July 26, 2018 • OffenseWinning Hoops

Concepts to improve free-throw shooting

by Greg Neeley, contributing writer

A common question is, “How do you become a better free-throw-shooting team?” One method is to work with each player individually on his or her shooting form and mental approach at the line. This can be a successful method; however, it uses a large amount of valuable practice time.

Instead of taking time to work with each player, there are other steps that teams can take to improve free-throw shooting as a whole. These concepts make up what’s called: The Three Rs for Improved Free-Throw Shooting.


Practice situations are a time for players to improve and become more confident shooters. The best way to build such confidence is to have players focus on their routine at practice, not on the result of the shot. There is nothing wrong with a player keeping track of makes and misses during practice. Problems occur, however, when team consequences result from an individual player’s missed free throws — such as having the entire team run a sprint for each missed foul shot in practice. When such consequences are associated with the success of each shot, negative thoughts are implanted in the player’s mind. Instead of thinking about his or her shooting routine, the player is thinking about the consequences of a miss.

As a result, this type of negative thinking occurs during a game situation. Many coaches are under the misunderstood notion that this type of pressure builds better poise at the foul line. Instead, it puts the player into a trained mindset for thinking about the worst-case scenario for missing. As a coach, you don’t want players thinking about the negative consequences for missing a late-game pressure free throw.

A better idea would be for players to shoot a set number of free throws. Have your players, for example, shoot two free throws and then rotate until they have shot a total of 10 foul shots. The key here is to make each free throw simulate a game free throw. Each player must go through his or her shooting routine prior to taking the both free throws. Having all practice free throws simulate game free throws conversely makes all game free throws seem just like practice. Essentially, this type of practiced routine produces confidence.


Creating a relaxed mindset for your players at the free-throw line begins with the coaching staff. The worst possible comment a coach can make is, “We really need this one!” whether it be in practice or in a game. A comment such as this puts additional pressure on the player. Basketball players understand the importance of a free throw without having the coach telling them how crucial each one is.

A better remark by a coach would be, “Just relax and go through your routine. It’s just like practice.” If a player can go to the charity stripe and think of all the made free throws from practice — game-simulated free throws at practice — then the player will be relaxed.

As a coach, it’s important to remember that your words are significant to the free-throw shooter’s mental approach. And that mental approach can make the difference between a make and a miss.


Most importantly, good free-throw shooting results from practice. Repeatedly shooting free throws under game-like conditions results in confident, successful free-throw shooters.

During practice, free-throw shooting deserves the same intensity as any other drill that your run. Too many times, coaches put free-throw shooting at the end of practice. Usually, by this point, the atmosphere of practice is relaxed and the players are ready to hit the showers. This is the wrong approach. To avoid this tendency, scatter your free-throw shooting throughout the entire practice. Have your players shoot a set number of game-like free throws at different points during practice.

It’s best if your players shoot a set number of free throws three times during the course of a practice, with each set occurring during one-third of the practice. This allows players to shoot at different levels of fatigue — just as occurs during a game.

A second key point with repetition deals with offseason free-throw shooting. The offseason is a time when players can become better shooters. Once again, it remains essential that players use their routine while practicing free throws.

The normal temptation for a player while practicing is to never leave the line and simply catch and shoot repeatedly. This way of shooting, however, doesn’t simulate game-like foul shooting.

The Three Rs of Improved Free-Throw Shooting — routine, relaxation and repetition — provide simple, yet often overlooked steps that can improve a team’s overall free-throw shooting ability and confidence at the line.