Basketball on the Edge – What Makes a “Basketball Player”?


Whenever I sit in the stands and watch a game at just about any level of basketball, there are usually one or maybe two players that stand out. They don’t stand out because they scored the most points or were the best athletes, they stand out because they are “basketball players”. This is a term that I love to use when I’m trying to convey the message that a particular kid simply knows how to play the game and has the potential to succeed at a higher level as they advance in their career. Although this description is somewhat intangible, in other words, more of an eye test thing for me, I recently came across a list of characteristics that the Australian Institute of Sport uses to help them determine which young players get selected to attend their national sport school for one year and train with their high performance coaches. A player that checks off all the items on the list is most certainly a “basketball player”. It’s a great list that I believe has value for players, parents, and coaches as we look for ways to improve ourselves, our kids, and our players. Here are the characteristics the Australian Institute of Sport looks for when selecting their players followed by my thoughts on each characteristic along with links to articles I’ve written previously on these topics.

Personal Attributes

1. Competitive spirit – A player must love to compete. A competitive player will bring out the best in themselves and others around them.

2. Desire to improve and learn – Having a growth mindset, being a life-long learner, and not thinking you know-it-all are critical to reaching your potential.

3. Ability to handle adversity  – Everyone has a good attitude and work ethic and when things are going their way. What happens when the breaks go against you? Great players rise up to meet the challenge, lesser players let the adversity get the best of them.

4. Accountability for their actions – A player that always has an excuse or blames others is unlikely to improve and fulfill their potential. Excuses are the enemy of self-analysis and growth.

5. Willingness to sacrifice for the good of the group –Selfish players are team killers. Even the best players must be willing to sacrifice to lift up their teammates. No player can do it alone, it takes a team.

6. Communication – Players that communicate well with teammates and coaches both on and off the court eliminate confusion and help everyone get on the same page moving together in a positive direction.

Basketball Attributes:

1. Heart – Do they have a love for the game? This is #1 for a reason. If a player doesn’t love the game, they’ll never be willing to put in the work that it takes to maximize the rest of their skill set.

2. Head – Do they demonstrate an understanding of concepts of team play? My “basketball player” description above is based on the player’s head. Understanding the game at a deeper level allows certain players to stand out from their peers. Having a high basketball IQ can lift a player above the level of their physical tools.

3. Hands – Do they have a soft touch and the ability to pass and shoot? A player with poor hands will have difficulty mastering the skills required to be a great player no matter what level they are currently playing at.

4. Feet – Can they move laterally and run the floor? Good basketball is dependent on footwork and balance. A player with quick, nimble feet will have advantages over the slower, more plodding player.

How a player could use this list: Do an honest self-analysis and identify your skills in each of these areas. Continue to build on areas where you are strong and look for opportunities to improve your weaknesses.

How a parent could use this list: I guarantee that all coaches at every level are evaluating players using most, if not all of these characteristics. To help your young player make a team, get more playing time, or find a bigger role, guide them through the process of understanding where they are right now in regards to these characteristics and how they can grow and improve each of the areas on the list.

How a coach could use this list: Evaluate your players in each of the ten areas on the list and then use that evaluation to help you coach them more effectively. You can design practice plans and drills to improve the specific on-court skills you’ve determined they need to work on, while also incorporating team building and leadership activities to improve some of the more intangible areas on the list.

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