Fact. More close games are won or lost at the foul line than with any other skill area in the game of basketball.
The foul shot is the one shot in the game of basketball that you have time to think about when you’re shooting it. As a coach, you need to understand the benefits involved with being a great foul shooter.
Most players have the ability to increase your scoring average by two to three points per game just by being able to shoot a higher percentage free throw. Teams have the ability to win another three to five games a year just by, as a team, being able to shoot 70% or better from the free throw line.
As a player, you need to give a coach a reason to want to keep you on a team. Being an exceptional free throw shooter is a no-brainer for any basketball coach. Remember this simple rule: Practice defined in one word is repetition.
Your Pre-Shot Routine
The first element of free throw shooting is your pre-shot routine. Every player has one, and they vary just as much as the size and weight of players do. The pre-shot routine is not that important other than it’s what you’re comfortable doing in preparation for the free throw.
Once you’ve completed your pre-shot routine – whether it’s wiping your shoes or socks, counting the number of dribbles you take, wiping the sweat off your forehead, etc, then you need to start by taking a deep breath in order to relax your body.
The second thing your youth basketball players need to have for a perfect free throw are physical mechanics. Physical mechanics involve your body balance and your body position, as well as the mechanics that you use with your arms and legs to complete the repetition of the free throw.
A common acronym for free throw shooting is called BEEF. The “B” in BEEF refers to good body balance. Your feet are shoulders’ width apart. We prefer that you line up your right foot, if you’re right-handed, on the middle nail hole.
Most courts have those. The “E” stands for elbow in, meaning elbows should be inside of the knee. This will help you as you complete your free throw to finish your shot in a straight line.
The second “E” stands for eyes on the target. The target that we want to aim for is the middle hook on the back of the rim.
Why do we want to aim at the middle hook? When a player puts backspin on the ball, which is what you’re taught to do if you’re a good shooter, and the ball makes contact with the rim, it will hit the back of the rim and spin backwards with the backspin into the cylinder.
The opposite of this is when you aim at the front of the rim. When the ball makes contact with the front of the rim, the ball will impact to the rim and spin backwards away from the cylinder, keeping you from completing your free throw.
The “F” stands for follow-through. You must have and maintain good follow-through in order to be a successful free throw shooter.
The third part of being a great free throw shooter involves mental mechanics. In order to concentrate better on the free throw so you do not have distractions, so you’re not thinking about the cheerleaders, you’re not thinking about the score, you’re not thinking about opposing players taunting you.
You’re not thinking about the pressure of the game situation. We’ve developed five words – like five fingers on your hand – that allow you to concentrate on the mental processes of the free throw. You should say the words to yourself as you’re conducting the physical mechanics of the free throw at the same time. The five words are as follows: elbow in, bend, follow through.
Elbow in. A player, after doing their pre-shot routine and taking their deep breath, will go to a position with their knees locked and they will break their elbow in or tuck their elbow in as they say “elbow in.”
Elbow in also means that the elbow, when you put it in position, should be inside the knee. Players do not want the elbow directly above the knee in this set position or outside of the knee. In either one of these cases, it’ll force a player to possibly finish with their arm shooting to the side. By having your elbow in, when a player completes their shot they will finish in a straight line with their toe, their knee, their elbow and the ball to the back of the rim.
Second part of mental mechanics is bend. The reason we have players keep their knees locked in an elbow in position is so that when they come to the bend part of the free throw, their physical mechanics are identical every time they shoot the ball.
The third part of mental mechanics that you say to yourself is to follow through. This helps you at the completion of your free throw to focus all of your mental concentration on the physical act of backspin on the ball and following through with your shot.
When you learn to be consistent in how you shoot your free throw, you will then become perfectly consistent in how well you shoot your free throw.
Why is it important to have mental mechanics when you shoot your free throw? The free throw is the only shot in the game that a player takes where they have time to actually think about the shot. In the course of a game, most shots are a reaction or an action that occurs in the flow of the game.
We want to eliminate negative thoughts as a player shoots a free throw by implementing positive thoughts and mental mechanics as they shoot the shot that will incorporate the physical mechanics and the rhythm and timing of a perfect free throw.
By going over these free throw fundamentals with your own youth basketball team, do you think your players will have a better understanding of how to approach the shot? Why or why not? Sound off in the comments below!