Rebounds swing momentum in games: defenses get deflated when they play well for a full possession, only to give up a second chance score. And a floundering offense can find new life through a few simple put-backs.
Many think rebounding is a combination of size and jumping ability. I believe it is about 50% hustle, 25% technique, and 25% size/jumping. Which means if you hustle and have good technique, you can become a rebounding threat no matter what your size or athleticism.
You can (and should) practice with hustle, but you can't really practice at it. You have to cultivate it:
Surround yourself with coaches and teammates that know when you aren't playing to your full potential. Have a friend watch during practices or games to see if they can catch you not going for a rebound
Keep your ears open for any hint that you are taking plays off. Be open to that negative feedback. In fact, be thankful for it!
Get competitive about being the most tenacious player on the court. Is anyone outworking you? Outwork them.
The basics of good rebounding technique can be boiled down to four different skills to develop:
1. Anticipate the Ball
Know where the ball is going to be as soon as the shot goes up. Will it be short or long? Off the backboard? An air ball? This pattern recognition simply comes with practice. Use every shot in practice to tune your instincts: guess where the ball will go, get to that spot, and see if you are right!
Two quick tips to get you started: First, analytics have proven that a rebound is more likely to go to the opposite side of where it was shot. Second, the longer (further from the basket) the shot is, the longer the rebound will be.
2. Establish Position
Once you can anticipate where the ball is going to be, the next logical step is to make sure you can get there and get good position. It is critical to remember one simple fact: you want to have space in front of you, not space behind you! Keep your opponent behind you (box out!), and get in a position slightly further away than you think the ball will go so you can jump up (and naturally a little forward) for the rebound.
3. Use Space
If you find yourself on the perimeter when a shot is taken (this happens to guards quite frequently), use that space to your advantage!
On defense, rush the offensive player and box out on the perimeter, turning that empty space into your space to collect the rebound!
On offense, close the space between you and the hoop quickly. This will give you momentum as you cut towards the ball as it hits the rim. Offensive players cutting inside for rebounds are a nightmare for defenses.
4. Clamp Down
Stop tipping rebounds (either to the outside or to yourself)! There are a tiny number of scenarios where this is a good strategy. In all the others, you are better off going for the rebound strong.
Go up with two hands if you can - this will give you better grip strength on the ball. When you come down, if you are a taller player, keep the ball high and away from defenders until the dust clears. If you are not one of the two tallest players on the floor, bring the ball down into a triple-threat position and use your pivot foot to keep it safe.