to say the drill was directly responsible for their improved record, but it did allow them to get familiar with the same stressors they would have to deal with in games. It helped them adjust if they were out-manned, outpaced or overpowered.

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Man Down Basketball Drill

  • Separate your players between the starting five and a practice squad.
  • Remove one of the players from the starting squad.
  • Have the two teams play a full-court scrimmage for 20 minutes.
  • Every two minutes, rotate the fourth player on the starting team so each player sits out twice.
  • Run the plays the same way that you would with all five players.

Free-Throw Training

Most coaches require players shoot a certain number of free throws at the end of practice. The downside to this is that the players will never be in a game with few eyes on them and complete silence. So they shouldn't practice that way.

With the stress exposure approach to free throws, a coach should have players feeling rushed and distracted by limiting the amount of time they have to shoot and making noise to throw off their focus.

Check out two more drills to improve your free throw shooting.


Driskell, T., Sclafani, S., & Driskell, J. E. (2014). "Reducing the Effects of Game Day Pressures through Stress Exposure Training." Journal Of Sport Psychology In Action, (1), 28-43.

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