Where are all the Great Shooters?

By Dr. James Gels, From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."
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This article will likely be somewhat controversial and coaches and players may disagree with me, but here goes anyway.

I'm an old guy now and I have seen a lot of basketball over the years. There have been many changes in the game, mostly for the betterment of the game, making it more exciting, more fun to watch, and more fun to play. But is it just me, or have you noticed too, that shooting and scoring have really been declining in recent years? What happened to all the great shooters?

I don't have any personal statistics or charts to show you... just my observations, so this is anecdotal rather than scientific. Players today go for the slam dunk, or the three-point shot. The mid-range pull-up jump shot is becoming a lost art. There are statistics available that show a decline in shooting percentages at all levels - high school, NCAA and NBA.

Many teams today score on the fast-break, in transition. But in the half court set... not so good.

Others have noticed it too:

Larry Bird Shooting
Larry Bird

Kids are quicker and generally more athletic these days, but many can't shoot a lick. We used to see many teams with great outside shooters, guys and gals who could really light it up. Yes, there are still players like that... but not like some years ago. Why?

Less Emphasis on Shooting

I think it's a number of factors, but mainly there has been a decrease in emphasis on shooting... which is really odd since getting the ball in the hoop is what it's all about. Correct shooting form is very important, but I'm not discussing that here.

Many kids today simply don't practice shooting as much as they used to. I'm talking about shooting in the off-season, out on the playground alone. Last evening at a local high school game I asked a young man who was a great pure shooter for us some years ago, "Mitch, how much did you practice shooting in the summer?" His answer, "All the time... when I wasn't doing my summer job."

Most kids aren't doing that nowadays. And they need to shoot a lot on their own. They need to see the ball go through the net many times to become confident shooters. Shooting by yourself allows you to work on correcting your errors without any pressure. Shooters learn how to "fix things" on their own, while developing confidence. Confidence can improve by shooting close to the basket, and then gradually extending the range further outside.

Yes, every team does shooting drills, but in-practice shooting drills do not give players enough reps. Players need to shoot before or after practice, in addition to the off-season.

More Distractions

Years ago, shooting hoops was what we wanted to do in our free time. Nowadays there are more activities and other sports to occupy that time... and video games. Now, many high school kids have their own cars. And there is more pot smoking. This is NOT to say that kids today "are not like they used to be". Kids today are great and hold our future, and I love being around them... their energy and spirit. Many have knowledge and skills that we didn't have years ago. There are just other things to do now.

Basketball Clinics

Basketball clinics are great, but have you ever noticed that so much time is spent on dribbling drills and dribble moves, 1-on-1 stuff? And how very little time is spent on shooting? Dribbling and dribble moves are important, but the bottom line is to get the ball in the hoop. Again, what are we emphasizing?


It seems fashionable these days to pick on the AAU experience. I don't mean to do that because AAU does give players a lot of game experience and some exposure, and helps them learn to "play the game." But all that time traveling, playing games, waiting for the next game takes away from time that could be spent practicing shooting... again, where is the emphasis? There needs to be a balance.

Years ago, all those great shooters, for the most part didn't have AAU or the many basketball clinics that kids have today. Mostly they just practiced, practiced and then practiced more!

The 3-Point Line (Youth Level)

Some coaches think that we should not use the 3-point line in youth and middle school basketball. The thought is that young kids trying to shoot 3's is hurting their shooting form, and that this takes away from learning to shoot the mid-range, pull-up jump-shot.

So what's the answer? I'm not sure, but I think we should encourage players to shoot more in the off-season, and before and after practice. Less dribbling and more shooting... let's refocus the emphasis... JMO!