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Basketball Coaching - Winning The Mental Game - Mental Drills
by Anthony B. Lanzillo

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Tone Lanzillo is a mental prep coach to athletes who want to be mentally prepared to play their best game. He has worked with student-athletes, from middle school through high school and into college, in such sports as basketball, football, soccer and lacrosse. Over the past several years, he has written for a number of sports blogs and websites, including FirstDown Playbook, Coaches Training Room, Ultimate Hockey Source, and Lax Playbook.

Contact: Anthony B. Lanzillo

When you coach basketball players, it's very important that you talk to your players at every practice about mental conditioning, and getting mentally prepared to play. To be complete players, they have to develop his bodies and minds. They need to understand that every time they step onto the court they are actually playing in two different games.

There is the game that everyone on the sidelines and stands is watching that's taking place on the court with 10 players from two teams. And then there is the other game that no one can see but is just as important. It's the one taking place between the two ears of each player. Your players need to realize and appreciate that if they want to give themselves the best chance to win the game on the court, then they must win the mental game in their heads.

You want to talk to the team about how players who don't develop their mental game will not play with confidence, often lose their composure and have a difficult time concentrating on the game. These are players who can easily get agitated or frustrated, beat themselves up for every mistake, argue with refs or players from the opposing team, blame others for their poor performance, and basically have a negative influence on their teammates. Because the players haven't developed and practiced their mental skills, they will not be mentally sharp, and won't be able to make smart split-second decisions in various game-time situations.

time-out huddle

There are different "mental skills drills" that you can incorporate into each team practice.

"Play On Purpose" drill

First, there is the "Play On Purpose" drill or what I call the POP. At the beginning of any practice, you want to briefly talk to the players about the purpose of that practice, that everything they do in practice has a purpose, and that is important for each player to know why he is at practice that day and what he plans to work on to develop his game.

During any moment in practice, you can call out a player's name and yell "POP". He responds by stating his goals for that practice, for the season. You want to make sure that they focus on things that they have direct control over.

For example, if a player states that he wants to win all their games, remind him that this is out of his control. He needs to focus on what he can do to become a better player and hopefully put his team in the best position to win each game. This drill will help your players to always keep their thoughts and attention on their own personal development, and thereby see what they want to do to develop and strength their personal attributes and skills. You are basically teaching them to become responsible for themselves; to take ownership of who they are as basketball players and people.

"Get It Right" drill

The second drill is called "Get It Right". You want to teach your players about the importance of paying attention to the questions that they ask themselves, and making sure that they ask the right questions. Talk to them about how many players ask the wrong kind of questions that will only put themselves in a negative state of mind.

Questions like - "what if I miss the shot?" - "why are the refs targeting me and only calling fouls on me?" - "how come I'm not getting more time on the court" - "why is the other team better than us?" - "who will win this game?". These players are asking questions about things they don't control or questions that will only trigger their stress and anxiety.

You want your players to ask questions that will put themselves in a positive, productive and proactive state of mind. Questions like - "how do I stay in the moment?" - "what do I want to do?" - "how do I support my teammates?" - "what do I focus on?".

So, at different times during practice, when the team is scrimmaging, blow the whistle and immediately yell a player's name and say "Get It". You want the player to ask a question that pertains to what he is facing in that moment of the scrimmage. You want him to ask a question that keeps his head in the game. Questions like - "how can I set my teammates up for a good shot?" - "how do I play tight defense and push this opposing player to his weak side?" - "how do I get the rebound?".

As you can see, they are all questions about being mentally sharp and playing a smart game. You are training your players to ask questions that keep their focus on the present moment, on what they control and on what they want to do or achieve in that moment.

"Highlights" drill

A third mental skills drill is called "Highlights". You want to talk to your players about taking a mental inventory and remembering positive experiences from past practices and games. Tell your players that they should produce a highlights film in their heads that focus on a select number of special memories from playing basketball. And that they can replay that film at any time to remind them of what they are capable of doing and what makes them unique as athletes.

At least once during a practice, yell out a player's name and say "Highlights". Prompt that player to share one of his positive experiences or special memories as a basketball player. Tell the players that these experiences and memories can especially serve as strong emotional anchors when they are having a difficult practice or find themselves in a challenging game.

If you like more information on using mental skills in team practices, drop me an email at risson1954@gmail.com.

Copyright 2017, Anthony B. Lanzillo

Contact: Anthony B. Lanzillo

Related page: Basketball Mental Prep Playbook