How to Become a Good Free-Throw Shooter

By Dr. James Gels, From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."
Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links, which means that Coach's Clipboard receives a small commission (at no cost to you) if you make a purchase using these links.

Former NBA Coach Hal Wissel of

First, understand how important free-throw shooting is. At least 3 or 4 games per year in a 20 game schedule will be determined by free-throw shooting. All close games, the ones that really count, the close tournament games and conference championship games can be won or lost on the free throw line.

Coach Pat Summitt
Coach Pat Summitt

Team Goals in free throw shooting.

Middle school teams should strive for 60% from the line, and high school teams should aim for 70%. You won't shoot as well in a game as in practice, so strive for 75% in practice (high school). Understand that this is a team skill - become a good free throw shooting team.

Encourage and work with your teammates on free throws. Take a positive, aggressive attitude in shooting free throws. Take the attitude that you're gonna' make 'em pay for fouling you. Think positive!

How to become good free throw shooters - fundamentals, attitude and practice.

In shooting free throws, develop a ritual where you do it the same exact way every time.

Position yourself on the line the same way every time. Bounce the ball the same number of times, and take a deep breath before shooting every time. This creates muscle and mind memory, and helps you to be successful. Success creates confidence, and confidence creates better, more relaxed shooting.


See Shooting Fundamentals, Form and Technique.
1. Line up with your right toes just to the left of center so that your right arm and ball are lined up with the basket. Place the left foot back just a little. Shoulders should be square to the basket, or if you are more comfortable, you can turn the shooting side in a little toward the basket.

2. Put your weight forward on your toes, but keep your back straight and don't lean forward. Keeping your back straight will keep you from stepping over the line. Bend a little at the knees. Your legs will provide the power with an "up motion".

Alternatively, some players find it more natural if they first stand with knees straight, but then initiate the shooting motion by dipping down and bending the knees, and then straightening them as they go up for the shot - a "down then up" motion.

3. Focus on the basket. Don't look at the ball or the flight of the ball. Visualize a swished shot.

4. Shoot with your right hand only (right-handed players) - not two-handed. Use the left hand just to help balance the ball. Release the ball from your fingertips to get backspin (rotation) on the ball.

5. Take a deep breath, and shoot. Use your legs for power and come up on your toes as you release the ball. If your back is straight, you won't cross the line or lunge forward. If you need more power, it's OK to jump a little on your release.

6. Follow-through. Keep looking at the basket and hold your shooting hand in the "gooseneck", follow-through position until the ball goes through the net.


Make 'em pay attitude. Think and say to yourself "net" or "swish" before each shot. Focus on the ball going through the net. Be confident - this comes from success, and hours of practice. Don't let a missed free throw ruin your confidence.

If you miss one, just quickly analyze the miss and correct it. For example, if your shot was long, next one use less leg power, or use more arc. Too short, use more leg power. Off line, reposition yourself on the line, follow-through with index finger pointing at the target.

You won't make them all, so expect to miss a few, and don't let it bother you when it happens. The most important free throw is the next one!

Free Throw Shooter


Shoot free throws every practice. Come to practice 10 minutes early, or stay 10 minutes late, to shoot extra free throws. Each two hour team practice should allow 10 minutes for free throws.

Shoot free throws in the off-season. College players may shoot 2000-5000 free throws each summer! High school players should be able to shoot 1000 free throws each summer. Shoot 25 shots every day for 5 days of each week. In eight weeks, you will have shot 1000 free throws. Be sure your technique is correct, using the fundamentals above.

For fun, keep track each day of how many you made. Keep track of each week's stats, and see if you are getting better by the end of the 1000 shots. If you are not improving, there could be a flaw in your fundamentals, and you need to ask for help.

Here's another game, keeping track of your score each day. Shoot 25 free throws. Score a "swish" as two points, an "unswished" made shot as one point, and a miss as zero. A perfect score would be 50. Keep track of your personal best.

Learning distance control.

Here is a distance control drill. The basket is 18 inches in diameter. Move 9 inches in front of the line and while maintaining the same distance and technique on your shot that you would use from the line to swish the shot, now continue that same muscle memory and hit the back of the rim each time (missing the shot).

Then move 9 inches behind the line and hit the front of the rim each time (missing the shot). Finally, move back to the line and now swish every shot, using that same distance control.

Another drill: stand at the line, look at the basket, and shoot with eyes closed. You'll be surprised how many you can make once you have developed good technique!

See this video (courtesy of Tom Nordland):

Related pages: