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How to Teach Youth to Become Great Free Throw Shooters

Since the implementation of the 3-point line, free throw shooting percentages have gone down on each level of basketball. The fact is that a lot of games are decided by 5 or less points and good free throw shooting could make a difference in a lot of ball games throughout your season. The approach to every player will be a little different, but there are a few aspects that every free throw shooter should have.  There is only so much practice time that a coach can spend on shooting free throws, but we can teach them some important aspects of shooting free throws that they can practice and encourage them to practice them on their own.

Mental Preparation
Teaching mental toughness is a tough thing for a coach to do, but the mental approach to a free throw is just as important as the mechanics of the shot. If there is a lack of focus then it will negatively affect a player’s mechanics. A player needs to be able to handle potential distractions that may make them lose focus, such as fans, fatigue, players, and coaches. Mental preparation begins as soon as a player gets fouled and knows they will be shooting a free throw. Players should be eager to shoot a free throw because they know they have made 5 or 10 in a row before.

Coaches can simulate the distractions by shooting free throws after conditioning or full court drills that make players fatigued. While shooting free throws simulate fan noise and situations, such as down 1 or 2, by having teammates make as much noise as possible. If players can make free throws under the worst conditions, then the players will be more relaxed and focused during a pressure situation in a game.       
 
Get a Routine
The most important thing is for the players to feel comfortable and confident. Allow them to have their own pre-shot routine and make them do it every time. Their routine could be 2 dribbles, 1 dribble and spin the ball, or whatever makes them comfortable and prepares them to shoot properly. Advise your players to watch other successful shooters in order to help them develop their routine.  
 
Shooting Mechanics
After the player has done their routine and are relaxed then they need to focus on their mechanics. Most courts have a nail hole on the free throw line. The players should align their shooting foot in line with the nail hole. Once aligned properly, knees should be bent, ball in the “shooting pocket” (around shoulder next to ear), and eyes on the target (back of the rim). When going up to shoot the ball players should be focused on three things. First, the optimal arch for free throw shooting is a 45° arch on the ball. Teach your players to, second, feel the shot come off the middle finger and hold the follow-thru. Finally, focus on staying on the line after the shot.
 
Practice makes Permanent
Emphasize to the players that if the only time they work on free throw shooting is during practice then they will never be a good free throw shooter. Encourage them to practice free throws when they are tired and be sure they go through their whole routine and treat it like a game situation. The more they practice shooting game-like free throws the more comfortable and confident they will feel in a pressure situation in a game. 
 
Take a few days or weeks at the first of the season and have the players shoot and record the results. Then teach them how to shoot and have them shoot again and record. Hopefully their percentages increase and you can show them the importance of mental toughness and having a routine in order to be a better free throw shooter.