Recently, I received a call from the head basketball coach of a team I’m strength training. The team had just finished up a summer tournament, and the coach was frustrated. One of the main things he noticed was that the players weren’t holding on to the ball. Whether it was from taking their eyes off the ball, having weak hands, or simply being intimidated by the other team, it really doesn’t matter. It’s my job to fix it either way, so I laid out a plan.

During each workout, I make sure to implement one of the following:

  • Towel holds: I made two, homemade towel straps with a towel, some tape, and scissors. I throw the towel straps over our pull-up bar, and the player simply has to hang by gripping each towel. It doesn’t sound hard, but after about 20 seconds, your hands feel like they’re going to rip apart. The player is aiming to hang on for 30 seconds and that time increases in the following weeks.
  • Towel pull-ups: If the first exercise sounded hard, wait until you try these. Just like it sounds—grip the towels and let ‘er rip.
  • Towel rows: For this one, I simply put one of the towel straps between a low cable row attachment. Instead of gripping the cable attachment, the player now grabs the towel and performs his pulling movement.
  • Sand buckets: I went over to the town hardware store and picked up three buckets and three bags of play sand. Each bag was 50 lbs, which actually worked out nicely. Each bucket was able to hold one bag. For this, I have the players put their hands in and try to make it to the bottom. They can’t take any sand out. The goal is to work your fingers to touch the bottom of the bucket.
  • Sand bucket carries: Using the sand buckets mentioned above, the players have to perform a farmer’s walk with one bucket in each hand or suitcase carries, depending on the numbers. The difference between these and regular farmer’s walks with dumbbells is that the handles on the buckets begin to really get wet from perspiration and they hurt a hell of a lot more than holding dumbbells.
  • Dumbbell holds: I recently purchased some nice ‘Fat Gripz’ from and I bring those over to the school with me. I put them around the 50-lb dumbbells, and the player is instructed to hold the dumbbell at his side for a set amount of time. The work they get in their forearms and hands is amazing with these little things!
  • Medicine ball rips: The players really like this drill. I have them partner up and have one player hold a medicine ball like he’s in triple threat position. His partner has to come up and get the ball out of his teammate’s hands in less than 15 seconds. This is great because the player with the ball can’t dribble, and the medicine ball is actually smoother, heavier, and harder to hold on to than a basketball. It is also very game specific. Many times when the game is close at the end, the team that is winning gets attacked by the defense trying to take the ball away.

The above drills are great for improving focus and hand strength, but more importantly, they’re building mental toughness in the players. Whatever the reason the players are struggling to hold on to the ball, the above plan will help to eradicate those reasons.