Mid-Range Games Means More Points Part II: Improve your team’s shooting accuracy
This is the second of a two-part article on developing your players’ mid-range game. Part I ran in the last issue of 94 Feet on April 28.
Accuracy consists of only two categories — left/right and distance (long/short). What affects left/right is different than what affects distance. When athletes understand this, they improve much faster because they can self-correct their shot. Since more than 85 percent of all shooting practice is done without a coach present, this is a big advantage. Players simply watch where the ball first strikes the rim to learn what category the miss is in and review the reasons for misses (explained later in this article).
Before anything is done with shooting mechanics, you must determine if someone needs to make changes to their shot. To help decide, keep this rule in mind — success determines change. If the player makes shots consistently, change may not be needed.
The standard for consistency is to make five shots in a row from the same spot at game speed. Provide your players with 10 attempts to make five in a row. Shoot from several distances and chart misses and makes. Remember that misses in the left/right category have different reasons than those in the distance (long/short) category.
Left/Right accuracy is best accomplished by shooting a one-hand shot with “Vertical Alignment” (VA).
One-hand means releasing the ball with the dominant hand (left photo). But most players use two hands in a variety of ways. One problem that is very common is called “thumbing” (right photo). This produces an extra force on the side of the ball, which pushes the ball off balance resulting in many left/right misses. Unless this habit it broken, it is impossible to release the ball the proper way.
Vertical Alignment means positioning four body parts in a vertical plane — finger (index), elbow, knee and toe (of shooting foot) as shown in the photo at the left. Aligning the body in this manner makes it easier to direct all the forces involved in the shot — from the upper and lower body — toward the basket. For greater power and a faster release, keep the ball in front of the body by creating approximately a 90-degree angle where the upper and lower arm meet.
Athletes need to understand that starting properly does not guarantee proper alignment throughout the shot. The elbow naturally moves out during the upstroke (right photo). It takes a conscious effort to keep the elbow tucked under the ball. A good teaching statement for Vertical Alignment is to “start right, stay right and end right.”
Here are seven tips for perfecting the mechanics for a one-hand shot with vertical alignment:
1. Train the upper body to direct all force toward the basket by finishing with the hands directly above the basket (left).
2. Train the lower body to direct all force toward the basket. Do this by laying down a line of tape, which is pointing toward the middle of the basket. Position the shooting foot on the tape at the beginning of the shot. When the feet land, the shooting foot should still be on the tape but closer to the basket (the next four photos).
3. Release the ball with one hand. This is best learned by using the Shooting Strap™ training aid (left and right photos).
4. The two shooting fingers end with Vertical Alignment. Place tape on the two shooting fingers for at least two weeks. The tape makes them easier to spot and also makes the shooter more aware of the action of those fingers during the release (left).
5. Perfect the release with the Two Shooting Finger Drill. The advantage of this drill is that players practice their release anywhere. Position hands and fingers as shown in the photo to the left. To make the entire hand work as one unit, have players stare at the tape on the index finger and snap the wrist down leading with the two shooting fingers. End by staring at the tape on the index finger. Both fingers end in a vertical plane (right photo). An effective method to make the hand and fingers work as one is to pretend a popsicle stick is glued on the back of the hand from the finger nails to the wrinkles of the wrist.
6. Perfect the release with the Straight Seam Drill. Holding the ball in one of the three positions (the three photos), shoot air shots and make the seam stay straight seven out of 10 tries (left). A straight seam indicates the ball came off the two shooting fingers with perfect balance. Test all three positions to see which works best for the athlete’s length of fingers.
7. Use the free-throw line to build the shot. The free-throw line is an excellent place to perfect mechanics because the player is allowed 10 seconds to shoot. Use a routine where athletes must check their feet, hand position on the ball, and Vertical Alignment before and after each shot. For consistent hand position, make the valve stem point straight up and position the two shooting fingers either in line with the valve stem, straddling it or the middle finger in line with it (the best position is determined by the information gathered in the Straight Seam Drill). The off-hand is on the side of the ball. Becoming acquainted with “perfection” on the free-throw line improves mechanics from the field because the player now know what “perfect” is. Although it won’t be AS perfect because of moving at game speed, it will be much improved.
Distance accuracy is dependent on proper arc and power. Understand that distance is more difficult than left/right accuracy because the margin of error is less than left/right by 33 percent (3 inches vs. 4 1/2 inches) because the ball is entering the basket at an angle. Also, the amount of power needed to get the ball to the basket changes when distance changes.
Proper arc is achieved by releasing the ball so that the elbows are above the eyes. Having an objective measurement makes this skill much easier to achieve. If the elbows leave peripheral vision, the arc will be too high.
Keep in mind that the greater the arc, the more difficult it is to control distance. When this concept is explained to athletes, they often correctly conclude that the hole of the hoop is made larger by increasing the arc so, why not increase the arc. But what they fail to realize, is that the increased height makes it more difficult to control distance. Have players think about a dart being thrown straight versus arcing it toward the target.
If the elbows are at or below the eyes, the arc is too low. Less arc creates a smaller margin of error because the ball is entering the basket at a reduced angle. Simply put, the hole of the basket becomes smaller. To gather this information, the athlete must get in the habit of “looking” at the elbows AFTER the shot.