Kels Dayton has coached middle school basketball for five years and, along with his SportzEdge duties, also contributes to SLAM Magazine, Sheridanhoops.com, and RoundballDaily.com. He will answer various basketball-related questions in this column.
Q: How can I improve my free throw shooting?
A: The best way to improve your free throw shooting is to start by taking a look at the free throw line itself. You’ll notice that, in most gyms, there is a small dot placed directly in the middle of the free throw stripe. This dot is perfectly aligned with the center of the rim, and like the square on the backboard, is meant to help you.
If you are a right-handed shooter, you should align your right foot with the dot and line up your right elbow with your right foot. Then, shade your left foot back a little bit, so that your left toe is even with the middle of your right foot. Left-handed shooters should line their left foot up with the dot and shade their right foot back.
By lining yourself up this way, you will drastically cut down on the number of times you miss shots to the left or right. If you watch good free throw shooters in college basketball and the NBA, you’ll notice that they very rarely miss left or right. They usually miss by being too short or too long. The use of the dot on the free throw line allows them to properly position themselves, and reduce the amount of things that can go wrong.
Now that you are aligned properly, the next thing that you’ll want to do is make sure that you are using the proper shooting stroke. You want to keep your shooting elbow straight, use your other hand to guide the ball, and follow through properly. There are a few acronyms you can use to remember this—one of them is BEEF. (Balance, Elbow, Eyes, Follow Through). “Balance” reminds you to be comfortable, get in an athletic position, and bend your knees. “Elbow” is a reminder to keep your elbow straight. “Eyes” stands for looking at the space just over the front of the rim, and concentrating. “Follow Through” is pretty self-explanatory.
Another important thing to remember is that you want to establish a routine on the free throw line. Basically, you should try to do the same thing every time. The reason for this is because it allows you to get into a rhythm, and creates muscle memory. Muscle memory can be key in developing a consistent shot. When you do something over and over, your muscles ‘remember’ the process they go through in order to get a desired result. (This is one of the reasons why practice is so important).
So, establishing a routine on the free throw line will allow your muscles to remember what they need to do. You should practice your routine over and over. That way, you won’t even have to think about what you are going to do when you step up to the line.
Finally, you should relax. You’ll notice that most good free throw shooters take a couple of deep breaths when they get to the line. This allows them to calm down, and concentrate on the task at hand.