Free Throws

This section on free throws was created in response to several people writing and asking for more information. Free throws are one of the few predictable recurring events in basketball. Most of basketball is dynamic, creative, free-flowing and players must respond to momentary advantages that develop then disappear. But, free throws are a constant. The distance, the technique and timing is all the same. You can practice in your driveway with nearly the same conditions as you find on the court at game time. Sure, the pressure is different, but that's where the concentration and confidence come into play. Concentration and confidence are built with hours of private practice. Once you have paid your dues working on free throws, you KNOW you can make the shot. If you are at the free throw line in a high pressure situation and what you know is that you have NOT paid your dues... well, where is the confidence now?

The following information has been provided by people who have paid their dues. Kevin Reilly, a previous contributor to the Coach's Notebook, has listed tips on successful free throw techniques. I found two articles that were posted on internet discussion groups and have added those, too, with credit to the authors. Finally, I have offered some basic information on how to set up your players to take advantage of the free throw situation. It can be used to trigger fast breaks or to establish a press pattern.

Most coaches in youth basketball programs do not have much gym time to devote to free throws. You can, however, teach technique. Don't just teach the young players, teach the parents, too. Most kids will practice on their own, so the tips they get from you will help. But, if dad or mom take out some "quality time" to practice basketball with their children, it really helps if they are armed with knowledge gained from the coach. I have met many parents that were very interested in helping their child improve. When the parents ask, "How can I help?" Tell them. Give them a drill or two or show them the techniques / faults to look for.

Ten Keys for Improved Free Throw Shooting

by Kevin Reilly,

Free Throw Shooting Decides Games

As the basketball season rolls along, many contests will be determined by success or failure from the foul line. Many games especially those with playoff implications will go right down to the wire and be decided by a handful of points. During any one game and 30 free throws. These will each be opportunities to change the outcome of a particular contest.

When I was a high school player, my mother would marvel as to how a good player could miss a free throw considering the fact that nobody was guarding them. I wonder what Mom would have to say about Shaquille O'Neal considered one of the NBA's top performers but a futile foul shooter. I recently did a little research on this superstar's track record from the charity stripe. The results were not pretty.

This year Shaq is shooting only 44% from the line. What's more of a problem is that being such a physical presence he gets to the line eleven times per game. If he raised his percentage to 77% the Lakers would score 2-3 more points each night. Now, you might say that his team is in first place; but down the stretch and in the playoffs this likeable behemoth's lack of free throw marksmanship may hurt his team's chances for a championship.

In my career as a high school and college coach and currently in camp work and individual instruction I have come up with the following suggestions to improve free throw performance:

Ten Keys for Improved Free Throw Shooting

  1. Use Your Legs
    Good shooting form starts from the legs up. A shoulders-width stance and knees slightly bent are critical for a good base.
  2. Proper Aim
    Focus should be directed right over the front of the rim. Eyes need to be set on this target. Never watch the flight of the ball. Keep eyes on just over the rim at all times.
  3. Release/ Follow Through
    Keep everything straight. Maintain extension to prevent shot from coming up short.
  4. Relaxation
    Try to be calm as possible. Control breathing. Inhale and then exhale. Relax shoulders and neck with simple shrugs.
  5. Mental Imaging
    Try to visualize ball going in the basket. See yourself executing proper form. Get your body to do exactly what it has to in order for the ball to find it's way into the hoop.
  6. Conditioning
    In game situations important foul shots are taken by fatigued players. Being in good shape will give a player the best chance for success at the line.
  7. Rhythm/ Routine
    Doing the same thing on every shot attempt is important. Keep it simple. Repetition means results. Concentration on form and technique help achieve consistency.
  8. Make it Game-Like
    Try to make practice sessions comply to game conditions. Take fouls shots after running, jumping rope or playing one on one to provide for fatigue factor. Attempt free throws simulating game situations such as one and one opportunities and two shot fouls, etc.. Back off line between each series.
  9. Positive Attitude
    Success breeds confidence. Players should want to be on the line for crucial shots. No one can get in the player's way of making a foul shot. It's all up to them. They can do it with hard work and effort.
  10. Video/ Mirror Work
    In this day and age, most schools and most kids have access to video equipment. Have players watch themselves on tape. The tape will not hide their mistakes. A picture is worth a thousand words. Mirrors work as well, have players work on their form in the mirror as well.

Basketball: Steps to Success - Free Throws

by Hal Wissel,

The following article was found on the basketball coaching forum, Coaches are welcome to participate, ask questions, share plays, drills and strategies.

To all basketball coaches in egroups: My name is Hal Wissel and my book, Basketball: Steps to Success has sold over 100,000 copies. I am sending you excerpts from Step 2 Shooting: Enhance Confidence, Mechanics, Rhythm, and Range.

I hope this helps you. You can get more information on the book by visiting the Basketball World web site at

May all your shots hit "Nothing but net!"

Free Throw Shooting

Sound mechanics, routine, relaxation, rhythm, concentration, and confidence are all necessary factors for success in free throw shooting. Routine, relaxation and rhythm contribute to concentration and confidence. Confidence is the most important part of free throw shooting. There is no reason why you should not be a great free throw shooter. You always shoot from the same place on the line and without a defender guarding you. Think positively. Three and one-half balls fit through the basket. With confidence and sound mechanics you cannot miss.

Most players use the one-handed shot when shooting a free throw. You have time to control each of the basic mechanics: sight, balance, hand position, elbow-in alignment, shooting action, and follow-through.

Developing a sound free throw routine enables you to check pre-shot mechanics. It also helps you relax, focus and shoot with rhythm. Most importantly, the use of the same free throw routine enhances your confidence. A set number of dribbles, checking mechanics, using visualization to mentally practice your free throw one time before shooting it, and taking a deep breath to relax may all become a part of your free throw routine. Adopt a sound routine and stay with it. It is a mistake to copy fads or repeatedly change the routine of shooting your free throw.

Here is a sample routine that you can use and then adjust to your individual preference. Help yourself relax by standing a few feet in back of the free throw line until the official is ready to hand you the ball. Once you receive the ball set your feet in position making certain to line the ball (not your head) up with the middle of the basket. Use the small indentation mark in the floor at the exact middle of the free throw line that was used to draw the markings for the the free throw circle. Line your shooting foot slightly to the outside of this mark and the ball will be lined up with the middle of the basket. Set-up in a balanced stance. Some players bounce the ball a set number of times to help them relax. Use a handshake position and line up your shooting finger with the valve on the ball. Now, check your elbow-in alignment. Take a deep breath to relax. Before shooting, mentally visualize a successful shot. Using visualization to mentally picture a successful free throw just before you shoot it can help you have a free flowing, smooth rhythm, and increase confidence. Focus on your target and shoot. Exaggerate your follow through by keeping your sight on the target and your shooting arm up until the ball reaches the basket.

Relaxation is also important in shooting free throws successfully. Shooting a free throw is different from shooting a shot from the field because you have time to think. The biggest problem you may have is to try too hard which may cause physical and emotional tension. Learn to use deep breathing to place your mind and body in a state of relaxation. When shooting a free throw you should particularly relax your shoulders. Relax your shoulders by taking a deep breath and then focus on letting your shoulders drop and loosen. Do the same for your arms, hands, and fingers. Learn to relax other parts of your body as needed. Controlling your breathing and relaxing your muscles are especially useful as part of your pre-shot free throw routine.

Shooting with a smooth, free flowing rhythm is another essential for free throw shooting success. Using personalized key words can help you establish a smooth, sequential rhythm. Say your personalized words in the rhythm of your shot. For example, if your trigger words are "legs," and "thru," and your anchor word is "yes," you would say, in the rhythm of your shot, "Legs, thru, yes!" Say your key words in the rhythm of your shot from the start of your shot until the ball is released. Saying your personalized key words in an even rhythm will establish your rhythm as well as enhance your free throw mechanics, reinforce a successful shot, and build confidence.

Confidence and concentration go together. Learn to use affirmation statements that promote confident thoughts about yourself and your ability to shoot. For example, you can state to yourself that, "I am a shooter." Remind yourself of past success. The most important step before initiating the actual shooting motion is to eliminate all distractions from your mind and focus your concentration on the basket. Focus on shooting a successful shot, rather than thinking about a shot that missed or worrying about what you might do wrong. Stay in the present. Visualize shooting a successful free throw using your key words. Emphasize your anchor word. Say "Yes!" "Money!" "All net!" or "Count it!" as a positive affirmation statement. Enjoy the moment. Focus on your target, just over the front of the rim. See it, shoot it . . . "Count it!"

Detecting Errors in Shooting the Free Throw

The most common errors in free throw shooting are listed below, along with suggestions on how to correct them.

Error Correction
1. You repeatedly change your free throw routine or copy fads. 1. Adopt a sound free throw routine and stay with it.
2. You feel tense before and during your free throw. 2. Use deep breathing to place your mind and body in a state of relaxation.
3. When shooting your free throw you use an uneven or slower rhythm than when you shoot from the field. 3. Say your key words in the even rhythm of your shot from the start of your shot until the ball is released. Saying your personalized key words in an even rhythm will establish your rhythm as well as enhance your free throw mechanics, feel, concentration and confidence.
4. You lack confidence. You are easily distracted by negative comments or actions by someone else or your own negative thoughts about a previously missed free throw. 4. Confidence and concentration go together. When you hear a negative statement or recognize your own negative thought, eliminate it as soon as possible with the word stop and replace it with a positive affirmation such as "I am a shooter." Visulaize a successful free throw while emphasizing your personal anchor word. Focus on the target and shoot it.
5. Your free throw is short, because you step off the line to get back on defense. 5. Exaggerate your follow-through by keeping your arm up and staying on the line until the ball reaches the basket.

Free Throw Drills

by Tom Stanley,

The following was contributed by the author to

Improving Free throw shooting is a physical, mental and emotional program. Here are a few general drills for you to use.

  1. Start by having the players shoot with perfect form against a wall or the backboard - no basket - and have them just work on spin and release.
  2. Get a rhythm and "a habit" at the line by shooting inside of 3 feet. Make two in a row then work back 1-2 steps at a time. If they miss two in a row they must move 1-2 steps closer again. (they have to work on rhythm and the "habit."
  3. Shoot at the free throw line for rhythm. Have two or more players (one rebounder - one shooter - one passer) and have the shooter shoot 10-15 in a row at a time as smoothly as possible.
  4. Shoot 5 and rotate to a different basket.- work with a partner- have them keep score and set a percentage goal each time.
  5. 1 and 1 drill or 2 in a row-. If the player misses the first then they must run 5 laps the second 3 laps. Players must shoot until they have made 10-12.
  6. Have short partner/team competitions. Best of 20 or best of 10. Losers run, winners get a drink of water.
  7. Team shoots for laps at the end of practice.
  8. Whenever a player is not on the court during scrimmage time then they have to make 5-7 in row to get back into the scrimmage.
  9. Pizza shoot- Have the players shoot for Pizza once a week. They must shoot a certain number in the game as a team and make a certain percentage that week. Start small and work the percentage up higher.

I had the players shoot every time we switched drills from offense to defense, at the start of practice and the end of practice. Then after a few weeks of this, we stopped shooting a large number of free throws and backed off. Some teams the more you emphasized it the worse they got. So we de-emphasized it and our percentage went up.

Mentally and emotionally it is important to have the players think about nothing when they are at the line.