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How to Make Better On-Court Decisions

May 1, 2017



One of the things that separate the good players from the average players and the great players from the good players is the ability to make correct and productive decisions during the course of a game.


However, while there are dozens of resources to help interested players in improving their ball handling, shooting, passing, and athleticism, there aren't many definite suggestions to help a player improve his decision making.


Here are 5 such suggestions for you to consider:


1. Understand your coach's offensive & defensive philosophy

Like beauty, decision making is often in the eyes of the beholder. For example, let's say a player grabbed a defensive rebound, put his head down and took four hard dribbles and then pulled up and shot an uncontested three pointer even there was no one in offensive rebounding position.

Good decision or bad decision? Depends on whether you are being coached by Paul Westhead or Bobby Knight! Knowing what your particular coach wants and expects can help alleviate many decision making problems before they even arise.


2. Understand your own individual role

If you play mainly because you are considered to be the team's defensive stopper and yet look to score every time you touch the ball, your coach and teammates are going to doubt your decision making. If you are your team's primary ball handler and you choose to run down the court while your power forward attempts to navigate full court pressure I can almost guarantee everyone in the gym is going to question your intelligence and decision making. Understand and accept your role and play to your strengths!


3. Improve your overall skill set

Sometimes bad decisions are made on the basis that an athlete knows what to do, is in a position to do it, has the coach's permission to do it, but just can't do it. If you drive the lane and get right to the front of the rim before kicking it out to your team's best shooter for a wide open three pointer everyone is going to think (and say) "What a smart and unselfish player!" However, if the pass gets stolen or thrown over your teammate's head everyone is going to scream "What the heck were you thinking?"


4. Always practice & work out at game speed

Unfortunately, I know a lot of players, and even teams for that matter, who have their own comfortable "practice speed." All during the week their decision making seems near perfect and everything goes smoothly. Then on game night the speed of the action and of the opposition increases drastically and everything changes. Passes that looked open in practice are suddenly being stolen. Getting in weak side help position is now also a step slow and when you dribble off of a ball screen and shoot at "practice speed" and get your shot blocked it looks like you've made a terrible decision. If you want to make correct decisions during a game then start by practicing at game speed.


5. Concentrate on the next play

This might be the toughest of all decision making tips to master and as a result can affect your reputation, playing time, and career all by itself. We all know players who make one mistake or bad decision that is quickly followed by several other bad decisions in rapid succession. Why? Because they can't get the bad decision out of their head and since they are not focusing on the task at hand another bad decision ensues. Before you know it, your coach is subbing you out after one missed shot, one bad pass or one defensive failure. If you get a chance read "Relentless" by Tim Grover and you'll find dozens of examples of players who separate themselves from everyone else simply by concentrating on what comes next.


I know several players, coaches, fans, and television analysts who think that when it comes to decision making abilities players either "have it" or they don't. I wholeheartedly disagree with that and strongly feel that by following the above 5 suggestions any player can improve his on court decision making.

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