Mental Skills of Basketball Players

Jane Kozhevnikova
Published in
6 min readJul 8, 2020
Photo by Stephen Baker on Unsplash

I started playing basketball when I was 7 years old and finished when I was 17. Three different coaches, some of whom were highly regarded players, trained me on how to play the game. They won many championships throughout their basketball career. We took part in regional competitions many times in a year and played with people of different levels.

Below, I share some of the mental skills which you can actually achieve playing this game.


I became a captain when I was 9 years old. Too young for the role.

I was not chosen by accident. Still, I cannot say my basketball skills played a vital role in this decision. Because there were team players who could perform some moves better than I could. From my perspective, the coach chose a captain according to the team member’s behaviour and communication with others.

No one told me what to do and how to behave. I still think it was the right decision because otherwise, I would have been a robot which only carries out tasks. In addition, I did not see any examples of a leader. I needed to think up my responsibilities myself. So, I observed, listened to different coaches and made a list of what I need to do.

This list was full of many things. However, the most important was to support all team members when they failed during the critical game. I understood that for them (and me too) it was hard to admit that they made a mistake when they actually made the mistake. Blaming yourself is the worst thing you can do in situations like this.

Most often it happens in competitions when you are stressed and your fault costs a lot. I talked to them, asked why they picked this way, why they thought it was the best choice and how it can be improved. It was essential to understand that losing a game is just experience but not the end of the world.

Even if they made a mistake they were still a valuable part of the team and good players. Indeed, each of them had their strength which the whole team needs.

Several tips from this experience:

  • Motivate your team to move forward even if we have recently lost a game.
  • Show them how to behave in any problematic situation.
  • Listen to your players carefully as their suggestions and ideas are really valuable.
  • Support everyone in your team even if they have problems that do not relate to the sport itself.

Being a captain is a hard thing. You need to be consistent which means hold yourself in a standard. You need to give 100% of efforts in any competition, training, and even activity outside the sports school. Everywhere you should be confident and remain true to your own style.


Basketball, in general, is a team game.

There were many situations when a player caught a ball and started their weird selfish actions to shoot the ball into the basket. ALONE. The rest of the team thought it was ego-related and silly. It is okay to perform an attack alone when there are no opponents around you or you are highly skilled to deal with this issue alone. However, when you get stuck and do not see anyone around you, this is a bad sign.

Most often it was the problem of individuals. They did not have a skill of running and dribbling with the ball without staring at it. That’s why when they caught the ball and did not see anything except the floor and the ball. Most often they lose an attack. Anyway, passing the ball in many directions could give us a shot, instead, we got less than nothing. You see, cooperation is the key in this game.

If you do not know what to do, how to get out of a problem, ask for help. Others see your situation from a different angle.

In addition, accountability is high. If you miss an easy shot or get caught out of position the team suffers.

Your skills are important. If you do not have your own strength and your skills are so-so, then only 4 players actually play on a court. Bear in mind that the training conditions are equal for everyone and using this time effectively is your priority.

Each training we performed exercises in pairs and groups. We learnt different moves, passes, feints etc. These helped us to identify the strengths of each other and ways of better communication. So, in a game, you and your mates could easily and effectively communicate without any long loud sentences.

Ultimately, friendly teams win often. Because of this, for the coaches’ and leaders’ primary goals are to make each team member close, let them know each other well and create a sense of trust.

Critical Thinking

I must say that this skill you can achieve playing in serious competitions with strong opponents whose actions you cannot predict. Usually, for the first several years, non-skilled players just run after the ball, trying to catch and shoot it. There are no thoughtful actions at all, just basics. You start analyzing the game when you achieve solid hands-on skills and see that some players actually have unusual strategies. Then, you start to see the bigger picture.

Imagine there is an attack against your basket, you do not have time to process the thousands of ways of how to defend. If you were alone, you would just run after the player with the ball. If not, you should think fast, predict the actions of 9 people on the court, change your behaviour depending on what others are doing or have done, and get rid of inappropriate decisions at the same time.

During a game, you are always processing thousands of ways after every pass, move, and/or shot. We learnt tactics and practised them off during our trainings. But in the real game, everything can be different and changes drastically within one second because the game is chaotic. Therefore you need to find a new suitable decision to help us to win this game or at least this attack.

You might find yourself in a difficult situation for which you do not know a tactic or it is something new to you. Start to observe and analyse what is happening around you and judge every possible step you can do. Pick a good one which will lead you to success. If you fail, try again.

Mental Toughness

Many could say “Ohh, it is just a game. What’s so stressful about it? Have fun!” Actually, it is stressful to play a game, especially when you play against a strong opponent. And also playing games is your job, a rating between schools or cities, the image of your school and finally you as a leader.

There is a lot at stake.

The most significant and difficult aspect at the same time is being in the present moment and keeping focus. If you had doubts of whom to pass the ball to, an opponent took the ball and shot it in your basket very easily. It is hard to explain a feeling of shame and regret when you have recently screwed up.

You should have a calm mind in a game to think clearly. Actually, it was hard not to hurry to attack opponents and hide emotions when your team is losing a game. It was hard not to be aggressive because everyone wants to win. Performing some moves under intense emotions can cost you a quarter, or a game.

Therefore you learn how to be emotionally flexible and handle different situations in a balanced manner. Remember that any negative emotions of one player in a team can rub off on the rest of the team. People feel you and they will experience the same if you do not suppress your own emotions.

I have a secret of how to be calm during a game. You need to understand one thing — one team is winning the game and another is losing. Nothing else. If you accept that your team can lose this game because of many circumstances, you will feel less nervous, and as a result, be more productive. You will be focused on the game instead of the result of the game.

In basketball, as in many other sport games, referees also count shots, passes and many more metrics for every player after each game. Sometimes, it is more important to play productively than to win the game.

Sports games do not only include physical skills and tactics. They also include mental skills. In several years you can lose your ability to dribble, or not do it as well as before. However, mental skills are with you every day.

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