Throughout every basketball season and even more so during the playoffs, everyone is reminded that the team that makes the fewest mistakes is usually going to win the game. While I believe that to be a true statement, it's important to realize that the first step in cutting down mistakes is to cut down on individual mistakes.
Just about all individual player mistakes (and ultimately team mistakes as well) can be categorized into one of four groups: physical mistakes, mental mistakes, execution mistakes, and effort mistakes.
1. Physical Mistakes
The types of physical mistakes that we are talking about here are generally a result from a lack of skill, a lack of practice, or both.
Shooting with poor mechanics, using right hand as you dribble the ball down the left side of the floor while being closely guarded, and attempting a one-handed pass across your body are just a few examples of skill related mistakes.
The good thing is that most of these mistakes can be greatly reduced with proper instruction, lots of practice, and purposeful feedback. It's been widely documented that it can take 10,000 hours of practice to become a world class performer of any skill.
This is why renowned skill instructor Kevin Eastman of the Boston Celtics says that every workout needs to include shooting and ball handling drills, regardless, of your age and current talent level.
2. Mental Mistakes
Some mistakes appear to be physical at first glance but they are really mental mistakes instead. For example, when a pass is thrown into an area overcrowded with defenders and is stolen we usually say it was a "bad pass." However, the pass may have been thrown perfectly but it was the decision to throw it into a crowd that was the mistake.
Another type of mental mistake is losing focus on the task at hand. Not knowing how much time is on the clock, losing track of your man on defense, and running the wrong offense are all examples of mental mistakes.
Mental mistakes drive coaches crazy, especially if the same mistake is often repeated by the same player!
3. Execution Mistakes
These mistakes are often a combination of physical and mental. Let's say a player may have been taught by one coach not to box out but to aggressively pursuit the ball instead. (This was the philosophy of UCLA's John Wooden) Now that his current coach wants him to box out all the time, this player often "forgets" during the heat of the game because he hasn't thoroughly learned the skill yet to the point where he does it instinctively.
Lower level games are loaded with execution mistakes but these should decrease as players gain more understanding and experience. However, it is not something that should be taken lightly. Even NBA games are lost every season as a result of poor and sloppy execution.
4. Effort Mistakes
This is by far the worse type of mistake that a player can make and usually results in a one way ticket to the end of the bench! Coaches don't like them but can tolerate and work with physical, mental, and execution mistakes but there is absolutely no excuse for a lack of effort.
If you don't want to play hard and give every possession your very best effort, then you shouldn't be playing at all. It's really that simple!
If you want to become a better player and help your team win more games, then eliminate these four types of mistakes and you will be well on your way.