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Basketball Free-Throw Shooting

By Dr. James Gels, from the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
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 look to 70% as a goal. You won't shoot as well in a game as in practice, so strive for 75% (high school) in practice. 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 the opponent made a big mistake in fouling you, and you're gonna' make 'em pay for it! 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 every time, and take a deep breath before shooting every time. This creates muscle and mind memory, and allows you to be successful more often. Success creates confidence, and confidence creates better, more relaxed shooting.


See Teaching/Learning How to Shoot.
1. Line up with your right toes just to the left of center so that your right arm and ball arned 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 a little toward the basket.

2. Put your weight forward on your toes, but keep your back straight... 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 up 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.

4. Shoot with your right hand (right-handed players), and just use the left hand to help balance the ball. Release the ball from your fingertips to get good backspin (rotation) on the ball.

5. Take the 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... to 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, not the last one!

Free Throw Shooter


Shoot free throws every practice, with the team, or on your own. There is nothing wrong with coming to practice 10 minutes early, or staying 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, in the summer. 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... but be sure your technique is correct, using the fundamentals above, and that the line is 15 feet from the backboard.

For your own fun, keep track each day of how many you made, and keep your totals. 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 you can play, 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. See what your best score is by the end of the summer.

Learning distance control.

Here is a 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.

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

Former NBA Coach Hal Wissel of

There are some excellent shooting videos (DVD's) that will help you. Tom Nordland's excellent SWISH Video/DVD will help you learn how to shoot, and is a great teaching tool for coaches wanting to learn how to correctly teach shooting form. Hal Wissel has several excellent Shooting DVD's that will take players and coaches to the next level.

See this video (courtesy of Tom Nordland) and Tom Nordland's Swish method.

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