11 myths about free-throw shooting
By Ed Palubinskas, Palubinskas Basketball Academy, Greenwell Springs, Louisiana
The average American high school team shoots about 65 percent from the free-throw line. College teams average about 68 percent and professional players are all the way up to a "whopping" 72 percent.
That means that there is only about a seven-percent difference between a highly paid professional and the teenager down the street who plays for the local high school. This makes little sense.
Coaches all seem to be good at something but it is impossible to be knowledgable in all areas of the game. For some reason, the shooting department eludes most coaches because it is incredibly difficult to perfect the engineering process needed for an accurate shot.
For example, if you are a coach, ask yourself, "Can I outshoot all my players on my team? Do I have any respect from my players as a shooter?" If you are not a great shooter yourself, it is hard to teach another individual how to be a great shooter. After all, a green belt in karate can't teach black-belt principles.
This means most coaches hope that their players somehow magically become better shooters. Magic, however, has nothing to do with it: Shooters are not born...they are made...and all players have the potential to become great shooters, even from the free-throw line.
The problem, though, from my vantage point as a shooting coach and world-record holder in several shooting areas, is that a lot of that potential is wasted because what is taught to young players (with good intent) is mundane, repetitive and borderline irrelevant. If you doubt that, look at the percentages at the start of the article. If coaches really knew how to teach shooting, then the pros — with their tremendous athleticism and horde of coaches — would be much better at free-throw shooting as they are in other aspects of the game.
Unfortunately, our shooters are being taught the myths of great shooting rather than the steps necessary to become more accurate. 11 Myths In particular, there are 11 myths to good free-throw shooting that must be debunked before you work with your players.
1. Myth: The feet are very important.
Not true. They are just there. Of course, we all bend our knees naturally without even being told but novices to the game do feel awkward about which foot is forward or backward.
The best stance, as is taught, is to have the feet shoulder-width apart with righthanders having their right foot six inches in front of the left. If they have enough strength, however, feet can be side by side, but strength is different from accuracy.
Only the very young players don't have the strength to get the ball to the rim, so using the stance to maximize strength for older players is pointless. Accuracy is much more important for free-throw shooters than is strength.
2. Myth: Keep your eyes on some part of the rim during the whole process. Many players force themselves to keep their eyes locked on the rim because that is how they were taught to shoot free throws at a young age. It's not necessary.
Initially, players look at the rim to gauge the distance, space, etc. But the moment the ball is released from the fingertips, players' eyes should transfer to the flight of the ball so they can see if the shot is short, long or crooked. This provides great feedback.
And it's no coincidence that that Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Peja Stojakovic, and even I, all watch the ball.
3. Myth: Eye dominance is a factor in great shooting. In my experience, I can shoot better than 70 percent with my eyes closed and 99 percent with my eyes open. So, why is eye dominance so important?
4. Myth: On the follow-through, imagine placing your hand in a cookie jar. There is no science behind that myth. How big is the cookie jar? How big is the opening? How deep is the jar? Are there cookies in the jar? Do I try to get a cookie while my hand is in the jar? In short, this whole idea is ridiculous...and even dangerous. For example, shooters would have to close their fingers to reach into the jar, and closing the fingers is a shooting flaw to be avoided. A much better point of emphasis is that the way the hand is on the ball at the start of the shot is the way it should look after the ball has been released.
5. Myth: Make sure the body is square to the basket when shooting. This is not necessarily true. The shooting shoulder, elbow and wrist need to be square to the basket, but that happens anyway even if the feet are side by side or facing the sideline with, for a right-hander, the left foot behind the right.
6. Myth: It is really important to shoot with the seams. Shooting with the seams has no bearing on shooting. I shoot just as well with the grain, against the grain or no grain at all.
I do place my index finger in the center of the ball and perpendicular to the seams on free throws but it's just a personal preference and not a mechanical must.
7. Myth: Developing a rhythm is critical to shooting. Again, having a rhythm is an area that has no relevance to the shot. During a free throw, some players try all sorts of "rhythms," like blowing kisses, praying, doing the sign of the cross, taking a strange array of dribbles, etc. But once the ball gets locked into the "shot pocket," all this pre-shot routine is worthless and has no bearing on the shot itself. Try shooting free throws straight from the shot pocket with no fanfare. There is no difference...and less is more. The shot itself could care less about your pre-shot routine.
8. Myth: Breaking out of a shooting slump. The whole world is in a permanent shooting slump and the only reason for this is poor shooting mechanics due to lack of scientific information. Great shooters rarely have slumps because they have great shooting mechanics.
9. Myth: The elbow must be under the ball. When must the elbow be under the ball? Most people just can't get their elbow under the center of the ball (the ideal location) prior to the shot. It is fine to have the ball in the shot pocket with your elbow not directly under the center of the ball. However, as the ball is being shot and the forearm is in the "up mode," make sure your players' elbows move under the center of the ball prior to it being released.
10. Myth: Believe in yourself and have confidence when shooting. Do players have great confidence because they are consistently great shooters, or do they lack confidence because they are inconsistent shooters? Confidence is earned through consistent success. Consistent failures create low confidence levels. The more pure the mechanics, the higher the confidence. They go hand in hand.
11. Myth: A poor shooter never can be a great shooter. Just about every basketball player has the capacity to be a very good shooter — most are just mediocre because they have mediocre information. Teaching techniques are, for the most part, nebulous, hazy or indistinct, but with clear instruction, and plenty of practice, improvement is a foregone conclusion, especially at the free-throw line.
World-renown shooting instructor, Ed Palubinskas, has been helping shooters around the world for years. His innovative, and sometimes controversial, ideas on shooting have helped him win many shooting contests and numerous accolades. Palubinskas was the 1976 Montreal Olympic scoring champion with the Australian National Team. He set a single-game Olympic scoring record of 50 points on 21-of-25 shooting in a victory over Mexico. He played college basketball at LSU and led the NCAA in 1972 in free-throw accuracy at 92 percent.