What basketball skills should you spend most of your time working on?
What exactly are coaches looking for when they choose their teams and their starting lineups?
Knowing the answers to those questions will help guide your training regimen and give you the best chance to make your team, get more playing time, impress your coach, and help your team win games!
We conducted a thorough study of over 300 youth, high school, college and pro coaches asking them exactly what players should be working on.
You might be surprised to find that most players spend around 80% of their practice time working on skills their coaches DO NOT CARE ABOUT!
Read on to learn exactly what YOU should be working on to impress your coach, get more playing time, and improve your skills faster.
Article Table of Contents / Quick links:
22 Experts Share Their Opinion
Summary of Expert Opinions
Survey of 285 Additional Coaches
Most Players Work on Wrong Stuff!
The Exact Basketball Skills You Should Focus On
Your Formula and Free Resources
22 Basketball Coaching Experts Share Their Opinion
First we asked 22 respected coaches in the online community this question:
“What are the most important skills you want the players on your basketball team to have?”
You will find countless golden nuggets of priceless advice from their responses. Here are their replies…
Don Showalter – U16-17 National Team Men’s Coach 2009-2018, USA Basketball @dshow23
I think there are 6 basic skills that need to be worked on consistently for overall improvement – shooting, ball handling, rebounding, passing, footwork and balance, screening.
Putting these skills into play with whole offense and whole defense which can be 3×3 or 4×4 will speed up the skill development process. It is important to get the reps to build habits then to refine these skills in live situations.
Coaches and players must remember that you never graduate from a skill – meaning no matter how good you are at a skill, you still need to refresh the skill on a regular basis. Stephen Curry is a great example of this. The top 3 skills that should be worked on daily are shooting, passing and footwork with the other 3 skills put into practice several times each week. These skills must be mixed in with things that require no talent to be a special player such as being a great teammate, effort, being on time, playing hard, focus, basketball conditioning, coachability and resilience.
Dr. Jim Gels – Retired High School Coach and Owner of Coach’s Clipboard
Shooting, passing and defending should be priorities.
The object of the game is to score. I see many players today who are great dribblers with a lot of fancy moves but can’t shoot a lick. Great passers can find the open shooter. Many coaches also believe that if you can’t play good m2m defense and ‘guard your yard’, and help your teammates, you can’t play – period.
Pascal Meurs – Pro Basketball Coach at highest levels in Europe PascalMeurs.com
It’s maybe the most frequent question players ask me: “Coach, what should I work on to make it as a professional player?”.
Nowadays, one thinks you have to be a freak of nature to make it in the NBA. Think about someone like Giannis who plays like a guard with a crazy wingspan. Or Kawhi’s claws, Zion’s vertical leap or the mobility of Porzingis just to name a few. Not sure about you, but it makes it hard to identify myself with these body types. Luckily, once in a while players (like Fred Van Vleet) show you can be outstanding at the biggest basketball stage without an extraordinary body. Just by doing the simple things extremely well. Regardless of size or vertical leap.
1. MAKE SHOTS
Put the ball in the basket. Score. Get on the scoresheet. Make a shot. Bring the rock to the hoop. Shooting is – no doubt – the most important skill in basketball. That’s what you expect people to pay you for? Make sure to do it better than anybody else.
2. FINISH WITH CONTACT
As a counter for those shots, you should be able to finish with contact at the rim. I wrote “The hard truth about lay-ups” which sums it up and which has a clutch message for every coach for all of your practices.
You aim for a professional career where you want to be paid for living your passion? Then make sure to be the toughest defender. Not occasionally, but every single day. Every single drill. Be the toughest guy on the court. Always. Don’t go with the flow of the team, but stand out.
These three keys shouldn’t be a surprise. Sometimes I turn the question of a player around. I ask them what they would do when they would be coaching a game. Which are the key skills a youngster should have for you to give him playing time? Most players come up with these same skills.
Jeff Haefner – 25 Year Coach and Co-Owner of Breakthrough Basketball
For me (at the high school level), it starts with defense, rebounding and ball security — I’m looking for players that can defend, rebound and take care of the ball…
1) Defense – To play for me, you need to defend the ball (stay in front of your man and pressure), help teammates, communicate, get in position, stay in a stance, close out and above all… work hard! Effort is really important when it comes to defense. If you can’t play defense, you probably won’t play for me.
2) Rebounding – Next, we need to control the defensive and offensive boards. We need players that can rebound. If you’re a smaller guard that can’t bang with the stronger bigs inside… then you better BOX OUT on every shot and you better SCRAP hard for the ball every time it comes your way!!
3) Ball security – You need to take care of the ball. If you turn it over too often from bad passes, traveling, or poor ball handling…. we can’t afford to keep you on the floor.
After those 3 criteria above are met, I’m looking for scoring… players that can stretch the floor and score…
4) Outside shooting – We need players that can catch and shoot on the perimeter and hit at a good percentage. At the high school level, 3pt shooting needs to be at least 30%. The higher the percentage the better and more chance you have to play for me. Shooters spread the floor for us and open things up.
5) Drive and finish – We also want players that can get to the basket and score. I could care less what kind of fancy dribbling you can do. A simple shot fake and explosive first step works for me. I want you to be able to consistently beat your man in a straight line drive, with as few dribbles as possible, and get to the basket to score where there’s an open driving lane.
6) Midrange and/post ups – The other thing we look for are players that can score in more than one way. Ideally you can make 3pt shots, finish at the basket, and hit midrange shots at a high percentage. In other words, you’re an efficient scorer. It could be a pull up jump shot, post move in low or high post, or floaters.
7) Decision making – This is critical. If you make bad decisions that lead to turnovers, bad shots or mess up the flow of our offense… it will be difficult for me to find minutes for you.
If you can do those things, and do them well, you’ll be able to play for me and probably almost any team in the country.
Julz Allender – 13 Year College Coach and Owner of Courtside With Julz
The most important skill I want players on a team to have is their ability to practice and improve and help their teammates improve.
The first standard that the individual is going to be held to is that they are expected to improve. This sounds simple enough, but in fact it does not actually occur with a certain percentage of players. You probably have played with players who did not get better no matter how much they appeared to practice.
The second standard is that the individual is expected to help his teammates improve.
How to Improve – Deciding that you want to improve, then by practicing correctly the things you want to improve on, that’s how you will improve.
How to Practice Correctly –
- Expect to get better. Not eventually and maybe not a lot but each day each hour each minute little by little expect to get better.
- Practice a lot. How much is a lot? 10 times more than you are currently practicing. The great players make 200 shots a day after practice. The truly exceptional players make 4-500 a day every day except for in season where they are making 1-200. Good ball handlers spend an hour a week after practices doing drills and the great ones spend 2 hours 350 days a year.
- No skill stands alone — you can not just practice shooting or dribbling. All these skills are built on basics..
- If you are not improving, get help and be willing to be corrected. Accept the coaching with an open mind.
Those are just a few things we want from our players.
Koran Godwin – Skills Trainer and Founder of Jump Start Hoops / Ball Hog Gloves
I would say shooting has become a lost art. We recently witnessed a player go from D3 to starting the NBA finals in a relatively short amount of time. Shooting along with ball handling is key.
Self Evaluation is the first step of skill development. No one knows your strengths and weaknesses better than you. You should work on all aspects of your game but add extra reps to your weaknesses.
I tell my guys to focus on defense, being vocal and first in line on every drill if they want to make a basketball team. This will get the coaches’ attention and allow you to display your skill set.
Justin Bowen – Head Basketball Coach at Kenwood Academy and Founder of GOAT Sports Academy
I think it’s important for my players to be able to handle the ball well and guard multiple positions. A team that can guard and have multiple ball handlers can be very helpful to a team especially on the high school level.
Shooting obviously is key but I’ve seen teams that didn’t have great shooters but had the other two things described above and won championships.
Aram Parunak – 19 Year College Coach and Founder of Hoops College
The two most important skills a player can have are competitiveness and work ethic. Having coached for over 20 years with all levels of players, the successful ones have those two things.
Many players have high levels of character, athleticism and even ability to do certain things with the ball in some cases. But competitive drive and work ethic are skills that very few naturally possess. A lot of people think that they do, but I think that comes from a lack of accountability and true examples of what that competitiveness and hard work really look like.
Tom Burns – 40 Year Veteran Coach and President of Catoctin Basketball Club
Generally speaking, here are the top 5 skills I’m looking for, which depends on the age group and type of play (rec, travel, HS):
- Decision making/situational awareness
- When to pass, shoot, drive
- Best type of pass, shot or move based on the circumstance
- Defending 2 opponents (zone D/transition)
- Situational awareness – man ball concept
- Basic ball handling (crossover, hesi, retreat)
- Basic jump shooting form, jump stop shot and basic shot fakes (foot, ball, body)
Don Kelbick – 35 Year Veteran Coach and Pro Skills Trainer DonKelbickBasketball.com
The most important skill to me is mentality. I find most players practice with no concept of the game, where their skills fit into the game or how to use their skills. They’ll spend hours working on their dribbling with no thought of how to use it when they play. They’ll take 100s of shots with no thought of how to get their shot in a game.
Every player I have worked with I have tried to plant the seed, “What’s the purpose?”
I believe the purpose of a dribble is to go by your defender. I try to implant that into every repetition, every workout.
I believe that to become a better shooter, you have to take shots that you can make. That is created before you get the ball. Every shot repetition comes with an action to get the shot you’re practicing. I don’t believe you can separate them.
Most importantly, you can’t beat your opponent unless you can control him. The player, the team, that is in control, wins. If you can’t do that, it doesn’t matter if you can dribble, shoot, pass, etc. If you can, you don’t have to be great at any of them.
Marc Hart – Head Coach at Patriot High School and Owner of System Basketball
To me, the most important skills are….
To be able to shoot the basketball and have the ability to finish in the paint.
The number 1 skill in basketball is shooting!
Tyler Whitcomb – Head Basketball Coach at West Michigan Aviation Academy and VP of E3 Hoops Analytics
I want players that have an understanding of how to play. I would love for a basketball training facility to train players on 5 on 5 or even 3 on 3 fundamentals and concepts.
We get kids that spend a ton of money to get individual training and dribble the heck out of the ball, but can’t handle pressure or know what to do in 5 on 5 action.
I think for players to have a complete understanding of how to play the game and to evaluate themselves on what role they will have on each team they are a part of and be able to excel at their unique role. Not every player is the alpha male or female. Individual training is great and there is a need for it, but in my opinion there is probably too much and during each 1 hour workout it would be nice to get 2/3 or more on how to play in a team capacity. An example would be to set up a full court press and go over the progressions.
Another great idea would be for trainers to talk to their high school or AAU coaches and see what they run on offense and defense and maybe even get some of their sets and include this when creating the workout plans.
Tommy Hulihan – 24 Year Veteran Coach, Owner and Trainer at Tommy Hulihan Basketball
I feel that the most important skills are shooting and ball-handling!
1) Shooting is a must! If you can’t shoot they won’t cover you! Great shooting makes up for a lot of deficiencies! Not being able to shoot the basketball well, limits you as an offensive player.
2) Ball-handling — sureness with the basketball. Being able to both handle and pass the basketball should be included under “ball-handling”.
Ryan Thomas – 15 Year Coach and Director of Player Development at HoopGrind Basketball
Here we look at some of the most important offensive and defensive skill sets for high level basketball players.
Playing without the ball – Most players spend 80%-90% of training time with the basketball in their hands and then the game starts and they spend 80-90% of the game without the basketball. Knowing how to add value and impact the game off the ball is huge. Embrace effective cutting, screening, and relocations on penetration/post ups as part of who you are as a player.
Playing off two feet – One of the most overlooked and undervalued offensive skills in today’s game is being able to play off two feet. Many choose to watch NBA player highlights to pattern their game after. There are many issues with this, outside the pure physical and skill gap, the NBA game is played with so much space and you see players taking advantage of that space. At most levels, including college, the amount of space to make plays closes very quickly. Straight line drives and finishes with no contact are a rare commodity the one foot downhill attacking moves and finishes that many training programs and players hang their hat on are ineffective without space and time. Playing off two feet gives you the ability to play through contact, have multiple finish options, and play off either pivot.
Playing with Pace – Pace includes controlling the speed at which you move and play. Think Chris Paul locking defenders in jail behind him as he comes off a ball screen giving himself time and space to make reads. Using your body and angles to manipulate defenders vs over dribbling and changing speeds are the most effective dribble moves to create separation. Pace also means knowing when to push the tempo in transition looking for quick baskets, when to take chances and when to slow down and be more methodical.
Disadvantage Defense – The majority of possessions in a basketball game are played out of a scramble. Many possessions start off in transition with the defense outnumbered by the offense, learning to bait at the ball to slow it down while playing two offensive players is extremely useful.
Closing out – Offensive players have the biggest advantage when they first catch the ball. A quality closeout is the way to even the playing field. Closeouts are the hardest defensive technique in the game. An average offensive player can look really good against a poor closeout. It’s all about technique, effort and IQ. Here are three main factors that make the closeout so difficult.
Defensive rotations – Players that can rotate and make the right basketball play are game changers. Many games are won or lost based on the ability to play help defense on drives to the basket. Two of the biggest momentum changers in a game are taking a charge and live ball turnovers that lead to transition.
Intangibles – Communication. Knowing your role and the strengths of your teammates. Consistency.
Francesco Nanni – Assistant for Italian Pro Team (Pallacanestro Forli) @Franz_NanniBK
Easy answer first, esp if you’re a guard/wing. You need to be a reliable 3pt shooter in spot up situations! You cannot cause problems in the spacing in the European game without that (unless you’re a freak athlete, but lack of shooting still limits your upside).
But now I’ll go with something more detailed that I think players need to put more work into…
Something that really elevates players is the precision but also the SPEED of their passes. I coach in the Italian 2nd division, and the players that come down from the first division told me that that’s the thing that changes the most… quick pass, and obviously on target.
Something that many times Americans players are missing when they come overseas is an idea of weak-side defense. I know some colleges don’t work a lot on this, but the players that we see are usually good/great on-ball defenders but distracted off-ball defenders.
Last thing and MOST important for me: slow down the game, I was with an AAU team last summer and the game was super fast. I would dedicate A LOT of time studying Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, those types of players, Harden as well. It is great to be able to accelerate but use a slow pace more often — keep the defender on your back during a drive/P&R or coming off screen. I think this is HUGE.
Adam Short – Assistant Coach at University of Central Missouri @APShort143210
I think some of the most important skills are:
– Being able to catch it and make plays out of the triple threat positioning. Not always having to dribble the basketball when you catch it.
– Making the right reads. Whether you’re coming out of ball screens or attacking landing on two in the paint, you have to be able to make the right play.
– Being able to pass with both hands. Being able to jump stop on balance use both feet as your pivot foot when needed and being able to snap passes off.
– Doing more with less, meaning you can make plays off the bounce not having to use four or five dribbles.
Joey Burton – Player Development coach out of Indianapolis, IN @JoeyBurton
The most important skills would be the ability to listen and apply:
- competitive character
- ball handling (which includes passing)
- and rebounding
Adam Hepker – Assistant Coach Ottawa University of Arizona @ahepker14
The number one skill we seek in recruiting and then in our player development is shooting. Really hard to play a kid if he can’t shoot. Not enough time is spent in workouts these days on shooting. The ability to finish would be a close second. Seems silly but kids really struggle to finish over size or through contact. I think kids being able to handle it and pass it are critical too. Decision making would be the last one. A huge part of our player development is live whether it be 2 v 2 or 3 v 3 with constraints and teaching decisions.
Ethan Khoza – Founder of Vision Driven Basketball
1. The ability to shoot the basketball.
Everything starts with shooting. If you can shoot, it opens up everything else for you and forces defenses to play you differently. Shooters are extremely valuable.
2. The ability to read and attack closeouts.
If you can shoot, defenses will be rushing to closeout on you. If they are out of control, you need to have the ability to put the ball on the floor and get by them. This can also involve a jab or a pump fake, but ultimately it’s gotta be quick. A crucial but overlooked skill.
3. The ability to handle the ball
This will be different depending on what position you play. Obviously a point guard will need to really be able to handle the ball while a post player may not need to as much. But at the minimum, you can’t be a liability with the ball in your hands. Having a handle is a must.
4. The ability to defend
Just like shooters are very sought after, defenders are as well. Every coach needs guys who can play defense. And if you can shoot, handle the ball, and play defense, you’ll be a guy who can find playing time on almost any team. And likewise, if you can’t play defense, you’ll lose playing time because of it. Simple as that.
5. The ability to read the game and make decisions
Basketball is a game of solving problems. It means nothing if you can make 100 straight shots by yourself but you don’t know how to react to a defender in a real game. You have to bridge the gap between drills and actual playing. This is best accomplished by playing more basketball. 1 on 1, 2 on 2, 3 on 3, 5 on 5, whatever it may be. Develop your instincts. And you only do that by playing against real defenders, not cones.
Chris Oliver – @bballimmersion, 23 Year College Coach and Owner of Basketball Immersion
The top 5 most important skills I want the players on my team to have:
1. Player led development mentality where they are the primary driver of their development, not the coach or parent.
2. Perceptual and decision making ability that directs the execution of biomechanical skills that only comes from game-like practice and context (meaning they practice offense vs. defense and not simply on air).
3. Coping strategies to handle the desirable difficulties necessary to grow and improve as a player as all learning comes from struggle.
4. Skill = Confidence – So understand that the most confident players are the most skilled, so build ball skills that lead to confidence on the court.
5. Comfort that comes from repetitions of dribbling, passing, shooting and finishing through purposeful and deliberate practice.
Jen Fey – Former D1 Player Turned Coach @ Quinnipiac University and Owner of Jen Fay Basketball
Top 5 most important skills:
#1 Mental toughness – yes it’s a skill because it is developed over time with experience
#2 Shooting – there’s always a spot for someone who can knock down shots!
#3 Basketball IQ – thinking the game is just as important as being fast Or athletic, you need to have a good feel for the game and be able to make the right decisions in order to be great
#4 Versatility – being able to do multiple things and play more than one position is an easy way to earn more minutes
#5 Finishing – being able to get into the lane and finish over not just one but multiple defenders with both hands is a skill not many players have, all great teams have at least one of these players!
Mike Shaughnessy – College Assistant, Pro Skills Coach and Owner of Mike Shaughnessy Basketball
Most important skills for me are:
Shooting, decision-making, finishing, passing, off-ball movement, pace handling the ball, defense. I will focus on breaking down these areas and then layering it as we continue to develop. For players trying to find a spot on a team, bring the intangibles. That truly separates. From a skill standpoint, be able to knock down shots, make decisions, finish at the rim, and defend.
Summary of Expert Opinions
Here’s a quick summary of what the experts felt were most important…
1) Shooting – 17 mentions
Leading the way, 17 out of 22 coaches mentioned shooting as the most important skill. This includes shooting off the catch (3pt & midrange), shooting off the dribble, and free throws.
2) Decision making – 12 mentions
This includes when shoot/drive/pass, reading defenders off of screens, offensive spacing, situational awareness on defense, handling pressure, and understanding how to play the game from a team perspective.
3) Defense – 9 mentions
Defense is next on the list. 9 coaches mentioned defense, which includes on-ball defense, off the ball defense, and defensive communication.
4) Passing – 9 mentions
Passing skills with right and left hand, with pace and accuracy.
5) Ball handling / ball security – 8 mentions
Confidence dribbling the ball with both right and left (strong and weak hand). Able to handle any situation. Change speeds and get to the basket when needed.
6) Finishing – 8 mentions
This includes finishing shots at the basket, whether it’s a basic layup or a contested shot with contact.
7) Effort / focus / resilience / mental toughness – 6 mentions
8) Coachable / listening skills – 4 mentions
9) Moving without the ball (cutting/screening) – 4 mentions
10) Rebounding – 3 mentions
11) Jump stops / footwork – 3 mentions
12) Communication – 2 mentions
Shooting, defense, decision making, passing, and ball handling round out the top 5 skills in the list.
Let’s ask a few hundred more coaches and see if the results differ…
Survey Results from 285 Additional Coaches
Next we surveyed hundreds of coaches via email and asked them this question:
“What are the top 5 most important skills you want the players on your team to have?”
We received a variety of different opinions, responses and terminology!
So we did our best to compile, organize and summarize the data for you into something useful below. If you’d like, you can see raw responses here.
Here’s an organized summary of all the replies (this counts responses from experts above too):
1) Shooting (making game-like shots) – 74%
Out of 307 coaches surveyed, 74% of them specifically said shooting is one of the top 5 most important skills they want players to have.
Many coaches elaborated and more specifically said they want players that can make game-like shots at a high percentage. For example, they want players that can catch and shoot in the context of their offense. They want players that can catch on the perimeter, take 1-2 full speed dribbles into the space that is only open for a split second, and hit the jump shot.
They often pointed out that players don’t usually practice or know how to make shots that actually occur in a game. As an example, some players need a rhythm dribble before they shoot to make shots at a high percentage. Well… you can’t do that in a game… there’s not enough time.
Or players have trouble making a cut and quickly getting into balance to make the shot at a high percentage.
In any case, it’s clear that coaches want players that can shoot!
2) Ball handling / ball security – 72%
Only a few votes behind, 72% of coaches want ball-handling / ball security.
When coaches mentioned ball handling, many of them said that dribbling, passing and protecting the ball (ball security) to all be part of what they consider to be “ball handling”.
Coaches want players that can handle the ball well enough to take care of the ball (minimize turnovers and handle pressure). They also want players dribbling with their eyes up seeing the court.
In addition, they want players that can get where they need to go (advance the ball to the right spots and get to the basket as efficiently as possible). For the most part, they were asking for fundamental ball handling skills so players could run their offense effectively, drive to the basket when needed, and take care of the basketball.
3) Defense – 59%
Defense is next on the list. Coaches want players that can defend. Many of them mentioned man to man defense.
They want players that can play on-ball defense, stay in front of their man and lock down the ball. They want players that make good decisions helping off the ball, communicate and have solid all around “team defense” skills.
4) Passing – 48%
Passing is next but it probably should be higher. We believe that many coaches considered passing to be included when they mentioned “ball handling”. In any case, it was still mentioned often.
More specifically, coaches want players that are good at all types of passes (including right and left hand passes)… hitting their teammates on time and on target.
5) Decision making – 38%
38% percent of the coaches mentioned “decision making”. This includes when to pass, when to shoot, taking good shots, when to drive, moving the ball, spacing in their offense, and other fundamental decision making aspects that coaches want.
Clearly, this is a big deal because you don’t always think of “decision making” as a skill. But when asked, this is what coaches want!!
6) Finishing – 37%
Again, coaches want players that can make shots at a high percentage. This includes layups and finishes near the basket.
Some coaches may have included layups and finishing in their “shooting” category. Regardless, it’s clear that being able to make layups and finish with contact is a very important skill.
7) Footwork – 28%
28% of the coaches have “footwork” in their top 5 most important skills. This can include front pivots, back pivots, step throughs, drop steps, combinations, and defensive footwork.
8) Rebounding – 20%
20% of the coaches mentioned rebounding in their top 5 skills.
9) Effort / intensity – 20%
Again, you wouldn’t normally think of this as a skill… but it came up often so it’s clearly very important to coaches. If the survey was worded differently, we think this might be the #1 or #2 attribute coaches are looking for.
Coaches are looking for players that are focused, work hard and COMPETE in practice and games!
10) Teamwork – 16%
Just like effort / intensity, the exact same thing goes for teamwork. If the survey was worded differently, we think this might be the #1 or #2 attribute coaches are looking for.
In the end, coaches want to win games. To do that they NEED players working together to get the best shots possible and also lower your opponent’s shooting percentage. That is done through sharing the ball, working together, helping each other and teamwork!
11) Getting open / moving without ball / screening – 16%
Coaches want players that can move without the ball… cutting, screening, and spacing to get themselves and teammates open. The ability to get open will create more open shots and a higher shooting percentage.
12) Other Skills Mentioned
Remember, we only asked for the top 5 skills from coaches — so we’re sure that many of them left out other skills they want their players to have. They just gave us their “top 5 most important skills”.
So you should consider everything above to be very important!
And you should give serious consideration to the rest of the skills that were mentioned numerous times:
- coachability – 8%
- communication – 7%
- spacing – 6%
- toughness – 6%
- respect / attitude – 6%
- listening – 5%
- athleticism – 5%
- leadership – 5%
- joy of playing game – 5%
Again, I don’t want to diminish the importance of this last set of skills. If coaches could have listed 10-20 top skills, I’m sure many more would have mentioned them.
What if we exclude responses from youth coaches? Do the numbers change?
If we only count responses from coaches of teams with players 17 years or older, here are the top 10 results:
- Shooting – 81%
- Ball handling – 65%
- Defense – 51%
- Passing – 51%
- Decision making – 38%
- Finishing – 36%
- Footwork – 38%
- Rebounding – 20%
- Teamwork – 19%
- Effort – 19%
The percentages changed a little bit — but not much. The order of the top 10 stayed exactly the same, except “teamwork” and “effort” tied.
The top 10 results are almost identical. High school and college coaches want the same thing from their players.
Did You Notice Over 90% Mention Fundamental Skills!
Did you notice this?
Over 90% of the coaches surveyed either directly listed out fundamental skills (shooting technique, passing, catching, pivoting, dribbling, and footwork) — or they specifically said the words “fundamental skills”.
Clearly, that is the #1 thing coaches want, yet many players still come into their programs lacking those skills!!!!
Why is that?
Most Players Spend 80% of their Time Practicing the Wrong Stuff!
Ok, let’s be honest. How much time do you actually spend working on the skills that coaches want…
Do you go 100% game speed practicing shots that actually happen in a game?
Do you practice “catching and shooting” coming off of screens and hard cuts with a quick and efficient release? And with a hand in your face?
Do you work on your defensive skills like closeouts, on ball footwork and agility?
Do you practice the basic ball handling, footwork, pivoting and passing skills that coaches want you to be really good at?
Do you work your decision making skills by using small sided games and 1v1 simulations? Do you play game-like 2v2 and 3v3 with your teammates?
Do you work on rebounding? (yes, there are drills you can do on your own)
If you’re like most players, the answer is: NO I do not work on those skills!
Here’s the reality…
I have watched a lot of players practice in the gym…
It’s always interesting to see what they do without guidance from a seasoned and knowledgeable coach guiding them. They rarely practice what is truly important.
Does this sound like one of your practice sessions?
Here’s what it usually looks like:
- Stationary dribbling with 1 or 2 basketballs (practicing moves never used in a game)
- Dribbling through or around cones with no defenders (cones are never used in games)
- Try to throw down a few dunks (usually unsuccessfully)
- Next you’ll work on shooting and it looks something like this…
“Take one, two or three dribbles, maybe go through the legs a couple times, take a long range shot. Maybe even try a step back move. Repeat.” (Again, practicing shots that never happen in a game and also practicing very inefficiently.)
- Try to throw down a few more dunks to see if your vertical magically improved
- Next, you might work in a few layups, free throws, try a couple drills from TikTok, and/or play some pick up games. But there’s no real plan or strategy to the workout.
- Lastly, you might work on your vertical jump using a program that you found online.
None of the coaches in our survey mention dunking, vertical jump, 1v1 moves, or step back jump shots. Yet go watch players practice. That’s what most of them spend their time on.
I very rarely see players practicing shots that actually happen in a game. It’s usually one or two dribbles and shoot. They don’t have a plan and they don’t’ set up situations that actually happen in a game.
I very rarely see players practicing defense and agility. Why not? This is one of the most important skills coaches are looking for!!!
I rarely see players practicing passing, rebounding, finishing through contact or footwork. Yet, these are top rated skills that coaches want from their players..
The numbers don’t lie!
This survey tells you what coaches want. Yet clearly, players don’t realize this or they just don’t care. Because they spend VERY little time practicing these skills on their own or learning the concepts.
If you fell into that trap, don’t feel bad, you’re not alone.
But now you know what coaches want. And knowledge is power!
Here are the EXACT Basketball Skills You Should Focus On (According to the Survey and the Experts)
For your convenience, we have compiled all the skills into one place for you…
According to the survey, the most important skills for players to focus on (in this order) are:
- Form shooting technique (work on this every practice)
- Catch and shoot (while doing your shot prep for efficiency) – 3pt and midrange
- Shooting after a game-like cut
- Shooting off the dribble (at game speed, separating from defender) – primarily mid-range distances
- Free throws
2) Ball handling
- Left and right hand dribbling with eyes up
- Ball security – protecting the ball, retreat dribbles
- Basic cross over – low and tight, protecting the ball
- Speed dribble (dribbling full speed with right or left)
- Basic change of direction dribble (ex: crossover)
- 1 or 2 efficient dribble moves to get by your defender in as few dribbles as possible
- On ball footwork
- Off ball defense
- Chest pass, overhead pass, bounce pass
- On target passes!
- Crisp passes
- Coordination to pass with right and left hand
- Catching the ball – meeting your pass
5) Decision making
- When to shoot, drive, or pass
- Spacing on offense
- Reading the situation when making cuts and screens
- Ball screen reads
- Handling pressure situations… avoid trapping areas
6) Finishing at the basket
- Basic layups off 1 and 2 feet
- Making layups on right and left side of basket
- Finishing contest layups and through contact
- Making layups from various angles and situations that happen in a game
- Protect the ball on layups
- Jump stops
- Front and reverse pivots
- Drops steps and step through
- Pivot to protect under pressure
- Boxing out
- Crashing offensive boards and swim moves
- Going to get the ball!
- Timing of your jump
- Grabbing the ball with two hands and securing it
- Positioning & anticipation (where rebounds go)
- Hustle plays
- Listening to the coach
- Passing to the open player
- Bringing positive energy by giving out high fives, cheering from the bench and so on
- Helping teammates on defense
- Knowing the plays, schemes and responsibilities
11) Moving without the ball
And all of these skills should be practiced at game speed, game intensity and in as game-like conditions as possible.
This is Gold – Your Secret Formula to Reach Your Goals — Plus FREE Resources
Read through this study closely. This tells you exactly what you should work on.
There is no second guessing here. It’s coming directly from coaches that make decisions on WHO PLAYS and WHO DOES NOT PLAY. And the numbers don’t lie.
So take this knowledge and turn it into your power…
You should spend significant time practicing your catch and shoot skills, shooting off the dribble, ball handling, defense & agility, finishing at the basket, footwork and decision making. Make all the drills game-like by simulating the speed, intensity and game situations that occur in 5v5.
Here are a few free videos and resources to help you improve the skills that your coaches want:
Improve Your Shooting Technique – Do This Drill Before Every Workout
3 Game-Like Basketball Shooting Drills: Coming off Screens and Cuts
3 Drills to Improve Your Ball Handling & Shooting Off the Dribble
7 Speed & Agility Drills to Improve Your Defense
Ball Handling, Footwork & Conditioning Workouts You Can Do AT HOME
Make More Layups w/ the #1 Finishing Move ALL Players Should Learn First
After watching the videos above, put together a workout plan based on what coaches really want from their players.
Then get to work!!!
Contact me if you need help with your plan or have questions.
Leave your comments, questions and thoughts below.
This is great information that players need to know. Thanks for putting this together!
This is great resource thanks
Informative and filled with application. Thanks for the information. Even with a wide variety of coaches, you get the idea they are looking for the same particular set of skills.
basketball is the best sport to play and this will need to be shown to other players
Experts put ‘decision making’ #2 but you put it at #5; you prioritized ball handling.
You prioritized footwork and rebounding ( #7,8) while experts did not ( #11, 10).
It takes time and work to be a good shooter. That cannot happen in 4 hours/week practice. How do we persuade/show kids how to work on their shooting outside of practice. Lack of ability to shoot the ball is the biggest difference I see over the last 15 years.
Thanks for doing this, gord
Good points! I have found there’s no magic formula, but to persuade kids to practice shooting more often and consistently, you need to persuade them more often and more consistently. The repetition and using different ways to say the same thing eventually gets through to some of them. Some of course never take it to heart. But like most things, I think repetition is key.
Also, I like to explain the “reason why” they need shoot often and give them data to back it up. Share some stories of what the great shooters do. Stories can be a very effective way to persuade and get the point across. There are lots of angles to take. Sharing the data from this article is something else that might not hurt.. so they see the importance for shooting the ball.
Thanks for the feedback and maybe others have more ideas to add!
Coaches don’t practice what they preach. All they do is want the tall athletic player with no IQ. They say they want skilled players with IQ have not been in trouble and that can be coached, but that’s not truthful. They want what everyone wants so you miss the Van Vleet’s, Ja, Steph, CJ, Lillard s.
I’m tired of coaches not telling the truth.
It s very sad!!