The Reason You Make Shots In Practice But Not In Basketball Games


During practice, you get to showcase your talents to your coach, in doing so if you stand out among your teammates more than likely you will be one of the starting 5 for the team. But when it comes to games you under perform and don’t play as well. Why is that?

Why can I make shots in practice but not in games? Practicing basketball shooting is easier because there is no pressure or defense, and only you hold yourself accountable to do well. When this is the case you do not stimulate game-like shots because you practice how you play. We enter a game and tense up our muscles due to the pressure, this results in poor execution and error. While practice should be hard, games should be easy.

Basketball practice can be competitive when players are fighting for playing time. But those who play well in practice do not have the same result in the game. I see this happening a lot, and it looks like two different players on the court.

Pressure in Practice Vs Game

Let’s face it not everyone does well under pressure in tough moments of a basketball game. But I believe there are different levels and types of pressure when it comes to basketball. In practice, you may or may not feel pressure to do well because your the star player or your coach isn’t hard on you, this could be because you rarely make mistakes or do well.

  • You don’t want this to happen you want to push out of your comfort zone. If you’re too comfortable it could mean that you need to be challenged and stimulated into pressure situations that can make you better as a player. Often times players come into practice and do the same skills and drills over and over while not getting any better. This is a mistake if you’re making many shots in a row you may not be challenged enough. Practice Should Be Hard, The Game Should Be Easy.

The opposite may be true also. You’re in basketball practice and you are pressured to do well because your coach may yell at you if you mess up. Or you are fighting for minutes on the basketball court, so you feel that you need to do well every moment during a two-hour practice.

  • You are putting a lot of pressure on yourself to perform, more on this later.

As for the game itself, it can be a different type of pressure. There is definitely much more pressure to perform well when compared to practice. Regardless of you being the star player, the pressure to play well is there. If we don’t meet those expectations, a couple of things happen:

  • The coach may cut our minutes,
  • It may affect us emotionally.
  • It may affect our confidence level.

The next level of pressure can be a game coming down to the wire and having to take the last-second shot. You will find this level of pressure is much more intense than the practice or playing in the game itself. You are given the shot. Make it, you’re a hero. But miss, you will feel like you let your team down.

  • This is a type of situation a player dreams of and the players that take the shot are willing and are not afraid this is because of the experience they have had in their basketball career. These are the moments players play and practice to prove to themselves their ability to do it.

The last thing I want to point out is when you practice and everything goes smoothly you knock down 5 or 6 baskets in a row, what do you notice about the environment. You are probably very calm and there is no pressure. During a game the opposite is true, you feel tense and a certain amount of pressure.

One tip I have during games is to slow down your brain, if you find yourself unable to process what’s going on around you probably are playing too fast. Relax, let the game come to you. At the next whistle breathe and tell yourself to slow down.


Understand when you are practicing shooting by yourself, you are doing so without the defense. It will be much harder to shoot in a game when the defender is right in front of you. This is why experience is very important when it comes to basketball. Exposing yourself to difficult basketball situations as a beginner early on will help you eventually become comfortable during games so you are able to shoot when the defense is closing out on you or is putting a hand up when you shoot. There are ways in practice to stimulate game like situations that will help shoot with confidence in games. It’s up to you to put in the work and practice game like shots.





Shooting In Practice Vs Game

You may notice the difference in the chart below, that shooting in practice is much easier than in a game. Even playing pickup basketball there isn’t a whole lot of pressure. But apply players you have never played before or lose a game and have to wait an hour for next changes the game’s pressure dramatically. 


  • Your Calm
  • You Have Time
  • You Focus
  • Pick and Chose Your Shots


  • Pressure
  • Fans
  • Defense Closes Out
  • Less Time
  • Fewer Opportunities to get a rhythm
  • Shot choice is limited

You’re too hard on yourself 

No one growing up was harder on themselves than I was and let me tell you this is the quickest way to kill your confidence. Every shot I took that I miss I would swear and get upset. If I made a mistake I would get down on myself. If I didn’t score a certain amount of points, more disappointment followed. 

Then it all changed during a game versus our high school rivals. I shot 1 for 9 from the field, at the end of the game we were down 6 points with a minute left and hit back to back threes, the game was tied. I then got the last second shot and hit a buzzer-beater. It was the best minute of basketball that I had played in my entire career.

After that game I realized I had unrealistic expectations of myself, to miss one shot and be pissed off was ridiculous. I basically proved that missing one shot or 9 shots did not indicate that’s the player I was. The reality is the best players have short term memory and don’t think about their miss, but only the next play. Why dwell on a missed shot that you can’t change, it’s wasted energy.

How to handle pressure moments? 

The reality of not succeeding when it matters most to you comes down to a few things. First is how you see yourself when it comes to your confidence level. Something to realize if you are unsure of yourself and your capabilities on the court it will show. You may look timid or scared, head down when you miss a shot or complaining when things don’t go your way.

The way you need to fix this is to gain confidence through experience, the only way to gain experience is to put yourself in high-pressure situations and accept the outcome no matter what, and realize that you are now one step forward to where you want to be as a basketball player.

Again you need to play the game of basketball, improve and understand success takes a long time and the path to it is not the same for every player. What one player does is not the same for another. But understand if you struggle in games really ask yourself have put in enough work to justify your concern. If the answer is no, then you know what to do.  Nothing beats experience.

Practice Players

Most of the time when you join or try out for a basketball team you generally know what players are trying out. You either played with or against them at school or recreational centers before. 

When you played against the same competition you instinctively know how to score on them while knowing what their tendencies are when they play. This is your advantage when you play against them in practice.

When you’re playing the same competition over and over again, there is no pressure because you are extremely confident in your abilities against these players. You know how to beat these players one on one and you know how to score on them. On defense, you know their every move.

Fast forward to game time and your playing different players your not familiar with things can change drastically and the feeling of nervousness kicks in while you also are not able to adjust to these players you are unfamiliar with.

I am willing to bet your also very comfortable playing on the same court day after day and you may do better in home games than away. The variables of basketball are ever-changing from the baskets you shoot on to the fans you may encounter, all these small things can impact your game in a big way to take you out of your comfort zone.

I coached a bunch of high school students who were promising players that had one more year to work on their game after almost making the championship game. I thought to myself we have a very good chance of winning next year because most of our best players are returning.

Well, these guys were all friends and didn’t do anything out of the norm, they played in the same gym against the same guys playing half-court basketball all summer long, not realizing that they didn’t really get any better. I remember watching them at lunch hour playing half-court basketball, being amazed at how well most of the players were shooting not realizing that they are comfortable with the environment they could do no wrong.

When it came to the season most all of the players struggled under pressure and we as a team were not as strong as the year prior. We were out in the second round, and I am sure they realized they under performed.

This the reason you need to work much harder in practice than in games. During the off-season and in-season, if you’re comfortable get uncomfortable. Because if you’re struggling you are probably uncomfortable in games.

If you don’t know what I mean about being uncomfortable when you practice it basically means to perform movements and work on shots that you would see in-game that you’re not very good at. It could also be a physical element, like having enough endurance to play the fourth quarter as you did in the first, push yourself past your limits.

Trying to outplay your own teammates

In years past I have heard players talk about their stats with one another. Which I get but if you are trying to score more than your teammates you may not realize the mistake your making. You are putting yourself first over the team and this is completely selfish.

Thinking of scoring points is great but if your competing against your own teammates it may cause you to force plays and take shots you shouldn’t be taking because you finally received the ball and want to score more than the star player.

Don’t compare your self to your teammates, be yourself. They all think they should start the game and play lots of minutes. Your focus should be on how can I make the team better because I know that will make myself better. When you do this you will focus on all aspects of the game instead of scoring.

This topic reminds me of a team I coached where all the players were complaining about playing time. I remember that we didn’t have a set starting five. So the assistant coach and I gave everyone a sheet of paper and allowed everyone to make their starting 5. The results??

  • One player did not put himself in the starting 5.
  • The best player on our team was not on half the starting 5 lists.
  • Everyone had a completely different starting 5.

As coached we kept the players very competitive in practice and never let them get comfortable. They all were fighting for a starting spot and we let them know it was all open.

This case study told me most of the players were worried about everyone else besides themselves based on who they picked as their 5. Most of them I knew didn’t want the best player on the court with them because they felt he shot too much. He deserved to, he worked hard and was efficient. He was a one-man press break and came through under pressure many times for us. That’s the difference between a practice and a game player. Maybe it’s just a simple matter of changing the way you think about the game.


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