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How Great Shooters Talk To Themselves

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What to say when you talk to yourself

Your brain is a very powerful computer.

I have a whole section on this in the Basketball Fundamentals book.

I’m going to show you right here how to program your mind with self-talk to help you become a better shooter.

Programming your mind

Computers run on programs, or scripts, that are installed for the purpose of getting the computer to do certain things.

These programs can be very simple, like getting a computer to do basic math.

Or they can be very detailed and lengthy, so a computer will be able to solve complex problems, like directing a piece of machinery to know exactly when and how to operate in different conditions.

Your brain is a computer.

Almost everything you do is caused by what you tell yourself and what you’ve been telling yourself every day.

The human default is to let other things program you…the tv, social media, what you hear other people say or what other people say directly to you, etc.

Over time, the ideas and thoughts that come from these other things will guide you in a certain way, and not necessarily in ways that will get you to where you want to be.

These ideas and thoughts become an automatic loop playing in your mind whether you realize it or not.

To achieve your goals, you have to make sure the programs that you install and run in your mind are compatible with those goals.

You have to take control, install your own scripts and programs, and guide your own computer instead of letting those others control you.

For example, to become a great shooter, you need to supply your mind with directions necessary for getting there.

These mental directions could be in the form of:

  • watching other successful shooters and see how they do their mechanics,
  • your own practice so you can get immediate feedback with what you are doing (you can see for yourself how something is working for you as you do it…made shots, misses, etc),
  • using your camera to record some of your own practice sessions so you can watch yourself and see what you are doing correctly and what you need to work on,
  • using mental imagery & visualization
  • and giving yourself actual scripts to play in your head to get yourself in line with how you want to make progress

All of these are great ways to help program your mind. But for now, I’ll show you how to use your own self-talk scripts.

Scripts to use

For shooting, your goals when starting mental training should be less about shooting a certain percentage or how many shots you make, and more about focusing on your mechanics and attitude.

Here are a few sample scripts to help with that.

For mechanics, let’s say you want to improve your follow through and embed that into your thinking so that it becomes a natural part of your shot.

Here’s what you can say to yourself…

“I release my shot and hold my follow through.”

Remember, when starting out, don’t focus on the outcome of your shot just yet (making the shot).

You want to focus on making sure this gets embedded into your mind.  So just focus on actually holding your follow through.

You can do this close to the basket like in your warm up drills so you can easily make shots, but again, that isn’t your main objective.

A good way to practice this is to use it with the Floor Shooting Drill.

As you do that drill, hold your follow through as the ball goes up in the air and say to yourself “I hold my follow through”.

(Just remember, the purpose of the Floor Shooting Drill is to get used to having the ball feel good coming out of your hand. Holding your follow through will be different when you are out on the court, because your shooting arm will be at a higher angle when you release your shot instead of straight out parallel to the floor.)

Floor Shooting Drill

After a few days or weeks as holding your follow through becomes a natural part of your shot, you can add on this part about making shots…

“I release my shot and hold my follow through until the ball goes into the basket.”

So you’ve got the follow through to be a natural part of your shot, and now you are setting the picture in your mind that the ball will be going thorough the net at the end of the follow through.

This is the perfect time to combine this with the Warm Up Drill so you get used to seeing the ball go in as you say this to yourself.

Again, what you tell yourself…either out loud or just quietly thinking to yourself…affects your actions and attitude (shot mechanics, feeling of confidence that you will make shots, etc).

Check out the Free Throw Ace Drill if you haven’t seen it already.

In it, there are examples of things you can say to yourself as you are developing your free throw routine.

Thinks like counting the dribbles in your head…“One, two, three…”, then saying to yourself “Set” as you get in the ready position to shoot, and “Swish” as you go up and release the ball on your free throw.  

You can also use the script I’ve already given you…“I release my shot and hold my follow through until the ball goes into the basket” for your free throws.

For free throws, it’s important to focus on doing the same thing with each shot.

The idea is to get into a specific rhythm with free throws so that everything is the same…

  • the way you approach the line before the ref hands you the ball,
  • the way you dribble,
  • the way you set yourself to get ready to shoot,
  • and the specific things you think (or say) to yourself before and as you do your routine.

So with free throws, you should create a specific script that will help you develop this rhythm like I show you in the Free Throw Ace Drill.

Turning negative thoughts into positive thinking

Sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged when you are learning a new skill.

A baby doesn’t know how to walk when it is born.  It has to crawl first, and then it will learn how to stand.

Only after falling down and getting back up after learning to stand will it begin to try to take steps.  

Even then it might take a while before it can put a couple steps together so it looks like walking. And you can see the baby actually thinking through what needs to happen to do this.

Eventually, the kid will walk without even thinking about it.

You did the exact same thing when you were a baby.

And you do the exact same thing when learning anything new. It just comes a little faster when you are older because you are more physically coordinated than a newborn.

You are more than capable of developing into the shooter you want to become.

You just need to keep practicing the correct mechanics, and be aware of what you are telling yourself.

Instead of saying or thinking things like “I can’t do this” or “I don’t think I’ll ever get good at this”…substitute this:

“This is something new to me, so it might take a little time for me to get used to it, but I’ll get it.”

When a lot of players start to miss shots, they will start to think to themselves: “How come I keep missing?” or “If I don’t make my next shot, the coach will take me out of the game.”

Instead, confident players will think to themselves, “I’ll get the next one” or “I’ve been working on my shots, I just need to hold my follow through longer.”

Again, it’s a good practice to record yourself in training sessions and actual games so you can see yourself and can get a better understanding of exactly what you need to work on.

For example…if you watch your video clips and see yourself rushing or notice something is off in your positioning on your shots, you can get back to the gym and say this as you practice your footwork and shot mechanics: “I keep my feet nice and balanced, shoulder-width apart.”

Practicing this type of thinking skill is just like practicing your physical shot.  

It takes concentrated repetition at first. And eventually as you do it more and more, it’ll become a natural part of your being.