There Are No Secrets To Successful Free Throw Shooting

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by Ronn Wyckoff, Free Throw Master, and Natl. Basketball Shooters
Assoc. (NBSA) Secretary & Founding Member

Because we don’t know what we don’t know, most coaches and players are just not aware of what mechanics make for a successful shot and therefore are not able to translate this into their teaching or practicing.

The age old attention paid to feet, elbows, alignment, etc., are all well and good when working with very novice players.  The older and more settled into techniques the shooter becomes, the less those issues are important and the more details of mechanics and a more esoteric mindset rise in importance.

Most people still believe and quote an old axiom, “practice makes perfect”, and those coaches and players adhering to this flawed thinking continue to advocate lots of practice.

Well, lots of practice is highly recommended, however it’s how the shooter practices that will determine consistent success.  If the mechanics that work for a successful shot are not employed in practice then accuracy will still be hit-and-miss (pun intended!)  This brings to mind another old axiom, as the definition of insanity, defined by Napoleon Hill in his book at the turn of the last century, “Think And Grow Rich”, goes to work.  Hill states that, if we keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result, we are practicing his definition of insanity – a modern day “Murphy’s Law”, if you will.  If we keep doing (read, shooting) the way we always have, we keep having the same result.  This works for both successful and unsuccessful shooters.

Shooting hundreds of free throws every week, while employing mechanics that deliver a successful shot, means a shooter will be practicing success and building shooting habits that set that shooter apart from the crowd.

Why do some free throw shooters seem to deliver an effortless, accurate shot, while others do not?  Look at their delivery mechanics and form for the answer.  These shooters shoot in game time just as they practice and because they practice perfection, their game time results are successful (over 85%).

Very few millionaires in the pro ranks have free throw percentages over 90%.  The NBA as a group is actually less than ten percentage points above the average high school players’.  We’re talking a gap from 60-70% at all levels of play.

So, it begs to be known why senior shooters shoot so much better than younger players?  Is older better?  Is there some secret they know that active players do not know?  The answers are not complex.  Seniors may shoot more shots, spend more time evaluating and honing their shooting skills.  Seniors possibly have a different practice ethic, spending the time needed to shoot thousands of shots while discovering what works or doesn’t work, having discovered and perfected their individual techniques.

To illustrate this, I recently spent a weekend competing with some of the best free throw shooters in the world – all over the age of 50 – at the World Senior Games in St. George, UT.  Over 100 shooters, 50-90 years of age, participated and it took 98% shooting to just place third.  (I know, because I took the third place, making 98 of the 100 free throws I attempted.)

After the World Senior Games Free Throw Championship, I asked Ed Palubinskas (the winner), my friend, mentor, co-founder of the NBSA and un-arguably one of the best free throw shooters in the world – what do you think are the five most important details for successful free throw shooting?  His answers (edited) are below.

1.  Complete knowledge of all scientific principles that relate to shooting;
2.  Modify, rectify any bad behavior that does not work;
3.  You must understand why you miss any shot and why it happened;
4.  Apply all the pieces into one smooth operating unit or shooting mechanism;
5.  Practice till you reach your daily goal - 90/100, 95/100, or whatever, and from wherever you want to improve. Never think of making the basket. Focus on key mechanics.

Palubinskas then added:
1. Think straight. Follow the straight and narrow path and it will lead you to St. Peter who will open the pearly gates because there are very few pure shooters in heaven.
2. Never think of making the shot. You don't have enough time to think of making the shot when you have more important things to do - like control the shooting mechanism (arm, hand, fingers, wrist, etc.) Know thyself.
3. Forget all the garbage about foot placement, and all turns, dips, sways, etc., and think of where the rubber meets the road. Legs don't make baskets. If this was so, how come geriatrics with broken hips can be perfect shooters?
4. There must never be any laterality of movement, especially in the finger joints, wrist and forearm.
5.  Mind over matter, process over product, alpha over omega.

My own principles (mechanics), to add here, even though there is some redundancy to Ed’s, are:
1.  Wide-spread fingers on the ball;
2.  Good body balance throughout the shot and no lateral movement of the shooting hand, wrist, arm;
3.  A straight release from the shooting eye to the basket, bringing the ball back toward the forehead and then up & out;
4.  Full extension of the shooting arm and fingers toward the basket w/ release of the shot;
5.  A shot arc between 42-45°.

So, if there were secrets, they’d be proper focus, proper mechanics and perfect practice of both focus and mechanics.

For more information about free throw shooting techniques, and free throw news, visit the NBSA website, http://www.nbsashooters.com .