Psyched Online


SUBJECT: Free-throws
DATE: 11/26/02, 20:06

Dear Psyched:

I am high school senior and I play center on the varsity basketball team. Lately, I seem to be missing my free throw shots. I can usually make most of them in practice, but when I’m playing in a game I miss about half of them. I don’t know how to make these shots all the time and the coach won’t put me in the game if I can’t hit them. What can I do to improve? I practice every day with the team and go home each night and practice on the hoop in my driveway, but I still cannot make the shots during a big game! Please help me!!!!!!

Can’t make the big shot

SUBJECT: Re: Free-throws
DATE: 11/28/02, 10:04


Response: I’m sorry to hear about your problem but I can assure you it is fairly common, just look at Shaquille O’Neal.

First of all, I think that you haven’t signed your letter very well since it seems that you can make free-throws sometimes. The fact that you can hit the shot in practice is a good sign and should provide you with some encouragement. It seems like your problem is due to performance anxiety in front of a crowd. In order to deal with this you have to make the situation seem more familiar to you. Here’s an example, when you are using your microwave, you are able to do so fairly easily with very little thought. However, when you are visiting at a friend’s house you have to struggle with it (although to a minor degree for the most part) to figure it out. When you are in a familiar situation – like practice or your drive way – you have almost no problems performing, but when you are in an unfamiliar situation – like games – the task becomes much more difficult. The solution to this is to develop a pre-shot routine.

A good pre-shot routine builds a sense of familiarity with the task at hand no matter what the situation. usually they have three parts:

  1. Try to put the “excess baggage” (i.e., thoughts of what you are having for dinner or the consequences of missing the shot) out of your mind and focus on the task at hand. If you are having trouble doing this, you might want to take a look at the article on Thought Stopping. Some people choose to make a positive self-statement such as “I’m going to do it.”
  2. Take your stance at the line and bounce the ball a few times until you feel comfortable. Take a few glances in between bounces at the rim. It is important to try and bounce the ball the same number of times EVERY time so that the situation is familiar to you.
  3. When it’s time to shoot the ball, keep the target in the center of your vision, this will help you to focus on the task at hand – shooting the ball. Right before you take the shot, you might want to take a final cleansing breath (click here for more information on breathing techniques).

The above is just a rough guide of what you should do, you can tailor it to fit your own needs. The key is to be CONSISTENT so that there is a sense of familiarity with the situation (just like using the microwave at your house). It is also important to use the routine EVERY time. The pros do it, why shouldn’t you? Finally, make sure that you practice it, since the more you practice, the more likely that game situations will be familiar to you.

Miguel Humara, Ph.D.