Basketball is a game predicated upon one’s understanding and mastery of its fundamentals. Shooting, passing, dribbling, footwork, and teamwork are some examples of what every player needs to focus on to improve their skills on the basketball court. This article focuses specifically on how to shoot a free throw and how to improve free throw shooting.
How to Improve Free Throw Shooting
Free throws can be intimidating to some players. There is no defense being played against you. The game’s attention solely shifts to you. Before getting into techniques on how to improve your free throw shooting, let’s quickly go over the basics of the shot.
A free throw occurs on a shooting foul, or if the opposing team fouls enough to put them in a penalty. FIBA (International Basketball Federation) classifies the free throw as a scoring opportunity. No matter where you are in the world, a free throw is worth one point each and every time.
Have a Good Mental Approach to Free Throws
Close your eyes for a second. Let’s imagine you are on the basketball court right now. You have just been fouled and are being sent to the free throw line for two shots. What are your first thoughts? Are you confident? Has your breathing pattern been interrupted? The first thing we can do to improve our free throw shooting is our mental approach.
As obvious as it sounds, free throws are free. These are the likely the easiest points you will ever score, so let’s take advantage of this opportunity. Your thoughts could be racing as you approach the free throw line. Let’s have some established steps to have you in the right headspace:
Control your breathing. It is ok to take a few seconds. Breathing right will allow your body to get into a rhythm, which is needed to be a good free throw shooter.
Block out your surroundings. The only thing that matters right now is you, the ball, and the basket.
Turn your attention to the basket. The ball needs to go through the basket to score. Nothing else right now matters in the game.
Be present. Forget about everything else. It shouldn’t matter how the rest of your game is going. All that matters is the here and now of helping your team.
Use the B.E.E.F Method
Routines at the free throw line may vary. However, the best free throw shooters have similar technical moments in their free throw shot. The B.E.E.F. method is usually one of the first lessons for new basketball players when it comes to shooting the basketball. Let’s review together:
Eyes (on the basket)
Elbow (shooting elbow needs to be as straight as possible)
Follow through – (finger and wrist positioning at the end is a great indicator for the success of the shot)
Balance at the Free Throw Line
Have your dominant foot slightly ahead of your other foot. If you shoot with your right hand, this is your right foot. If you shoot with your left hand, this is your left foot. Both feet should be facing straight towards the basket, with a slight bend towards your dominant side.
The feet pointing alignment is highly debated in basketball coaching circles. However, having your feet slightly tilted allows for a greater rhythm as opposed to the often rigid structure of directly facing the basket.
Balance is critical because of the motion of the free throw shot. Your free throw should be completed in one fluid motion. Without proper balance, the rest of the shot is bound to become incorrect at a certain point. It it does, this will not help you reach the desired outcomes you are looking for.
Eyes on the Basket
A mistake a lot of young players make is following the ball while they shoot the basketball. Your eyes need to be fixated and steady on one target. This allows your brain to process proper depth perception at all times. It might only take a second to shoot a basketball, but your brain is processing a lot in that one second! Train your eyes to focus on the rim of the basket the entire time.
Keeping your eyes on the rim doesn’t mess with the brain processing the physical components of shooting. Remember, one of the primary goals of shooting free throws is to eliminate as much distractions as possible. Keeping a singular focus on the rim will eliminate a lot of mental distractions before you shoot your free throw.
One way to train your eyes is to mimic a free throw shot without the basketball. Go through the motions of your shot all the way to the follow-through. No small detail should be dismissed. It takes a lot of practice to become efficient at the free throw line.
Elbow Straight While Shooting
Have you ever seen a movie where a character is at a nice restaurant, and the waiter arrives with their dish on a covered silver platter? Your elbow and wrist alignment is ideally like the waiter, which is the elbow facing 90 degrees and your wrist as flat as possible.
At this point you are properly situated at the free throw line and are intensely focused at the rim. Now comes the beginning of your free throw shot. Your elbow needs to be as straight as possible to have the greatest control the trajectory of the basketball.
A straight elbow will almost always correlate to a straight shot that is on target. A flared elbow will cause erratic shots that will never have any consistency to them.
Don’t worry if your elbow is sticking too far out. That is what practice is for! Most young players now (and more frequently) develop bad shooting habits by shooting too far away from the basket when they aren’t physically developed enough to shoot from greater distances.
The first sign of bad shooting habits is a flared elbow. The good news is that this is absolutely fixable! If you practiced enough to have a bad shot, you can practice your way to a great one!
Don’t fix your shot far from the basket. In fact, the free throw line is a great place to start. Fixing your shooting fundamentals from the free throw line is ideal because it eliminates numerous distractions. It also allows you to solely focus on the base mechanics that need to change.
Remember, practice is hard, and having correct mechanics take time. Don’t be discouraged. You can do it!
The final step to your free throw is the follow through. Once your elbow is tucked in and pointing at the rim, and your wrist is flat as it can be, it is time to fire that basketball through the hoop. A proper release has two components. These are flicking your wrist and a strong hold.
Shoot the basketball by releasing it forward with a strong flick of the wrist. Wrist action further enhances the basketball’s control and trajectory, as well as creating proper spin that will help the ball go through the hoop.
It is also crucial to control your follow through. Your follow through can alter the basketball just enough to miss. Hold it strong! A follow through can also give instant feedback to your shot. If your wrist is flicked and shooting fingers are pointing straight down, you know you did a good job shooting.
You will need to revisit your shooting mechanics If your wrist is pointed away from the rim and your fingers are not fully down.
An easy way to remember to have a strong finish is to imagine putting your hand in a cookie jar. The rim is the cookie jar, and your bent wrist with fingers down is digging in for a treat, which in this case is a basket.
If you are struggling with a proper follow-through, focus on the first three fingers of your shooting hand. Make an emphasis for your thumb, index, and middle fingers to be the last fingers that roll off the basketball next time you shoot a free throw.
Those three fingers on your shooting hand largely control the shot, and is a great starting place for follow through assistance.
Practice Free Throws on the Court
You now know the intricate details and steps to improve your free throw shooting. The next step is actually applying our improvement tips into your practice. You want to ideally practice with someone else so that you can rebound for each other and make your skill development more interactive.
Have someone standing under the hoop and holding the basketball. Approach the free throw line just as you would during an actual game. Take your necessary breaths to get your body rhythm under control. Align your feet properly at the line. Remember, you can have both feet facing straight towards the hoop, or pointing at a slight angle.
Have whoever is with you pass you the ball once you are settled. It is time for your routine. Make sure your eyes are locked on the rim the entire time. You do not want to focus on anything else. Raise the ball to shoot with your elbow straight and facing the rim at a 90 degree angle.
At the apex of your shot release the ball with an aggressive wrist flicking motion, check your final hand and finger placement to ensure no mechanical flaws occurred.
Shoot 10-20 free throws at a time and then switch with the person you are with. Watching someone else who is trying to improve is also a great learning tool. You can see from a different perspective the same techniques you are working on as well.
Find Your Personal Free Throw Routine
Everyone has a free throw routine. Can you remember seeing someone shoot a free throw right away without doing anything beforehand?
There is no rhyme or reason to most routines. That is even more proof how important it is to get into the right mental state when at the free throw line.
You have to be comfortable when shooting a shot that involves no defensive pressure at all. So get comfortable! If you want to dribble the ball three times and then spin the ball around your waist, go ahead! You can talk to the basketball, kiss the basketball, or tell the basketball a joke. It doesn’t matter!
Find your routine, and do not force a routine upon yourself. If what you are doing before a free throw does not feel natural, cut it out and find a new one.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are a couple of commonly asked questions when it comes to free throws.
How far is a free throw line from the basket?
The free throw line is 15 feet away from the basket, the same distance from the basket all across the world. Other dimensions on the court might be different. However, the free throw line for a middle-school league is the same distance as the free throw line is for the NBA, and for any league across the world.
How far is an NBA free throw? Is it different than non-professional courts?
All NBA free throw lines are also 15 feet away from the basket. Both professional and non-professional courts keep the distance the same for free throws.
Becoming a good free throw shooter is not easy. A lot of commitment and practice is needed to be truly confident at the free throw line. This is just like a lot of commitment and practice is needed to be truly confident in every other facet of the game of basketball.
Reading this article alone is a great first step to showing your commitment to being a better a free throw shooter. How often you practice on the court is the true test of how serious you are at becoming a better basketball player. Hopefully this article on how to shoot a free throw has you in the gym in no time!