4 Sports Psychology Techniques to improve your basketball

Practice goes a long way in improving your basketball skills. But it’s not just about improving physically that makes all the difference. Mentally tough athletes also have a big advantage over their opponents – they can handle the demands of training better, cope better under pressure, can visualise winning, set goals, focus better, and have the ability to motivate others.

Sports psychology has evolved massively over the years and all professional teams utilise a range of strategies to optimise their performance. But you don’t have to engage a sports psychologist to become tougher mentality. There are several techniques the experts recommend which you can implement yourself, leading to a noticeable improvement in your basketball.

Here are 4 strategies from sports psychologists that you can practice and implement throughout your basketball career.

1. Visualisation

Visualisation is similar to “positive thinking” and used widely in basketball. We are often faced with difficult tasks out on the court and rehearsing these in our heads is a great way to practice them, so we are suitably prepared when they really happen.

Using visualisation allows us to improve our skills in these tough situations by repeating them over and over in our minds and increasing our confidence on game day.

Here are some visualisation techniques to practice.

  1. See the environment: the court, the teammates, the opposition.
  2. Picture yourself relaxed, confident, and in control.
  3. See yourself prepared and ready.
  4. Imagine what it is like to make each play successfully.
  5. Imagine winning the game.

2. Relaxation techniques

One of the biggest roadblocks in sports performance is anxiety. Everyone can get nervous (especially in big games such as grand finals) but if not managed effectively it can lead to anxiety which can impair your play.

A way to manage your anxiety is through controlled breathing. It can help improve your circulation, calm the nerves, improve concentration, and increase energy.

Here are some steps for controlled breathing:

  1. Take a deep, slow breath.
  2. Gently exhale fully.
  3. Inhale again, this time counting 1 to 4.
  4. Hold your breath, counting 1 to 4.
  5. Exhale completely while counting from 1 to 8.
  6. Repeat step 3 to 5 four times.

3. Motivation

Being in the right frame of mind is crucial to success on the basketball court. Wanting to play your best and wanting to win is the motivation that can drive athletes to be better than others.

Studies have shown that “intrinsic motivation” is better at sustaining commitment than “extrinsic motivation”. In simple terms, this means you should focus on doing something for the sake of accomplishing a task, rather than for the sake of the rewards.

Here are some strategies to help motivation:

Goal setting – this provides meaning and direction while also energising players to work towards their objectives. These goals should be broken in to specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART).

Self-talk – Speaking to yourself (either internally or out loud) can increase both power and endurance. Saying to yourself “I can keep going” when you’re tired or “I know we can win” when the game is on the line, helps boost motivation.

Change the environment – Having a positive mood is crucial and music is a fantastic way to help achieve this. Making different playlists depending on the situation (ie. before a game, during recovery, etc) can tailor the most optimal music to your circumstances and put you in a positive mood when things might be feeling tough or overwhelming.


Being able to reflect on your performance is crucial to being able to control your performance. And honesty is vital. Accurately identifying your strengths and weaknesses allows you to dedicate resources to make the necessary improvements.

Create a list of different skills or qualities, and rate yourself out of 10 based on right now. Then choose a realistic future rating of where you want to get to. Add in ‘action needed’ with what’s required to help you lift to that future score.

FocusNowFutureAction needed
Endurance69Go for a 1km run twice a week.
Free throw shooting48Take 50 free throws every day.
Defence38Get private coaching to teach me better fundamentals.
Cope with pressure59Visualise games where I am playing confident and successfully.

All the above techniques will go a long way to improving yourself as a basketballer. Being mentally tough will not only help you on the court but also throughout other aspects of your life.