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Chapter 3

Mental Routine for Shooting Free Throws

"The crazy thing is that the foul line is the one place in the basketball game where you can be completely selfish and still help your team."

        Rick Barry, The second best free throw shooter (90%) in N.B.A. history, who shot his free throws underhanded!

        Most good coaches will tell you to develop a physical routine for shooting each free throw. For example, this means, every time you go to the charity stripeyou could dribble the ball three times, place the ball in the same shot pocket, look at the basket or the middle of the hole, take a deep breath, then shoot the free throw, and maintain the follow through until the shot is over. The purpose of developing a physical routine is to make each free throw, no matter what or where the situation is, more similar and familiar. This means that shooting a free throw in a gym all by yourself, would be performed exactly the same way as if you are shooting crucial free throws in a double overtime playoff game. This encourages using the correct and successful techniques every time.
        Most coaches and players have found that having a physical routine is beneficial, and therefore, almost every basketball player utilizes the same physical shooting routine before every free throw. This being the case, the question has to come to mind, Why isn't every player a good free throw shooter?The answer lies in the mental routine. Although most all players use the same physical routine, there is much inconsistency in their mental approach to shooting free throws. A free throw is the only shot in basketball that is exactly the same every time. It is only the situations in which the free throws are taken that vary greatly. Some players are better free throw shooters during the early part of a game, but their percentage goes down in the final, critical seconds of a close game. Other players focus better when more is on the line such as in the last few minutes of a hard-fought game, but have trouble during the first half when the free throws are seen as less important. To get basketball players to focus as they should from the charity stripe at any time during a game, players must have one, consistent mental routine to use for all game situations. The best free throw shooter in N.B.A. history (.906 %), Mark Price, stated, "My free throws are always the same. I get the ball from the officials, I take three dribbles and shoot it. As I release the ball, I say, Heel to toe,to myself, to remind me to go up on my toes." Although players on a team may develop various different mental and physical routines, it is important that you find a routine that works especially for you.
        Let us share with you an example of a mental routine that utilizes all three of the FUNdamental skills. As you are waiting to receive the basketball from the official and after you have positioned your feet properly at the free throw line, you could quickly image (eyes open or closed) the ball leaving your hand and entering the basket. This quick imagery is a confidence booster and will help you to focus on your upcoming throw. After using imagery, focus on the ring and be sure to think your assist word such as ring or  hole repeatedly. Repeating your assist word will help you to get mentally focused. As you look to actually receive the ball from the official, you could think  ready or calm. (Remember it is important to choose an assist word that is meaningful and will work for you.) This will help you to remain composed as you begin your routine.
        After you get the ball, we recommend you count as you perform the dribbles before each free throw. In other words, if you dribble the ball three times before each free throw, then as you take the first dribble think one, as you take the second dribble think two,and as you take the third dribble think three. This counting again serves as a focusing technique. More importantly, however, counting to yourself will stop you from distracting yourself with negative thoughts (i.e., I hope I don't choke this time). Then as you look at the rim and take a deep breath (a deep breath will help you to relax), think calm or  relax. This will again keep you from getting too nervous or excited just before you shoot. Next, begin to focus on the rim and think the word  rim or  ring. This will put you in the FO concentration focus (see chapter 2) that is necessary to perform the free throws successfully. Pick something to look at like the front or back of the rim Then, as you think  rim or  ring, shoot the free throw. Also, if at times you have difficulty maintaining your follow through, you could think form or  through after you release the ball. Following is a summary of this mental free throw routine. Of course, you can and should adapt this routine so that it becomes comfortable and confident for you.

        Notice that your mental routine keeps you focused on shooting each free throw. This stops you from distracting yourself by worrying about making or missing the shot. You are focused on the process of shooting, rather than its outcome. Many basketball players unnerve themselves at the line because they are so focused on making or choking on the free throw line. 
        Obviously it is important that you devote much practice time to becoming a good free throw shooter. As you perform your physical routine, use your own mental routine with it. It is important that while practicing free throws that you practice both your physical and mental routines so both routines will become a habit or second-nature to you. Soon you will be able to perform the entire free throw routine automatically, without having to make yourself think about each part of the routines. This will help you to develop an overall consistent free throw shooting routine that will help you to be a good, consistent and  clutch free throw shooter.

"I've never really understood why more players don't make the effort to become good free throw shooters. It just takes practice and hard work. And concentration."

Larry Bird (Fifth All-time Leading free throw shooting percentage {.886} in the National Basketball Association, Former Coach of the Indiana Pacers, N.B.A. 3-time Most Valuable Player, 3-time N.B.A. Champion, and Hall of Famer)

Physical Step                                               Mental Step

1. Get positioned at line               1. Quick imagery and/or think rim or hole.     
2. Wait for ball                               2. Think relax or calm
3. Receive ball and dribble           3. Count each dribble
4. Take a deep breath                 4. Think relax or calm
5. Stare at the rim & shoot           5. Think rim or  hole
6. Maintain follow through            6. Think through or form

FUNdamental Points to Remember - Chapter 3

1)      Consistent mental practice can help you develop confidence and give you the proper focus while shooting.
2)     Use an assist word (i.e., rim, ring, basket, focus, or smooth) while shooting and focusing on goal or backboard.
3)     Find a consistent mental and physical routine (that works especially for you) to use a the free throw line.