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The Foul Shot

It's All a State of Mind



The foul shot can win basketball games. They also lose games, if your players don't know how to shoot them properly. And they can definitely help you win basketball championships.

I've had coaches tell me, when I was a player, "They're called free throws for a reason - they're free points, nobody's guarding you. Just go out and make them."

Easy advice from the person not standing on the foul line, with hundreds of sets of eyes staring at you, with the opposition's fans behind the backboard screaming and waving big balloon fingers at you. (Incidentally, I've come across an interesting product - a Real Crowd Simulator (Affiliate Link) - that you can use during practices to simulate crowd noise and better prepare your players for those moments when the game is on the line and they need to sink some free throws. Check it out.)

Foul shots are not easy, but for a different reason than a drive or an inside move. Like a drive or inside move, there is technique and practice required - the better they are, the better the shot will be - but the most important aspect of the free throw is not in the player's physical abilities, but mental state. Standing at the line alone, there is too much time to over-think the shot, too much likelihood of being distracted by the opponent's fans or letting nerves get to you. So here's the advice I give my players.


Perfect Practice Every Time

  • Every player needs a routine - doesn't matter what it is, but they need to figure out something that works and every time the player practices their free throws, he uses the routine (mine was always two dribbles, deep breath, bend at the knees and shoot.) Using a routine takes away some of the strangeness of being alone at the line - the familiarity and comfort of a routine performed day in, day out calms the nerves.

  • Good shot fundamentals are important - this is one of the few opportunities in a game situation where the player can concentrate on proper execution of the shot without worrying about the defense.

  • Aim for the back of the rim. You really have two choices - aim for the ball to drop just ahead of the back of the rim, or to drop just behind the front of the rim. Aim for the back, because later in the game players get tired, and if the shot is going to fall short, you want it to fall in and not bounce off the front of the rim. This is good advice for any shot. Amazon carries a neat little product called the "Nothin' but Net" Free Throw Trainer (Affiliate Link) that may help this.

  • Don't jump. Some players, especially younger and smaller ones, want to jump when taking the free throw - don't. Besides adding one more dimension to the shot that you need to control and adjust for (upward movement), it's not worth the possibility of stepping on the line.

  • Don't step into the lane too early - yes, rebounding is important, but going for the rebound when the ball has just left your fingertips will mean you'll be in the key too early and get called for it. Wait for the ball to hit the rim before going for it.

  • Notwithstanding the previous point, be ready to rebound. 70% of missed shots will rebound in the direction they were shot from, coming back about two-thirds of the distance. Sometimes the other players lined up along the key are so focused on getting position that they forget to box out the shooter. Don't be a wallflower.

  • Practice, practice, practice. 50 shots a day, 100 shots a day - whatever it takes to get it right. And keep track of your percentages - strive for 85% or better in practice.


Fitting Foul Shots into Practice

In the same way you teach shooting fundamentals at the beginning of the season, do the same with foul shooting. After a day or two of basic shooting fundamentals instruction, teach specifically how to shoot a free throw (use the points above). Then use the following basic drill at least once every practice, especially at the beginning of the year, to reinforce their learning.



Practice Drill: Shooting with a Partner

Have your players break up and practice foul shooting with a partner. This should only take a few minutes out of practice, and there is no explanation needed.


  • Players pair up - if you have enough baskets in the gym have each pair at a separate basket - otherwise, pairs will need to double up.

  • Each pair has a ball

  • Players shoot 20 free throws, 10 at a time, with their partner rebounding and outletting for them.

  • Players switch positions so each gets 20 shots in

  • The coach moves from one group to the next, correcting form where necessary


Shooting foul shots is a skill like any other, that requires practice like any other, but perhaps deserves a little more emphasis than the others - after all, toward the end of a close game, teams start to foul out of desperation, whether due to fatigue or design. It is at these times when the team that can shoot a decent foul shot will put the game out of reach, and the team that shoots poorly will fall apart.

For more advanced drills that improve foul shots, check out Practice Drills for Foul Shooting.



More on Foul Shots and Shooting Fundamentals here

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