An entire basketball game can sometimes come down to a single free throw. To be a reliable, high-percentage free-throw shooter and be confident stepping up to the line during clutch moments of close games it takes a consistent routine, consistent form and lots of repetition.
It is important to remember that no two people shoot their free throws in the exact same way, so the secret to becoming a good free-throw shooter is less about finding the "textbook" perfect form and routine but more about figuring out what is most comfortable and effective for you and then practicing.
Good free-throw shooting begins with the lower body. Just like any type of shot in basketball you must have a balanced base to shoot accurately. Figuring out where and how you should place your feet at the free-throw line depends on how your footing may affect the comfort of your shooting form.
Generally there are three stances that are taken when shooting free throws:
Stand with both feet parallel to each other pointed straight toward the basket.
Stand with both feet pointed straight toward the basket but with one foot placed a little bit further back than the other.
For right-handed shooters this means your right foot is forward, and your left toes are placed in line with about the middle of your right foot. For left-handed shooters this would mean just the opposite.
You can stand with your feet parallel to each other or slightly staggered, and then angle them to some degree left or right of the basket. If you are a right-handed shooter you will angle them to the left of the basket and left-handed shooters to the right.
How to Choose
There are examples of great free-throw shooters who use each of the stances. Steve Nash, a career 90.4% free-throw shooter uses a square stance, Steph Curry, a career 90.1% free-throw shooter, uses a staggered stance, and Kevin Durant, a career 88.2% free-throw shooter, uses an angled stance with a slight stagger.
The placement of your feet depends on how it makes your shot feel. A square stance might make it easier for you to shoot straight at the basket, while a staggered or angled stance might help you shoot by aligning your hip, elbow and shoulder to the target.
Developing a routine once you have your feet set can involve dribbling the ball, spinning the ball, breathing patterns, etc., and it is important for consistency. The routine is necessary because it helps make the free throw the same, comfortable shot every time.
A lot can be going on during the game when you step to the line. For example, physical fatigue and pressure to perform can make each free-throw situation unique. A routine will help you adapt to the different mental and physical states you will encounter once you prepare to shoot a free throw.
A simple and consistent routine will help you practice shooting free throws the same way every time and increase your accuracy as your routine and form become more muscle memory and less thinking.
Once you have your feet set and routine down it is important to use the rest of your lower body to give your shot lift and make sure the ball can travel the distance to the basket with good arc.
For beginners this will usually mean bending down at the knees and hips before rising up onto your toes as you bring the ball up to your release point.
For youth basketball players it is OK to jump while shooting a free throw, but as you develop strength and begin playing at higher levels you will become more accurate if you do not jump and just finish your shot on your toes, because the jump becomes unnecessary motion .(Also rules change at higher levels of basketball that will prohibit free-throw shooters' feet from crossing the line before the ball reaches the basket, essentially prohibiting a jump).
Everyone's shooting form is going to be different—where your release point is and how fast you get the ball to your release point is going to be unique to you. Once you have your feet set, have completed your routine and shot the ball using your lower body to gain lift, and your arms release the ball it is important that you follow through.
Following through means briefly holding your pose after you have released the ball from your fingertips.
For your lower body this means you remain on balance and your feet have landed on balance and in the same spot or a little bit in front of where you began your shot if you have jumped (it is important that you are not landing to the left and right of where your feet began because this will throw off your shot's accuracy).
As far as your upper body, after releasing the ball you want your torso to remain upright and your shooting and guide hands held high.
Your fingers on your shooting hand should be facing down toward the floor and your guide hand should remain fairly straight, pointing upward. Your fingers are important for shooting the ball accurately and following through with your arms and fingers like this will help insure that you shoot the ball in line with good arc and rotation.
Good arc will give the ball a higher chance of falling through the rim, and good rotation or backspin will make the ball more likely to bounce up and fall in should it hit the rim or backboard.
"It comes down to consistency-if you want to be a great shooter, you have to shoot the same way every time." These words from Ray Allen, one of the greatest 3-point and free-throw shooters of all time are very important. Free-throw shooting is about shooting it consistently and once you have figured out the best way for you to shoot a free throw, getting better will come with repetition.
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