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How Shooting 10% From The Free Throw Line Won The Championship
by Sidney Goldstein Copyright © 2008 by Golden Aura Publishing

Many years ago I coached a team of freshman girls, many of whom at the beginning of the season had difficulty hitting the rim on their free throws. So, for the foul line transition drill, which involves shooting a free throw, I was forced to move the shooter closer to the basket just to run the drill.

This did not cause a problem, it actually solved several. One, we could run the drill. Two, players, as well as the coach, would no longer get frustrated when a shot missed everything. Three, players would still work on shooting technique without worrying about the actual shot.

And you need to separate the two, shooting and shooting technique, both in your mind and in practice. When a player shoots, you want them to do just that, without thinking about anything. A shot should be quick and natural without any thought. Problems with holding the ball (touch), extension of arms, alignment of the body, and the release need to be resolved while practicing technique. (This is covered in the Shooting Technique section of the books and videos.)

A serious problem arises when a player with poor technique practices from the free throw line. The technique will constantly change instead of being constant. Once in a while a player will even 'get into a groove' or 'be in the zone'. I call it "technique du jour" because the shooter does not really know what he/she is doing correctly or incorrectly to make the shot. I'm told that several NBA stars, known for poor free throw shooting, often get (or got) into grooves at practice.

Another free throw shooting problem is that the shooter wants to be careful to shoot with proper technique. He/she slows down or deliberately alters the shooting motion thus creating another problem. A shot has to be natural and usually pretty fast; definitely not slow.

So, how do players with poor technique practice free throws? Well, they can't practice from the free throw line because they will only get worse. They must practice from anywhere from 1-6 feet, a distance where their technique holds up, a distance from which technique will be proper and constant from day to day. But you say they gotta shoot from the free throw line in the game! If you force them to do so, they will only shoot worse. Shooting improvement goes along with technique improvement, not with the number of shots practiced.

And you can readily determine the distance at which shooting technique breaks down. Let a player start at the basket and move back one step after each shot. When you notice a change in the way he/she shoots, this is a change or breakdown in technique. A player's technique should not significantly change with distance from the basket.

With this in mind I kept my players shooting as close to the basket as possible for as long as I could stand it. It's not easy to forbid players to shoot from more than 1-6 feet. Anyway, a little more than half-way through the season we had a close game with a very good team and lost by 2 points. This would not be so bad, but we missed 17 out of 19 free throws. (We only had one ball for warm-ups that day and the other team would not lend us any.) I wanted to change my policy then and there, but I knew what the outcome would be. So, we continued to work on shooing technique along with other basics for the rest of the season.

Our last scheduled game was against the best team in the league. They were undefeated and this included a win over the team that beat us by two points. I should point out that the 2 point loss was our only loss of the season so far.

In this last game we shot about 50% from the free throw line and hit the rim on each miss. So working on technique, staying short worked. We also doubled the score of our opponent. In a sense, by keeping my kids shooting close, by allowing them to develop technique, by constantly working on all other fundamentals, we won the hypothetical championship, since there were no playoffs for freshman.

Your comments are welcome.
Sidney Goldstein, author of The Basketball Coach's Bible and The Basketball Player's Bible, has successfully coached both men's and women's teams over a period of 15 years.

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