Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Secret to Shooting Free Throws

In Week 1 of the 2006 NFL season, the Chicago Bears beat the Green Bay Packers by a score of 26-0. The Bears committed one turnover and completely dominated the contest. In Week 17, the final week of the season, the Packers stomped the Bears by a score of 26-7. The Bears committed seven turnovers in the loss.

The above scenario is hardly unique in sports, so sports fans aren't apt to think of it as anything spectacular. The pat explanation for the reversal is that the Bears had nothing tangible to play for in the last week of the season. This may be true, but by itself, it fails to account for what seems to be a highly improbable statistical variation. It is precisely the number of variables in any given game that leads to widespread variation. There are 22 players on a football field, and every play calls on them to make numerous decisions. Even subtracting all physical variables, there are hundreds of scenarios possible on any one play. Given that there are dozens of plays in a game, the number of variables becomes so mind numbing that most observers prefer to oversimplify the outcomes of games on the basis of a limited number of variables; in this case, the fact that the Bears had nothing to play for becomes the overriding explanation. A truly honest evaluation of the two games would result in hundreds of reasons for the results. (Here's a link to a sample of what I'm talking about, though even this abounds in simplifications.)

In a final analysis, the large number of variables is what makes our games interesting. If it wasn't for the almost absurd level of unpredictability, sports wouldn't have equal footing with news and weather in our culture. I've learned to relish the room for variation. But along with that, I've looked for areas of sport where there should be little variation. I believe I've found one: the basketball free throw. There are a few variables: player fatigue is certainly one, and perhaps shooting background is another. The actual mechanics of the shot are prone to variation, but the mechanics are certainly much less complex than a golf shot or a baseball pitch. My question is: why can't players who have mastered the art of shooting free throws make them with at least 99% accuracy?

In seeking an answer to this question, I ran across, the official site of Dr. Tom Amberry, who at age 71 ten years ago made 2,750 consecutive free throws before they closed the gym on him. He now serves as an advisor to several players and teams. The following two paragraphs are from his site:

So, what’s his secret? "Focus and concentration," says Dr. Tom. "When I’m shooting a free throw, I don’t think of anything else. I am 100% positive I will make the basket. Never have a negative thought on the free throw line."

Are there other important aspects to free throw shooting? "It’s important to have the right mechanics. Once you learn to put your body in the proper position and shoot correctly, then the rest is mental."

Yogi Berra once said that baseball was 90% mental, and the other half was physical. I'd be inclined to say that free throw shooting is 100% mental, and the rest is physical.


Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

!Happy Easter.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Tee said...

Free throw shooting is an art...kinda like writing. Things CAN break your concentration in both, but you have certain basics that you go by, some have certain habbits or routines that they go through before beginning... (bouncing the ball three times before shooting) or straightening your desk and getting the atmosphere just right before writing...collecting your thoughts..
The routine sets up the concentration, some can withstand certain distractions and not allow the concentration to be broken while others allow something as simple as the phone ringing to break their concentration.
I think it has to do with the discipline of concentration.
P.S. Good to finally see you. Now at least I have a face with the name (Azor).

1:03 AM  

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