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High-Performance Mindfulness: Improving The Free Throw Experience

Jake Rauchbach breaks down the free throw and mental performance

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Free Throw Components

In this article, we are going to break down how to revamp a player’s free throw percentage without changing free-throw mechanics or increasing repetitions. Holding these variables constant and keying in on Mental Focus and Emotional regulation, there exists the possibility of massive improvement.

For many, this might sound crazy. But for players that have experienced these sorts of upward bursts in free-throw efficiency, this outside of the box approach has become a commonplace implementation.

Before we jump into the most POWERFUL way to improve free throw percentage, let’s first talk about the old model.

The Traditional Free-Throw Model

Repetition

In the traditional model, the central focus of improving free throw percentage is based around putting up physical repetitions. Repetition is most effective when players are open and ready to receive the physical/on-court free-throw reps. When a player’s mind is in alignment, practice reps equal In-Game Improvement.

However, in the case when a player has mental baggage, there is generally no amount of practice reps that will move the dial on foul-line improvement. Most players only approach free throw improvement, or the improvement in their overall game for that matter, from one or maybe two angles. This is a big-time oversight. It also a BIG-TIME opportunity. I will talk about this in a minute.

Game-Reps

Another way that players and coaches attempt to elevate free throw percentage is through mimicking in-game situations during practice. This is great if the mind of the player is receiving, processing, and executing said outside stimuli. But like the example above, if there is mental clutter for the player, generating free throw percentage improvement in this manner is generally not so easy.

Film

Film study is also used frequently to critique form and show different parts of the mechanical process. Film can be beneficial, but usually only when players watch their MADE shots during past periods when they were shooting the ball well. Analyzing shooting form and mechanics generally has been shown to not be beneficial. This hampers the player’s ability to move forward with free throw proficiency.

Physical Mechanics

When coaches and/or the player begin trying to fix physical shot mechanics, it is probably the thing that sets players back the most when they are struggling with improvement.
The reason? 99 percent of the time the underlying reason for the free throw struggle is not found in the physical mechanics, but in the mental clutter of the athlete.

When shot mechanics are addressed without also focusing on this mental piece, this tends to further throw a wrench into free-throw efficiency.

Often, coaches will change a player’s mechanics out of season with the hope that repetition alone will fix the past shot struggles. This initially CAN have a positive effect on free throw shooting in non-stimulus-filled situations such as practice.

However, often you will see a player revert to old inefficient shooting patterns in game.

An example of this, albeit from the three-point line, has been Ben Simmons. Great work was seemingly employed during the offseason to solve his long-range shooting challenges.
However, what wasn’t likely addressed was the mental aspect of his shot. Unfortunately, Simmons has not yet broken through his long-range shooting struggles, and the reason is most likely because the root cause of his shooting woes is not mechanically based. The root cause of his shooting struggles likely lies deeper than mechanics and just getting up more shots.

Historically, these are some of the most common ways that have been used to improve free throw performance. Now, let’s discuss the next step frontier for improving free throw percentage. Beyond Mechanics and Repetition. Addressing the mental focus and awareness aspects has been shown to help players at the foul line.

Off-Court Player Development

Through the use of mental performance methods, players can boost focus, confidence, and optimize free throw improvement. Through systematic and customized processes, generally facilitated by a High-Performance – Player Development Coach, a player can begin to create an enviroment at the foul line that helps the player feel comfortable.

On-Court Player Development

The positive change of mental performance work, combined with ownership of the mental and emotional process, has the effect of getting the player out of his/her way so that free throw percentage improvement can ensue.

Players will begin to experience a difference in how they FEEL. As this happens, the on-court player development curriculum should be instituted back into the equation.

Using mental performance tools as part of the free routine is generally the best practice. This way, the player begins to combine both on-court player development with internal player development to exponentialize the foul line experience.

Daily Mindfulness Routine

Off-court routines are also super important! Meditation in the morning and visualization at night help create strong foundations for the player. This is a superb way to help move the dial on the foul line experience.

These routines are not meant to be arduous or cumbersome. Many times, players report that they very much like these techniques. It gives them a way to anchor into their day.

Of course, the game is where the rubber meets the road. As such, it is also important to incorporate mental focusing routines that leverage the off-court player development work.

Mental and emotional self-management routines help players own their mental and emotional processes and have been shown to decrease mental and emotional dissonance that they once experienced.

Closing

Supporting the player in the most efficient way is not complicated, but it does take a willingness to step outside of the traditional box.

The result of improving the foul line experience is not confined to physical repetition, game-reps, or film study alone.

Once players recognize that their mind is the KEY that drives their progression, the sky is the limit.

To learn more about the Next Step In Player Development, Please Click Here.

Jake Rauchbach is an Integrated Player Development Coach, specializing in High-Performance Mindfulness. He has coached professional and Division-1 basketball. He is the founder of The MindRight Pro® Program and consults on the Olympic, collegiate and professional levels. Follow him on Instagram @mindright_pro and twitter @mindrightpro

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