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Staying Inbounds Mentally
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

As every basketball player knows, you have to stay inbounds. If you have the ball and you step out of bounds, you lose the ball. A ref blows his whistle and gives the ball to the other team.

It's the same thing with the mental game of basketball. When your mind starts wandering, and you get caught up thinking or worrying about things that are out of your control, it's like you have lost the ball. You've lost your focus and mental edge. You've given the mental game to the other team. You've stepped out of bounds.

When you coach and train basketball players, you want to spend time at the team practices showing your players how to develop their mental game and stay inbounds. And one of the best ways to get these players to stay inbounds is show them how to play from the "inside out". You're training them to become internally directed and driven to play their best game.

While the most competitive and successful basketball players do take direction and guidance from their coaches on the sidelines, these players also understand and appreciate that their performance on the court is ultimately a result of them making the smartest split second decisions in each game time situation. At any moment on the court, a player has to perform with a sense of purpose, in the present moment and with the right perspective. When the players know how to do this, they will make the best decisions in every situation that they are facing and dealing with in the game.

In order for your players to be mentally strong and play smart, you want to train them to use what we call "mental gears". You want your players to learn how to use, and shift back and forth between these gears, given whatever game time situation they are facing. By doing this, you are showing your players how to gain the inside track on the mental game. You are also helping your players to think for themselves when there is no time to look to the sidelines.

There are the six mental gears that you want to talk about and incorporate into every team practice:

1. Be Inquisitive

You want your players to know that it is ok to ask questions. But they have to ask the right questions when they are on the court. Questions like - "What do I see?" - "How do I play to my strengths?" - "Where should the ball go to put our team in the best position to score?" The questions are always about what you are doing in the present moment with a proactive attitude. If you ask the wrong question, like - "Why am I playing so badly?" - you've lost your mental edge and stepped out of bounds.

2. Be Intentional

You want your players to realize that it's very important that they know what they are doing at every moment on the court. They have to know their purpose. They have to know what their goal is. If a player is a center or forward on defense, then he has to know that his primary goal and focus is to stop a shot and rebound. For the point guard bringing the ball down the court, he has to focus on finding the open man to keep moving the ball or take the open shot. When a player forgets what he is doing on the court, he has lost his mental edge and will mentally step out of bounds.

3. Be Inspired

You want your players to learn now to inspire and motivate themselves in a game. They can't wait for a coach, teammate or a spectator to do that for them. When they know how to inspire themselves, they will play with more passion and perseverance. Ask each of your players to think of several verbal or visual cues that can trigger their inspiration. For one player, it could be when he thinks what or whom he is playing for. For another player, it could be when he remembers why he loves playing the game. And for other players, it could be a piece of music, an affirmation or a scene from a movie.


4. Be Intuitive

You want your players to think on their feet. To get them to do this, you want them to not only assimilate what is happening right in front of them on the court but to also figure out how to anticipate what could happen in the next moment. This happens when a player learns how to play with his eyes, and what he is seeing, and, at the same time, play with his recollection of what he has seen happen on the court earlier in the game. If the player begins to play with his feelings or fears of what he doesn't want to happen, then he has stepped out of bounds.

5. Be Insightful

You want your players to always keep a "student's mentality". You need to impress upon every one of them that they don't know everything about the game, and therefore, they have to keep an open mind to see every moment and situation on the court as a learning experience. This is especially important when a player makes a mistake. Instead of mentally beating up on oneself, and triggering various negative emotions, players need to see every mistake as a teaching moment. If a player makes a mistake, and simply puts himself down or tells himself that he is bad player because of this one experience, then he has stepped out of bounds.


6. Be Influential

You want your players to understand that basketball is a "we game" and not a "me game". Therefore, you want these players to always be thinking about how they can be a positive influence on their teammates. Whether they are playing on the court or sitting on the sidelines, they should always be paying attention, and to be able to see when one of their teammates may need a slap on the back or an encouraging word. Whether you are the star on the team or the 10th man, every player can make a valuable contribution to a team's season by being a positive influence at every practice and game. When a player can only think and worry about himself, he has stepped out of bounds.

Copyright 2015, Anthony B. Lanzillo

Contact: Anthony B. Lanzillo

Related page: Basketball Mental Prep Playbook