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Shooting free throws is a mental game

Every basketball coach knows the importance of free throws during a game. Working on a good shooting form and hours and hours of practice are crucial to be a good shooter. But that’s not enough. Shooting a free throw with a couple seconds on the clock, a tied score and the pressure of a team, a coach and a crowd on your shoulders gives an extra dimension. Some great shooters already failed scoring this so-called “easiest shot” when the game was on the line.

As a coach you have to be creative to mimic a similar pressure on your pratice. Allthough it will never be the same as a game, you can find ways to improve the mental strengths of your players individually and your team as a group.

During my apprenticeship in NCAA basketball (see previous post), I had the change to experience how Coach Phil Martelli (NCAA Coach of the Year 2004, Saint-Joseph’s University) handles it.  The night before every game, he ends the team practice with the same drill. He puts a score of 70-70 on the scoreboard. Everybody has to shoot free throws and according to his rules of the drill, the team has “to win the game”.

This drill can be over in 5 mins, but can also take … 1h15. When the team loses the game, they start all over again. During my presence at SJU, it took the team 1h15 to complete the goal. In the beginning it seems funny, but after a while, we had to change gym (because the women’s team had a practice), managers and even assistent coaches started to leave. During this 1h15, Coach Martelli didn’t show a single emotion, while the players started to get annoyed and frustrated, and started to blame each other for not making their free throw. As a coach, this a moment where you will learn a lot about the dynamics within your group: who are the leaders, which players tends to give up soon, which bench players are important for your team chemistry, who steps up to make the clutch free throw …

For some this will seem a waste of time, but I’m sure that this will make your team stronger and gives you a lot of usefull information. Oh yes, after the 1h45 pratice and 1h15 free throw drill, a video session on the next opponent lasted for 45 mins. By Coach Phil Martelli himself, since the assistent coaches already left home.

Coach Phil Martelli at Saint Joseph's University, Season 2013-2014

Coach Phil Martelli at Saint Joseph’s University, season 2013-2014


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