Five Mental Training Tips for Basketball Players

As a basketball player

As a basketball player, you want to make sure you have a strong mindset in addition to high level physical skills.

Mental training for basketball involves using specific sport psychology tools and techniques to increase your mental toughness. Because the stronger your mindset, the better you will perform.

In basketball, you have to be focused. There are many distractions you will face during a game, along with many moments where you have to completely center your attention and drown out the noise of the arena.

You also need to be confident. If you doubt your shot, that’s going to lead to you second guessing yourself and holding yourself back during games.

In basketball, there is also a lot of opportunity to face fear and anxiety. You want to be sure you have the tools and mental skills you need to manage these challenges and not allow them to negatively impact your play.

As a mental game coach, I’ve worked with basketball players from the middle school age, all the way up to professionals. So what I want to do with this article is go over five tips you can use to improve your mental game as a basketball player.

Mental Training Tip #1: Pay Attention to Your Self-Talk

The way you speak to yourself as a basketball player has a huge impact on how you feel. And by how you feel, I mean whether or not you’re confident, focused, anxious, or fearful. So, it’s very important for you to take control of what you’re thinking.

Self-talk refers to the thoughts you have about yourself and the way you speak to yourself.

Self-talk impacts your performance during practice and during games. Because what you think consistently leads to how you naturally see yourself as a basketball player.

I was working with a college basketball player who was struggling with performance anxiety. During games he wasn’t playing as well as he did during practice because he got so anxious that he felt like he couldn’t control himself.

He was worried about messing up, getting benched, letting the team down, letting his family down, letting himself down, and embarrassing himself. What we found out was that he was thinking in a very anxious way going into games.

So, we used a specific self-talk routine to get him to think more confidently and in a way that helped center his attention and calm himself down.

We did this by creating a list of positive self-talk statements he could repeat each day. Here are what some of his self-talk statements looked like:

  • I am confident.
  • I trust in my skills.
  • I am a great shooter.
  • I am a strong defender.

You want your self-talk statements to be simple so that you can remember them during games.

Once he had his list made, he then repeated them to himself at least once a day. This worked to reprogram the way that he thought and help him memorize the statements.

Then during games, he focused on repeating the self-talk statements. By doing so, he increased his confidence and reduced his fear and anxiety.

For yourself, it’s a good idea to create your own self-talk list and then repeat it each day to work on building your confidence and your trust in yourself as a basketball player.

Mental Training Tip #2: Practice Visualization

Shooting is a huge part of basketball. No matter what position you play, you want to feel confident in your shot.

The same is true with defense and rebounds. You want to be sure that you trust in yourself to perform your job to the best of your abilities.

A tool we can use to increase the trust you have in a specific skill is visualization. Visualization is the practice of imagining yourself performing in your mind.

It’s often called mental rehearsal because you are rehearsing your skills in your mind.

Let’s take shooting, for example. You can visualize yourself taking different shots and shooting from different spots on the court. You can slo visualize yourself shooting in different scenarios.

If you struggle with shooting free throws under pressure, you can visualize yourself shooting free throws at the end of the game and see yourself making the baskets.

For defense, you can imagine yourself locking up your defender, and then you can also use visualization to imagine yourself getting rebounds and making nice passes.

Think of visualization as a way to double the amount of time you practice. If you take one hundred shots a day, take one hundred more in your mind.

By using visualization, you are working to build the memory of success, which increases your confidence and the mastery you have in your skills.

Mental Training Tip #3: Set Performance Objectives

These can be used for both practices and games as a way to improve your focus and also increase your performance.

Objectives are targets you set that you will focus on during a practice or during a game. You want to make sure that your objectives are 100% within your control. That means, they cannot be based on an outcome.

A lot of basketball players will set an objective of getting a certain number of points a game or a specific number of assists, steals, or rebounds.

In other words, their objectives are focused on stats. Stats are outcomes. Instead, you want to set objectives that will put you in the best position to get the outcome you want.

Because in all honesty, don’t you want to perform your best every game? Then instead of setting outcome based targets (which a lot of times lead to fear and anxiety), you want to set process focused targets.

Some examples I’ve used with basketball players include:

  • Focusing on my follow through.
  • Staying low in my defensive stance.
  • Repeating my self-talk routine during the game.
  • Focus on good off ball movement.
  • Focus on my routine at the free throw line.

All of these are targets you can focus on during a practice or game. The main idea is that you’re giving yourself something to focus on that puts you in the best position to perform your best.

Mental Training Tip #4: Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness involves being completely focused in the present moment. All of your awareness is in the here and now. What this means in terms of basketball is that you are focused on the play at hand.

You aren’t thinking about how the game’s going to turn out, the last possession, your last game, or anything like that. You are only focused on the present moment.

When you play in a mindful state this increases your performance because you are more focused on what you’re doing.

But this also helps to reduce fear and anxiety. Because when you are anxious or afraid of making a mistake, your mind is thinking about the past or the future. So, the more you can play in the present moment, the calmer your mind will be and the more focused you will be.

But mindfulness is a skill, and just like any skill, it needs to be trained. And the best way to train mindfulness is through mindfulness meditation.

This involves performing a meditation each day where you focus on your breath. Then, when you start to think about something else (which you will, this is very natural) you want to bring your awareness back onto your breath.

I suggest starting with five minutes a day. Then, when that gets comfortable, you can increase to ten, then maybe fifteen, or twenty.

Mental Training Tip #5: Evaluate Your Game

As a basketball player, you want to keep getting better. The way you can do that is by making use of a good evaluation strategy.

The strategy I use with basketball players involves two questions:

  • What did I do well today?
  • Where can I improve?

The reason you start off with what did I do well today? is because your goal should always be to increase your confidence. It’s so easy to brush over what you did well and immediately look at what you did wrong or the mistakes you made.

But if you want to build confidence, you must focus each day on what you did well.

Now as you answer this question and the next one, I suggest you write it in a journal or notebook. That way, you force yourself to actually do the exercise, and also so that you have a written record.

So, first you want to list out what you did well. Then you want to list out where you can improve. These will include the mistakes you made, but your aim isn’t to beat yourself up.

It’s to take something from your mistakes and learn, which is why I phrase the question as where can I improve?

Then, once you’ve listed that out, you can use the areas you can improve upon to help set your objectives for your next practice and game. That way, you are continually growing as a player.

Mental Coaching for Basketball

By incorporating the five mental training tips listed above, you can increase your mental toughness as a basketball player.

But if you’re interested in a more personalized approach to mental training for basketball, then you need mental performance coaching. With one-on-one coaching, I will work with you to first identify your current strengths and challenges.

Then, through weekly coaching calls and action steps, we will work on building positive mental skills that will strengthen your mindset and enhance your performance on the court.

To learn more about mental coaching for basketball and see how you can get started, please fill out the form below.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

Contact Success Starts Within Today

Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

Mental Training Courses

Learn more about our two main mental training courses for athletes: Mental Training Advantage and The Mentally Tough Kid.

The Mentally Tough Kid course will teach your young athlete tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage mistakes, increase motivation, and build mental toughness.

In Mental Training Advantage, you will learn tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage expectations & pressure, increase motivation, and build mental toughness. It’s time to take control of your mindset and unlock your full athletic potential!

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Get one-on-one mental performance coaching to help break through mental barriers and become the athlete you’re meant to be!