Free Throw Shooting is often the difference in winning or losing close basketball games; especially down the stretch, in the clutch, at the end of a game. If you are ahead in the closing minutes, opponents will often foul and send your team to the free throw line to see just how “clutch” your players are. Making all or most of those attempts can put an end to an otherwise questionable outcome. But how do you get your players to be “clutch” in these times of tension and pressure? Here are three drills I have used to train my players how to shoot better from the free throw line, especially in the clutch:
- Water Break Free Throws
- Free Throw Press Drill
- Around the Gym
As I have said several times in earlier articles, I believe in doing important fundamentals every day, for short periods of time, but every day, so we form great habits. Good shooting form and good free throw shooting are two habits I hope to develop in every team. We always open practice with form shooting, close-in shooting, and free throw shooting before going to other shot areas.
Water Break Free Throws
We generally have two water breaks built into every practice. This is a 5 minute activity/break to get some water and rest up after a particularly strenuous full court drill. But, you don’t get to drink the water until you join with a partner, shoot two free throws at a time, and together make 5 in a row. No one shoots more than two in a row. If someone misses, the count starts over. So, at least one person has to shoot twice to get 5 straight makes. And both players will have to at least make two in a row. I allow three minutes for them to make 5 in a row, then I announce, “Next miss and you run.” They can finish a streak, but if they miss before making 5 in a row, they have to both run up and back on the court before getting a drink of water. Believe me, it is competitive because they don’t want to be the last group to the water and they don’t want to run up and back either. It becomes a real “pride thing” to get the 5 in a row without missing any and be the first to the water fountain.
This drill is as close to coming up with a live Pressure Situation as I can think of during practice. Remember, it happens twice every practice, and fits my criteria of “Doing something every day, for a little bit of time, to form good habits.” Sometimes, later in the season, I will challenge them by adding two more “makes” to the “Water Break Drill.” That means, they will get 4 (6 total) minutes to make 7 in a row, two at a time with their partner. Another addition to the drill is to require players to seek a new partner every day until they have rotated through the whole team. This way, your two 90% shooters won’t be able to pair up everyday and always finish first. It is fun to watch the good shooters, when paired with poorer shooters, get so excited when they get their 5 in a row. Plus, I seem to see more of the poorer shooters staying after practice to work on free throws, just because they don’t like being the one holding up water breaks for their partner.
Free Throw Press Drill
To practice more game like situations, I use the “Free Throw Press Drill,” a 5 on 5 Drill, almost every practice too. One team lines up to shoot a free throw, and then presses the other team on a make or a miss. This drill is basically for our Press Work, but does give us a little “free throw pressure shooting” too. Each player gets a turn to shoot a free throw and we usually end the drill after all players have had a chance to shoot one. It’s only one turn per player each practice, but sometimes that is all you get in a game, so it is very game-like. Using a routine and the proper pre practice checklist will help players learn to relax and make these shots. You can keep track of the makes and misses to announce at the end of the drill too. This adds to the importance (pressure) of “makes” a little more too.
Around the Gym
To get over a lack of confidence in shooting at opponents’ gyms and strange baskets, I also have used “Around the Gym.” In this drill, players line up at all available baskets, two or three players each, depending on the number of players and baskets you have available. A standard gym has six baskets and a team usually has 12 players, so two players per basket might be a normal setup. Each basket (group) has their own ball. Depending on the challenge you want or the time available, you can have each player shoot one or two free throws per basket. Next, each group rotates around the gym to the next basket. The rotation and shooting continues until all players have had their one or two shots on each basket in the gym. Their goal is to get the most made free throws of the entire team. A perfect score when shooting two per basket with six baskets in the gym would be 12 for 12. When time is short and you only shoot one per basket, a perfect score would be 6 for 6. By doing this drill often, players learn to concentrate better even with different surroundings and basket makeup. Each area of your gym is slightly different, so a new challenge presents itself with each rotation. Being able to mentally adjust and still concentrate enough to make the shot is the goal.
Too often, players will go to the same basket, (main court) to practice their free throws every day. By rotating baskets, they learn to shoot in different environments and face challenges that should lead to more confidence when away from your home court.
These are just some of the many possibilities for improving your program’s free throw shooting. You may already have your own or you might come up with some new ideas too. Making it important and following a practice routine every day will be the best motivator you can have. Remember, it is the things you do everyday that you eventually become very good at doing. Make free throw shooting important and your percentage will go up. And your win totals too.
Key Teaching Points:
- Teach proper form and review it daily as part of your warmup routine.
- Find a competitive drill you like and use it often.
- Post the Free Throw Stats for your team and each player.
- Give an Award to the Best Free Throw Shooter at season’s end.