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How To Keep Your Shooting In Shape
An Off-Season Shooting Plan
by Bill Dale

There are lots of things you can do to keep your shooting in shape during the off season. Here are some On Court & Off Court drills, tips, and games that will help you.

On The Court

Warming Up

Do good baseball pitchers start throwing 90 mph when they first get out onto the field? Do good quarterbacks start out throwing 50 yard passes when they come out to warm up? Of course not, so why would you go out and jack up 25-footers to warm up for shooting?

If you come out shooting long shots, your form might be a little “choppy” and you might start clanking shots off the rim. You’ll start second-guessing your form, and you’ll condition yourself to see shots bouncing off the rim.

So, start out right under the basket, and move around the front of the rim as you shoot. After a couple of minutes of this, move back a couple of steps and do the same thing. Then gradually move farther out. This way, you’ll have your shooting form in rhythm, you’ll be used to seeing the ball go into the basket, and you'll have more confidence as you increase your distance away from the basket.

Do this warm up routine every time you go out to shoot.

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Free Throws

If you don’t have a free throw routine that’s comfortable and reliable for you, now’s the time to develop one. If you do have one that works for you, then this is a great way to keep it in shape.

Step 1
Shoot 10 or 20 free throws at a time to get into a groove with your routine.

Step 2
After getting comfortable with your routine, start shooting only 2 or 3 free throws in a row. Because you probably won't ever shoot more than 3 free throws at one time on the free throw line, you should condition yourself for game-like situations. Shoot 2 or 3, then back away from the free throw line to start a new set.

Step 3
One thing that you can do in the gym that can help you practice game-like conditions is to take a couple of free throws (remember to use the same routine for each one), and then run to the half court line and back to the free throw line to take 2 more shots.

In a real game, you aren't going to be standing at the line taking 10 or 20 shots in a row, so you should practice how it's going to be in a game. Most free throws in a game are taken after a few minutes of action running up and down the court. So get used to this by taking a couple of free throws, running, then stopping to shoot a couple more.

Also, try to shoot no less than 100 free throws every time you go out to shoot. And keep records of makes and misses so you can track the progress of your free throw percentage.

Video Analysis

If you have access to a video camera, use it to record yourself taking jump shots and free throws. It’s one thing to be out on the court trying to figure out why things are going right (or wrong) when you are shooting. But it’s amazing to see for yourself the little things that you do when you are shooting.

Remember to warm up at your own pace, but the objective is to shoot your shots at game speed. You want to be able to see how you shoot in a game. If you have a friend or relative that you shoot with, have them to play light to moderate defense against you so you can see yourself shooting in game-like situations.

Tip: Make 2 different recordings, one with you shooting by yourself, and one with someone playing defense against you. That way, you can analyze your relaxed shooting form (when no one’s guarding you) and also see how you shoot when there is pressure (when someone is playing defense).

Here are some things to look for when you record yourself:
  • Overall look – Does it look like a nice fluid motion, or is it choppy? Do you have a consistent shooting form, or do your mechanics change shot after shot?

  • Leg power – Remember, your legs are your power source for your shots. Are you bending them enough when you shoot, or are you using your upper body and arms to throw your shots up to the basket?

  • Release – If the ball doesn’t have a good rotation, maybe you aren’t letting your wrist naturally flop forward to finish the shot.

  • Follow through – Set the camera near the sideline so it will get a side view of your shots. Pay attention to your shooting arm to see if you have a proper follow-through. Are you holding it long enough so that it guides the ball straight to the target?

  • Arc – Are your shots going toward the basket flat like line drives? If your shots are bouncing hard off the rim, you’ll notice that you aren’t shooting with a high enough arc. When you are out on the court, it might feel like you are shooting with a high enough arc, but you’ll actually be able to see it for yourself on the video.

  • Missing Left or Right – Set the camera a couple feet behind the 3 point line facing the basket (straight-on facing the front of the rim). Take your shots in the area between the free throw line and the 3 point line (but make sure you are shooting directly in front of the basket so it’s a straight-on shot). This can help you to see if your misses are to the right or left. You can do this without the video camera, but with the help of the camera, you can see if your misses are caused by your body leaning, bad follow-throughs, or any other reason.

  • Free Throws – You should have the same routine every single time. With video you can look for anything that’s different from one shot to the next. Remember, you want to get a consistent, repeatable method for free throw shooting, so it’ll be reliable for you.
Practice Drills

Here are a few fun games you can play by yourself or with a friend. Each one has an element of pressure built into it. You can use these for ideas to try to come up with your own drills. Try to make them as challenging as possible.

Back and Forth Drill – Pick 5 or 6 spots directly in line with one another. Starting at the first spot, when a basket is made, you move back to the next spot. When a shot is missed, you move forward to the previous spot (or stay at #1 until you make the shot). The object is to get to the last spot (#6) with the least number of shots.

Nuthin’ But Net – Pick 5 spots around the court (like in Around-The-World). Starting at the first position, you must make nuthin-but-net shots all the way around. Stay at #1 until you swish the shot, then move to #2 until you swish that shot. Do this all the way around. Advanced version – you must swish 5 shots in a row. Any time you make a shot that isn’t a swish, you must start back at the beginning.

Nuthin’ But Net Free Throws - You start this game with 5 points. As you shoot the foul shots, if the ball goes in without touching the rim or backboard, you get one point. If it goes in after it hits the rim or backboard, your score stays the same. If you miss a free throw, you lose one point. You must get to 10 to win. If your points get to zero, you lose and you must start over.

3 In A Row – Pick 5 spots around the court (like in Around-The-World). Starting at the first position, you must make 3 shots in a row from each spot before you are allowed to move to the next spot.

Beat The Pro – This is an imaginary one-on-one game, you against the “pro.” First one to ten points wins. Every time you make a basket, you get one point. Every time you miss, the “pro” gets 2 points. So the object is to make 10 shots before you miss 5 shots. (No shots in the paint allowed).

Practice Games / Pickup Games

Remember, it’s important to practice at game speed. It’s good to practice your shooting form and to do drills at a nice slow pace as you warm up. But you play how you practice, so try to get into real game situations (with someone defending you) as much as you can.

Off The Court

Cross Training

I think it’s important to do things other than just basketball to stay in shape mentally. When you only play one sport or do only one hobby, you have a good chance of becoming bored. Pro athletes call it getting “burnt out”. You do it so much that you stop having fun and your skills aren’t as sharp.

It’s important to keep your mind challenged with new things. These games below might seem a lot different than basketball, but they involve testing your ability to hit a target (like shooting a ball toward the rim). They also involve hand-eye coordination and concentration.

Getting good at these games will help you become a better shooter. Tip: Try playing these games with both hands, not just your dominant hand. Getting good with both hands will help your brain to develop its own “muscle power”, and that means you’ll be able to develop other skills quicker, especially your shooting.
  • Air Hockey - This is a great game for developing quick hands and reflexes.

  • Darts - Great for developing concentration, steady hands, and focus.

  • Horseshoes - Sort of like free throws, in that you must use the right amount of arc and distance to place the horseshoe as close to a specific target as possible. Just like free throws, the distance remains the same for every throw, so once you develop a reliable system for "pitching", you can get predictable results.

  • Foosball - Like air hockey, another great game for quick hands and reflexes.

  • Miniature Golf - Steady hands, focus, and shooting at a target.

  • Bowling – Concentration, hitting targets, developing rhythm. Good bowlers have a certain rhythm (just like good free throw shooters). They hold their ball, get set up in a relaxed stance, focus on their target, and proceed with their shot. Again, a consistent, reliable system will produce predictable results.
Final Thoughts

Shoot, Shoot, Shoot…and when you get tired…Shoot some more! In the summer, you’ll have more daylight, so you can get more practice time in (you can also get a Hoop Light to attach to your outdoor hoop so you can play at night – see www.HoopLight.com).

The more you practice, and the more shooting repetitions you get in, the faster you'll be able to get into a shooting groove, and the more it'll become an instinctive part of your game. Just remember to practice at game speed as much as you can.

One last thing - ALWAYS make your last shot before you stop shooting. The final image you take away from the court should be the ball going through the basket. You will leave on a positive note, and it will give you something to play over and over in your mind (the ball going through the basket) while you are away from the court.

If you would like more shooting drills, please visit ShootingDrills.com

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