How to Improve Ball Handling: The Best Ball Handling Drills

Use your ball handling skills to create scoring opportunities.
Use your ball handling skills to create scoring opportunities.

If you are wondering what the difference between basketball ball handling drills and dribbling drills is, you are not alone. Many players and even coaches use ball handling and dribbling interchangeably, but they are not the same. Dribbling is a component of ball handling but there is so much more to it.

Dribbling, like passing, is a way to move the ball around, but ball handling is how you move with the ball in order to create scoring opportunities. Whether that means getting a defender out of position so that you can make a pass, or creating separation so that you can get off a shot, or even setting up the defender so that you can use a slick dribble move to blow by him for the score; those things are ball handling.

So, how do you develop great handles? You have to create situations that force you to be aware of your surroundings, and that make you figure out different ways to beat the defense. That way you will become better at recognizing scoring opportunities as they develop, and better at exploiting them when they happen.

Basketball Handling Drills

Here are three drills that will help you get started on developing your ball handling skills.

  • Dribble and Catch:

    This is a very simple drill that will teach you to maintain your dribble while being aware and reacting to what is around you. You will need a partner to work with on this drill. You and your partner should start off facing each other about ten to fifteen feet apart, you with a basketball and your partner with a tennis ball. You then start dribbling normally moving laterally (side to side) while still facing your partner. Your partner will then throw you the tennis ball, which you need to catch and return while still maintaining your dribble. Your partner should throw to both sides (making you switch hands with the dribble in order to make the catch) and throw high as well as low. It sounds simple, but it can be very difficult to concentrate on keeping your dribble going while trying to stretch and catch a tennis ball.

  • Full Court Layups:

    With this simple drill, you can work on learning how to use your dribble to accomplish something on the court. Start at one baseline and go the length of the floor for a layup. Collect the ball and return for another layup. Try to go the distance using only five dribbles, and alternate which hand you use to dribble and make the layup (right handed dribble and layup on one trip, left handed on the next trip). Work on going the distance in fewer and fewer dribbles. See if you can get to four or even three. This will teach you not to waste dribbles, and to use your dribble to get open or beat a defender.

  • Beat the Chair:

    Start by setting a chair somewhere on the three point line. This can be anywhere on the arc: on top, in the corners, or on the wing. Start about ten feet back from the chair and come at it like it’s a defender. When you reach the chair, use a move to go around it (crossover, behind the back, whatever you can think of) and go in for the layup. Practice every change of direction dribble you have with this drill to get used to using them to beat a defender. Work on lengthening your dribble after you beat the defender so that you only need one dribble to get your layup. This drill teaches you how to change directions quickly and explode to the basket to beat your defender.

Develop Your Ball Handling Program

These are just a few drills to get you started, but you need to do more than just this if you want to get truly great handles. Some people buy a ball handling program (and there are some great ones out there), all you really need is a strong imagination and the willingness to work to improve your skills.

When you are working on your dribble, imagine how you will use every dribble. Like in the beat the chair dribble, create imaginary defenders in your mind and beat them. Figure out how to get around them faster, how to get to the hole quicker, or how to move them so that you can hit the pass to your open teammate.

That is what ball handling really is, the awareness of what is happening on the court, and the ability to move with the ball in a way that creates scoring opportunities for yourself and your teammates. Remember, ball handling and dribbling are not the same. Create a program of exercises in your mind that will help you figure out how to move with the ball and get it past defenders.