I’m from Chicago, and here, basketball is life. Jordans are the official footwear of our city. MJ will always refer to Michael Jordan. His will be the only version of Space Jam I consider legit. The Last Dance was essentially required viewing. For the last 10 years, I even worked at a school called Chicago Bulls College Prep.
But for all the ingrained basketball idolatry of my life, I have never really played. I had looked into the rules of the sport so that I could understand what I was watching. I have understood the benefits of playing from my students who exhibit the joy and camaraderie that comes from playing team sports proudly in my classroom daily. So, I looked into what I would need to do to get myself into this legendary sport.
Read on to find 10 tips to start playing basketball and getting yourself into the sport!
1. The Shoes
Okay, so admittedly this is probably the area I knew most about before I decided to start on my basketball journey. I know what makes a show fashionable (and expensive), but also what makes for a good workout shoe. As a tried and true runner, I know what my feet and ankles need in terms of support. For me, a high top shoe won’t work as well because of the weight of the shoe. In order to be fast up and down the court, I need a mid-top shoe to provide some ankle support and provide a lighter weight in the shoe itself. You might want to try out a few shoes to see what makes your feet feel cushioned and your ankles supported. I would suggest a store like Fleet Feet, which allows you to take a run down the block, or a Nike store, which has treadmills inside, so you feel confident in your choice.
2. Warming Up
Warm ups are key before starting a game of basketball. The game, itself, is fast paced and involves a lot of quick decision making. Your body needs to be warmed up so that a quick pivot or a jump shot doesn’t tweak a muscle. A good warm up before a game should incorporate an elevated heart rate and a few drills. You might want to try running the court a few times, dribbling to the halfcourt line and back, practicing layups, or running a dribbling circuit. If you’re planning to try and play a full length game, your warm up should be at least 20 minutes. If you plan to play an abbreviated game, make sure you are still stretching and warming up for an appropriate time relative to the time you plan to play for.
3. Getting in Shape
As has been mentioned a couple times at this point, basketball is a fast-paced sport, which means the better shape you are in, the easier the sport will be…relatively speaking. As a distance runner, the pace of the game is faster than I am used to running, and it involves a lot more stopping, but the stamina is the same. If you already incorporate some running into your workout routine, consider upping the mileage of your runs. A solid 3-4 miles even once a week will help get your stamina up to where it needs to be to play a full length game. Consider adding in yoga as well. The flexibility that yoga provides helps keep your muscles safe in their quick pivots and jumps involved in basketball. Finally, weight training is important as well. Arms, legs, and core should all be addressed on a rotating schedule to keep your muscles and overall body safe. While this can seem like a lot of training off the court, it certainly helps you be the best version of yourself on the court.
4. Practice, practice, practice
As a beginner, you’ll need to master the basics of the sport: passing, dribbling, and shooting. Two of these three can be done independently, but basketball is not a solo sport! You’ll need to connect with a friend, colleague, family member, or former teammate to ensure you practice all the skills you need to be successful on the court. If you’re trying to balance your conditioning and skill practice, you might consider an every other workout rotation between on the court and off the court exercise.
5. The Art of the Dribble
Dribbling is a fundamental part of the sport, but it also requires a lot of hand-eye coordination in the beginning. Once the dribble feels natural and controlled, you can move on to more advanced dribbling skills. According to realbizz.com, “Dribbling should be done with knees bent, a straight back, and head up. Dribble just a little above your knee height, and remember, it is better to gently bounce the ball and stay in control, rather than bouncing it too hard on the floor.” Can’t comfortably take your eyes off the ball for a while? That’s okay! It’s far better for you to progress with proper form than quickly.
6. Dribble with your weak hand
Unlike in baseball or golf, basketball requires some ability to be ambidextrous. You’ll still have a dominant hand that feels most comfortable to dribble and shoot with, but the ability to use both hands to dribble will come in handy during the game. You’ll want this skill to penetrate defense, for passing, for shooting close to the rim, and for the opportunity to steal the ball. It’s okay if your weak hand dribble takes longer to develop. The point is that you are trying!
Shooting is another fundamental of the sport. You’ll want to practice shooting from a variety of places on the court. If you’re like me, your hand-eye coordination isn’t great, so you’ll likely need to start close to the rim and work your way outward. As you practice, you’ll get a feel for your shooting range. This is where those strength training days come in. As you build both muscle and muscle memory, your range will improve.
Jumping is hugely important for basketball players. The ability to jump helps with rebounds, blocking, and shooting. Like all skills, jumping must be practiced. Box jumps are a great way to gradually improve your vertical jump. This is another area where strength training really pays off.
9. Skill and Drill
While you don’t necessarily need to abide by the 10,000 hour rule, you will need to master basic skills before you can move on to more advanced skills. Control your dribble before you try for speed. Practice free throws before you attempt a slam dunk. That means you’ll need to skill and drill to get better over time. It might feel tedious, but the results speak for themselves.
10. Study Other Players
If you want to get serious about playing, the best way to learn is to watch professionals or other highly skilled athletes. They’ve honed their skills over hundreds of hours of practice with precision coaching to help them along the way, but we all benefit from watching something done well when we are learning! Keep your expectations realistic and take what you can away from experts at the game.