7 Ways To Train Your Brain Off-Court

There are many different strategies you can employ to ensure that you are making good use of the time you spend on the court during workouts, practices and games – but what about your time OFF the court? While the old way of training and practicing required a lot of time on the court; workouts and practices weren’t as efficient as they are these days. Coaches, trainers and players have learned how to train “smart”, which might not mean as many hours on the court. Training smart still requires a lot of reps, but with purpose and efficiency, players can get a lot more done in a shorter amount of time, which can limit the load and stress on their bodies and decrease injuries while also allowing a player to make time for off-court training that will complement the skill-work. While there are many areas that you can improve upon off the court, such as physical strength and conditioning, here are 7 ways that you can train your BRAIN off the court.

1. Maintain Mindfulness
“Grace, poise, focus, clarity, energy, and calmness are needed in everyday-life situations. Breathwork promises these benefits and more; it promises to lead you to self-mastery and a transformed life”
– Dan Brule.
Being more mindful and self-aware are absolutely imperative if an athlete wants to maximize their potential, growth and coachability. Find a meditation or breathwork technique that you are able to practice for at least 10 minutes every single day. With increased mindfulness, an athlete will become more self-aware. Therefore they will be able to maintain an honest assessment of their current level of play while recognizing and eliminating negative habits that are holding them back. For example, many players don’t even realize the negative body language they exhibit because they aren’t able to maintain enough mindfulness and self-awareness during stressful times to exhibit more self-control and discipline.

2. Perform Mental Reps
Visualization exercises, also known as Mental Rep Imagery, are a great way for athletes to get their head in the game before it even happens. A mental rep is when a player imagines themselves successfully navigating scenarios which they will find themselves in during a game. While this cannot (and should not) replace actual physical skill development, it will compliment the work that you have already put in. This will allow you a chance to go through decision making on your own time so that when those same decisions need to be made at a moment’s notice, you will feel like you’ve already been there before! Take 5 minutes out of the day whether it’s the first thing you do when you wake up or leading up to a workout, practice or game and spend this time imagining yourself being successful in the situations you personally find yourself in. If you have trouble visualizing in-game scenarios on your own or don’t know where to begin, start with our very own Free Throw Guided Imagery that was created for this purpose.

3. Practice Positive Self-Talk
It’s hard to stay confident and maintain positive thoughts and body language during times of adversity in a workout, practice or game if you don’t have those habits already ingrained during non-stressful times off the court. This is a skill that must be developed just like your ball handling or jump shot. Start each morning by stating out loud (preferably in front of a mirror) 3 positive affirmations about yourself. Make sure to say these statements in the 3rd person. This means that instead of saying “I am going to be a starter next year on my team”, use your own name. I would state it as “Kieran is going to be a starter next year on his team”. This helps reduce anxiety, eliminate negative emotions and helps you to make better decisions overall.

4. Increase IQ
Let’s face it, players come to the game with various levels of understanding and knowledge of the game. While the best way for a player to improve their IQ is through hours and hours of meaningful workouts, practices and gameplay, there are also many ways that an athlete can develop their IQ off the court. Reading books on basketball strategy, motivation and mindset not only help with a player’s understanding of the game, reading in general will make you smarter! Watch lectures or video breakdowns of different strategies, plays & philosophies that fit your level of basketball. If you are not sure where to begin, ask your coach if they have any recommendations of books or videos that would be appropriate for you. Or, you can visit our online Drive Sports Reading Guide, which provides links and lists of great basketball books that you can read.

5. Set SMART Goals
Have you ever heard the phrase, “A goal is a dream with a deadline”? While probably all athletes have dreams of success, only the most disciplined will turn their dreams into goals. There are many different ways to maintain good habits to sustain motivation, but we have found that those strategies which include goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Based.
Specific – Start with a general long-term goal (anywhere from 6 months to 5 years) and then back into all the specific goals that you would need to accomplish in order to achieve the long-term goal
Measurable – Create short term goals (or drills) that are easily measured. This will allow you to track your progress and hold you accountable to push yourself a little more each time.
Attainable – While your long-term goal isn’t immediately attainable (that’s why it’s a goal!), your short term goals should be attainable each day. For instance, if you want to become a better finisher around the basket but can’t yet touch the rim, you probably don’t want to include dunks as part of your workout.
Realistic – Be realistic with the space, time and energy you have which changes each day. Don’t set out to make 500 shots a day if you can’t realistically accomplish that. Start small and easy, then work your way up to longer and harder workouts.
Time-Based – You want your long terms goals to have a specific deadline or date to keep you focused on something that is tangible. This doesn’t mean that you are ALWAYS going to reach your goals in the time allotted, but it WILL keep you from continuously pushing it off until the next week, month or year. If you don’t reach your long-term goal in the amount of time you originally set for yourself, don’t get discouraged, just reset a new date that you think is realistic.

6. Play Brain Games
Take advantage of the technology that you have in front of you every day. There are many games online or in the app store that are created to train certain areas of your brain while allowing you to have fun doing it! A few websites/apps that are popular and we recommend are “Elevate – Brain Training”, “Left v Right: Brain Games”, and “Lumosity: Brain Training”. Of course there are always going to be new websites and apps created for this function, so make sure you find something that you can stick to!

7. Focus on Focus
“The casual inspiration will come and go, but the inspiration which has become firm by
continuous focus, will ever stand with us to shine in our action”
– Sanjive Kumar Sharma

In an age where screens rule our world and people and companies are constantly vying for our attention, it is increasingly hard for us to remain focused. This permeates the sports culture, where athletes are finding it harder and harder to stay focused for long periods of time during workouts, practices and games. Not only will athletes benefit greatly from developing their focus for high-pressured situations on the court, they will also be able to sustain laser focus on achieving short- and long-term goals that they set for themselves. So, how does an athlete actually improve their focus? Many of the strategies mentioned above will ALSO help improve your focus, but here are a few specific things you can do that will help you remain focused throughout your day, practice, workout or game…

  1. Maintain a healthy diet of nutrient dense foods that will fuel your mind and not bog you down
  2. Get plenty of sleep (for most athletes this means at least 7-8 hours per night)
  3. When possible, focus on only one thing at a time
  4. Limit your screen time
  5. Take breaks if needed (this can be either physical OR mental)
  6. Download and use “Time To Focus” App (apple users only at this time)