Information is useful if you can put it into action. There is a ton of information on this website about becoming a better player, elevating your game, and getting yourself in the zone.
We’ve put together a list of 10 things you can do to put yourself in a position to play at a very high level. These are well researched, proven methods for getting the mental edge, for creating the mindset that it takes to play at peak levels, and for extended periods of time.
Step 1: game preparation
Game prepration is a key to helping you play your best and get in the zone. If you don’t have a well-planned warm-up routine, you’re not giving yourself the best chance of playing your best. And the good thing about this step is that it’s pretty easy to put in place.
Why is a good warm-up in preparation for a game so important? Because it gets you ready to play. If you’re not ready to play, you’re not going to play your best. It’s as simple as that. By getting yourself prepped and ready to play, you put yourself in a position to perform at your best right from the start of the game.
Another key to remember is that your game preparation is both physical and mental, and that it should take place well before the start of the game. Let me explain.
Game prep includes the standard physical preparation (getting warmed-up, stretching, shooting lay-ups, practicing your jump shot, etc.), but you also need to include mental prepration as well. Your mental preparation should include knowing who your opponent is, having a full understanding of your team’s offensive and defensive schemes, and making sure your confidence level is high.
Only by preparing yourself both physically and mentally are you really able to take the court and be ready to play at your best.
Some of the best players in the NBA go through very extensive pre-game preparations to get themselves ready to play. Most players arrive well before tip-off (usually several hours before) to stretch, gets lots of shooting in, and watch game tape to prepare themselves for that night’s opponent.
It just doesn’ make much sense to think you can just walk onto a court and play at your best unless you’ve gotten yourself prepared to play your best. Put together a well thought out routine you can do before a game to get yourself physically and mentally ready to dominate right from the tip. If you do, you’ll be far ahead of most of your competition, and you’ll put yourself in a good position to play at a high level and get in the zone.
Step 2: attitude
Playing with the right attitude is a key to helping you play your best and get in the zone.
Great basketball players play with an attitude, or air, of greatness. They believe in themselves, look forward to battling good competition, have confidence, and seem to play well under pressure.
You rarely see a good player that has little confidence, is scared of playing against good players, and cracks under pressure. That’s stating the obvious, but when you compare what the two (what a good playe does and what a bad player does), it makes it that much more powerful and obvious.
So how do you get the right attitude to become a great player?
There’s no easy answer. But the bottom line is: you have to love the game, love competition, and have a strong drive to win.
If you love the game of basketball, you won’t mind putting in all the long hours it’ll take to get good. You won’t mind all the sacrifices you have to make to work on all the parts of your game you’ll need to work on to reach the level you want to reach.
If you love competition, you won’t ever shy away from playing against the best players possible. You’ll know that if you get beat by a good move, or a good player, it’s a learning process that you can take with you so it doesn’t happen the next time.
And if you have a strong competitive drive, a desire to win, you’ll be well on your way to becoming the best player you can be. Some people have a burning drive to be the best, and some don’t. Only you know if you have this drive, and just how strong it is.
Basketball is a competitive game, and is not a place to be bashful, or shy, or hesitant. If you want to be a great player, play with fire, play with passion, and play to win. If you want to reach the highest levels, this is really the only way to go about getting there.
Playing with attitude is one of the key steps to putting you in a position to play your best, and it’s a key to help you get in the zone.
Step 3: focus and build on successes
One of the keys to playing at your best and getting in the zone is to focus on the successes, and build on those.
During the course of a game, a season, or a career, you’ll have many good and bad things happen to you. You’ll have lots of wins and lots of losses. You’ll likely get lots of praise and lots of criticism.
So one of the keys is to focus on the positive. Remember only positive. Build on the positive.
You’ll make plenty of mistakes during a playing career, and your coaches will be sure to point those things out to you. And that’s fine. That’s what a coach is supposed to do, and it’s all part of the learning experience. And quite frankly, it’s part of what’s going to help make you a better player over time.
So learn from your mistakes and the coachig and criticism that comes your way (if it’s constructive criticism and there’s something to learn from it). Learn from it, but don’t dwell on it. And above all, don’t let it get you down or discouraged. The worst thing you can do is to let mistakes or negativity take its toll on you and get you down.
One of the keys to playing your best ball is to build on the positive, and quickly forget about the negative (once you’ve taken any lessons you can away from those negatives).
By focusing and remembering the positive, you’re creating a positive feedback loop for yourself. Here’s how it works: you have success, and that feeds more success, which makes you more confident, which in turn leads to more success, and so on, and so on.
Now, this isn’t to say you should get a big head or full of yourself and think that everything you do turns to gold. Not at all. In fact, setbacks and adversity are some of the best fuel to help push up to improve and do better. But an easy trap to fall into is to recall a bad play, or a missed shot, or a bad game, and let that chip away at your confidence, and make you doubt yourself.
Don’t let that happen to you. Learn from your mistakes, then forget them. And at the same time, use the positive experiences and the successes you have to generate even more success, and drive you to even greater heights in your playing career.
Step 4: self talk
One of the most effective techniques for playing well, and sustaining that high level of play, is using self talk to keep yourself on track.
What exactly is self talk? It’s simply a process of reminding yourself throughout the game of the things you need to do to play well and be successful. In reality, it’s very easy to get caught up in the action of a game and forget the things that are important. So it’s key that you use self talk to re-set yourself, and keep yourself doing the things you need to do to play well and help your team win games.
There are several key areas that you should focus on with your self talk:
Give yourself pep talks before the game, and during any break in the game (half time or timeouts). Focus on the good things you’ve done in the game and tell yourself there’s more of that to come.
– Stay in the now
Regardless of what has happened at any point in the game, focus on what you need to do at that moment and during the play that is happening now. Don’t focus on any part of the game but what is happening and what is about to happen.
Connected to staying in the “now”, tell yourself to focus. Focus on playing with passion, focus on playing with toughness, focus on staying fired up and competing at your best. And don’t let outside influences impact you to the negative: whether it’s the refs, the fans, foul trouble, or anything else…don’t let it get to you. Focus on playing great now.
– Positive thinking
Closely tied to motivation, but slightly different. Positive thinking keeps you from letting any bad plays or bad calls impact your performance. Focus on how much you’ve prepared, how much confidence you have, and the good things you’ve done up to that point in the game.
Self talk is a good way to keep you focused, thinking positive, and playing at your best. Before the tip-off, at any stoppage in play, at halftime or between quarters…use it to keep you on track and playing at your peak. Self talk is a reminder to yourself to say the course, and is a great way to help you get in the zone.
Step 5: re-sets
One of the keys to playing great basketball and getting yourself into the zone is keeping positive momentum going.
Really, when you think about it, playing great basketball is about putting one good play together with another one, and another one, and another one, and so on. If you string lost of good plays together, you’ve got a good stretch going. And if you put together several good stretches of play, you’re on your way to a good game.
So any technique or plan that you can put in place to get those good stretches going will put you in a better position to have a great game, and get in the zone.
One excellent technique you can employ to help put yourself in a position to play better ball is using re-sets. Re-sets simply means that at various points in the game, you re-set yourself, re-center yourself, so that you can continue playing good basketball.
What exactly does this mean?
Well, let’s provide some examples. Let’s say you commit a silly foul, and then a minute later you turn the ball over trying to do too much. Needless to say, you’ve got some momentum going, but it’s not the kind you want. Many players, after having committed a few minstakes will get in a funk, and their game will start to spiral downward. Worry about committing more fouls will lead to being hesitant and less aggressive, which leads to getting beat on plays, which leads to more fouls, etc.
Re-sets allow you to stop this cycle before it happens. Anytime something negative happens, make a point of stopping yourself, telling yourself to get back on track, and moving on from that situation. If there is a takeaway from the situation (such as getting a feel for how the refs are going to call the game), turn a negative into a positive. But re-set yourself so you move on from the situation with no negative side effects. And moreover, move on from the situation with a fresh start, with no posibility that negative momentum is going to affect your game.
Re-set yourself mentally at any time out, at the end of quarter or a half, and anytime there is a stoppage in play (turnover, free throw situation, etc.). Using this technique, you’ll be sure to keep negative momentum at bay, and put yourself in a position to play your best and creat the positive momentum that can help get you in the zone.
Step 6: mental imagery
Using mental imagery is a proven technique to help you play better basketball, and put yourself in a position to get in the zone.
Mental imagery is the process of using your imagination to picture yourself in various situations, performing well, and rehearsing those over and over.
The benefit to doing mental imagery is that you program your mind to see yourself performing well, and you program your mind to see and feel what it’s like to be successful in various situations. In short, you program your mind, and rehearse for success.
Have you ever woken up from a dream and thought that what happened was real? You mind is a powerful tool, and you can use that tool to your advantage. The world of sports has, for a long time, used the power of the mind to impact sports performance. Many of the worlds top athletes (in team sports such as basketball, and in individual sports such as tennis and track and field) use mental imagery to enhance their performance levels.
Here are a few ways you can use mental imagery to positively impact your performance on the court:
Sit in a comfortable, quiet spot and close your eyes. Picture yourself in a pressure situation (for example, the end of a big game, your team down by a point), and you are at the free throw line for two shots. Picture yourself being calm, and not stressed. Picture yourself dribbling the ball as you normally would, then shooting the free throw, using perfect form, and seeing it swish through the net.
Do this over and over again, each time picturing yourself handling a pressure situation well, making the shot.
In the same way you pictured yourself hitting big free throws, picture in your mind you taking a defender off the dribble, jumping high in the air, and knocking down a big jump shot. Do this from various spots on the court. Picture yourself using perfect form, not being bothered by the tough defense, and knocking down the shot over and over again.
Dribbling and passing
Picture in your mind you handling the ball under pressure, being calm, getting the ball up the court and hitting a teammate with a perfect pass. Imagine yourself handling pressure with ease, getting out of double teams before they happen, protecting the ball, moving the ball effectively up the court, and seeing the court with great vision that allows you to hit open teammates time and time again.
Usign mental imagery is one way to improve as a player, and set yourself apart from your competition. By rehearsing success, by using your mind to practice performing well in pressure situations, you’ll set the stage for it to happen in real life. Mental imagery is a tool used by some of the worlds top athletes because it is so effective. Use it to help you perform at peak levels and get yourself in the zone.
Step 7: routine
One of the best ways to help yourself play your best basketball and put yourself in a position to play in the zone is to use routines to get ready for games, and in free throw situations.
Routines are simply actions that you do the same way every time to get yourself ready. By doing the same things in the same way, you subconsciously get yourself ready for what is about to take place. Getting yourself ready means that you calm yourself (calm your nerves), and get yourself focused on the task at hand.
You can develop routines for various parts of your game, but the most common times that routines are used and can be effective are in pre-game preparation, and at the free throw line.
Most people are a little nervous before a game, and so routines can help smooth out nerves as you get ready to play. They also get you physically ready (warmed up), and prepped to play (getting your jump shot grooved and your dribbling ready to do). I call this part of it “getting a feel for the ball”. By shooting jump shots from specific spots on the floor (usually the spots you’ll likely take shots from in a game), and doing various dribbling drills, you get a feel for the ball so that you’re ready for action once the game starts.
In addition to having a set routine that helps you get ready for a game, having a set routine at the free throw line is also a great way to improve your performance. Since free throws are very much the same each time you step to the line (your the same distance from the basket, no one id guarding you, you have the same amount of time to shoot the shot), it’s the perfect situation to implement a routine that’ll help you increase your shooting percentage.
Each player will develop a slightly different routine, so you’ll have to use one that comes naturally to you. But a basic routine at the free throw line would go something like this:
– Step up to the line and set your feet
– Picture yourself shooting a perfect shot, take a practice shot without the ball
– Take a deep breath and receive the ball from the ref
– Take two dribbles
– Bend your knees
– Shoot the ball with perfect form
The key is to use the same routine each time, and get into a groove so it is almost automatic. Deep breath, receive ball, bend knees, extend shooting arm, and swish. You almost become a machine at the line. All you have to do is go through the routine you’ve practice so many times before and the result is a made free throw.
Many of the best players in the game have routines they follow each and every game, and each and every time they step to the free throw line. Developing and sticking to routines is one good way to help you improve as a player, and it’ll help you get into the zone.
Step 8: get going early
Sure, it’s possible to have an average or bad first half, then have a great second half and help your team win the game.
But generally speaking, you want to get your game going early, right from the tip-off or the time you enter the game. By getting off to a good start, you put yourself in a position to build positive momentum from a solid starting spot. If you start a game struggling and get off to a slow start, righting the ship (so to speak) is just that much more difficult.
One big benefit to starting strong and getting strong over the course of the game is that if you start the game well, you put your opponent on his or her heels. If you knock down a tough shot or go strong to the rim right from the tip, your oppoent is thinking: wow, this guy can play. You may intimidate them, or at least gain their respect. Either way, it’s to your advantage to have your opponent thinking that you’re a player.
Another reason starting off a game strong is important is that many players don’t know the importance of a good early start, so you can immediately score a few buckets, or make some good plays, before everyone else is even fully warmed up and into the game.
And if you’re still not convinced of the importance of a strong start, just think of it from a box score perspective. To have a pretty good scoring game, you only need to score 9 or 10 points a half (for a total of 18 or 20 points a game). If you can get 1 or 2 quick buckets right from the get-go, you’re just that much closer to getting your points. and let’s say you get off to a bad start and don’t score in the first half, then have a pretty solid second half and score 14 points. A 14-point game is solid (especially if your team wins the game). But now imagine you had a decent first half, and scored, say, 8 points. Now your 14-point second half added to your 8-point first half is a solid (to say the least) 22 point effort.
We’ve just touched on a few of the reasons it is important to get off to a strong start, but there are many, many more. The bottom line is: prepare yourself physically and mentally to be ready right from the tip. Go after your opponent from the first second you’re on the floor and it’ll pay big dividends then, and later in the game.
Getting going early is a key to having a good game, and it’s can play a big role in helping you create momentum and get you in the zone.
Step 9: create momentum
Of the various tips and techniques we talk about on this website for playing your best and putting yourself into a positio to get in the zone, creating momentum is probably at the top of the list as far as importance.
The reason is simple: playing great basketball and getting in the zone is about stringing together good play after good play, and one of the best ways to make this happen is to create positive momentum.
To put it another way, good plays feed other good plays, which create confidence, which leads to more good plays, and so on, and so on, and so on.
Here are some examples of how important momentum is for helping you play you best:
– Making a good play makes it more likely that your coach will leave you in the game which will give you the chance to make more good plays.
– Making good plays makes it more likely that your teammates will get you the ball, or at least get you involved in the action, making it more likely you’ll be able to make more good plays.
– Making good plays makes the defense respect you, or even fear you. It puts doubt in their minds about their ability to guard you. It puts them on their heels, making them more likely to go for ball fakes, shot fakes, and to gamble to keep the ball out of your hands. All of these things make it easier for you to get the ball, and score, and get fouled, and make good plays.
And once you make a good play, you create a positive to build on. This positive naturally leads to more positive. All of this positive momentum leads to more good plays. And pretty soon, good play after good play after good play…and gues what, you’re in the zone.
In short, momentum (one good play after another) is the zone. Once you start playing great ball, and making plays, and getting confident…you’re dominating, you’re taking it to the next level…you’re in the zone.
So how can you create momentum?
Get going early in games. Once you make a good play, work extra hard to make another one right away (don’t work too hard and do somethign silly or take a bad shot, but work extra hard). Maybe you make a tough jump shot, then steal the inbounds pass and get an easy layup. Then you make a great defensive play that leads to a score. Next time down the floor you get fouled and make a couple free throws. Do you see how quickly you can start to create amazing momentum in your favor and dominate a game?
Don’t underestimate the importance and impact momentum has in helping you play well, become a great player, and get in the zone.
Step 10: think big
One of the keys to playing your best, and becoming a great player, is thinking big.
Picture yourself being a big-time player, and then take the steps necessary to make it happen. If you think small, you may become a better player over time. But if you think big, and have big dreams, you’re more likely to go after those big dreams and achieve more than you otherwise would.
The mind is a pretty amazing tool, and it responds to the thoughts we put into it and focus on. For example, if a player is averagin 4 rebounds a game, I would tell them to start thinking big, start thinking about raising their rebounds per game average not just by 1 or 2 a game, but to set a goal that it aggressive. In this case, I’d coach the player to start setting a goal of 10 rebounds per game.
You might think this goal is much too aggressive, but let me explain why it might not be. First off, I’d only coach a player to set an aggressive goal like this if they were capable of reaching that level. And by setting this goal, you are telling the player (without actually telling them) that they are capable of doing it. And once the player, in their own mind, realizes that they can achieve that goal, they’ve taken the first step to making it happen.
Once this player beleives they can achieve this stretch goal, they can then picture themselves making it happen. For example, the player we’re talking about can go through recent games in his mind and remember several situations in previous games where he could have grabbed rebounds. All of a sudden, it’s not sucha stretch to go from 4 to 10 boards a game because this player can picture himself having grabbed 3 or 4 more boards (at least) in prior games.
And once this player sets the goal, pictures himself doing it, he then has to make the decision to make it happen. He can watch some tape of himself and see where he could have gotten some more rebounds. He can work a little harder during rebounding and blockout drills. He can work with a coach after practice to get some extra work in on rebounding. And he can make a commitment to himself that he will make an effort to go after each missed shot, with no exceptions.
Do you see how the simple act of thinking big (going from 4 boards a game to 10) can set in motion what it takes to make this thought a reality?
So your next move should be to start thinking big about your own game. Set some lofty goals for yourself, even some that may seem out of reach right now. In a year, 2 years, or 3 years down the road, that goal you set today won’t seem so out of reach. If you set lofty goals, think big, you’ve provided yourself the opportunity to make it a reality. If you think small and don’t dream, you’ve limited what you can achieve.