A technical learning model for coaches and players
By: Neal Wen
The ability to shooting the basketball with high levels of precision from deep range is fast becoming a hallmark of modern basketball. Typically an elite shooter spends about 3/4 of a second from the time he catches the ball until it leaves his hand (1). In fact the higher the level of the shooter, the faster and more accurate is the shot (see chart below). The accuracy of shooting a basketball is underpinned by a player's ability to reliably replicate a biomechanically sound shooting motion one shot after another (as per video above).
*HANDY TIP: Research by Ripoll et al. found that elite shooters orient their head and gaze in the direction of the basket quicker than lower level shooters. This early aiming at the target has been shown to significantly reduce the shooting time and improve the overall shooting rhythm through enhanced form control. So next time you work on your jump shot, look at the basket early!
To many coaches, athletes and some researchers a smooth, effortless shooting motion is considered the most complex technical skill in the sport of basketball. In this article we will breakdown the jump shot into smaller pieces to examine key technical details when shooting a basketball. Understanding these technical breakdowns is critical for coaches to formulate their technical teaching model that can effectively and reliably build a mechanically sound shooting technique for their players.
We must also put a disclaimer now that the information in this article only serves as landmarks for a coach and should only be used to aid development of a teaching method and a tool to facilitate shooting form diagnostics. Coaches should NOT be using this material to teach players shooting through this over flux of technical information. Equally a player should not use the technical materials in this article as direct cues to focus on when developing your shot. A player should only be concentrating on 1-3 cues when shooting a basketball; the implementation of these cues can be based on the landmarks identified in this material. Lastly, when we speak about shooting in this article we are strictly speaking about shooting a jump shot, not a set shot. What is the difference between the two? In the scientific literature a set shot is defined as a shot where the shooter's feet are on the ground when the ball is been released whereas a jump shot has a 'flight phase' where the ball is released at the top of a jump (2).
The technical teaching and examination of the jump shot involves breaking the shooting motion down to 5 primary phases. Scientifically these phases are (practical coaching terminologies are in brackets):
Ball elevation (Lift)
An understanding of the theoretical shapes that defines these 5 phases will provide landmarks that basketball coaches, players and scientists can use to strategize their teaching and learning models of how to shoot a basketball. The development of these defined theoretical landmarks are based on 'principles' of sound mechanics, the real-world practical on court applications however should be taught in a way that allows a bandwidth for these movements and positions to be learnt.
A common misconception that we hear when learning and improving a jump shot is that 'shooting happens through the legs'; this is only partially true. When we study shooting through the kinograms above, from the point of release (Sequence #4) to follow-through (Sequence #5) the legs are in the air and has no ways of contributing power for the release of the shot; the legs has to be on the ground and have a platform to push against to be involved in force generation. So by the release point the legs has done most of it's job that occurred during the Set (sequence #1) and Lift (sequence #2) phase where it produced a large amount of impulse (force against the ground) to stabilize the body (set) in preparation for a big vertical jump (lift). Hence during follow-through (sequence #5) the only body part that is capable of generating power to shoot the ball are the arms. This clarification is also congruent with previous research that indicates higher level basketball players rely more on their upper body strength for shooting than lower level players.
Understanding the large strength contribution by the arms during a jump shot have important ramifications to training program designs. Any physical training program that aims to improve a player's shooting ability - whether if it is technical stability or shooting range development - need to target the conditioning of the muscles and strengthening of movements specific to shooting a basketball.
So you might be wondering... "well then, what is the role of the legs and why do people always talk about the base?" Whilst the accuracy of shooting itself is driven by upper body strength and mechanics the role of the lower body is to provide stability. When a player say they have "no legs left" in the 4th quarter what they are really feeling is likely the inability to quickly reduce a large amount of speed to gain balance and stability to elevate for a jump shot (i.e. a pull up jumper). Also consider the premise of adopting a jump shot over a set shot is that this specialized technique itself is a maneuver that allows a player to shorten the preparation time to shoot the ball from another high speed movement. This places a tremendous amount of stress on the lower body when it has to produce a large amount of force to decelerate quickly, stabilize and generate up to 2.7x body weight amount of forces to jump and shoot the ball. Hence if an athlete is not in the right physical conditioning he will feel the fatigue in the legs and not be able to execute a jump shot with optimal form when the game is on the line. And it is by no surprise research have demonstrated that body fatigue can significantly reduce a basketball player's shooting accuracy (4, 5).
BREAKDOWN: 5 PHASES OF THE JUMP SHOT
We will now examine the objectives and key landmarks of each of the 5 shooting phases involved in a jump shot. When learning these breakdowns it is important to remember these are static positional analysis that does not necessarily represent the dynamic nature of human movement. Meaning that following these positions step-by-step is only part of the equation of learning how to shoot a basketball, the other part of the equation lies in developing a fluid rhythm that is absent from studying kinograms and the pictorial breakdowns. It is why we started this article with live motion of the jump shot that we are analyzing to allow you to see the timing and elastic energy of shooting, further exploration on rhythm and timing is beyond the scope of the current article.
1. Preparation (Set)
Key landmarks and objectives of the preparation phases (coaching term: set):
Shoulder squarely aligned to the rim with the body in-balance through active core engagement.
Load the appropriate muscles of the lower body from the hip through to your feet.
Lock and loaded shooting wrist, aligned with the side of the shooting foot, fully cocked back.
*Note: if an athlete is unable to achieve a 90 degrees loaded wrist position, he/she may require additional wrist mobility work to increase range of motion at the wrist.
Collectively, these 3 execution points will prime the players in the optimal position to execute an effective jump shot.
2. Ball Elevation (Lift)
Key landmarks and objectives of the ball elevation phases (coaching term: lift):
Press hard through the ground to generate large amount of forces against the ground (scientifically known as creating impulse).
The torso and the arms start to lift upwards; at this position the upper arm should be about parallel to the ground with elbows forming 90 degrees between forearm and the upper arm.
There is a sequential opening of the hip, knee, and ankle that transfers force production from one joint to the next; though this occurs almost simultaneously.
*Note: in this demonstrate the athlete excessively bent his knees forward seeking a more stable base for the body to push against and also trying to tap into the quadricep muscles for additional power. In my opinion this is not an ideal for long-term lower body health, further discussion is beyond the scope of this article.
3. Stability (brace)
Key landmarks and objectives of the stability phase (coaching term: brace):
Maintain aerial stability through a braced core, a loose core will lose all the body tension generated through the loading phases above and result in a weaker, flimsy and less accurate shot.
Stability is demonstrated by a small opening of the shooting elbow where the forearm is perpendicular to the ground. It is almost as if you are reaching and placing the ball into the hoop.
The lower body is signified by a triple extension of the hip-knee-ankle that is the result of an aggressive jumping effort from the preceding phase (lift).
The body from shoulder-hip-knee-ankle is in a perfect straight line; a break in this chain will lead to energy leakage and reduced force generating capability.
Expert shooters also uses the basketball to lock the wrist and take advantage of a pre-stretch at the wrist that allows them to maximize elastic energy recoil for wrist snap in the follow-through phase.
The position of the release phase is what I call a 'transient' position, it is a linkage between the stability and the follow-through phase; it doesn't have a distinct position where players should hold form. The release is signified by the final moment the ball is in contact with the fingertips.
In the scientific literature various authors suggest that a 'snappy' elbow extension is the most important key to the release phase (6,7) and I tend to agree but also feel elbow extension is only one piece of the puzzle, the whole motion should be accompanied by a simultaneous lifting of the shoulder (shoulder flexion) while extending your elbows all at the same time. Hence players should focus on driving the elbow up and forward towards the rim. This dynamic shoulder-elbow action will increase the speed of the ball release that is critical for long range shooting.
5. Inertia (follow-through)
The inertia phase (coaching term: follow-though) has often received a lot of attention in the teaching of a basketball shot. Fundamentally it is important to recognize that a sound follow-through is the accumulation of optimal posture and position in the first 4 phases. Hence troubleshooting alignment issues in the follow-through should be led by an examination of force vectors and movement mechanics in the preceding phases.
Key landmarks and objectives of the follow-through:
Relaxed extension of the elbow with the shooting arm at about 60 degrees angle to the ground; a lower follow-through angle will result in a shot with a 'flat' arc.
Relaxed wrist and fingers when the ball leaves the fingertips after an elastic snap of the wrist. This is the key to develop a 'soft touch'. In a relaxed follow-through the hands and fingers should be elastic as if waving good bye to the ball.
Players may choose between releasing the ball with either index finger-only or both index and middle finger together. Both is correct and my personal feeling is a two finger release may provide more stability and control for the ball.
Finally the hand finishes parallel to the ground and the fingers pointing towards the basket (it can be slightly down).
Now that we have closely examined the breakdowns of a jump shot it is good to take a moment for one more appraisal of the same shot in it's dynamic form. Hopefully you will notice the fluidity in Bennie's technical execution of the 5 phases in shooting and be able to see the key landmarks we have identified in motion.
If you have found this article useful please feel free to share it with anyone who may benefit from this information. Lastly, if you have any questions or feedback please comment below and I will respond to you as soon as I can!
Ripoll H. (1986). Stabilization of head and eyes on target as a factor in successful basketball shooting. Human Mov Sci 5: 47-58
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Padulo J. (2018). The effect of heart rate on jump-shot accuracy of adolescent basketball players. Front. Physiol 9: 1065
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