Practicing Foul Shots to Build Confidence

Many coaches find foul shooting an enigma. Players shoot high percentages in practice and not in games. Players shoot well in home games verses away games. Players swish 10 consecutive shots but miss six of the next 10.  Every team on every level practices it daily, yet results can befuddle a coach.

No magic remedy exists for consistent foul shooting. It is an inexact art; however, coaches can provide tips to players and improve odds of converting better percentages. 

First and foremost, emphasize the importance of adhering to a set routine for every attempt. Allow the player to find something he/she finds comfortable. The coach should then observe to ensure the player always uses the exact process for all foul shots. Commonly, players select something with which they are confident, increasing chances of success. 

Secondly, coach each player to view the rim as long as possible prior to shooting. Often players will shoot and see the rim simultaneously. Common sense dictates if someone looks at the target before shooting he/she will have a better opportunity to convert. 

Finally, foul shooting is mental. Beware of overanalyzing, showing frustration or even berating because of individual or team inconsistency. Theoretically, it is an open chance with no defense and least 10 seconds to launch a try. However, it can be terrifying should players miss because during attempts every eye in the gym is watching the shooter.

I developed a ‘free throw progression’ for individual or team practice. When utilizing the drill, communicate the importance using their routine at all distances while also: seeing the rim, holding the follow through, and not backing off any spot until a shot concludes.

  • 3 shots from 3 feet (demand all three shots made ‘clean’- no rim)  
  • 3 shots from 5 feet (demand all three shots made clean)
  • 3 shots from 7 feet (demand at least two shots made clean)                      
  • 3 shots from 12 feet (demand at least two shots made clean)    
  • 3 shots from 14 feet (heels touching bottom of foul line/demand at least two shots made clean)           
  • 5 normal foul shots from the line (demand at least two shots made clean)
  • 3 shots from 3-point line (heels touching the bottom of the arc/demand at least one shot made clean)
  • 5 normal foul shots from the line (demand at least two shots made clean)
  • 2 shots from 14 feet (demand at least one shot made clean)
  • 2 shots from 12 feet (demand at least one shot made clean)
  • 2 shots from 7 feet (demand both shots made clean)
  • 2 shots from 5 feet (demand both shots made clean)
  • 2 shots from 3 feet  (demand both shots made clean)

The idea is to begin close and progressively move back with players gaining confidence because the number of clean makes increases.

Coaches can use their imagination to increase foul shot pressure on players in a variety of practice settings. The progression does not have to be used daily but should be part of practice at least once weekly.

Finally – maintain a positive attitude toward free throw shooting. I doubt any coach wants a player at the free throw line with a sense of dread and no confidence because no positive reinforcement has been given. It can drive coaches crazy, but we are the adults and must realize players with confidence typically perform better in any aspect of any sport.

Ari Fisher has coached on all levels of basketball with the exception of professionally.  Teams he coached won state championships and he has sent players to the NBA and NFL.  For the last 23 years he has been an Instructor on faculty for the LSU School of Kinesiology specializing in teaching health and coaching courses.  Additionally, he trains players of all ages privately and is color commentator for local high school basketball games in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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