Shooting free throws (foul shots) is becoming a lost art in the game of basketball. Many basketball games are won or lost on the foul line. The first thing I always look for in the box score of a close game is how many free throws the losing team missed. It is amazing to me that young players now practice three point shots more than they practice free throws. One of the reasons this happens is that practicing three point shots is fun! Shooting foul shots in one stationary position takes work and more concentration.
Changing techniques does not seem to work when shooting free throws. I remember Wilt Chamberlain changing his routine endlessly, such as shooting underhand, moving back about 12 inches behind the foul line, and shooting one handed. I still believe underhand foul shooting is very underrated, especially for young players who are still growing because their hands have not reached their full size. One of the best foul shooters in the history of the NBA, Rick Barry, shot underhand.
There are some things players can do that should become habit. Studies have been done that specific pre-shot routines help players in their concentration. Simply said, if a player bounces the ball three times before shooting, he should always bounce it three times. Having the same ritual will help with the shooter’s focus. Coming from a baseball background, I was always taught that a relaxed hitter is a dangerous hitter. The same holds true with free throw shooting. The more relaxed a player is, the better rate of success he or she will have. Many players will take a deep breath just before shooting. The audience will see this as the player’s shoulders rise on the inhale and then go down on the exhale. Players also need to visualize the ball going through the hoop in a swish-like manner.
There are endless drills that coaches use to increase individual and team free throw shooting. My good friend, Tom Nordland, creator of the excellent “Swish” video, has a great method. In addition to shooting to make the foul shot, players should practice shooting to miss the shot. And practice missing short and then missing long. This technique will definitely help master control. I also remember years ago seeing the great New York Knick make eight out of ten foul shots blindfolded. This is true visualization.
There have been endless theories for being successful at the foul line. Players should fine the most successful technique for them, tweak it from knowledgeable coaches, and then do a tremendous amount of repetition. Having the same ritual and being relaxed are the keys to success.
Marty Schupak has coached youth sports for 18 years and is the creator of the videos “Driveway Basketball Drills" and “48 Championship Basketball Drills. He is also creator of “The 59 Minute Baseball Practice” and “Championship Soccer Drills” videos and is author of the best selling book “Youth Baseball. Drills”. He is President of the Basketball Coach One and the Youth Sports Club, a group dedicated to making sports practices and games more creative and enjoyable for kids.