Shooting remains one of the most difficult fundamentals for coaches at all levels to teach, with so many small components potentially affecting a player's accuracy and consistency.

Every coach has their "pet" areas to concentrate on with jump shooting and different coaches will focus on different aspects of the preparation, footwork, hand position, arm action and follow through.

One of the biggest problems I have seen in recent times is the practice of placing the ball before the shooters eyes prior to commencing the shooting action. Just as with many technical "hitches", this practice has a "domino effect" on the rest of the shooting movement and will have an immediate and negative affect on the shot.

"Start the shot looking over the ball, finish the shot looking under the ball." This little mantra is one of the most poignant pieces of teaching jargon in a sport full of sayings and jargon. What it does is sum up the importance of identifying the basket prior to the shot and ensuring a nice high point of release.

A common problem with junior players is they tend to bring the ball to a position in front of their eyes prior to commencing the shooting movement. This may come in one of two forms:

- As a "starter mechanism" in the shot, with players bringing the ball from the triple threat position, to their eyes and then into the shot. The shooting motion should be fluid, not 3 "parts".

- At the start of the shot, with players bringing the ball immediately to a position in front of their eyes on the catch. Both these habits have an adverse affect on the shot and make it very difficult to gain any consistency and also create problems for other aspects of individual offense.

What affect does placing the ball in front of the face/eyes have? Often the best way for a coach to identify the effects a shooting "hitch" has on the shot is to try it out - grab a ball and shoot the ball in this way. What does it do? Does it push the elbow out, does it make the shot flat, and does it pull the head back? If you can physically identify the problems, you will be in a better position to teach and correct the fault in players.

The great thing about the way we teach shooting now, as opposed to the old two-hand set shot, is that there is always "cause and affect" with jump shooting the ball. The ball is short, there is a reason, the ball is flat, there is a reason - in essence, the one handed jump shot has an in-built "check-list".

By placing the ball in front of the face/eyes prior to the shooting, the following problems can occur -
- The player can't see the basket "through the ball", so the natural body movement will be to adjust the head to see the basket. This is often the cause of players throwing their head back on the point of release. By pulling the head back, the shot will more than likely be short and flat.
- The player can't see the basket "through the ball", so the player may shift the ball across their body slightly, thus affecting the desired straight line from the shooting foot, elbow and the basketball.
- The player can't see the basket "through the ball", so they shift the ball slightly to a position "on their shoulder" to shoot the ball. This again throws out the desired alignment.
- The elbow on the shooting arm will often creep out if the ball is front of the eyes
- If a player has this habit, the shot fake will be rendered almost useless and the concept of "triple threat" will be eliminated. If a player has the ball in front of their eyes, there are not a lot of options.

Junior players often shoot the ball "flat", not giving the ball enough arc to increase the opportunity for the ball to go through the basket. In teaching shooting, we should talk about shooting the ball "IN" the basket, not "AT" the basket. If you have players who shoot the ball consistently flat, have a look where the ball is positioned prior to the shooting movement. More often than not, it will be in front of the eyes, resulting in the body adjusting accordingly and causing inconsistency.

How To Start Correcting This Common Problem -
Breakdown through form shooting is always the best practice in correcting faults in a player's shooting technique. One technique is to position the player 1 metre from the basket, with the coach standing adjacent with the basketball. The coach drops the ball, so the shooter has to go down into shooting stance to get it. On receiving the ball, the shooter identifies the basket looking "over the ball", then rises up and shoots the ball, finishing the shot looking "under the ball". The coach can immediately identify in this controlled setting if a player is bringing the ball in front of the face/eyes prior to shooting and correct.

Another technique is to have the player positioned facing the basket around 1.5 metres away with the ball in the triple threat or "ready" position, looking at the rim "over the ball".
On the coach's command ("shoot" or "pull"), the shooter immediately shoots the ball in one fluid action. Again, the coach will be able to see immediately if the shooter brings the ball in front of the eyes prior to the shooting action.

Another terrific technique is a somewhat different take on the 3 player, 2 ball shooting drill we all use. Have the shooter stand about 1 metre from the rim, with a passer standing next to the shooter and a rebounder under the rim. The shooter maintains his eyes at the rim the whole time, while the passer places the ball in their hands prior to the shot. The shooter does not even have to take his eyes off the rim to receive the pass, as the ball is given directly to him. This "overloads" the concept of starting the shot looking at the rim "over the ball" and works consistency of follow through at the same time. Once the fault has been corrected in the controlled setting, allow the player to shoot the ball after receiving a pass on the move or in some other form of drill. This will see if any changes have been made to the mechanics of the shot in a less controlled setting.

Placing the ball in front of the eyes is often a habit of players who shoot the ball from a very "square" stance. That is, with their feet basically in alignment, rather than having the shooting foot slightly forward. The adjustment may be as easy as pointing out the need to have the shooting foot forward. By positioning the shooting foot forward, players will often find it easier to establish that straight line from the toe, through the knee, to the elbow and then the basketball.

As with any change or correction, it will take time to make the change a permanent one and there will no doubt be some short-term pain for the long-term gain. But as coach, that is our charter and there is little more satisfying than to see a player improve their shooting form, consistency and success through these minor adjustments.

Article reprinted with permission from the February 2005 Bushranger Bulletin (Australia).
Thanks to Peter Lonergan and Marty Handson.