“All at once, I couldn’t figure out why I was methodically tossing a spherical object through a toroidal object. It seemed like the stupidest thing I could possibly be doing.”John Green
Shooting a basketball is a difficult skill to develop. Some people are seemingly born with an innate ability to shoot, but even the most efficient shooters have to hone their skills with consistent practice. Proper shooting mechanics are imperative to building muscle memory. Muscle memory means the more you shoot the ball a particular way, the more your muscles are going to remember the form. No matter if you shoot with proper technique or poor technique, your muscle memory will influence the way you shoot the ball according to how you have programmed it. That is why building these mechanics at a young age is so important. I coach and see so many young kids today who aren’t taught proper shooting mechanics. This has the potential to be a problem as they get older and they fail to develop proper shooting form. Without further ado, here are the ABCs of proper shooting form:
Align with the basket- Your entire body has to be in line with the basket before you do anything else. Some people prefer the term “square to the basket.” If you are not in line with the basket you are going to have a difficult time controlling where the basketball goes. This means your feet, knees, shoulder, elbows, and everything you need to shoot a basketball is in line with the basket. When you eventually shoot the basketball with your hand and follow through, it too must be in line with the basket. If you are not completely in line with the basket, the ball is going to go left or right depending on where your body is pointed.
Bend your knees- I can’t stress this enough. When I teach kids how to shoot so many of them do everything else correctly yet they forget to simply bend their knees. Shooting is not done merely with your core and upper body. It requires exertion from your legs and lower body as well. This is particularly important for younger kids who aren’t very strong. You get all the power of your shot from your knee bend. If you are shooting the ball short try bending your knees more and really exploding from bottom to top. It is the power from the knees that produces great arc (height) and elevation on your jump shot.
Chin up- Keeping your chin up when you shoot will ensure that you are looking up at the basket and that you are keeping your torso straight as well. If your chin is down, then your neck is not straight. If your neck is not straight then your back is arching. It is a domino effect that starts with your chin. Keeping your eyes on the rim might be too obvious to remember but holding your chin up will keep your body in an erect position, not leaning forward or backward, which can leave you unbalanced and unprepared to shoot properly. If your chin is up, then your eyes have to be up as well, focused on the back of the rim.
Distance your feet- Your feet should be approximately shoulder width apart. This is important because it keeps you on balance. If your feet are too close you won’t have a solid foundation from which to shoot from. This is an underestimated point of shooting. Too many shooters focus more on what is going on in the upper body, and not enough on being in a great shooting stance. Also keeping your feet shoulder width apart is great practice for when you might need to shot fake and dribble. It allows you to react quicker in those instances where you need to move and shoot off the dribble.
Elbow in- This is related to keeping your body aligned with the basket. If your elbow is too far out, you are going to have a hand release and wrist action that is not pointed toward the basket. Young people especially have difficulty keeping their elbows in so they overcompensate by shooting with their elbow extended out. This is often due to lack of strength or lack of knee bend. Your elbow needs to be in so it is aligned with the basket. The elbow will lead the follow through of the ball when it is eventually shot and released from the shooting pad (not the palm, rather the pads right under the finger).
Fingers (Hand) Back- When the ball is sitting on the shooting pad of your shooting hand, your fingers, along with your hand, need to be cocked back. They should be bent back approximately in line with your ear. Your forearm and your bicep should form a space in between that resembles an “L.” If your fingers and hand are cocked to far back then this space is more like a “V.” Shooting from this “V” position will lead you to shoot with a pushing motion, relying more on your arms for the shot rather than the elbow, wrist, and fingers. Shooting from the “L” position forces you to use your elbow, wrist, and fingers to shoot the ball.
Generate the release- I see many kids who are able to get to the release point but when it comes time to release the basketball from their shooting hand, they struggle. As I mentioned previously, the power of the shot first comes from the knee bend. After that the release generates a lot of the power and determines where the shot will go. After you have ensured the previous steps are all accounted for, then you can release the shot from the shooting pad. The release is generated from the extension of the elbow. As you shoot, the elbow must extend upward toward the basket. If you fail to extend the elbow upward, your shot will be flat and ineffective. The wrist action will follow the elbow extension and release the ball towards the basket. The hand should stay cocked back until the elbow is extended. Then the wrist is flicked and the ball is released. This is done in one fluid motion.
Hold your follow through- This is an extremely underrated step. After flicking the wrist, you want to hold your follow through (your hand), straight and towards the basket in a downward motion. Even though you are shooting high and holding your hand high toward the basket, the wrist will be pointed downward. This is to ensure you have effective wrist action on your shot. If you fail to flick your wrist on your follow through you will not have good rotation on the basketball. Good rotation means the ball is spinning straight towards the basket, increasing the chances of you making the shot. If the wrist action goes to the right or left of the basket, the ball is most likely going to follow, as well as the rotation of the ball. Both of these are detriments for your shot-making ability. It is necessary to hold the follow through for a couple of seconds to ensure you have released the ball properly. If you release the ball, and immediately bring your hand down, you increase the chances of a flat shot (too little arc) or a shot with little or no rotation.