Articles by Tom Nordland
(Note: Tom is a Shooting
Coach living in northern California. You may also find this article on
his website at www.swish22
To order Tom's video, Swish - A Guide to Great Basketball Shooting,
Articles by Coach Nordland featured on this site:
The Trouble With Shooting!
What Can Be Done With Free Throws!
The ABC's of Great Shooting!
Taking the Lid Off the Basket?
Danger Signs of Poor Shooting
Simple Coaching for Improved Shooting
Danger Signs of Poor Shooting
How to tell if your team needs work on shooting!
A few years ago I was watching a women's professional ABL basketball game and I was struck by how ineffective were the shooting styles of most of them. Only a few were what I would call good or great shooters. I see the same in the men's game, at all levels, still today. Few really understand how to shoot "lights out." The thought occurred to me that, though I can see what the problems are, probably most coaches are not seeing what I see. This article is an attempt to describe what to look for. If you see these danger signs, realize your team needs to work on shooting because the flaws I point out are probably going to lead to missed shots. Missed shots at crucial times will lose games.
- Flat Trajectories/Little Use of Body & Leg Power -- Get an overview of the height of your team's trajectories. If the bottom of the ball gets no higher than a couple feet above the rim, you've got a problem.
- Set Points Too Far Overhead -- Watch where your players bring the ball before releasing it. If it's back over their heads, shots will be flat and hot, controlled almost entirely by the smaller muscles of arm, wrist and hand.
- Jerky or Stiff Follow Through/Arm Not Straightening -- Watch the shooting arms as your players shoot. If the release action is jerky or stiff, or if the arms don't fully straighten, then the Releases will be inconsistent.
- Slinging or Throwing vs. Pushing Motions -- Watch how shots are powered. Is it by a slinging or throwing action or by a pushing action? Slings and throws are horizontal, whereas a push can be upward, vertical, and automatically give you height and softer landing shot.
- Funny Spins -- Observe the types of spins. If you have side spin, dead balls or forward spin, you have another problem. These indicate the use of the wrist, hand and/or fingers in the powering and control of the shot, much less reliable than the larger muscles of legs and body.
- Flat Trajectories/Little Use of Body & Leg Power.
Watch your players and the team as a whole while they're shooting in practice or as they warm up before a game. If shots are getting only a foot or two (three feet for longer shots) above the rim, then you're in trouble. Such "flat" shots have a very small target and they come in very "hot," meaning gravity has not had time to slow them down. This is usually caused by not using any or enough lower body power in the shots.
If the apex of the arch of shots (the bottom of the ball) is approaching the height of the backboard or higher, then you can know that the players are using more leg drive (what I call UpForce) to power their shots, thus giving larger, more forgiving targets, softer shots. Better shooters put up shots more like mortars, very high. Think of it this way: YOU HAVE TO GO UP IN ORDER TO COME DOWN! And a more upward action gives gravity a chance to slow the ball's flight down.
- Set Points Too Far Overhead
Observe what's called the Set Point or Shooting Pocket of your players. This is where, for a jump shot, they bring the ball before starting the Release. (For a Free Throw, there may not be a pause at that point in the motion.)
If the Set Point is too far overhead, realize that such a starting point encourages, even requires, a horizontal motion to get the ball to the target. Better shooters have the ball in front of the head and above and slightly to the right (for right-handers) and then push the ball upward from there, rather than "throwing" or "slinging" it horizontally. I see otherwise great players take the ball too far overhead and decrease their odds of making shots because the ball flight is so flat and hot. Also, such shots are controlled by the smaller muscles of wrist, hand and fingers rather than from the larger leg and body muscles.
- Jerky or Stiff Follow Through/Arm Not Straightening
Watch the shooting arm and hand of each player in the Follow Through. If the arm jerks or pulls back, you can guess there's fear or doubt in the player's mind. If the hand is generating much (or all) of the power, you'll see the hand stiffen in the Follow Through. A wrist flipping motion creates this, as does a finger drive action. The old instruction to "reach in the cookie jar" causes players to fire the wrist and hand, even to the extent of the hand winding up pointing downward with a lot of tension. These actions employ small muscles and flatten the shot. Watch better shooters. They have a relaxed wrist and hand during the Release and Follow Through. Such a motion is more "repeatable," especially under pressure. Observe if the shooting arms end up straightened in the Follow Through or if they wind up bent at the elbow, indicating a throwing motion. Better shooters straighten the arm to its full extension so it does the same thing every time. This gives greater consistency.
- Slinging or Throwing vs. Pushing Motions.
Watch how your players power their shots. Are they slinging or throwing motions, or are they more pushing motions? Slinging and throwing create horizontal ball flight and a flat trajectory. They also mean that the arm and hand muscles are doing most of the powering. A pushing action -- with no wrist and hand action -- is more reliable and is usually more upward. The key to great shooting is to rely on the larger, lower body muscles to provide most of the power, and keep the Release down to a simple, pushing action, always the same speed and force. Once you have that down, varying arch is how you solve the puzzle of distance.
- Funny Spins.
Watch the spin your players give to their shots. If the ball is dead in the air (no spin), or if there's side spin or forward spin, you will know the player is doing something "funny" in the Release. The most effective spin is medium backspin ... not too slow, not too fast, just in the middle. And it's not something you have to "do." If you just straighten your shooting arm with a relaxed wrist, hand and fingers, perfect backspin is created. If your hand or fingers manipulate the ball in any way, you interfere with the natural backspin. If you twist the hand during the Release, side spin is created. If you wrist flip, you'll probably create less backspin, maybe even a dead ball or forward spin. Though you can make shots with any spin, some of the time, little manipulations introduce variables that are difficult to repeat, especially under pressure. Work with your players to have them relax their Release motions and observe the resulting spins.
These, then, are Danger Signs that will reveal your players are probably not going to have a nice day in the shooting stats area. Of course, there are exceptions. You'll find some players doing all of the above and shooting quite well. Sometimes just powerful intention and will power, raw confidence and high expectations take over for awhile. In my experience such shooters are almost always "streak" shooters who will just as easily have days and games when they can't make anything. When the technique is flawed, all the mental gymnastics in the world won't help for long.
I offer my Swish video as a tool and resource to improve your team's shooting. The Danger Signs will start to disappear from your players' shots when you coach them to more effective use of their upper and lower body actions, when you show them how to effortlessly control distance and direction. They learn it by careful an patient awareness of what they're doing, and when they know what works, learning can be relatively quick.
Print out this page. I suggest you print out this article and add it to your coaching notebook. Refer to it to help you see your team's shooting tendencies. You'll start to see why they shoot well or poorly and know where to start to improve their skill at shooting. If you have a great shooter or two on your team, watch them carefully -- you'll start to see what they