The key to playing basketball well at any level is to play as often as possible when you’re fit enough.
This means that once you’ve mastered basic skills like passing, shooting or defensive positioning, it’s time to start focusing on improving other aspects of your overall game, such as running, strength training and conditioning.
Small players usually have to adapt their play style due to having a height disadvantage on the court.
This article will look offer some tips for smaller players looking to gain a competitive advantage.
Key pointers for smaller basketball players
So, here are five things that those who are smaller in stature can do in order to level the playing field at the minimum.
1. Perfect the art of dribbling
As with all sports, there will be times during practice where you can’t work too hard because you don’t have much energy left in the tank.
It might sound counter-intuitive, but it makes sense if you think about why most people struggle to run fast after coming out of an intense workout session — they haven’t spent enough time getting used to running slowly!
The same goes for dribbling.
If you’ve been working up a sweat doing drills, sprints or circuit training, then it may take some time before you feel comfortable slowing down.
As long as you keep moving forward, you’ll eventually learn how to control yourself better so you won’t need to go full steam ahead every single rep.
Remember: Just because you aren’t great yet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
You just want to make sure you do everything right from now until you reach your goal.
To help you develop this skill even further, here are three things to focus on next:
- Keep your head still. While practicing, pay attention to keeping your eyes straight ahead while you move around. Don’t look over your shoulder to see what’s going on behind you, especially not when you’re changing directions quickly. Keep them focused on where you’re heading.
- Focus on controlling the ball. When dribbling, imagine that you’re holding a tennis ball between two fingers while you hold onto a string attached to its top. Your hand should stay relaxed throughout the entire process, never locking into place. Instead, use it to guide the ball in one direction and let it roll wherever it wants without being jerked back and forth by muscle tension. Once you master this technique, you’ll find that you can change direction more easily than before simply by flicking your wrist.
- Use both hands equally. One common mistake made by many rookie athletes is using only one arm to drive the ball instead of distributing weight evenly across each leg. To avoid falling victim to this trap, remember that when you step toward the basket, you want to distribute half of your bodyweight equally between your legs. Ideally, you’d have equal amounts of pressure on either side of the ball (i.e., no preference to which foot to lead). And since you probably won’t be able to jump very far off the ground anyway, you can dispense with those extra springs altogether. Simply put, you want to “feel” like you’re jumping through the air rather than leaping from point A to B as soon as possible.
While these techniques are designed specifically for basketball, they also apply to similar movements such as when throwing in volleyball or baseball.
Even though you won’t necessarily be hitting the ball directly, the principles behind using both arms remain true.
Finally, when you’re ready to begin practicing dribbling at full speed, choose a good surface area (a driveway works best) and set up several cones spaced apart along the length of the lane.
Then, stand near the end of the lane and throw the ball as close to the middle cone as you can comfortably manage.
Use whichever arm feels strongest to shoot with first. Repeat this drill until you consistently hit the target within 10 feet.
2. Be a leader on the basketball court
In addition to learning new tricks, another way to increase your effectiveness as a smaller sized player on the court is to become a leader among teammates.
Being seen as someone who takes charge and gets others involved has positive effects on everyone’s mood and motivation levels.
No matter whether you’re leading a team sport activity or helping out with intramural pickup games, taking initiative shows that you care about making everyone else successful.
So, if you know you’re capable of becoming a leader, consider volunteering to take charge of something important on the basketball court.
For example, maybe you could organize weekly practices or lead group workouts.
Now, there are certain qualities leaders must possess.
First, you must model proper behavior by setting a solid example.
Second, you must communicate effectively by listening carefully, speaking clearly and asking questions to clarify points.
Third, you must inspire confidence by exhibiting calm under pressure and maintaining a cool demeanor.
And finally, you must demonstrate trustworthiness by following instructions exactly, respecting authority figures like your coach and avoiding conflict.
Of course, none of us were born knowing how to function as a boss, but we can all learn effective communication skills.
3. Work on your speed and acceleration
Once you’ve learned how to properly handle the basketball, as well as worked on your leadership quality, you’ll likely discover that you’re pretty slow compared to your slightly taller peers.
This is because the latter can take longer strides as they run, which allows them to cover distances in shorter amounts of time than you as a smaller player could manage.
Although this isn’t the case for every small player, it’s quite common to see in basketball.
So, while being slow isn’t ideal, you can actually enhance your ability to move laterally thanks to specific exercises called plyometrics.
These types of stretches and contractions involve bouncing against resistance so they strengthen muscles needed for explosive movement.
Plyometrics are typically done on a track, field or mat, although sometimes they’re performed standing up.
Before attempting them, consult a trainer who knows what type of athlete you are and understands your goals. But generally, the idea is to perform sets of 20 to 30 repetitions per exercise, resting 60 seconds between reps.
You could go through plyometric routines such as:
- Lateral shuffles;
- Side lunges; and
- Skipping rope
And finally, another way for you to build quickness is by remembering that the quickest path to improvement usually involves progressive overload – gradually increasing workloads so you can progress faster over time.
However, if you don’t have access to additional equipment, resources or trainers, you can accomplish incremental gains simply by alternating upper-body and lower-body activities.
For instance, alternate jogging/running on treadmills versus walking/jumping ropes or hiking uphill paths.
4. Maintain a healthy diet
It’s easy to lose sight of your health goals in favor of your athletic aspirations.
After all, we spend countless hours trying to achieve success on the court, but rarely give a second thought to the mental toll injuries can take on our bodies.
Fortunately, staying healthy is easier than ever due to advances in technology.
With a few smart choices, you can ensure your health remains strong regardless of whatever comes your way.
First and foremost, establish realistic expectations regarding your recovery timeline.
Make decisions based on objective evidence, such as medical reports and personal experience.
Stay informed about injury prevention strategies and preventative measures, including nutrition, hydration, sleep, mobility and flexibility.
Additionally, strive to maintain a balanced lifestyle that includes adequate intake of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
Lastly, follow a consistent routine.
Proper diet and hygiene habits help you recover quicker, and as a smaller player this is critical because you typically need to work just that little bit harder than someone taller than you.
5. Ask your coach for regular performance feedback
One other thing that smaller players need to do often is consult their coaches and trainers.
Ask them for feedback on areas of your game that you could improve.
Perhaps your vertical leap is slightly mistimed or you’re not able to quickly anticipate the direction in which the basketball is headed.
Qualified coaches should be able to give you detailed reports on the weaknesses that are limiting your performance, and by doing so you’re able to correct those issues and evolve into a better player regardless of your height.
Is it okay to be short and play basketball?
It’s perfectly fine.
A lot of short players have had fine basketball careers, particularly when you look back to some examples like Muggsy Bogues, Early Boykins and Spud Webb.
If you still have doubts about whether short people can take part in a league that’s as competitive as the NBA, then you should take a look at the footage below:
Being a short basketball player is by no means a competitive death sentence!
You just have to work a little bit harder and smarter in order to accomplish your goals.
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