Free Throw anything but free

Free Throws: Anything BUT Free

If time is money, becoming a consistent free throw shooter will COST a lot. We’re talking lots and lots of lots. Change its name to Cost Throw?

The sheer duration cost will be addressed below. In addition, opportunity cost is involved in any muscle memory endeavor: piano, golf, basketball. All of these skills require some type of sacrifice, from social/family time. While music to a coach’s ears, “I can’t, I’ve gotta practice” is typically a difficult sentence for today’s youth to utter. Forego Fortnite? That’s a tough ask. Greatness is a risky chase, but it’s a proven process. Even when a player doesn’t achieve expected results, the process of chasing greatness can be applied to any life situation. With that, free throws are anything but free.


1) Effortless Power

It’s sometimes difficult to recognize effortless power. Most often it’s revealed conversely through effortful power. I liken the basketball shot to a golf swing. When you watch professional golf, every player displays effortless power with an incredibly fluid swing motion. The view would be less so at Sunday morning’s foursome down at Blackhawk (my hometown public course). There you will see an array of herky-jerky, effort-looking movements. The same can be said for BB shooters. On TV, most players look fluid and effortless during their respective motions. Like the Sunday foursome, youth basketball on Saturday morning will provide ample herky-jerks.

The foundation of effortlessness comes from a spring-loaded power source. This short video demonstrates its importance in the form of a quarterback analogy. Furthermore, spring-loaded power can be applied to all forms of shooting (set shot, jump shot, post moves, etc.).

2) Consistency

A suggested goal for all shooters is to form a simple, repeatable free-throw routine. The idea is to be identical EVERY time. To demonstrate how difficult a task this can be, this video shows my daughter, Kate, shooting 10 free throws. Each shot is superimposed over the previous shot to see her true consistency.

Ultimately, we will repeat this video exercise a few times throughout the summer to track her progress and identify inconsistencies to address.

Shooting mechanics are like a machine. The more moving parts in a machine, the more opportunities for something to break. Likewise, the more moving parts in a shooting motion present more opportunities for the shot to break down. (NOTE: the guide thumb tends to be the peskiest culprit of moving parts, often influencing power and flight of the ball).

3) Efficiency

There are two major benefits of a short, efficient free-throw routine: limits thinking, allows more practice repetitions per minute. I remember the summer day my son completely changed my approach to practicing free throws: “Dad, I can get tons of reps when I use one dribble at the line.” (insert light bulb above head emoji). As a result, I now teach a 2-dribble max. at the free-throw line.

With just two dribbles, Kate’s free-throw routine above takes about 4 seconds from the moment a ref hands her the ball to the ball’s release. Let’s approximate 6 seconds for Kate to get her own rebound and reset back to the line. That means she needs 10 seconds per free throw attempt. Now compare Kate’s routine to that of MVP Giannis.

This short video demonstrates the number of dribbles and the duration of each attempt. If you’d like to forego viewing, I’ll break the news: 8 dribbles and 12 seconds from ref to release (technically a 10-sec FT violation!). Now add the estimated 6-second rebound and reset. This means Giannis needs 18 seconds per free throw attempt. And now for the math portion of this basket blog (a word problem, no less):

Giannis and Kate will shoot 100 free throws per day over the course of the 100 days of summer. Knowing the duration of each player’s attempt, how many free throws will each attempt over the entire summer, AND how much total time will each spend shooting those free throws?

Kate = 10,000 shots attempted in 28 hours / Giannis = 10,000 shots attempted in 50 hours

Zoinks! That’s nearly an additional day Giannis needs to shoot the same number of free throws. The comparisons between Giannis and Kate end there, however (sorry, sweetie).

Secondly, an efficient FT routine will limit exposure to every shooter’s free throw kryptonite: thinking. Thinking or being distracted during a free throw attempt adversely affects muscle memory, the ingrained flow of neurotransmission from touching the ball to the shot’s release. Any change in thought can serve as a neruo-hiccup (made up that word just now), affecting consistency of the motion. In essence, less time standing at the line means less opportunity to think. Some might say, “Darn it, he choked.” Perhaps rolls off the tongue better than, “Darn it, he neuro-hiccuped.” At any rate, you can help your players avoid the dreaded neuro-hiccup by teaching a 1 or 2 dribble free throw routine. Lastly, adding an inner-monologue to the routine can help maintain focus. Kate can simply say to herself, “One, two shot” as each motion takes place. Giannis could probably multitask, internally verbalizing his grocery list as he dribbles 8 times 🙂

4) Confidence

…is KING. With any life endeavor, confidence enhances performance. A sales meeting, teaching 22 kindergartners (bless you all), shooting a basketball. Preparation is the key ingredient in confidence. Each repetition at the free throw line adds a brick to confidence’s foundation. Furthermore, it cultivates an aggressive mindset on the court. A good free throw shooter is usually more aggressive attacking gaps and the rim. There’s no fear of missing free throws. Conversely, some players don’t want the ball in situations where they may end up at the free throw line. It can literally affect a player’s mentality. The best way to alleviate this potential liability is to build confidence through an old-fashioned, hard-nosed work ethic. The Grind is Worth the Time!

Free Throw Drill – End each FT practice session with intentional miss attempts (up to 3 tries) – make it look like the regular shooting motion and fire a line drive at the rim. Follow the shot and quickly put back the miss. Could come in handy one day at the end of a close game!


If you’re looking for efficient ways to teach your players proper shooting mechanics OR team M2M defense, below is a link to video trailers (less than 2 minutes each). Thanks much for considering, and please feel free to email me with questions or suggestions you may have that will further help coaches and players!