Basketball Shooting Coach
Fixing your Players' Bad Shooting Habits

Basketball shooting coaches focus on one thing: improving players' shooting skills. And if we happen to be in a large enough school with a large enough budget, we could actually take on an assistant coach who could focus solely on shooting. Most of us aren't in that position, so it is up to us as the team's coach to teach all the basketball skills.

Knowing how to shoot a basketball is, of course, integral to a team winning, and if you are in the position to take on a full time basketball shooting coach, by all means go ahead. The better your players can shoot, the better your team can score. And while I still believe that offense wins games, but defense wins championships, you still need to put points on the board regardless of your defensive prowess.

So with that in mind, and under the assumption that you are the person solely in charge of improving your player's shooting skills, what do you focus on? Particularly, what do you do with players who have particularly poor shooting form, who have developed bad habits before finding their way to you?

Proper shooting technique is really important if you want consistency and accuracy. There are plenty of aspects to teaching proper shooting form (check out the How to Shoot a Basketball page for a more complete discussion of proper shooting form), but if you are trying to fix a player's shot that has a great deal of problems, you can't push all these points at once. So here is what you should focus on.

Basketball Shooting Coach
Focus #1: Elbow Under the Ball

Basketball Shooting Coach - Elbow under the Ball

The shooting arm acts like a fulcrum, like a catapult - if you want the ball to fly straight, and if you want the player's power to be in the shot, his elbow must be underneath the ball

If the elbow is off to the side, two very bad things will happen:

  • The player's power, as it comes up the body from the legs during the jump, will be wasted - it will not travel up into the shot but rather out
  • The ball, on the release, will spin laterally - side to side, instead of having backspin. You want the backspin because if the ball drops onto the rim, the backspin will often cause the ball to stop dead and hopefully drop into the hoop. With a lateral spin, when the ball hits the rim it will most like spin out or bounce away - no shooter's roll. More about backspin in the third tip.

Basketball Shooting Coach
Tip #2: Ball on the Fingertips

Perhaps this is something we take for granted if we have been lucky enough to coach players from the beginning of their involvement in the sport - it tends to be one of the first things you teach newcomers. The ball is held and shot from the fingertips, not from the palm. You should be able to see daylight between the ball and the palm, and the fingers need to be relaxed, not rigid.

It's a fundamental aspect to good shooting form, and yet I find it a common enough problem with players that come to me from a background of weak or non-existent coaching that they cradle the ball on the palm of their hand.

Here's why you don't want this:

  • Your fingertips provide control over the ball - more points of contact mean more control. The ball is much less likely to slip from your grip
  • Easier and more controlled snap. When the player releases the ball, we want him to snap his fingers down to produce that backspin we've mentioned, and if the ball is released from the fingertips this is much easier. But if the ball is on the palm of the hand, it needs to roll up the fingers before being released, which then requires excellent timing to get the snap right and more often results in the ball sliding off the side of the hand or being shot flat, without spin.

Basketball Shooting Coach
Tip #3: Arc

The hoop is, of course, round with a nice big opening, big enough, I have been told, to fit three basketballs at a time (I've never tested this, but I have read it somewhere - I assume it's a mathematical thing, area of the hoop compared to the circumference of a basketball). But that's when you look down on it from above. If you look at the hoop side-on, it is actually a very thin sliver of opening you see, and the more side-on you are, the slimmer the sliver.

So, if the ball approaches the hoop from on top, it will have a much larger target and much better chance of going in than if it approaches straight on. In other words, your shooter needs to have arc on his shot. How does that arc come to be?

  • Practice, practice, practice. Have your players start close to the hoop, and practice shooting with exaggerated arc. Once they get comfortable shooting like this and are consistently making their shots, move them back a few steps and repeat.
  • Make sure they are snapping their fingers down as they release the ball - this serves two purposes: first, it will give the ball a little extra push and height, and second, it will put backspin on the ball.

There are other aspects to a good shot, of course, areas you would want to include in a complete program as the basketball shooting coach. Probably most important of these would be that your legs are where your power comes from - you can't depend on the relatively small shoulder muscles for consistent power in your shot.

But these three tips are probably going to give you the most noticeable improvement in shooting technique and accuracy, and are a great start to developing proper shooting form.

One thing to keep in mind - the older a player is, and the more time has passed to embed bad habits, the more difficult it will be to change them, regardless of the prowess and level of experience your basketball shooting coach has. If the player is young, pre-varsity, then it would make sense to try to force the changes. But if the player is older, say around varsity age, but can shoot with decent accuracy despite bad shooting habits, then you probably don't want to force too many changes. You can still try to make the changes listed here without too much difficulty, though, and you will likely see improvements.

"Every time you compete, try harder to improve on your last performance. Give nothing short of your very best effort."

- Elgin Baylor