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How Control Can Improve Basketball Performance

ByQueen Ballers Club|@queenballers| March 11, 2023If you buy something from a link on our site, Queen Ballers Club may earn a commission.
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When you don’t have control, you lose the capacity to cope. It’s when you have a choice that toughness is trained, shares world-renowned expert on performance, Steve Magness, in Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness.

So today we’ll explore how Steve recommends basketball players can give themselves a better sense of control to improve their on-court results (did you know pre-game rituals can really help?!), and how coaches can actually develop stronger athletes by giving more choice to players. Let’s get after it!

Develop your basketball IQ anytime, anywhere, with our fun basketball IQ card game (here for beginners and here for advanced), created in partnership with a Nike basketball trainer! Create great goals and keep track of your progress with our helpful printable journal.

How to Develop Control in Basketball for Players

Here are four exercises to develop a sense of control for yourself. These exercises can be particularly helpful if you have trouble getting calm before a big game.

1. From small to large

Take a difficult situation that brings you discomfort: maybe it’s performance-related anxiety or a conversation you’re dreading. What we often do is try to control ‘the thing.’ So if anxiety is the issue, we try to attack the nerves and fear. We try to force ourselves to turn down the tension, and then after that doesn’t work, our brain comes to the logical conclusion that we no control over our body or the situation. “I can’t control my anxiety, so why try?”

Instead of wrestling the giant monster, start with the smallest item that you can have control over that’s related to the problem Is it your breath? Can you intentionally slow your breathing down? Or maybe it’s something as simple as showing up on time or getting through the first play of your game. Break it down to something manageable and feasible. The goal isn’ to stop there but to get a foothold sot that you can gradually climb to the ext level. Once you have a sense of control over the smallest item, then move to something slightly larger. Move from small to large.

2. Give yourself a choice

Without knowing it, we often box ourselves into a corner, taking any semblance of choice away. We feel trapped, pushed to persist no matter what. Whenever we don’t have a choice, we aren’t training toughness. If, for example, you say that I have to complete my shooting drills by 3pm, that might work when completing a manageable task. But when you face something beyond your reach, you’re more likely to throw in the towel and say, “This is impossible,” instead of persisting.

We’re often told that when creating a habit, like going to the gym, we need to be rigid and specific. Show up every day at 7am to work out and never miss a day. But what research shows is having choice, such as “I’m allowed to miss 2 days per week if I have to,” results in a longer lasting, more sustainable habit. All or nothing often leaves you with nothing. Giving yourself a choice means entertaining the idea of quitting, slowing down, or even giving up. By needing to make that decision, you develop a sense of control. Consider what it would be like to abandon your goal.

3. Flip the script

If you have nervous or confidence related ticks – for example you tend to throw up before a game, try scheduling when in your pre-game routine you’d like to do throw up. Interestingly, when that time comes around, you may find you don’t even have to!

Basically pay attention to what nudges you toward fear and avoidance. Those triggers are a signal to flip the script and take away the power of the thing by giving yourself permission to do something you think might be negative. Plan for it to embrace it. This subtle shift might give you more freedom to perform.

4. Adopt a ritual

Basketball stars tend to have their particular quirks, such as which socks they put on first (right to left – Sue Bird) before a game. These painstaking and seemingly silly rituals actually provide the athlete a service through a sense of control. Basically the athlete is trying to establish order in the outside world in an effort to gain control of their internal world. When you utilize rituals, you shift your focus to behaviors that you are in charge of, pushing to the back of your mind the items you have little control over.

How Coaches Can Help Their Athletes Develop Control in Basketball

When athletes compete, they are alone in the competition arena. They make the decisions. Yet, in training, the coach tends to take on the decision-making mantle. Researchers Jim Denison and Joseph Mills, from the Canadian Athletics Coaching Center, suggest giving a large portion of control back to athletes. By putting the athletes in a position to choose – whether to speed up, slow, down, lift another rep, or call it a day -you can take advantage of the power of choice to ‘switch on’ and train their prefrontal cortex, allowing them to understand and regulate the sensations of pain, fatigue, and anxiety that often come with such difficult moments.

In this model, the coach shifts from dictating to putting athletes in a situation where they are challenged, but then giving them free rein to find, search, and choose how to cope with the scenario. Beyond better performance – those in a supportive environment tend to have higher level of mental toughness and higher overall satisfaction.

Here are three ways coaches can lead others with less control:

1. Learn to let go

It’s tempting to micromanage your way to success. Let go of the reins a touch, teach your athletes the skills, and then let them go. Check in occasionally to make sure they are headed in the right direction. Over time, the reins should get longer and longer. Your goal should be to put people in a position to do their job.

2. Set the constraints and let them go

Giving away control isn’t about letting hoopers run wild with no direction. Set up the boundaries and then let people go. For example, in basketball, inform the athletes that they need to complete 10 layups that are all different, but it’s up to them which they use and when. Try to coach your students towards independence by handing more and more responsibility to them.

3. Allow basketball players to fail and reflect

Part of giving back control is allowing them to make mistakes. Give away control in small bites that eventually grow into something more significant. Then have a system in place that allows for reflection and growth. Good coaches don’t scold athletes for mistakes – they’ve already occurred. They use film review as an opportunity to teach someone what to do, and break down what went well and what could be improved upon.

Check out our printable coaches’ playbook for a great worksheet on developing drills that give players more control.

Why Providing Hoopers Control During Training Is Critical

Organizational psychologist Erica Carleton teamed up with sports psychologist Mark Beauchamp to understand the impact of a coach’s style on the players they lead – for the paper “Scarred for the Rest of My Career? Career-Long Effects of Abusive Leadership on Professional Athletes Aggression and Task Performance.” They selected 57 NBA head coaches who were in the league between 2000-20006.

In evaluating almost 700 players’ performance, those who played under a coach who utilized an abusive leadership style saw a clear drop in performance, as measured by a player efficiency score. But the effects weren’t limited to the season in which they played under a coach who relied heavily on such tactics. The impact stretched to the player’s entire career. According to their model, when a player experience a highly abusive leadership style, the player’s entire career trajectory was shifted a notch downward.

On the other hand, leading via needs satisfaction helps create tougher, healthier, happier humans. As sports psychologist Laura Healy reported, ” When athletes perceive their coaches to be more autonomy supportive, they report greater satisfaction of their basic psychological needs, and consequently strive for their goals with higher autonomous motives.”

Contrary to old-school expectations, developing toughness doesn’t involve training camps from hell or exercise as punishment. It doesn’t involve cruel, demanding coaches with little appreciate of the individual. It doesn’t involve one-way communication with little feedback from your athlete on their needs.

Real toughness is linked to self-directed learning, feeling competent in your skills, being challenged but allowed to fail, and above all, feeling cared for by the team.

  1. Being supported, not thwarted: having input, a voice, and a choice
  2. The ability to make progress and to grow
  3. Feeling connected to the team and mission; feeling like you belong

How Control Creates Tougher Basketball Players

In basketball, developing a sense of control can make a significant difference in a player’s performance on the court. The exercises outlined in this article, such as starting small and gradually increasing control, giving oneself a choice, flipping the script, and adopting a ritual, can help players gain control over their mental state and improve their resilience.

Additionally, coaches can play a crucial role in helping their players develop control by empowering them to make choices during training and competition. By giving up some control and allowing athletes to take ownership of their training, coaches can help their players develop mental toughness, which can translate to better on-court performance and overall satisfaction.

Ultimately, developing a sense of control and mental toughness is a process that requires effort and patience, but the benefits are well worth it in terms of improved performance and overall well being. You might also enjoy reading about building basketball confidence, and how to develop a growth mindset next.

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