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OPTI Sports Science – How to Improve Your Free-Throw Shooting Percentage!

There are two seconds left in the fourth quarter. Your team is down by one and you have just been fouled and are on the free-throw line. Can you be the hero? Or will you choke?  One of the most important aspects in determining a winner in a close basketball game is making your free-throws down the stretch. Being the research nerds that we are at Omaha Physical Therapy Institute, I decided to see what science says is the best way to make a higher percentage of free-throws. The studies below have focused on methods that can improve your free-throw shooting percentage.

Pre-shot routine:


All basketball players tend to develop their own individual pre-shot routine prior to attempting a free-throw. However, not all routines are as elaborate as Jackie Moon’s from the movie Semi-Pro. In two separate studies it was found that not allowing basketball players to use their typical pre-shot routine resulted in a significant decrease in their free-throw percentage1,2. So, encouraging a pre-shot routine that is unique to each player and consistently performed will help improve free-throw percentages!

1. Mack MG. Percept Mot Skills. Effects of time and movements of the preshot routine on free throw shooting. 2001 Oct;93(2):567-73.
2. Gayton WF1, Cielinski KL, Francis-Keniston WJ, Hearns JF. Effects of preshot routine on free-throw shooting. Percept Mot Skills. 1989 Feb;68(1):317-8.

Quiet Eye:
The adage ‘keep your eye on the ball’ has been taught by coaches and parents since the beginning of time it seems. While this is sound advice, it has not been until recently that science has validated this concept. As a matter of fact, it actually applies to all sports and activities involving some form of coordination! Baseball players will watch the ball hit the bat. Golfers will focus in on the hole and the ball while attempting a putt. Surgeons need to utilize their visual system to meticulously remove a tumor without damaging surrounding tissue1. The use of the “quiet eye” has also been studied on free-throw shooting. One study shows that basketball players who were taught how to adopt the quiet eye characteristics of elite free-throw shooters (focusing gaze on the rim before shooting a free-throw) performed much better than those players who were taught elite biomechanics (instruction on optimal control of shooting stance, arms, and hands)2. Placing an emphasis on visual focus and attention of the rim even improves players mechanics!2 See this video below for more information.

1. Lebeau JC1, Liu S, Sáenz-Moncaleano C, Sanduvete-Chaves S, Chacón-Moscoso S, Becker BJ, Tenenbaum G. Quiet Eye and Performance in Sport: A Meta-Analysis. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2016 Oct;38(5):441-457.
2. Vickers JN, Vandervies B, Kohut C, Ryley B. Prog Brain Res. Quiet eye training improves accuracy in basketball field goal shooting. 2017;234:1-12.

Rim Size:
The standard size of a basketball rim is 18 inches in diameter (46 cm). In a small randomized controlled study, researchers raised the question of would practicing free-throws on a reduced sized rim (35cm) improve athletes shooting accuracy? The study included two groups of players with one group practicing free-throws on a standard rim and other group practicing free-throws on the smaller rim. While both groups demonstrated an increase in the number of successful free-throws after training, the group which practiced on the smaller rim had a statistically greater increase of made free-throws than the group that practiced on a standard rim1.

1. Khlifa R, Aouadi R, Shephard R, Chelly MS, Hermassi S, Gabbett TJ. Effects of a shoot training programme with a reduced hoop diameter rim on free-throw performance and kinematics in young basketball players. J Sports Sci. 2013;31(5):497-504.

Pretty interesting stuff right? Ultimately, practice improves your overall neuromuscular efficiency, meaning that you are able to complete tasks, like shooting a free throw, with greater accuracy.

If you find yourself on the bench with an injury, remember that Omaha Physical Therapy Institute provides specialized care for basketball athletes. Your Comeback Story Starts Here!

Brent Cordery, PT