The New Theory Of Free Throw Targeting: The "Sweet Spot"/Bulls-Eye Target

by, Jim “Makevery” Schatz

If you perform a Google search for “free throw” and click on some of the links, you will quickly find there is no agreement, even among expert coaches, in regards to targeting while shooting free throws. Some coaches say aim at the back of the rim, some say aim at the front of the rim, some say aim above the rim and I say, aim at the "sweet-spot"/bulls-eye target.

If you search Google long enough you will find the free-throw shooter who looks at a spot on the floor while shooting.  Then, of course, there is free throw master and five-time Guinness Book record holder, Fred Newman, who owns the current Guinness record for “most free throws made in a row blindfolded.”  His record is 88 in a row, while seeing nothing but total darkness. 

Fred told me he had a vivid picture of the shot while he was shooting blindfolded and that's what fascinated him to practice that way and want to set the record.  He also told me the experience of shooting blindfolded was very soothing to his mind, much more relaxing and soothing than while shooting with his eyes open.  Visualizing the shot being made in the mind's eye is evidently the key.

So, you can shoot free throws and make nearly all of them looking at almost anything—or nothing. There isn't a universal free-throw target. Should there be a universal free-throw target?  I think so. Elite free-throw  mastery coaches; Dr. Tom Amberry, Dr. Jim Poteet, Ed Palubinskas and Ronn Wyckoff, among others, all agree.  We need to agree upon a standardized system to teach free throw mastery and offer that to shooting teachers and coaches.

We are concerned about the nonconformity and ineffectiveness of what's being taught. There is a lot of disagreement as to what the universals are in making and teaching free throws and there is far too much inaccurate instruction being passed along the grape vine indiscriminately.  It seems like everyone and his brother thinks they can teach the free throw even though they can't make a very high percentage themselves.  Should you listen to self proclaimed experts who don't really know how to shoot?  Lack of standardization and who you are listening to and learning from are the sources of the problem.

As elite free-throw mastery shooters and coaches, the National Basketball Shooters Association was organized to figure out how to replace outmoded, ineffective, haphazard practices with solid free-throw universal standards.   We will be sanctioning a series of free throw mastery tournaments, develop a ranking and seeding system along with offering coaches instructional conferences, instructional clinics, instructional materials, programs and summer free throw mastery camps.  We have also developed a head-to-head free throw mastery tournament format.

NEW INSTRUCTIONS FOR TARGETING WHILE SHOOTING A FREE THROW 

In my book, The Guide To Free Throw Mastery - Beyond Expectation, I have defined the “sweet spot”-- This “sweet spot"/bulls-eye target is the perfect basketball entry spot and bulls-eye target.  The "sweet spot"/bulls-eye target is located on the mid line of the hoop and is one and a half inches off center towards the back of the rim.    (SEE PHOTO ABOVE)  The "sweet spot"/bulls-eye target is the precise spot I want the basketball's center - the air hole in my instruction - to hit going through the rim.  (SEE PHOTO BELOW)

Visualize the basketball with the seams rotating, while traveling upward in a tunnel within a perfect arc. The ball comes downward in a 45 degree angle towards the hoop, the air hole making perfect bulls-eye contact and hitting the "sweet spot"/bulls-eye target "spot" , then going through the hoop perfectly with a swish or pop of the net.   Visualize again, this time with your eyes closed.  Visualize the perfect shot, while standing at the free throw line, also visualizing the perfect shot from a side view. 

When I evaluate the shot, during what I call the acceptance phase, hitting that "sweet spot" and bulls-eye target is what I'm evaluating.  Was the ball left, right, short or long?  Did it enter the hoop at a 45 degree angle, allowing for the perfect six-inch clearance over the front of the rim?  It is critical for the shooter to anchor the eyes, keeping them focused and unflinching, on the "sweet spot"/bulls-eye target, located in and at the top of the rim.  Keeping the eyes set and unmoving on the "sweet spot"/bulls-eye target through the entire shot is correct and I'll explain why. 

Imagine aiming and shooting a gun.  To hit the target you must sight precisely at it.   With the free throw, if you target at the back of the rim or the front of the rim you might hit those targets.  However, if you want to achieve free throw mastery, you are going to have to adjust your eyes to the "sweet spot"/bulls-eye target for proper evaluation and acceptance.  Why move your eyes even a little? Why target at something you don't want to hit?

Fundamentally, I believe it's correct to keep one’s eyes fixed on the "sweet spot"/bulls-eye target and held motionless or still through the entire momentum of the shot; from targeting through the evaluation and acceptance phases.  Keeping the eyes still while locating the target helps create the perfect visualization of the shot and this ultimately helps in actually making the shot.  When the eyes wander to watch the flight or the rotation of the basketball, it is shot with a lack of confidence. 

The "sweet spot"/bulls-eye target is the complement, the companion, the source of creation and power for executing and shooting with the perfect arc.  The slightly off center "sweet spot", along the mid line, is the bulls-eye target for creating the highest probability for hoop entry.  This has been scientifically proven.  To aim downward at a 45 degree angle, at the "sweet spot"/bulls-eye target, while shooting a free throw is the way to take advantage of the natural physics of the shot. 

Hitting the "sweet spot"/bulls-eye target with the perfect downward arc of 45 degrees creates the highest probability for hoop entry, because the angle of the arc allows for a six inch clearance over the front of the rim.  Aiming and hitting the precise middle of the hoop may pop the net, most of the time, but it can also create a high probability for nicking the front of the rim and missing the shot.  Plus, if the shot is too flat there won't be enough room to enter the hoop at all at the center.  

Hitting the "sweet spot"/bulls-eye target (with the center of the basketball - the air hole), as the basketball travels along the perfect arc, connects deeply into the subconscious to become the perfect visualization of how the shot should look.  

Visualize the shot being perfect; then shoot it that way. It will all come together through "pure" visualization, "perfect practice", using the new "sweet spot"/bulls-eye target theory, while maintaining focus and concentration during the fire of competition.

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The author is pictured to the left (not the snow man)

Jim “Makevery" Schatz is one of the leading authorities on basketball's free throw.  He is a free throw shooting master, shooting 96% or better in free throw competition and exhibitions.  He is the author of the soon to be released book, The Guide To Free Mastery - Beyond Expectation.

For more information about the NBSA, tournaments, instruction or for a preview of Jim's book email: jim.freethrowmastery@gmail.com.