A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Started in Basketball

Boy Play with Basketball

Basketball is one of those sports that has everything. There is a team-play dynamic required. Individualistic talents and skills are needed. One must be able to out-strategize the other team while staying in personal control. When you get things right, basketball can be a lot of fun.

When they go wrong, you increase the chances of causing or suffering an injury.

No one likes to get hurt. That’s why this beginner’s guide to getting started in basketball can help chart your way toward success. These are the key points that you’re going to want to consider before you hit the court.

Step #1: Get into the Correct Gear

During my junior year of high school basketball, it was discovered during an away game that the equipment manager forgot to pack my uniform shorts. There weren’t any spares around. I ended up playing 27 minutes in my blue jeans.

Worst. Experience. Ever. Not only was it more difficult to move up and down the court, the sweaty blue jeans rubbed my legs raw. We might have won the game, but I definitely lost thanks to not having the correct gear.

Or there was the time I didn’t have a practice jersey to wear, so I wore a flannel shirt. Guy went up for a rebound, came down with his hand inside my pocket, and tore my shirt to shreds.

Before you jump into a pickup game or have your kiddo attend their first practice, it is important for the right basketball gear to be available. The right gear will support your game. The wrong gear could lead to an embarrassing situation, an injury, or other problematic issues.

Here are the key elements to gear that you’ll want to consider.

#1. Shoes. Good basketball shoes will support your foot and ankle properly. You can purchase low-angle shoes, mid-ankle shoes, or high-tops. Each has an increasing level of ankle support. Your shoes need to be tight enough to be supportive, but if they are too tight, you could end up breaking one of the metatarsal bones in the foot while running up the court.

The best shoes tend to have an all-leather upper, but some synthetics and mesh-hybrid options are just as good for a cheaper price. You’ll want secure lacing and non-skid, non-marking soles.

Some basketball shoes have these “air bubbles” or “springs” in the soles that are supposed to give your momentum more leverage. I’ve found that some are extremely helpful and others just break apart after a couple of practices. Since each foot is a little different, you’ll want to consider all of your options here.

#2. Shorts. Basketball is an aerobic game. You’re going to run a lot. You’re going to jump a lot. This means you will be sweating a lot. Now you don’t need those short-shorts from generations past to be comfortable, but the best pair of basketball shorts shouldn’t look like a pair of capris either. They should come to your knee, work around any braces you might need to wear, and stay up on your waist.

Trust me on this. Going up for a rebound while someone is tugging on your shorts will make you thankful for a secure pair.

#3. Equipment. You’ll need a good basketball in order to practice. If you want to work on your shooting skills and there isn’t a local gym, then a basketball hoop, either permanent or portable, will be helpful. If you need to take a few basketballs with you to a practice, it’s nice to have a bag for the equipment and a duffel bag for your clothing and miscellaneous gear.

#4. Joint Support. There was this guy that I called “Big Hairy” in my college days that played at our rival school. His pony tail went down to his waist. His beard went down to his chest. He had so much chest hair that it literally popped out of his jersey shirt by the arm pit – like he had a chest hair pony tail. He was also nearly a foot taller than me. I went up to grab a rebound, he came in underneath me, and boom – twisted knee.

Joint support in basketball can keep you going when you’re sore or carrying a lingering injury. The best knee supports may be useful as a proactive prevention as well. Leg sleeves, arm sleeves, kinesiology tape, and other items might also be useful to meet your specific physical needs.

Step #2: Warm Up the Correct Way

As with any aerobic sport or activity, you will want to warm up your muscles before you go 100% into the practice or game. A 20-minute warm-up period will stretch out the muscles a bit, get the joints looser, and help you get into the right mental state to play or practice.

This video will take you through the 8 essential warm-up exercises you’ll want to use before you hit the court for the first time.


Step #3: Start Jogging, Cycling, or Walking Every Day

Basketball is a very demanding sport. You can play it in any physical condition if you wish, but you’ll have a better overall experience if your body can support your basketball activities. Even before you make it to your first basketball practice, you’ll want to begin some exercise habits at home.

It is beneficial to run an average of 2 miles per day so your cardiovascular system is strong enough to support your physical efforts while playing basketball. You could also walk 3-4 miles if you prefer or take a 20-mile bicycle ride.

If your knees complain when the weather changes, it can be useful to make these at-home exercise be low impact. That way you can save the running for the court. Consider the ElliptiGO outdoor elliptical bike as an option to mix running and cycling together.

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Step #4: Lay Off the Caffeine

My town was small enough that I got to work out and play with the varsity basketball team in the 7th grade. The first thing my coach told me was this: when you play basketball, you’ve got to stop drinking caffeinated beverages.

It’s great advice. Because caffeine is a diuretic, your body will begin to purge its water resources prematurely as you play. This dehydrates you more quickly and that causes your brain to lose focus on your defensive duties or the ability to make a solid jump shot. You also crash right around halftime.

If you play basketball casually, give the caffeine a rest for a couple days before a game. Go with a vitamin pack instead so you can get moving in the morning if needed.

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For serious players in an organized league, you’ll want to abstain from caffeine as much as possible. I switched to Sprite from Mountain Dew. It’s going to help.

Step #5: Work on the Dribble

This is the one area of basketball practice I always wished I’d focused on more. Pretty much anyone can dribble with their dominant hand. It takes practice and dedication to work on a dribble with your weak hand.

A good place to start with this is to begin dribbling between each hand. One dribble with the right, then one dribble with the left, going back and forth as fast as you can. Once you begin to get comfortable with that feeling, begin running down the court (or the driveway, sidewalk, or street) using this alternating pattern.

You can also include these weak hand dribbling drills to work on this skill.

Once that becomes comfortable, only dribble with your weak hand as you are running. And when that becomes comfortable, begin working on some advanced dribbling moves. Go between the legs, around the back, and work on your jump step so that your movement on the court can be unpredictable to the defender.

These advanced dribbling drills will help your game begin to mimic what the pros can do in the NBA or WNBA.

Step #6: Work on Your Shot

Defense might win championships, but you need some sort of offense in order to win the game. It doesn’t have to be pretty to be effective. My first varsity basketball game saw my team win 39-38. I scored 6 points. I think I took 25 shots.

Working on your shot should begin with a specific area on the court. Pick a spot which makes you feel comfortable. Then practice shooting from that exact spot for at least 15 minutes every day. Over the first few days, you might miss a ton of shots. Don’t give up. You’re working on your hand/eye coordination here. Eventually those shots are going to go in.

Once you can consistently hit about 70% of your shots from your most comfortable position, go to the other side of the court in the exact same spot. This will help your mind be able to process the reverse angle more effective. Again – you might miss a few at first. You’ll also find that it is easier to sink shots more effectively.

This is going to be your go-to shot. You can work on improving your jump shot with these shooting drills as well.


Once you can consistently hit these, it’s time to go to the free throw line. Take a minimum of 50 free throws, concentrating on your shooting form, every time you hit the gym. The difference between an 80% free throw shooter and a 90% free throw shooter is 10 points. That can win or lose a basketball game.

These free throw shooting drills from Delta State might also be helpful to include with your new basketball routines.

Sometimes you’ll need to drive to the hoop to get your points. At other times, a few individual moves can help give you some space so you can take a shot. One of the most common jump shots, however, is the catch-and-shoot. Working on this skill will greatly improve your shooting game over time.

Step #7: Bring in the D

High school basketball has started to incorporate a shot-clock like college and the professional leagues do in some areas. This means you’ve got to be able to think on your feet, read the game, and predict where the ball is going to be.

In that 39-38 game that I won, a guy on the other team shot a long three-point shot that looked a bit short to me. As everyone gathered around the hoop to rebound the shot, I moved backward. Sure enough, the rebound came long and I was in a position to grab it and put in an uncontested layup.

Defense in basketball isn’t necessarily about watching the ball. It’s about watching the shooting mechanics of the player you’re defending. You watch their hips instead of their feet. This will stop your ankles from being broken on a good move so you can still be in a position to defend. Never reach for the basketball. Predict where it is going to be and then slap at it there.

Sometimes you’ll hit the player and get a foul. If you read the game pretty well, you’ll be getting the ball a lot or intercepting a pass fairly often.

And the most important thing to remember about defense is this: you’re entitled to your position on the court once it has been established. This includes any space that exists above you as well. The same is not true for the space beside you. Keep your hands straight up on the vertical. Jump straight up to defend. If there is contact between you and the offensive player, it’s their foul if you’ve done a straight vertical. It’s your foul if you are reaching.

You’re going to love this high energy team defensive drill that will strengthen your defensive skills right away.

Step #8: Practice Passing with a Medicine Ball

A medicine ball is a weighted ball that comes with various weights and sizes. If you practice with one that is of a similar size to a basketball, then you can begin to work up some needed muscles and stamina in the arms and chest. This will give your passing more accuracy and speed over time.

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If you don’t have a partner, then passing the medicine ball to a specific target will still help you develop the muscle strength, stamina, and memory that you need.

As you’re developing this skill, there are certain drills that you’ll want to run as well, especially if you’re working with a team. Here are 3 killer passing drills that you’re going to want to start working on right away.

Step #9: Make Sure to Have Fun

Basketball can be a lot of work. You are going to be exhausted. If you’re running suicide drills consistently, your chest will feel like it wants to explode. The bottom line is this: when you are in better shape than your opposition, then you are in a better position to win.

Focusing on your dribbling, defense, and shooting can even feel boring at times, especially when you keep doing the same thing over and over again. It’s that repetition that will make you better. You shouldn’t have to think about making a 10-foot shot. You should just be able to do it.

The same is true for your defensive drills. You shouldn’t have to think about what position you need to be in to stop the ball. Just be there.

All of this work can be very draining. Sometimes it will not seem like much fun. If you can find ways to keep having fun in the midst of that pain, however, you will be that much closer to experiencing a win.

Are You Ready to Begin Playing Basketball?

This beginner’s guide to basketball is intended to get you up and running for the first time. Basketball requires a complete set of skills that includes working with a team. You need to know what they can do and they need to know what you can do. The only way this knowledge can be learned is by working together. By being committed to one another.

There will be moments in basketball that make you want to give up. Then there are moments that become the best stories. Like the time these two mammoth guys stood next to me while a free throw was being taken. “We’re going to make you into a human sandwich and eat you alive,” one guy said to me.

“’I failed’ are going to be the words on your tombstone,” the other said.

Who got the rebound? I did. Then I passed it out to my teammate on the corner for an open three.

You will find your own special moments while playing basketball. The steps found here, however, are just the first part of your journey is this special game. Developing the physical side is one thing. You must also develop the mental side as well.

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