How To Improve Your Free Throw Shooting To 90%

My high school basketball coach once told me any team that can get to the line 25 times a game and shoot 70% will win every time; that year we did that and had the states longest winning streak (17 in a row).

Obviously to do this you’ll have to know how to improve your free throw shooting. It’s not as hard as you think and if you work at it you can get up to 80% and even 90%

I created this guide to help you get there.

Ready to become a better shooter?

The Man Who Shoots 99%

I’m lucky enough to have gone to a lot of good basketball camps when I was younger. On several occasions I have gotten to see arguably the best shooter on earth speak, Dave Hopla.

He’s a shooting coach in the NBA and has worked with every big name star you can think of: Ray Allen, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant to name a few. At the time I’m writing this he’s the shooting coach for the Knicks.


Here’s a video of him breaking a 3 point record:

Absolute money.

Everyday he takes thousands of shots and records every single one (both makes and misses). And believe it or not he shoots 99% when practicing.

If you’ve never heard of Dave Hoopla you’re probably pretty skeptical but I can vouch for him and have seem him do it on probably 10 different occasional. Even crazier is he shoots 99% WHILE GIVING SPEECHES. His full attention isn’t even on shooting.

He will hit shot after shot after shot while looking and talking to the crowd (rarely ever hitting the rim).

Much of the advice in this articles comes from Dave and my own experience.

Free Throw Shooting Is A Mental Game

I’ve always been a really good free throw shooter – I’ve won free throw competitions against top level players. There was a period of time I struggled in high school, though. It was the first half of my senior year and for some reason I just wasn’t hitting my shot like I usually would.

I would go to the free throw line and this feeling of dread would wash over me. I knew I was slumping and there was a good chance I was going to miss at least one of the shots.

Finally, after I got fouled, my coach screamed my name to come over before I got to the line. I remember what he said to this day very clearly. He said to me with a confused look on his face “you don’t even look like you want to shoot these.” And he was right, I didn’t.

But that simple talk completely changed things. I made sure from that point on I would never look like that again when shooting free throws.

Something awesome happened too. I went on an absolute free throw shooting tear for the rest of the season. I think I finished the second half of the year shooting over 90%.

I didn’t change anything in my shot. I didn’t go to the gym and shoot 1,000 free throws. I just changed my demeanor. I stepped to the line with confidence, not fear.

Now if you’re a terrible free throw shooter you shouldn’t be delusional about your shot – don’t tell yourself you’re awesome at it. But go to the line knowing that you can get better with the right practice.

Don’t shoot your free throws thinking “well this isn’t good.” Every shot is an opportunity to get better and build your confidence. Treat it as such!

Dave Hoopla (the man from the last section) believes so much in the mental approach he won’t even refer to these shots as a “foul shot” or “free throw.” He believes that’s a negative way to think about. His argument is this: Would you rather go to Mcdonalds and get “free” fries or “foul” fries. The first of course because foul means something bad.

Same with a free “throw.” Are you going up there to shoot the ball or throw it? He will only refer to these shots as “free shots.” He doesn’t allow any negativity into his mind when he takes them and that includes to how he refers to them.

I know it sounds crazy but the man shoots 99%.

Simulate Game Time Situations

Another mistake people make is only practicing free throws when they’re nice and fresh and without any distractions. Unless you get fouled on the first play of the game you’re more than likely going to be fatigued when shooting.

If it’s the fourth quarter (when hitting your shots are most important) you can expect to be really tired. While you should practice good shooting form with fresh legs, you should also learn to do so when exhausted; this will give you a feel for what game time shooting is like.

For example, try taking some free throws after a long practice or do a few suicides and try to hit two free throws in a row. This will up your confidence. If you can hit two shots when you’re huffing and puffing then you’ll be able to do it at any other time.

Also, you should try having teammates distract you while you practice. I don’t mean bumping into your or putting a hand in your face. I mean clapping real loud, yelling and talking a little a trash.

You want to build your mind up to where you know nothing will prevent you from sinking your free throws. No matter how loud the crowd is or how tired you are, you will know you can sink your shots.

When this happens you get a sense of excitement whenever you get fouled. You no longer are hesitant. You step to the line with a certain swag that’s hard to match.

That’s what you should be aiming for.

Here’s The Perfect Shooting Form

Up and over – it’s that simple.

Not up, back and over. That creates a sling shot and will make your form too tight (you won’t get the proper arc either). Your arm should create an L and never go back farther than that.

You don’t want to short arm it either. Hold your follow through until the basketball hits the ground.

Here’s a video of Dave Hoopla explaining the perfect shot:

Here’s the main take aways:

  • Don’t have the ball lie flat on your palm, there should be some space between the ball and that area of your hand.
  • Keep your arm as a perfect L
  • Bend and extend so your elbow is over your eyes
  • And follow all the way through and hold it
  • Your off hand is meant to balance and nothing else
  • Eyes on the rim

Drills To Help You Improve

Basically to improve free shooting you have to practice them. But it’s not good enough to just shoot a certain amount a day and to be done with it.

You have to set goals and track your progress.

I would start out with a low number and add some extra free throws every week until you’re shooting over a 100. So start with 20 and track how many you miss – aim to hit at least 80%.

The next week add 10 more and the week after add another 10. You’ll build up your concentration by doing it this way. You don’t want to start off shooting a thousand a day. You’ll lose focus and half your shots won’t have your full attention.

Start slow and build. As you get your number over 100 try adding sprints in between so you get a sense of shooting with fatigue.

Lastly, make sure to build your routine. I personally step to the line and plant my right foot slightly ahead of my left foot, shoulder width part. I spin the ball one time while dribbling and shoot the shot – up and over and I hold the follow through until the ball is through the net.

I stay planted and wait for the ball to get thrown to me for the second shot and I spin the ball while dribbling and shoot.

I find I shoot better when I don’t hesitate. I don’t pace around and stare at the rim. It’s quick. I don’t give myself time to think or anything like that.

What Happens If You’re Like Shaq?

Everyone knows Shaq was a horrible free throw shooter – this is a problem that plagues a lot of big men. Some people believe it’s because their hands are too big for the ball and while I think that plays a role, I just think it’s more because they don’t shoot jumpers often. All their moves are in the post and don’t require shooting from distance.

So what do you do if you’re Wilt or Shaq; two people known for their scoring and horrible free throw shooting.

George Mikan is one of the best centers of all time and he shot around 80% from the free throw line. His secret? He shot them underhand!

Same with Rick Barry. He’s 4th in NBA free throw shooting percentage at nearly 90% and shoots them underhand. Here’s proof:

So if you can’t hit a free throw with a form shot, try something else. Anything else. The more comfortable the better. What do you have to lose? The important thing is to perfect what ever form you use and practice it, though. Don’t break out an underhand free for the first time during a game – that’ll get you a seat on the bench.

You Can Do This!

Free throws are only 15 feet away and no one is playing defense against you. This is an opportunity for you to get two easy points and to help your team out. Don’t blow it because you get nervous or overthink things.

This is a shot you should learn how to do in your sleep and with your eyes closed. Every single time you play basketball you should practice them.

I used to spend hours shooting around in my backyard and I would always mix in free throws. Even if it was 2 here and there. I made sure to do them.

It payed off too and I shot around 90%. I don’t really think there’s any excuse to shoot under 80%, either. With the right practice and form you can easily do that. I hope after reading this post you can see that.

If you need anything cleared up or have a question, comment below and I’ll make sure to respond as fast as possible. You can let friends see by sharing on social media.

Can you picture the ball going through the net next time you step to the line?