Increase Your Free Throw Percentage. Score More 3 Point Shots and Become a Scorer! Basketball Shooting Tips from One of Todays Best Basketball Shooting Coaches

The Trouble with Shooting!

by Tom Nordland, Shooting Coach

It is well known that basketball shooting is a deteriorating art in this country. Million dollar athletes in the NBA and star college and high school players miss open jumpers with great regularity and often fail miserably at the free throw line. Shaq O'Neal, the multi-million dollar L.A. Laker Star, is shooting less than 50% from the free throw line.

Stories abound about the dilemma. Coaches don't know what to do. An article called "Why can't Johnny make a jump shot?" in the San Francisco Chronicle* last year said that the three point percentage in college has fallen every year since its inception 10 years previously. To miss easy jump shots is so common that it's not considered out of the ordinary. Seventy Percent for free throws is considered quite good. Teams often shoot only 30-40% for a game, and that includes all the layups and dunks!

Europeans and players from other countries shoot better than Americans. As they get their athletic skills up to the level of our athletes, we're going to start losing to them because we can't shoot the outside shot. An Olympic medal will not be a sure thing very much longer.


What is the problem? What can be done about it? The article mentioned above lists 7 reasons for the poor shooting:

· It's not cool
Swooping dunks are what guys want to achieve. They want to look like Dr. J or Michael Jordan. The highlight films on TV are mostly about slamming the ball down over an opponent, not about deft passing and a smooth outside jumper.

· Wrong guys shooting the ball
It used to be that only the better shooters shot the long outside shots, the perimeter shots. Now, because of the 3 point shot, everyone wants to put them up and be a hero.

· Power game
The game has become a lot more physical. Athleticism at all levels is revered at the expense of skills. Speed, quickness and jumping ability are favored more than good fundamentals or a great shooting touch.

· The rise of AAU programs
Kids used to learn basketball on the playgrounds, playing for hours, including lots of time to practice shooting. Now with AAU programs and endless structured tournaments, a lot more emphasis is on playing games rather than practice.

· Poor technique
Europeans learn to shoot the right way, perhaps from some text book. They're encouraged to practice shooting and learn good form. Americans often learn it by watching TV and picking up bad habits. Going for the 3 point shot too early and too often can wreck a shooting style.

· Poor facilities
Another old line is that kids from inner cities don't shoot particularly well because they grow up on playgrounds, places where there are bent rims without nets, places not conducive to breeding shooters. To learn a reliable shot takes repetition and hours of practice. These days there are too many kids and too few courts.

· Better defenses
This is certainly one of the major reasons. The in-your-face physical pressure initiated by Georgetown in the early 80's probably started this. Defense is a statement, and it's tougher than ever to get an open jump shot.

These are valid reasons, and they explain some of the problem. But how can you explain top players missing open 10-15' jump shots and, even more confounding, free throws? The free throw is an easy shot ­ 15' to the backboard, only 13' 9" to dead center. There's no rush. No one is "in their face." It's not a difficult shot, as evidenced by a few non-playing people, some in their 60's and 70's, setting records making thousands in a row.

In this article, first of a series, I'd like to suggest two more reasons for the problem and offer some ideas that might help.

· It's thought it takes a long time to learn
First, I believe it is thought it takes hundreds and hundreds of hours to learn how to shoot well. You have to develop a great stroke and then practice from this spot and that spot and that spot every day. With today's attention spans, kids don't focus well on anything very long, and if they think it's going to take forever to learn something, why try? Besides it's more fun to work on your spin moves and jamming. Shooting practice is looked on like drudgery.

· Coaches don't know how to coach shooting
And secondly, and most importantly, I feel there is a problem with the coaching of shooting. Most coaches were not great shooters themselves, and it's difficult to coach something you can't do yourself well. What happens is they coach shooting it by focusing on the so-called "Fundamentals" of shooting. That way they can't be faulted for not coaching the skill. However, the Fundamentals ­ how to hold the ball, how to stand, where to look, how to bring the ball up to the Set Point, and the Release and Follow Through ­ are only the beginning, a stepping off point. But coaching usually stops there, urging the players to "go out and practice" and thus, figure out themselves how to put the ball into the basket consistently. Most never figure it out.


First I want to offer that shooting well is not that difficult and that it can be learned in a fraction of the amount of time normally thought! The truth about most physical actions, in my opinion, is that we greatly over complicate them. The most efficient, accurate and powerful athletic movements are the essence of simplicity, be it golf, tennis, bowling, Tai Chi or basketball shooting as examples. The basketball shot has evolved for most players into a throwing motion coming mostly from the upper body. Ams, wrists, hands and fingers are employed to power and guide the shot, thus creating a flat arch (30° above horizontal at best) and a ball flight controlled by small muscles.

Watch yourself or others shoot. Most shots get only 1-2 feet above the basket at the highest point (the bottom of the ball). These shots are coming in "hot" and flat, around 20-30 degrees above horizontal. How often do you see one that rises higher than the top of the backboard. If you do, it's probably coming from the best shooter on the court. Shooting high does two major things: (1) it creates a larger landing area for the ball, and (2) it softens the shot as gravity has more time to slow it down as it rises.

From my research, a shot coming into the basket at a medium high angle of ~45° above horizontal has an effective landing area about 60% larger than for a shot coming in at ~30°. An even higher 60° angle shot (the angle considered most effective by some coaches) has a landing area more than twice as large than that of a 30° angle shot. A larger landing area and a softer shot have to lead to greater success ... why wouldn't players want to shoot higher to get these benefits?

The problem is that most players can't shoot very high with the muscle action they use. Arm, wrist, hand and finger actions are horizontal motions. They create a flat arch. To get higher arch, the players must use more body/leg action.

Here's a suggestion: (This instruction is written for coaches, but if you're a player, do it on yourself.) Have your players jump up and down without a ball (with eyes closed, too) and notice what it feels like. Ask them what direction the force is. They will answer it's "upward." They will also notice it's a strong, stable action. I call that motion the UpForce™, but you could call it anything you want ­ leg power, lift, body/leg action, etc. Ask your players then to shoot and notice if there is any of that force in their shot. Is any shot power coming from the lower body, or is it all (or mostly) from the upper body "Release" muscles?

As they start to feel and discriminate more and less UpForce™, ask them to tell you what percent of available U/F energy is being used with each shot (it will vary). By percent, I don't mean to jump stronger to get a higher number. I mean what percent of what's there is utilized. A little down & up free throw action can be used 100%. From my perspective, the higher the percent, the greater the chance of the ball going in.

You will discover that the more body/leg action in the shot, the higher, quicker, the more stable the shot. And there will be more power and range. This one distinction, using more body/leg power in the shot, can make a huge difference in shooting proficiency.

Try it and let me know what you discover. For more detailed instruction, you can purchase my video,"Swish -- A Guide to Great Basketball Shooting." For information, endorsements, testimonials, more articles and ordering information, see my Web Site ""! From the site you can link to a page on reviews to see links to several outstanding reviews of the video.

I'll give more insights in the next article.

Tom Nordland
Boulder Creek, California
Email: [email protected]

*Article by Bill Reynolds, Providence (R.I.) Journal-Bulletin

Tom is considered to be one of Minnesota's all-time great high school shooters. About the time he was turning 50, he re-discovered the shooting touch he had had so long ago. In the last 12 years he perfected his coaching of this revolutionary method, and in 1997 he created his highly-acclaimed "Swish" shooting video. His coaching is universal, applying equally to beginners and top professionals and every level in between.

He describes this Method being more about the "Flight of the Ball" and less about the so-called "Fundamentals" and rules as to where the feet should go, how to hold the ball, where the fingers should point, how to finish, etc. Tom has received the endorsement of such basketball notables as Bill Sharman, Boston Celtic legend now a consultant with the L.A. Lakers and considered one of the greatest shooters of all time, and Pete Newell, legendary coach from the University of California, Berkeley, Gold Medal winning Olympic Head Coach in 1960, and worldwide ambassador for the Game of Basketball.

You can visit Tom's website at for more information about his background, his video and his coaching, other articles, major endorsements, powerful testimonials, his clinic schedule, to subscribe to his free monthly Shooting Newsletter, and much more.

(c) Copyright 1997 Tom Nordland