The importance of ball handling skills cannot be overstated. Whether you are a guard, forward, or center, playing pickup, college, or professionally, ball handling is (and always will be) the most important skill in the game. With good ball handling the rest of the game comes to you, passing and shooting become natural because the ball is always where you want it. When you don’t have to think about physically holding or dribbling the ball, you will have no problems reading the defense and finding your open teammates.
Playing in pickup games does NOT improve ball handling. Improving your ball handling only comes from ball handling drills. If you were going to learn guitar, you wouldn’t join a band, instead you would practice chords and rhythm at home, so neither should you play basketball to learn the game. One great thing about ball handling is that you can practice at home! Just a few minutes a day will result in huge improvements on the court.
Below are the most effective drills:
- Tipping (do in your home!). Tip the ball back and forth from one hand to the next, starting with your hands straight up over your head. Then gradually move the ball down, while continuing to tip it back and forth. Go down to your chest, then your waist, knees, and ankles, and then back up again. Keep your elbows straight and only let the the ball touch fingertips, not the palms.
- Circles (do in your home!). Put your feet together and make circles around both legs. Then circle around the back. And then circle around the head. Then combine them and move the ball in circles around your head, then down your body, down around your knees, and then around your ankles (“candy cane”). Then come back up again. Try to only touch with the fingertips, not the palms.
- Around Each Leg and Figure Eights (do in your home!). Put one leg forward and move the ball in a circular motion around the leg. Then do the other leg. Finally, spread your legs out wide with the ball in front of you. Move the ball around through your legs in a figure-of-eight motion. Keep your eyes forward and don’t let the ball hit the floor. After 30 seconds, reverse the direction.
- Circle Dribbles (HIGHLY EFFECTIVE). Using only your right hand, dribble circles around your right foot with about 5 inch dribbles. Do ten clockwise then switch directions, then switch to your left hand and left leg.
- Figure 8 Dribbles (HIGHLY EFFECTIVE). Dribble the ball in and out between your legs in a figure eight motion, dribble should be about 5 inches high. When going between your legs your one hand will bounce the ball to the other.
- Power Dribble. Fifty power dribbles with the right hand, being sure to protect the ball with the off hand. After completing fifty power dribbles the ball handler dribbles low for fifty more dribbles. Then switch to the left hand and do fifty power dribbles and fifty low dribbles.
- Drops. Put the ball between your feet and grab it with both hands. Start with the left hand behind your left leg and your right hand in front of your right leg. Drop the ball and let it bounce once. Quickly, move your left hand in front of your left leg and your right hand behind your right leg, and catch the ball as it bounces up. Drop it again and switch your hands back to the original position (left behind, right in front) and catch it. Repeat this motion continuously. Finally, try catching the ball before it actually hits the floor.
Travis demonstrating Circles, Tipping, Crossover Dribbles, and Figure Eights:
Keep the following in mind when you practice:
- Head up, don’t look at the ball. You can’t afford to be looking down in a game, so don’t do it when you practice.
- Knees bent, back straight. The lower you are the safer the ball, practice as low as you can.
- Use your free hand to fend off defenders. Don’t forget that you are allowed to smack defenders away when they try to reach in, practice this when doing dribbling drills.
- Keep the ball on your finger tips. Good ball handlers control the ball with their fingertips, no palms.
- Increase your speed! Practice fast enough that you lose control, this will prepare you for game speed.
Why is ball handling important for all players? Ball handling skills are not just for players bringing the ball up the court, shooting guards, forwards, and centers all need ball handling skills. Ball handling even helps your shooting… many amateurs wonder why they can shoot well in practice and then miss easy shots in the game. This is usually because they are not great handling the ball, when they dribble into a shot they are not getting the ball on their finger tips or into their shooting pocket. And on a catch and shoot, they may fumble it slightly causing them not to get their fingertips in position, often causing an errant shot.
Like we mentioned earlier, the best way to improve ball handling is through drills. Practicing them every day will completely change your confidence on the court.