Developing an elite basketball jump shooter

Shooting is a motor skill despite many experts believing that shooting skill is an innate talent. The concentration when coaching or teaching young shooters is the sport-specific instruction: the elbow, the eyes, the knee bend, etc. When one watches an expert shooter, his technique looks effortless: Even a shooter with an unorthodox technique like Reggie Miller looks effortless when shooting the basketball. Moshe Feldenkrais wrote, “Light and easy movements are good ones, as a rule” (p. 86). Look at Kevin Durant’s effortless release:

On the other hand, a poor shooter like Dwight Howard looks effortful when shooting a free throw. Many often attribute this to the psychology of shooting, especially at the free-throw line, but there are other explanations.

Moshe Feldenkrais’ Awareness through Movement is about creating optimal movement and its effect on every facet of one’s life. While he was not writing about shooting, his philosophies underlie any skill execution. “The effectiveness of an action is judged first of all by the simple standard of whether it achieves its purpose” (p. 85). Reggie Miller may not have had textbook shooting technique, but it achieved its purpose very well.

He writes about movement, but this could be straight out of a shooting text:

“The muscles of the limbs are intended to direct their movements accurately, while the main power of the pelvic muscles is conducted through the bones of the limbs to the point at which is is required to operate.

“In a well-organized body work done by the large muscles is passed on to its final destination through the bones by weaker muscles, but without losing much of its power on the way” (p. 89).

The coordination of a well-organized body is a major impediment to successful shooting for young players. The answer is often to bend the knees more, but this does not always solve the problem. For instance, a common problem for many female shooters is that they stick out their butts when they shoot. The problem is not knee bend; the problem is that the power that starts in the feet and transfers through the body until it is imparted on the ball is lost at the hips.

“Under ideal conditions the work done by the body passes lengthwise through the spine and the bones of the limbs, that is, in something as near to a straight line as possible. If the body forms angles to the main line of action, part of the effort made by the pelvic muscles will not reach the point at which it was directed” (p. 89).

When a female shooter (it happens with some males too, but not nearly as often as females) sticks out her butt, it creates an angle to the main line of action that prevents the full use of the effort. Players sticking out their elbows at a great angle suffer the same issue: The movement loses efficiency.

The question is whether these mistakes stem from poor habits, lack of strength, or a body that is not well-organized. The answer is often all of the above. However, if all of the above affect the performance of the sport-specific technique, where must the correction start? Attacking the poor habits without addressing the lack of strength is unlikely to make a lasting difference. Attacking the lack of strength without creating a well-organized body is unlikely to lead to full and permanent success. Based on the Feldenkrais philosophy, the initial improvements must stem from creating a well-organized body.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice

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