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Improve Ball Handling With Tennis Ball Drills


Congratulations! You’ve gotten your players to commit to getting better during the offseason. But, where should you start? What things do your players need to improve? How do you improve those skills? What drills can you use that will make workouts fun?

Every offseason we get emails at Basketball Classroom from coaches asking these same questions. While every player has his or her own weaknesses that they need to work on, every one of your players can improve if they can handle the basketball!

There are a lot of opinions out there on what makes a great ball handler. While I can name at least 12 attributes of great ball handlers, most of these 12 things can be boiled down into 4 primary skills.

  1. Good ball handlers can dribble with both hands interchangeably
  2. Good ball handlers keep their eyes up, letting them see the court
  3. Good ball handlers can change their speeds – they can accelerate and decelerate!
  4. Good ball handlers can stop and change direction

In order to be a GREAT ball handler, players need to be proficient in these 4 skills. What I want to share with you today is a series of tennis ball drills that you can use that will keep your workouts fun while improving your kids’ skills. Tennis ball drills will specifically improve your athlete’s ability to handle the ball with both hands while training their vision to be looking up and NOT down. The best part about using tennis ball drills, is that in as little as 5-8 minutes a workout you can get quality ball handling work that produces real results!

There are 5 points of emphasis and progressions when performing tennis ball drills:

Tennis Ball Drills

Snatching vs. Catching

If there is one teaching point that you implement it should be this: Snatch the tennis ball don’t catch the tennis ball. By catching the ball, you are simply letting the ball fall into your hands. While it’s better than nothing this is not maximizing the drill. In order to maximize the drill you need to snatch the ball out of the air. By snatching the ball you’re are involving one more movement that your body must do while continuing to dribble the ball and keeping your eyes up.

Its All About The Toss

Just like every ace served in a tennis match starts with the toss, so do these drills. With the toss there are two teaching points to make. The first, is that the toss needs to be as straight as possible! If the toss is crooked, then the ball will not come down right where you are, making the snatch that more difficult. Second, is that as you add dribble moves into the drill, you will need more time to complete to the move before you can attempt the snatch. By having a higher toss, you will give yourself the necessary additional time to complete the move and snatch.

Catch The Ball On The Bounce

If you are having a hard time performing the dribble move in time to snatch the tennis ball off the toss, don’t worry, let the ball bounce. Then after the ball has bounced go ahead and snatch it. Remember it is better to do the drill the right way, even if it takes you a day or two to perfect the technique than it is to perform the drill incorrectly.

Add Dribble Moves and Movements

Once you have the snatch and toss down its time for the real fun to begin! The first two things you can do to make the drill more challenging is to add movements and dribble moves. Instead of tossing and snatching the ball from a stationary position try walking forward or backward to half court as you perform the drill. This will add another dimension of difficulty as it will make the toss that more crucial while ensuring that athletes eyes stay up to track the tennis ball.

Once you get comfortable with snatching-on-the-move add a dribble move to the drill. To start, have your left hand pound the basketball while the tennis ball is in your right. Toss the tennis ball with your right hand, cross the basketball over left-to-right and snatch the tennis ball with your left hand. As you get more comfortable try between the legs and then finally dribble moves on the move! My team’s favorite, although TOUGH to do, is a double crossover!

Add a Partner

Lastly, add a partner! This is a great way to build communication amongst teammates! Have partners face each other – each with their own basketball and tennis ball. Players will start with the basketball in each of their right hands and tennis balls in the left. While pounding the ball, players will toss the ball with their left hand to their partner’s right hand. After they toss the ball, players will then cross over right-to-left and snatch the tennis ball with their right hand.

As you try these drills in your workout, remember you must be positive! Start out slow and then build. Some of these movements will be foreign to your players and drops or run-away balls will happen. The important thing is that you keep with it!

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