A drill’s true purpose

The University of Washington was the worst free throw shooting team in the nation last season, but is improved this year. They credit “the ladder.”

At the end of every practice, all 13 players gather in a circle around the free-throw line, then take turns shooting free throws, each getting two at a time — either shooting a one-and-one, or a two-shot foul depending on the day (the team alternates by day.)

The drill isn’t complete until the players combine to make 19 of 26 on days when the situation is a one-and-one, or 20 out of 26 on days when it’s a two-shot situation. The totals are kept on a scoreboard, and it’s referred to as “climbing the ladder” for the team to get to its requirement to pass the drill.

Players who miss head to the sideline for extra conditioning.

It is a common idea – shoot free throws until you make a certain percentage or you run. However, the next comment says a lot:

“Nobody wants to miss because nobody wants to run,” Dentmon said.

The problem last season was not necesarily shooting technique, because nowhere in an article about improved shooting does it mention mechanics, technique, or form. Instead, according to Dentmon’s comment, the new drill forces players to concentrate to avoid punishment.

Does this drill improve shooting or does it improve concentration? If concentration is the problem, is a season-long drill the answer, or would mental practice be more effective?

When identfying a problem (missing free throws), one must identify the cause for the mistakes and attack the cause. Many teams miss free throws, and practice more free throws. Lack of practice is rarely the issue, especially for a college player. The players have a problem with their shooting: the issue could be physical or mental. The misses could be caused by lack of concentration or the lack of preparation.

The important point, however, is to decide on the true cause and attack the cause rather than doing more of the same.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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