learning to compete in basketball

Life Lessons in Basketball: Learning to Compete

When Pro Skills Basketball was first founded, Logan and I wanted to come up with an easy way for kids, parents and coaches to remember the values and skills we thought were most important for young players to learn.

From that, we developed the acronym F.O.C.U.S., which originally stood for Fun, Overcome, Concentration, Unity, and Sacrifice.

However, after being immersed in the youth basketball world for a few years year-round, full-time, we realized that perhaps the number one skill we were having to teach kids was toughness, and specifically, toughness in terms of competing and competition. Because of that, we decided to change the C in F.O.C.U.S. from “Concentrate” to “Compete”.

With that said, I realized that we never wrote a replacement blog post on this new skill of “Compete” in our F.O.C.U.S. acronym, so this is what I wanted to address in this blog post.

Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not like we necessarily think that “Competing” is more important that “Concentrating”, which you can read about what we mean by that in our previous blog post. It’s just that over the past 6 years, we’ve found ourselves constantly trying to figure out how to help our kids be more competitive, how to help them understand that they need to compete as hard as they can in everything they do, on or off the court.

Because of that we decided to make the change from Concentrate to Compete. Plus, the acronym is already FOCUS, which is basically a synonym for concentrate anyway!

So back to the skill of competing … What reminded me about this is a quote I saw on Twitter last week from Jeff Van Gundy:

Jeff Van Gundy Speaks on Basketball Competition

“Some players today seem to love the workout, but I’m not so sure they love to compete against the opponent.


If I was a college player, besides having the requisite skills, I would ask myself each and every day: am I an ass-kick type of competitor, or am I sort of soft?


The thing that can separate you is the love of competition. Not the love of the lifestyle, but the love of competition. Putting yourself out there so you’re not running for ‘most liked player’, but ‘most respected player’ because of how hard you’re willing to compete.”


– Jeff Van Gundy

I absolutely love that quote!

I think Van Gundy is spot on … too many players these days, especially with the rise of social media, love the workout but not competing against other players.

They love to be able to put the workout on social media with #grind or #nodaysoff but when it comes to truly trying to kick someone’s butt, like Coach Van Gundy says, they shy away because they’re afraid to upset their friend/opponent … they’d rather be liked than respected!

But I don’t want to just complain about this lack of love to compete. I believe it is a skill that can be worked on and improved!

How can Young Players Learn to Compete?

#1 Make Every Drill a Competition

Loving to workout is a great thing! But as Van Gundy said, not many players love the competition. So if you’re a player that loves to workout or train, but possibly shies away from competing, start with the simple step of making every drill you do in your workouts a competition, whether that’s by yourself or with others.

For instance, a great shooting drill that I used to do to keep myself entertained is called “Beat the Pro”.

How does it work?

  1. Pick the shooting drill you want to do (ie. spot shooting, shooting off the dribble, free throws, wing-corner 3’s, etc)
  2. Pick your favorite NBA player
  3. Assign the NBA player a point total that they will receive for each of your missed shots (ie. 1 point, 2 points, 3 points)
  4. Assign yourself a point total that you receive for each of your made shots (ie. 1 point, 2 points, 3 points)
  5. Pick the winning total number of points (ie. 10 total points)

So if you’re a good shooter and pretty advanced player, you might say that for every one of your misses “Steph Curry” gets 3 points and for every one of your makes you get 1 point.

Then you say the winning number is 12 total points, so you must make 12 shots before you miss 4 (4 x 3 = 12) or you will lose the game. You can even take it one step farther and put in punishments for losing, so that the there is more pressure and losing has more consequence.

Playing little games/competitions like this in all the drills you do in workouts will eventually start to change your mentality into competing being normal, and players will naturally start to compete more in everything they do on the court.

play basketball one-on-one to compete#2 Play More One-on-One

One of the best things I did to improve my game when I was a player is play one-on-one, specifically one-on-one against players who were stronger, more athletic, older, or more skilled than me or all of them.

Not only was it good for my game skill wise, but one-on-one gets down to the essence of competition … it is you against one other player. No one else is involved. You cannot make excuses for why you lost. No more blaming teammates or coaches. You, on your own, either win or lose.

Learn to compete or get your butt kicked. Simple as that.

The more one-on-one you play, the more comfortable you will be with trying to dominate and beat your opponent. And the more you lose (again, by yourself with no teammates or coaches), the more you will learn to hate losing, which makes most players compete harder!

#3 Constantly Remind Yourself to Compete

This one seems small and obvious, but I’m not sure it actually is. Competing is a mentality, and some players are naturally more competitive than others.

There’s often sayings that sports is 20% physical and 80% mental or some variation of those percentages, but the point is the higher percentage is most often on the mental side of the equation.

Learning to compete more often and harder can be learned. It’s proven every year in college basketball when “soft” freshman come onto campus and at the end of their 4 years are some of the toughest competitors around.

If players are constantly reminding themselves to compete, their mentality will begin to change and competing will become a habit.

So there you have it … 3 ways for young players to become more competitive. Each level players move up in youth basketball, they must become more competitive, and typically, the most competitive players end up making it the furthest.

So don’t wait. Start COMPETING today!!


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