How to Become an Expert Dribbler

The Development of Ball-Handling Skills

Child Dribbling
Child Dribbling. Andrew Burton / Staff / Getty Images

One of the basic skills that players of all ages need to continually practice is ball handling. This is especially true of younger players, but constant practice is needed even at the high school level and beyond.

We've all heard it before: "Dribble with your head up! Don't look at the ball. Your hand is part of the ball."

It seems that the cry always goes out, but many players lack confidence in dribbling the ball. How can we teach the skills to make good dribbling technique a habit?

First, let's discuss some principles that every drill should teach or reinforce. They are basic to all ages.

Key Principles for All Players

Controlling the ball with wrist and fingertips. A player's hand should be directly on top of the ball and they should bounce it straight down. The player's finger tips should be spread widely to control the ball. The wrist provides the power. If the ball is bounced straight down, it will come right back up.

  1. If the ball comes straight up, a player doesn't have to look at it. They can instead watch the players on the court, both team mates and opponents with their head is up. The head should be kept up while dribbling.
  2. The ball is like an extension of the hand. If you practice the proper ball control drills, you will have as much confidence controlling the ball as you do when you move your hand
  3. Concentrate on bending your back over and bend your knees into an athletic position when dribbling under pressure. This gives you more control and means the ball has less distance to come back to your hand.
  4. When dribbling under pressure, protect the ball with your body. Keep your body between your man and the ball.

These are some of the most basic tenants of dribbling. How can you practice the skills necessary to develop these habits? I like to demonstrate fundamentals to the entire group at the same time. Following the skill demonstration, we'll break down into small groups or stations to practice the skills. The more competitive and fun you make these drills, the better.

For Starters, Dribble As a Group

I like to have the players face me, forming a horseshoe or semi-circle. Each player has his own ball and I have mine so they all can follow my lead. Before we actually dribble the ball, we practice with an invisible ball--really! I tell each player to make believe they have an invisible ball. I instruct them to dribble the ball with their hand on top of the ball. "Now, control it with your fingertips, power it with your wrist. Keep your head up, switch hands, dribble behind your back." We stress form while we do this and try to visualize every move.

Then, we use a real ball and repeat our invisible practice drills: Focus on your hand on top of the ball, bend your back over to lower the distance between the ball and the floor, and keep your head up.

We dribble with our index finger only, middle finger, pinky finger. I tell them that we never use this in a game, but this demonstrates how easy dribbling can be if it can be done with one finger in practice. We have complete ball control with one finger! I continually tell the players not to look at the ball. To test them I flash fingers in the air and ask them to yell how many. This is a good way to make sure that the players are not looking at the ball and instead have their heads up.

Lastly, we practice dribbling with our right hand only and then left hand. All players are in the horseshoe or semi-circle so I can see them and they can see me. As we continue, we try a cross over dribble and then go behind our back. This will all be in a stationary horseshoe or semi-circle. For fun we try to dribble with our eyes closed to get a feel of dribbling the ball and again demonstrate that the ball doesn't need to be looked at. 

For younger children all drills can be completed with a mini-ball as they can control it easier and develop confidence even though their hands are smaller.