A Step by Step Drill to Learn Ball Handling in Basketball

Don't join a team before learning ball handling! This is one of the most useful advice you will get as an aspiring basketball player. Better yet, you shouldn’t even audition for a team without your ball handling skills in place.


Why Is Learning Ball Handling Important?

There are no figures in quantifying the ball handling skills of basketball players. But when a great ball handler like Stephen Curry comes along, you begin to question such absence! Curry beats the best perimeter defenders with his general ball wizardry.

His killer crossovers and behind-the-back dribbles are such beautiful but deadly moves.Of course, there are many more magicians like Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, and Derrick Rose. Their ball handling skills have made them valuable players for their teams.

When their ball handling skills translate to successful shots, this isn’t surprising.The value of ball handling especially dribbling wasn’t as recognized as it is now. Dribbling and passing were traditionally seen as methods of transportation.

Shooting, in contrast, was seen as the be-all and end-all of a player’s value. Basically, dribbling and passing were avenues to get the ball from Point A (hands) to Point B (basket).

But times have changed since the National Basketball Association’s founding.Ball handling has evolved into its own full-fledged art form! The contemporary ball handling savants dribble and pass with two intents in mind:

  • Create the best possible scoring openings for themselves and their teammates
  • Make the opposing team’s defenders paralyzed, albeit temporarily, in the process

The bottom line: Every player must learn satisfactory to excellent ball handling skills! Shooting is still the most desirable skill since points matter. But dribbling and passing skills also matter during the game.

Learn Basic Ball Handling Skills

Every aspiring basketball player can learn ball handling skills through practice. Passing and dribbling drills are the best methods, as well as game applications on the court.

Even the best ball handlers in NBA history spent hours on these drills. A few tips about ball handling drills must first be made.

  • Start working on technique drills since it builds up confidence.
  • Follow up with speed drills to build up on the techniques learned.
  • Apply both technique and speed in game-like conditions.

The logical progression results in more confident, smart and aggressive players. The drills usually start with stationary ball handling drills for technique.

These are then followed by basic and advanced dribbling and passing drills.In all types of drills, the fundamentals are always emphasized.

These fundamentals include keeping their heads up and working in an athletic position. Even in the drills, you should think as if you’re in a championship game. Adding pressure and challenge to your drills is a must for several reasons:

  • Build muscle memory in your dribbling, passing and shooting muscles
  • Develop confidence in your ball handling skills
  • Prepare your mind for the pressures of actual games

Keep in mind that basketball is as much a physical as it is a mental game. The more developed your mind and body, the better your game can be. Even just 10-15 minutes a day spent on ball handling drills will add to your skills.

You can ask a coach to provide feedback, ask a friend for help, and practice on your own. You should also customize these drills according to your strengths and weaknesses. Remember, too, that frequency, duration and intensity of your drills will affect your results.

Raw talent isn’t a substitute for hard work in basketball. These are ball handling drills in general.

1. Ball Slaps

Hold a ball in front of your right hand and slaps it with your left hand. Switch hands and repeat.

2. Body Circles

Hold a ball with hands. Take it around your head, waist and knees to complete a full circle clockwise. Repeat the routine in reverse – knees, waist and head. Repeat but in a counterclockwise direction.

3. Figure 8 Around the Legs

Hold a ball in your right hand. Adopt the athletic stance – feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Weave the ball between and around your legs to make figure-eight patterns.

4. Straddle Flip

Adopt the athletic stance. Hold a ball with both your hands and in front of your knees. Drop the ball and catch it with both hands behind your knees. Drop the ball again and catch it with your hands in front of your knees.

Be sure to catch the ball before it hits the ground. The ball should stay between your legs while your hands continually change positions.

5. Blur

Put a ball between your feet and grab it with both hands. Place your left hand behind your left leg. Put your right hand in front of your right leg. Drop the ball and let it bounces once.

Move your left hand in front of your left leg while your right hand moves behind your right leg. Catch the ball on its upward motion. Drop the ball again. Switch hands back to their original position. Catch the ball again. Repeat at least 10 times for added difficulty.

6. Figure-Eight Dribbling

This is similar to the stationary figure-eight pattern except dribbling is done.

7. Dribble Attack

This involves several players dribbling within the free throw lane. Each player maintains his dribbling inside the lane while also knocking the other players’ balls away.

A player who kills or loses his dribble, or crosses the lane lines, is eliminated. Other dribbling drills are the Maravich drill, the speed drill, and the two-ball drills. You will find dozens of these drills online so there should be no excuse to skip on them.

Advanced Ball Handling Skills

1. Develop a Feel for the Ball

Ball handling refers to the knowledge of the game itself. As such, it integrates passing and dribbling the ball, as well as decision-making skills. Like all aspects of the game, it demands plenty of practice for near-perfection.

Drills are a must in improving your ball handling skills. These exercises can improve several aspects of your game including:

  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Hand quickness
  • Ambidexterity (i.e., the ability to use both hands in dribbling, passing and shooting)
  • Catching (i.e., receiving the ball)
  • Dribbling

You have to develop a feel for the ball so that you can have better control over it. The greater your control over it, the better your game can be. You can make the shots more often instead of committing turnover mistakes. You will find plenty of ball handling drills like:

  • Maravich series
  • Steve Nash passing series
  • One-ball dribbling with and without cones
  • Two-ball drilling with and without cones
  • Tennis ball dribbling

These drills can also be used as warm-up drills before progressing into advanced drills. But be sure to spend 5-10 minutes only of each practice on these drills.

Otherwise, you will likely neglect the other components of ball handling. You can also develop a feel for the basketball by:

  • Being aware of its feel when in your hands.
  • Keeping your fingers in their proper position on the ball.
  • Predicting the trajectory of the ball with every shot.

Indeed, effective ball handling demands hours upon hours of practice on the court! This is exactly why even the best NBA players spend their off-season days on the court.

2. Dribble the Ball at Any Speed

Ball handling also involves the ability to dribble at any speed. Be sure to master slow, medium and fast speeds of dribbling first. You should have greater control over the ball’s direction at these speeds, too.

The best way to do so: Just dribble up and down the court at slow, medium and fast speeds. You should also dribble while walking and running; keep the same rhythm for each speed. Your hand-eye coordination, hand quickness, and footwork will come in handy here.

While dribbling at different speeds, keep these tips in mind, too:

  • Keep your head up. You have to see what’s in front so that you can make smart decisions about passing and shooting. You’re not just dribbling a ball but also making decisions about your next move. Your next move matters more than your dribbling skills.
  • Keep your hand on top of the ball. Otherwise, you can be called out by the referee for carrying the ball. You will also compromise your control over the ball because of the carrying motion.

3. Change Your Pace

Ball handling also involves the ability to change speeds or pace. You can be inspired by the speed with which Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets can do so. Why is changing your pace important? The skill will enable the following moves on the court:

  • Getting past your defender
  • Reducing turnovers
  • Creating a successful shot off the dribble

For example, you can make two hard dribbles while at the basket. Your next move can be a hard stop while the defender flies by. You can make the shot, thanks to the space created for it.

The best way to develop changing of pace: Just practice changing your pace from walking to full speed. You should practice at all speeds, too – slow, medium and fast. You can experiment with the combinations, such as from slow to fast, or from slow to full speed.

4. Dribble While Moving Backwards

Ball handling demands going forward and backward to defend the ball and make the shot. You should be able to dribble the ball while moving backwards, too. This is a useful skill when backing out of traffic.

A few dribbling drill tips in this regard:

  • Get in a position as if you’re protecting the ball.
  • Shuffle forwards and backwards on the court. Cover the court by moving up and down it while dribbling.
  • Run forward at a faster speed while dribbling.
  • Make a hockey stop (i.e., turn and run in another direction).
  • Shuffle two steps backwards.

You can also mix the forward and backward motions so that you can be prepared for any situation on court.

5. Have Two Dribbling Moves

Ball handling also means having two types of dribbling moves. These are the primary and counter dribble moves.

Your primary dribbling move is your go-to move, which should be challenging to stop. Your opponents will then adjust their approach to stop it, a move that you have to expect.

But this is where your counter dribble move will come in. You change your move from the primary to the counter dribbling move. Your opponent will keep guessing and, thus, you have a higher chance of making the shot or pass.

For example, your primary move can be the cross over. Your counter dribble move can be the hesitation move.

Final Words

Ball handling is a life-long learning experience. You have to perform drills even when you’re in the professional leagues. Your mind and body should be practiced as often as possible for best results.

Ball handling goes beyond trick dribbling and passing, too. You have to combine it with informed judgment to get productive scoring opportunities. You will likely get a spot on the team, if you do.

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