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How to Become a Great Free-Throw Shooter

Want to play more at the end of the game? Then become a great free-throw shooter!

Players who are great free-throw shooters are the players that the Coach puts in at the end of a game. Heck, they’re usually the players that the Coach puts in at the beginning of the game too! They’re also the players that get to shoot technical free throws and the ones who get the opportunity to come through in the clutch and win games during crunch time. Face it, you definitely want to be a great free-throw shooter.  

To be a great free-throw shooter, you first have to be a good free-throw shooter, and to do that, you need perfect form. Trust me when I tell you that if your form isn’t perfect, you will likely never be a good, never mind great, free-throw shooter. While shooting form is beyond the scope of this article, there are many articles and videos that explain good shooting form, and you should work hard to perfect yours. I typically instruct players to take 3000 free throws every off-season with good form. After all, practice makes perfect!

Three steps to go from good to great

To go from a good to a great free-throw shooter, you need to add the following three tips to your perfect shooting form. One, you need to shoot with the right amount of arc. Two, you need to aim at the correct spot. Finally, you need the right mindset. If you have all of those, you will be the one who calmly hits late free throws to win tournament games.

What is the right amount of arc?

The single biggest mistake I see youth and High School players make on free throws is shooting without enough arc on the ball. The more arc you shoot with, the bigger the rim is compared to the ball. The rim is 18 inches across, and a basketball is a little over 9 inches across, and the more arc you have, the greater amount of that 18-inch goal is available for the ball to go through. Shooting the ball with only a small amount of arc effectively cuts off the front half of the rim from being available for the ball to pass through, so you have essentially cut the 18-inch hoop down to about 9 inches, making the shot much more difficult. 

What is the right amount of arc? A few years ago, there was a study on free-throw shooting done by two North Carolina State researchers, Drs. Chau Tran and Larry Silverberg. Their conclusion on arc was that the highest point of the ball's trajectory should be about equal to the top of the backboard, so if you have someone with you, have them check your arc relative to the top of the backboard. 

Aim and mindset

The next tip is where to aim when shooting a free throw. According to Drs. Tran and Silverberg, a shooter should aim at the back of the rim, not the middle or front. This makes a lot of intuitive sense to me. If you are a little long on the shot, and you have good form and therefore proper backspin, the ball has a tendency to spin back and into the hoop. If your shot is a little short, since you are aiming long by aiming at the back of the rim, the ball has a good chance to skip over the front of the rim and in. I like to tell players to aim for the little squiggly net hanger at the back of the rim when shooting free throws because I believe concentrating on a specific, small spot is better than simply aiming for the back of the rim. If your hoop has two net hangers at the back of the rim, just aim right in between them. Regardless of what the back of the rim looks like, make sure you are aiming at the back on free throws. 

The final trick to being a great free-throw shooter is to have the right mindset since so many free-throws are taken under pressure. I read once that our minds can only focus on one thing at a time. That’s a real advantage when shooting free throws. What I mean is that very often, the pressure of a game, crowd noise, or something else can distract you from concentrating on the free throw you’re about to shoot. If instead, you fill your brain with something positive rather than the crowd noise or any other distractions, you will be able to concentrate on the free-throw. For instance, looking at and concentrating on, the back net hanger while repeating the mantra “back net hanger” while you shoot will force you to concentrate on that, which means you’ll forget about the pressure or any other outside distractions and simply make the free throw.

If you want to be a great free-throw shooter, you will need to work at it, but with good form, practice, and the tips outlined above, you’ll be knocking them down under pressure, and the Coach will have you on the floor when its time to win games. Good luck!   


About the Author

Brett Cavalieri CSCS is a basketball coach at Westbrook High School in Westbrook Connecticut. He has coached both boys and girls of all ages at the Rec., Travel, AAU, and High School level. He is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He believes that sports teach all players the life-long lesson of how to be a good teammate, and creates a love of exercise, improving health.

Sports in this article

Basketball