Ways to Learn Basketball Drills & Plays Easier

As the level of basketball competition increases, from youth league to high school, college and the pros, the types of offensive and defensive plays and formations get more complicated. However, there are some basic aspects of all drills and plays, and mastering these fundamentals will make it easier to learn the variations taught to you by your coaches.


This is one of the most fundamental defensive principles in basketball, and keeping it in mind will help with most defensive drills you learn. The idea is simple: Keep yourself between the ball (specifically, the player with the ball) and the player you’re guarding. And if you can’t put your whole body between the ball and your man, at least get an arm out there to deny an easy pass to your man.

Move Without the Ball

When learning a new play on offense, it’s easy to focus on what to do when you have the ball or what the player with the ball is supposed to do. But how and where players move without the ball is crucial to the success of most plays. Players without the ball usually have one of three jobs in a play: Setting a pick or screen to separate a teammate from his defender; cutting to the basket to be in position to catch a pass and score; or getting open to give the player with the ball an option. So when you’re learning a play, pay close attention to what the coach wants all the players to do and, unless your job is to establish position and set a pick, always move to keep your defender on his toes and give your teammates a target.

Practice on Your Own

The more comfortable you are handling the basketball, the easier time you’ll have learning plays and drills in practice. To boost your comfort level, practice dribbling the length of the court without looking at the ball once. Set up a “slalom course” with small cones or any objects that will force you to cut to your right and left. Work on establishing your pivot foot, especially if you’re a big player and will spend time around down near the basket. Take a ball with your back to the basket and work on moves, such as layups and hook shots, after establishing your pivot foot.

Zone Defense

Understanding the philosophy of a zone defense is important because your natural tendency might be to stick with a player you’re guarding wherever he goes. Instead, remember that you have an area of the court to cover, but that area might extend out a little farther if the other team is hitting its outside shots. When playing a zone, always keep your hands up to disrupt the defense and be aware if opposing players are inside the zone between you and the basket. Stick with your area of the zone, but be willing to help out if an opponent gets by a teammate and penetrates the zone either with the ball or to catch a pass for an easy bucket.

About this Author

James Roland is the editor of a monthly health publication that has approximately 75,000 subscribers in the United States and Canada. Previously, he worked as a newspaper reporter and editor, covering issues ranging from the environment and government to family matters and education. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon.