Basketball Coaching

Improving free throw technique—a case study

Set-up

There is a dot on the free throw line that is aligned with the basket. It's advised that one straddle the dot with feet shoulder width apart standing square to the line. Standing with feet square to the line puts the body in position to go straight at the basket with the shooting arm. When standing at the line, one should be leaning forward in a balanced stance with weight on the balls of the feet.

Grasping the ball

The ball is bounced slowly and deliberately a few times to relax the muscles of the hands and arms. The ball is caught on the last bounce so that the inflation hole is centred and facing up. It is grasped by placing the thumb of the shooting hand in the horizontal seam of the ball with the third finger pointed at the inflation hole. Placing the thumb in the seam aids in adding rotation or backspin to the ball on release. The "off hand" is positioned underneath the ball to provide stability and support. It remains in this position until the shooting arm straightens and the ball is released.

Shooting sequence

After grasping the ball, the ball is raised to the Center of the chest and the elbow drawn in so that it's directly below it. Starting the shot from this position enables the ball to travel in a direct line to the basket. As the elbow is brought inward, the knees are bent and one goes down into the legs to initiate the shot.

Coming up and out of the legs provides the thrust to launch the ball upward and toward the basket. The eyes focus on the target (above the back of the rim) on the rise.

As one rises, the shooting arm is extended smoothly from its vertical position in the centre of the chest toward the basket. At this point the wrist has been cocked. After the arm has been extended the wrist is snapped at the moment of release which provides rotation to the ball. On release of the ball follow through involves a wrist action resembling a good-bye wave.

My version of the shot

First of all, I am right handed and I do not straddle the dot. I stand with my right foot just to the right of it. I do this to compensate for a tendency that I had to be constantly shooting to the right of the basket.

On the advice of another player I tried holding the ball differently. I now grasp the ball firmly with my off hand on the left side of the ball and my right in a 11 o'clock position on top of the ball and off to the right. This adjustment also led to improved accuracy. This player also noted that my shots were hard and fast. He suggested that I should strive for a softer slower and more gentle shot so that if I hit the rim the ball wouldn't be deflected from it.

Aside from these two differences, my delivery adheres to the ideal.

History

I have been wrestling with my shooting for the past two years. As indicated, I sought to compensate for a tendency to shoot off to the right by positioning myself to the left of the dot on the foul line that is aligned with the basket. Since making this adjustment and then later changing the way in which I grasped the ball my error pattern changed. Now, I'm inclined to shoot just as many shots off to the left as I do to the right. As for range errors, again, I am quite consistent in that just as many are long as fall short. The exception here is when I'm tired. When this is the case, my shots tend to fall short.

Other players have been more helpful than my coach. He has no concerns with my delivery and attributes the variability in my shooting to normal, expected and unexplainable performance swings.

One aspect of my technique that does vary from shot to shot is the angle at which I extend my shooting arm. Many of my shots will be nicely arched and fall softly and gently into the basket. These occur when I'm releasing the ball from just in front of and above my forehead. At other times, I release the ball from an arm position that is extended upward and out from my head by about 18 inches. When I shoot from this position there is less arc to the ball and it tends to be hard and fast.

As for technique problems, I would like to achieve consistency in where I release the ball from. My preference is from in front of my forehead. But I can't seem to release the ball from this position on a consistent basis. Further, I would like to be able to solve my current error pattern I., half the shots going off to the right and half to the left; half short and half long.

Outcome of advice

As noted, I have followed up on the advice from fellow players and found it helpful. And yes, I have gone back and forth several times to how I hold the ball and where I release it from. Typically I'll experience some benefit following the switch and then my performance level will fade off again. When it does, I fiddle again until ...and so on. I've also experimented with breaking up my shot sequence with a momentary pause to aim after coming out of my legs and before extending the arm up to release the ball. As well I've varied the degree to which I go into my legs. I guess all of this is merely a reflection of the frustration that I'm experiencing in not being able to solve my riddle: "How to be a consistent free throw shooter where the shot is a smooth, continuous, integrated release of the ball from above the forehead that travels straight to the target gently and softly?"

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As an old basketball coach once said, "The problem is not learning the new; it's forgetting (unlearning) the old." If you have ever tried to fix a persistent problem with your game you will know how true this statement is.

Thankfully, all those skills coaching sessions appear to be paying off. You practice and practice and your technique on the court shows obvious improvement.

However, as soon as you go out on the court and are left to your own devices or placed under the stress of competition, your game falls apart and you revert to those old, wrong, ways.

Current skills coaching methods emphasize practice of the correct technique because we know that practice and drill are essential for developing "new" skills, at least when players are a "blank slate" for the coach to write to. However, practice is much less effective when players are not a clean slate and they already have an ingrained "wrong or incomplete" idea or misconception that misdirects their technique, or they already have an entrenched technique problem from previous self-coaching efforts or poor coaching.

Biomechanical experts say that it can take up to 2,000 practices before the new, correct, technique becomes consistent and replaces the old, incorrect, one. This is called the 'adaptation period' and we have all gone through that misery.

Cognitive science research shows that the adaptation period is caused by a mental mechanism called habit pattern interference, generated by the differences and subsequent conflict between the "right" and "wrong" technique. Habit pattern interference disables new learning and greatly slows improvement, despite quality coaching. Skills Coach Basketball successfully tackles the transfer of training problem by:

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  • eliminating the adjustment period during which the player struggles to adapt to the new way of thinking and performing.

Features:

  • nine simple steps, illustrated with an actual coaching case study
  • explanation of the coaching science that underpins the app
  • detailed help screen for each step, for first-time users
  • skip mode so you can move quickly from one step to the next, for experienced users
  • support website with coaching case studies, published research and email support from the author.