Free throws will always be a critical part of a team’s success in the game of basketball. Oftentimes, free throws are the deciding factor in winning or losing a game. For example, in a recent game between Duke University and the University of Florida, the Duke Blue Devils were 19 for 20 from the free throw line and the Florida Gators were 16 for 20 from the free throw line. Duke made 3 more free throws than did Florida. Even though the Gators shot 80% from the free throw line, Duke shot better from the free throw line and won by 3 points. The difference: 3 free throws.
Because free throws make such a difference throughout the course of a game, it is important not only to be able to get to the free throw line but also to knock down free throws consistently. That has been the focus of our basketball tips throughout the month of November. As review, the first tip was to align your dominant foot with the center of the rim. Do this every time you step up to the free throw line. The second tip was to bring the ball to your shooting pocket after your dribble routine and take a brief pause. We refer to this technique as a “pocket pause”. This must be done consistently as well.
The third free throw tip is to have the same routine before shooting a free throw. After aligning your dominant foot and before your “pocket pause” you should have a specific, consistent routine that allows you to settle in, focus, and execute a free throw so it feels the same way every shot. Typically this consists of dribbling the ball a specified number of times. In addition, many players like to spin the ball at some point as part of their routine. First and foremost, regardless of what you do as part of your routine, you must have the same routine every time you step up to shoot a free throw. It doesn’t matter whether it is a practice free throw or a game free throw. In fact, we often say that there is no such thing as a practice free throw. You must approach every practice free throw as if it were a game free throw. So, whether you dribble the ball only once or you dribble the ball, spin the ball, and take another dribble or dribble three times, spin the ball, and dribble one more time you need to find a routine that is comfortable for you and helps you get focused. You must do this routine every single time!
Consistency of routine before your “pocket pause” is very critical, but we believe that simplicity is also very important. We encourage and advise you to keep your routine simple. Many players not only fail to have a consistent free throw routine but also have too much going on in their routine. Dribble, dribble, dribble, spin, dribble, dribble, spin! Too much, too complicated! Evaluate your free throw routine and simplify it if need be. How much is too much? It is subjective, however, a good rule that we would suggest would be to limit your routine to no more than 3 dribbles and 1 spin if you like to spin the ball. Our philosophy, not only in shooting free throws, is to keep things as simple as possible. However, the most important thing about your routine is still consistency.
The free throw tips discussed throughout the month of November should be executed in this order: 1) align your dominant foot with the center of the rim, 2) execute the same routine while keeping it simple, and 3) take a “pocket pause” before you shoot. This will initially require discipline as a shooter, however, if done enough it will eventually form into a habit. Good habits lead to good results. By using these tips to form good habits as a free throw shooter, you will see your free throw percentage improve as you consistently practice. As John Wooden says, “Progress is slow and steady if you are patient and prepare diligently.”