Here are 10 mental concepts and techniques that will help any player become a better shooter and make more shots, in any situation, in any game.
Go beyond the physical fundamentals to get into the "zone" like all great shooters do:
1. Use Relevant Psychology
The part of psychology most relevant to sports performance is neuroscience. A major concept of neuroscience is that everything you do is controlled by thought. Your body is controlled by your mind. Controlling your mind through thought is called focus.
Peak performance requires focus. You must have very specific purpose and intent. Simplify that purpose to the smallest variable possible, and that becomes your focal point. You don’t need to think, but you do need to focus! Pure focus equals maximum performance!
2. Physics and Biomechanics
Before understanding and adjusting your personal shooting psychology, you must first establish this baseline concept. The physics of making shots are exactly the same for everyone. Things like arc, trajectory and backspin are equally in play for all of us, with every shot we take. Yet the fundamental shooting form taught by most coaches when teaching players to shoot doesn't always match proven science. Biomechanics and physics say it's about the ball--not the body.
Rick Barry (6th on the all-time scoring list when he retired) averaged over 90 percent from the charity stripe for his entire career and has the second best free-throw percentage in the history of the NBA. At the NABC convention, I had the opportunity to talk to Rick about his two-handed/underhanded free throws. Barry’s shooting form is a totally different technique from what players prefer to use today. But Barry is the perfect example of a player who focused on getting the basketball to go in, regardless of how he got his body to do it.
While players can use totally different shooting form and fundamentals, the physics of the shot arc, trajectory and distance remained constant.
3. Get Beyond Analysis Paralysis
As coaches we often tell players to concentrate or to take a deep breath and relax. Another popular coaching directive is to not think too much and just shoot. But how do you deal with the mixed signals of relax, stop thinking and yet still work to concentrate? What does being relaxed mean? By the way, when was the last time your mind was completely blank? Okay, except for now while you ponder the question! To get beyond analysis paralysis in shooting you must learn to control your focus.
4. Feel Your Body and Trust Your Feelings
Top shooters have a feel for what a good shot is. They know the moment a shot leaves their hand if it is good or not. So what kind of feeling should you aim for? Here's a simple drill to get more control over the basketball and one of the most effective ways to improve your shot:
Stand within eight feet or so from the basket and make an all-net shot with one hand. Do this over and over again. Memorize how the ball feels rolling out of your hands and off your fingers as you make all-net shot after shot. Do it with your eyes closed and focus on feeling the ball roll off your fingers--don't look, just feel!
When you duplicate that feeling, you will engrain the necessary physics of arc, directional control and even backspin to make more shots. When you focus on getting that feeling, you are better able to duplicate the feeling. When you use this technique you stop thinking. Your mind will then subconsciously search for and recreate the feeling/sensation of the ball rolling off your fingers towards the basket. As you focus on that one specific thing, all of a sudden your footwork, jumping, and everything else will begin to align to give you the best chance to make the shot.
This "focus on the feeling" action is how our mind clears away conscience thought (even fear) and finds the zone. This will happen all by itself if you focus on one simple feeling. This is exactly what happens when people use a mantra to meditate and find enlightenment.
5. Meditate to Concentrate
According to psychologist Daniel Goldman, "powerful concentration amplifies the effectiveness of any kind of activity." Meditation, or mindfulness, is the ability to retrain attention, so that it fosters concentration. Several NBA players meditate before games. Lakers coach Phil Jackson is a proponent of meditation and is known as the "Zen Master." Coach Jackson has had both his Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers teams practice Buddhist meditation before they practice jump shots.
Jackson has won 10 NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers. Meditate on that!
6. Improve Your Shooters EQ
Basketball IQ is incredibly important in shooting. Shots are often made or missed before they are ever even taken. Shooters IQ is the instinctive ability to know how to get open for a shot, where and when to take a shot, what type of shot to take, and even when not to shoot.
Basketball EQ (Emotional Quotient) is a player’s ability to control emotions regardless of the changing circumstances (time and score – missed/made last three shot attempts, etc.) of a basketball game. EQ affects a player’s abilities to adjust on the fly and perform under pressure. Our research indicates that your emotional quotient may be twice as important in contributing to shooting excellence than basketball IQ and shooting skill alone.
Start doing. Stop practicing shooting. Start making shots. It doesn’t matter how many shots you practice. What matters is how many shots you actually make during practice.
For true shooting mastery, it also helps to limit practice to making only the one or two types of shots you will actually get to take while in the flow of your team's offense. Also, instead of trying to "practice at game speed," make shots while being denied the ball and even guarded by one or two defenders. Successful experience in practice leads to successful experience in games and raises the your personal level of expectation.
Raise Your Level of Expectation
8. Make perfect shots
In our player development sessions at 1on1 Basketball Academy, we require that all layups go off the backboard and through the net without ever touching the rim. Hit the rim and the shot does not count. Jump shots must also be all-net in order to count.
Make shots with your eyes closed. Play all-net/eyes closed shooting competitions in practice to develop your feel for making shots. Focus on the feel needed to make perfect shots from warm-up to cool down, and your practice effort will transfer into real game success.
Basketball players and teams practice hard and often still play inconsistently or poorly. Make better use of practice time. Get your practice time effort to transfer into real performance in real games.
As an expert in pedagogy and behavioral science, I firmly believe that the most effective way to perform at peak performance levels is to practice (even when you are initially learning new skills with a success/failure-based immediate and effective consequence. That's how it is in a real game. That's how it is in life.
10. Go Beyond Confidence
I do basketball clinics for coaches and players all across the country and internationally. Unannounced at every clinic, I walk to half court and a make shot, facing backwards, with my eyes closed! I never practice, yet I consistently make the shot in less than seven attempts.
How can I do this? I have simply memorized the feel of a successful shot. As I'm holding the basketball, I take just one to two seconds to meditate on getting that feeling as I take the shot. With everyone now watching, we then take a player from the clinic group and get them to make the shot (eyes open for rookies!). Always a crowd pleaser, this is a great example of what mastering the mental aspects of shooting can do for any player.
Release old ideas and beliefs. Empty your cup of pre-conceived barriers and fill it with new knowledge. Be in the moment--no past, no future--and only aware of the meditative mantra feeling of the ball rolling off your fingers.