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The Lost Art of Free Throw
By Willis Wilson, Rice
It’s a lost art, a thing of the
past. Many college basketball
analysts use such phrases when
describing the current state of
free throw shooting. On any given
night you can peruse the box
scores to find the evidence.
Percentages from the charity
stripe have declined in recent
years, but the question is why?
I once asked, current Lamar coach,
Billy Tubbs, “Why have your teams
always shot a good percentage from
the free throw line?”
He told me, “Every time there is a
shooting foul committed in
practice, we shoot free throws.”
Now that sounds like such a simple
approach, but then again so is the
act of shooting free throws, if
Young players often think that
stepping to the line, during
practice, and making ten straight
automatically makes them a good
free throw shooter. Well that is
not the case. You will often hear
coaches talk about trying to
create a ‘game-type environment’
in practice. That same approach
needs to be applied to shooting
from the charity stripe.
All too often, young players are
not approaching free throw
shooting in the proper fashion.
It’s important to practice the
drill when you are fatigued and
mentally and emotionally spent,
which the final few minutes of a
basketball game normally produces.
Here is another way of looking at
the approach. In the Olympics, the
Biathlon is a sport that combines
rifle accuracy and cross country
skiing. I think it is safe to say
that biathletes do not practice
their shooting accuracy when they
are well rested. They exert a lot
of energy and then pick up the
rifle to practice their aim. In
competition, it’s all about taking
a deep breath, getting composed
and concentrating on the target.
One miss results in a penalty lap,
which could be the difference
between a gold medal and no medal.
On the basketball court, that miss
could be the difference between
winning and losing.
We often hear analyst say, “It’s a
mental thing.” That’s true, but
that mental process doesn’t start
in the game. It begins on the
A player must commit him or
herself to the task. Free throw
shooting transitions from physical
to mental when a player does not
prepare him or herself properly.
For young players, shooting from
the line can get boring and
monotonous. It’s often difficult
to focus and zone in on each and
every practice shot, which
ultimately carries over to the
Three things are important when
1. Knowing how to work on
2. Giving the time commitment.
3. And Sacrifice.
These can be difficult challenges
to ask young players to comply
Much like ball handling and other
eroding aspects of the game, poor
free throw shooting can be
attributed -- to a great degree --
to the climate of the times.
Today’s athletes are still making
the same time commitment to the
game as they did 15 or 20 years
ago, but that time is not being
maximized. Once upon a time, an
athlete would wake up and hit the
practice court to run stations,
which was followed by one-on-one,
three-on-three and five-on-five
drills. And the day would conclude
with game action in the evening.
It was 7 to 8-hour commitment.
In today’s environment, the actual
‘time’ commitment has not changed.
However, now players are spending
30 to 40 minutes playing in actual
games and the other 7-plus hours
is spent around the event.
Today the summer is spent
traveling and playing in
tournaments, as opposed to the
camp setting, which was the norm
years back. Such an environment is
not conducive to success at the
free throw line, not to mention
many other aspects of the game.
There seems to be an erosion of
the perception of the game should