August 25

Creating Better Free Throw Shooters

This article was written by Mercer University Assistant Coach Jarred Merrill.


Team Emphasis

The buzzer sounds and your team has just lost a very competitive road game against the top team in the league, the score is 78-77 and your kids played their hearts out, meanwhile you and your staff make the lowly walk back to the locker room and prepare to address the team. Immediately upon entering the locker room your Head Coach is asking for the stats, even though he knows that the stats take a few minutes to be printed and delivered to his hands, he is completely irate and visibly defeated.

As the graduate assistant hastily walks in the locker room to nervously deliver the stat sheet, the Head Coach snatches the sheet and quickly notices his team has shot an abysmal 9-22 from the FT line. Not many things frustrate a coaching staff more than missed throws. However, as a staff you cannot be upset with your team if you do not make it a DAILY emphasis in practice and individual workouts to enforce the importance of making FTs.



Getting to the Line

Our 2016-17 team here at Mercer University shot 78.5% on the season and was ranked 6th in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy. We also led the Southern Conference in FT percentage. Our player’s ability to make free throws allowed us to win or stay in games throughout the season.

Unfortunately even though we shot a great percentage as a team, it was our inability to get to the FT line at a higher rate during games that helped to contribute to some of our losses this past year. We had multiple games this season where we went into halftime with four or less attempts at the line. Making FTs is very important but getting there speaks volumes to what your players like to do in your system.

For the year we attempted 17.9 FTA’s per game, we would like to see this number rise up to 19.5-22.5 attempts per game. We had a total 10 one-possession games and the Mercer Bears shot 78.8% from the line. In 2015-16 we shot 74.2% on the season, this year’s team was the best FT shooting team we have had in 9 years. If we would’ve been able to get to the line at a higher rate we would have been able to really take advantage of our excellent free throw shooting.



Emphasize the Importance of Free Throws in Practice

Make sure that the emphasis on the importance of free throws is felt during practice by splitting the team up numerous times throughout the duration and holding your team accountable to making 70%-75% of their total shots as a team. Put three minutes on the clock and create a 1 and 1 FT situation. If the player misses the first FT it counts as two missed FTS, that player has two down and back baseline touches, miss one FT and you have one down and back baseline touch. (I like splitting the teams up evenly and making it a one or two month competition between baskets.)

No talking or jacking around during these times, players tend to relax mentally during FT time, make sure they know how important it is! If the percentage is not achieved then make the team run, if a certain basket has an awful percentage you can make the four to five players at the basket run. Coaches must stand at individual baskets vigilantly giving confidence and correction on shots attempted.

As coaches, we only get a hand full of program staples to insert into the player’s minds during practice, make sure that FT emphasis is one of them. Challenge your players as a staff to shoot 400-600 FTs per week, all while keeping a written tally of shots made and attempted, this can easily be done on their own time.



Routine, Target, and Form for Bad FT Shooters

We have all witnessed the bad FT shooter who spins the ball to himself, takes 4 deep breathes, dribbles the ball 7 times, and then precedes to shoot the ball and miss the FT. I have always instructed bad FT shooters to keep the most simplistic FT routine as possible. Try getting players to take out all the “stuff” and eliminate the dribble from their shooting routine. By eliminating the dribble and other nonsense, the player is solely focused mentally on seeing the ball go through the net.

The nail hole has always been the starting point that coaches teach when talking about FTs. As a coach, you need to evaluate exactly where a certain players natural shooting pocket is located, whether over the top of the head, at the forehead, or at the right or left ear, moving one or two inches to the right or left will produce more consistent results.

Take some time to ask bad FT shooters what they are aiming at or focusing on before they attempt a shot, some answers will simply amaze you!! Just like all players they should be focused on the front of the rim, directly in the middle, while shooting the ball slightly over the front of the target with proper arch. When asked this question good shooters should answer, “aiming in the middle and slightly over the front of the rim, with arc on the ball.”

Consistently checking the release point and follow through is also vital, guys who do not make FTs are typically erratic and inconsistent on snapping the wrist and keeping the follow through the same every time. Keep the release point at or above a 55-degree angle, never up-never in, especially as the legs get tired during games.

Create an emphasis on snapping the wrist and locking the elbow, all one motion. Do drills that are going to help build muscle memory and create better ball flight for enhanced free throw shooting percentages.

Make players stay on the line as the ball goes through the net. Far too often players fall away from the line, especially on the second FTA, which is a terrible habit. Challenge players to finish their shots by lightly bouncing on their toes with great balance, and do not allow the tippy toe ballerina finish or players crashing down on their heels after shooting the ball.

Lastly, coaches must encourage players to limit the motion from start to finish when at the line, less motion equals less problems. Getting a bad FT shooter to start with the basketball directly in front of the chin instead of at the belly button or below will help players keep their elbows in and pointed at the target, which will reduce misses and produce more wins.




Games and even seasons can be decided from the free throw line. It is something that needs to be emphasized on a daily basis with your players at an individual level and as a team. Make sure that you are on the winning side of getting to the free throw line and then making every shot count.


Jarred Merrill
Mercer University Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach

Jarred Merrill has been a part of the Mercer University Bears coaching staff since 2015. Before coming to Mercer he spent time coaching at Southern Nazarene as an assistant coach. Jarred comes from a playing background as well and spent 7 years after college playing professional basketball all over the world.



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Posted August 25, 2017 by chilli15 in category "Get your game up!

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