During the offseason I hear from a lot of players who ask me, "What should I be working on in order to get more playing time next season?" or "What should I be working on to take my game to another level?" While every player is certainly different and has certain skills that they as individuals needs to develop or strengthen, my response to them will always include one common factor - improving their ability to handle and control the basketball. Great ball handlers possess three primary skills:
1. They can change speeds -whether that is from slow to fast or from fast to super fast the important thing is that they change speeds.
2. They can stop and change directions - whether that is from side to side or from forward and backwards.
3. They can keep their heads and eyes up while dribbling the ball.
While the first two skills listed above are certainly important, today I want to share with you a sequence of drills that you can use to improve your ability to keep your head and eyes up while handling the ball.
As a trainer and coach my favorite way to drill this often neglected skill is by using tennis balls. Tennis ball drills involve four segments, the first is the initial dribble, the second is the toss of the tennis ball, the third is the dribbling move itself and the fourth is the snatching of the tennis ball. Tennis ball drills are great because they force athletes to work on their ball handling skills while having their eyes focused on a peripheral target.
There are 4 key teaching points when doing tennis ball drills:
1. Snatch the ball don't catch it
If there is only one thing that you take away from this article it should be this; effective tennis ball drills are all about snatching the ball instead of catching it. "Catching" implies that you are letting the ball simply fall into your hand rather than "snatching" it out of the air. It's like the difference between going after a rebound and letting the rebound come to you!
2. Start slow, its okay to snatch off the bounce
It's okay if you have to start off slow, in fact it's expected. If you are unable to snatch the ball off the initial toss, let the ball bounce on the ground and then snatch it on the way up.
3. It's all about the toss
If the toss is bad the overall difficulty of snatching the ball increases tremendously. There are two keys to the toss. First tossing the ball high will give you more time to complete the dribbling move before having to locate and position yourself for the snatch. The second is that it's vital that your toss is straight. If your toss is not straight then you will have to move your entire body in order to snatch the ball which also increases the difficulty.
4. Add movement and speed
Once you master the dribble moves from a stationary position, take the same moves and start adding some movement. Go to the free throw line and back and then eventually to half court and back. If that becomes too easy then start going even faster. Adding extra speed and mobility factor will make the drill itself that much more challenging.
There are 6 parts to the overall sequence I use with my athletes. (Feel free to add to this sequence, this is just an example to get you started.)
-Basketball in right hand, pound dribble, toss with left hand and snatch with left hand
-Basketball in left hand pound dribble, toss with right hand and snatch with right hand
-Basketball in right hand, toss with left hand, double cross over and snatch with left hand
-Basketball in left hand, toss with right hand, double cross over and snatch with right hand
-Basketball in right hand, toss with left hand, inside out and cross over the ball from right hand to left hand, snatch with left hand
-Basketball in left hand, toss with right hand, inside out and cross over the ball from left hand to right hand, snatch with right hand
If you have a workout partner you can eventually execute the same drills above but try tossing the tennis ball to each other
I've always been a big believer that a team's best rebounder and best all around ball handler, regardless of size or position will get plenty of playing time. By taking just eight minutes of your next workout and working through this sequence your ball handling skills can improve dramatically.