NBSA Beginners Free Throw Guide


Even if I wasn’t a founding member of the National Basketball Shooters Association, I’d still be amazed at the poor free throw shooting percentages being posted by teams at all levels.

I am, however, a founder of NBSA, and at NBSA (www.nbsafreethrows.org ), we’re all about free throw shooting proficiency.  In fact, most of our members are free throw masters and most Guinness Record holders for free throws are part of our association.  So, we are disturbed by the “insanity” that takes place at the free throw line.

According to Napoleon Hill, author of “Think And Grow Rich”, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Somehow, this thought comes to mind every year during “March Madness”, with all the close games and the inevitable upsets (the top 3 seeds are all out).  Most of these close games are won or lost at the free throw line.  One need only watch the games, or at least read the headlines throughout the season, to understand that poor shooting from the charity stripe is pandemic across all levels of basketball.

“The Dance”, as it is called when we get to the NCAA chosen 64 teams each year at this time, always finds teams that should be winning getting beat and so-called “underdogs” pulling out big upsets.  So often the difference is made at the FT line.

College players shoot under 70%, as a group.  Teams lose games they could have won, if they’d just spent quality time on FT teaching and training.  High School players are around 60% as a group, so they come into the college ranks under-prepared to help their college teams at the line.  Around 20% of all points scored in college games come from the FT line.  How much of the 100% of practice time gets spent teaching that 20%?  As close games near the two-minute mark, the percentage of points scored from the FT line rises to around 25-30%.  (No wonder teams like Memphis lose the big ones.)

The old adage, “practice makes perfect”, doesn’t work.  Practice makes permanent.  So, if one practices something incorrectly all the time, one gets very good at performing that thing incorrectly.  Only perfect practice makes perfect, but there isn’t much of that going around.

Game after game, I watch players placing their hands incorrectly on the ball.  So many shooters don't even look at the ball, except to dribble and pick up the ball to begin their shots.  No attention is given to how they place their fingers on the ball nor to the direction of the seams.  And, there is way too much ritual being practiced before the shot that takes away from focusing on the shot itself.

The free throw is FREE, therefore it needs more concentration on the shot preparation, unlike a shot taken during play action, which is spontaneous and wherever the hand gets the ball, that's the way it is shot.

Since no one averages 90-100% in field goal attempts, missing is always a consideration.  In free throw shooting, without defense and with 10 seconds to prepare the shot, the excuse for missing is - there is no excuse.  It's a teaching thing.  Most coaches don't understand the dynamics of shooting a free throw, therefore they show their players what they think is a way to do it.  

I am not criticizing so much as critiquing.  Incorrect teaching and lack of attention to the importance of free throws generally is a national malaise.

Look at these sports headlines:

**Syracuse Hits 6 Clutch Free Throws in Final 33 Seconds to Beat Connecticut 72 to 67**

**West Virginia Misses 14 Free Throws and Lose by 7 to Villanova**

**Connecticut Makes 35 of 44 Free Throws and Stuns No. 3 Villanova 84-75**

**#20 Georgia Tech Shoots 8 for 16 from the Free Throw Line and Lose by 2 to Miami**

Teams that attend to free throws get better headlines than those that don't!

Since perfecting any skill in basketball needs to begin with beginners, we need to look at who is teaching children and what is being taught about shooting free throws.  Heck, if college coaches can’t get the job done, how can we expect a youth coach, who may never have even played the game, to understand how to teach the fundamentals of the game, much less teach the fundamentals of free throw shooting?

Recently, I teamed with a couple of free throw experts in the NBSA to put together a simplified, and hopefully easily understood, version of how to begin to teach free throws.  The 7 steps we came up with are a guide to be able to begin teaching good free throw fundamentals.

7 Steps For Getting Started
On The Path Toward Free Throw Mastery

By Ronn Wyckoff,
Dr. Jim Poteet and Jim “Makevery” Schatz

*Use the appropriate sized ball for your age/size/gender.
*If using regulation height baskets, move up 4 feet closer to the basket than the big kids - 11' from the basket.
*If using age-related heights for baskets (8-9 feet), shoot from the regulation FT line.

1. Foot Placement

Align the toes of the shooting foot in the middle of the free throw line. Keep toes behind the FT line, shooting side foot forward slightly or both feet square but behind the FT line throughout the shot.

2. Holding The Ball

Without bouncing the ball, hold the ball in your non-shooting hand with the grooves facing toward you (left to right - parallel to the floor).  Place your index (first) finger in a groove above or below the air hole in the middle of the ball.  Place the thumb and pinky (if you can extend your fingers that much) of your shooting hand into the grooves on the ball below the one being used by the index finger, otherwise, spread them as much as you can.
3. Beginning The Shot

Breathe in and hold that breath while beginning your shot. Move the ball up past your chin, your eyes and in front of your forehead.  As you are doing this, begin to bring your shooting elbow in under the ball, so your elbow is pointing directly down at the floor.

4.The Shot Pocket

As you begin number 3 above, bend your knees slightly and bring the ball up in front of you to the shot pocket. Hold the ball just under your chin, with the back of the hand on the ball toward your chin.

5. Eyes On The Target

When you have done all of the above, you are ready to shoot, look at the basket - your "target" - and imagine your shot going up and over the rim, dropping into the basket. Maintain your focus on the "target" throughout the release of the shot.
6. Delivering The Shot

As the ball passes in front of your forehead, and you are into your shot, allow your guide hand (non-shooting hand) to stay above your forehead, where it came off the ball, while the elbow of the shooting arm comes under the ball and the shooting arm and hand continues the shot.  (You are only shooting with the one hand.)

7. Finishing The Shot

As the elbow of your shooting arm straightens, you deliver the ball upward and outward straight toward the basket. Don't allow your hand to turn or close, releasing the ball with the index finger pointing toward the basket.  As you release the shot, release the breath.