Shooting The Free Throw
At any level of basketball, you’ll see shooters at the free throw line going through a specific routine. In fact, they may even look like they’re performing short rituals before taking their shots. And although these habits and routines may look strange and unnecessary, it’s done in order to help initiate the shooter’s muscle memory and instinct. The more comfortable a player is at the line, the better. They might bounce the basketball a certain number of times or spin it in their hands in order to feel at ease.
Nate Robinson, for example, spins the basketball around his waist a few times before taking his free throw shots and Jason Kidd blew kisses towards his family. They do this every attempt because shooting free throws needs to be second nature. By having a routine, the player's body uses muscle memory to take the shot. Basically, shooting a free throw should be an innate motion that doesn't require thought. Take CoachUp’s certified tips with you the next time you’re at the stripe, that way, you can start putting more points on the board consistently for your team.
Try to Align
First, you want to align your shooting hand with the basket. If you are a righty, you should be standing with your right foot in the center of the foul line, and vice-versa if you’re lefty. Make sure your shoulders are square to the basket as well, you wouldn’t kick a field goal by pointing your body towards the sidelines, right? The same principle applies here! You’ll want to make the shot as easy as possible for you, so making sure you’re pointed straight on towards the hoop and aligned correctly will take a ton of pressure off the shot.
What’s Your B.E.E.F?
B.E.E.F. stands for balance, elbow, eyes, and follow-through -- it’s the age-old adage that you were likely taught in elementary school gym class, but it still rings true, even for professionals. They may seem self-explanatory, but there are handfuls of athletes that ignore these ideals and don’t practice enough to become an above average shooter at the line. Simply put, if you can’t be relied upon to make a free throw, you’ll often find yourself glued to the bench during the most important moments.
Or, take for example, the conundrum behind poor free throw shooters like Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan. These two seven-foot behemoths are two of the league’s best rebounds and shot blockers, but are both sub-60% shooters for their careers. Over the last couple years, opposing teams have starting using this to their advantage by intentionally fouling them to make them shoot two free throws. This often resulted in just a one-point possession, or even worse, consecutive misses and an empty opportunity. So, the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers are sometimes forced to hide these great athletes on the bench until absolutely necessary, which can often change the course of an entire game, series, or season.
Balance, Young Grasshopper
When shooting, keep your weight on your toes, not your heels. The power for the shot comes from your legs, so keep your knees bent. As you are taking the shot, rise up on your toes using momentum from your legs. Use your weak hand to balance the basketball as you shoot.
Truthfully, you can’t shoot the free throw at a consistent rate without a respectable and reliable core balance. If you’re wobbling all over the place, you’ll be far more susceptible to aiming your shot, which is the absolute last thing you want to do while at the line. Every attempt should be as close to a copy as your last as possible. Your body must get into the same habits of balance, so take your time to settle and get into the correct position.
Point The Way With Your Elbows
This goes back to your form as well -- you’ll want to have your arms bent at the elbow, straight and forward towards the rim. Imagine cocking your elbow out to the right or left, then you’ve got to re-calculate your angle and aim on the fly. Remember, free throwing should be second-nature and really require little to no thought.
Aiming the ball and overthinking is what causes so many players difficulty at the line, so don’t join them! Keep your body and elbows focused straight ahead at your target and you’ll see improvements in no time.
Beauty Is In The Eye of The Beholder
Keep your focus on the basket instead of the ball -- thus keeping you focused on your target and end goal. If you’re trying to kick a penalty in soccer, you focus on hitting your spot, not at the ball below you. If you’re trying to hit an ace in tennis, you’ll be focusing on the desired location, not the tennis ball in your hand!
Staying focused on the target at hand will help you keep your thoughts at bay as well. The more you might look around, the more distractions you may find. So don’t worry about the score, the time, your significant other, family, homework, or whatever it may be. Being focused on the task in front of you will greatly improve your technique and percentages.
Flick Of Da Wrist Shoot the basketball with your fingertips, not with the palms of your hands. As you release the ball, follow through with your shot, even going so far as to flick your wrist and point at your target. You should hold your body in the position until the ball goes through the basket. It may seem crazy to hold onto your follow-through for so long after the release, but it’s incredibly common in other sports -- such as baseball, football, and golf, so those guys must be onto something! If anything, practicing good habits will help you stay focused and concentrated even when the pressure is at its highest.
(Related: Read about improving your overall ability as a shooter here.)
Once you put all of these things together, you’ll have a successful free throw routine. Practicing the free throw should be a part of your basketball routine every, single day. If you don’t think it’s as important as the other drills, you’re wrong, and you’ll most likely have plenty of time to think about it as you’re watching from the bench in the late fourth quarter. The best way to get better at them is repetition; most serious athletes shoot thousands of free throws during the offseason. Players like Steve Nash, Ray Allen, and Reggie Miller are regarded as some of the best free throw shooters of all time -- but they’re famous for the practice that they put in to get to that level.
A fun game that you can do to practice your free throws is the game of 21. This game has many variations, but one of them is a simple game of one-on-one. When a shot is made, the player who scores gets to take up to three free throws. If all three free throws are made, the shooter keeps possession of the basketball. If the shooter misses a shot, the ball is live and the opposing player can get the rebound. Play until someone scores 21 points. This will give a great opportunity to practice your technique while playing in a fun, game-like environment.
If you’re still struggling with your shot, consider booking one of CoachUp’s private trainers and they’ll have you shooting stronger in no time. Our vast team has shot thousands of free throws over their long careers, so getting their helpful tips and instruction will take your game to the next level. What are you waiting for?