Click below for a link to a free pdf of a great book called “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. This is the best book I have ever read about how to improve a player’s skills. It is has tremendous insights about how and why talent develops. It is an amazing read. As a parent of a young basketball player I think you will find this book incredibly valuable.
There are two schools of thought here in regard to basket height for young players. One says that the regulation basket is 10 feet and that is where it should be for everyone regardless of their age or size. The other one says that the height of the basket should be adjusted based on the age or strength of the player.
I believe that the basket height should be lower for younger, smaller players. As a parent you should start the basket low enough so that the child can shoot the basketball with proper form. That will vary from player to player, but a good rule of thumb is to match the age of the child to the height of the basket. So a 6 year old would shoot on a 6 foot basket, a 7 year old on a 7 foot basket, an 8 year old on an 8 foot basket and a 9 year old on a 9 foot basket. After that, you need to make a judgement about the ability of your young player to shoot the basketball with proper form on a 10 foot basket. If they can shoot from 15-17 feet with good form then move your basket height up to 10 feet. If they can’t, keep the basket lower until they develop the strength and proper shooting mechanics at 9 feet.
If you watch kids play basketball many of them have very poor shooting mechanics they developed from trying to heave the ball at a 10 foot basket. They simply don’t have the strength to get the ball to the rim without sacrificing proper fundamentals. Those habits they develop when they are young are very difficult to break as they get older. It is much easier to develop proper shooting form in a young player than it is to correct the flaws in an older player’s shot. Fixing bad shooting mechanics can take months of daily practice and even then many players are not able to remake their shot. Help your child develop the proper techniques when they are young by keeping the basket at a height that enables them to learn to shoot properly.
Parents and coaches on the other side of this debate argue that kids should be practicing on the regulation basket where they will play their games. Your young player will be able to make the adjustment to the higher basket when they play in games. In fact, they will be a better shooter in the present time (and certainly in the future) than those kids who always practice on a 10 foot basket. Besides, your child will get plenty of shots at a 10 foot basket during their team practices, games, gym class, etc. Let them build their shooting skills on the driveway on a lower rim. Shooting at a lower basket builds confidence. Remember – Skill building is confidence building. I grew up playing on my driveway with a lower basket until I was about 12 years old. I believe it helped me develop the shooting mechanics that made me a Division 1 college player.
How much sense does it make to have a 6 year old and LeBron James shooting at a basket that is the same height. I would argue not very much. Help your young player develop the proper mechanics for shooting the basketball and keep the basket height lower. Your child will be a better shooter as a result!
I am often asked, “How does my son or daughter become a good free throw shooter?” The answer has two parts. The first part is about developing the proper technique for shooting a free throw. The second part is practice. To quote Frank Sinatra, “You can’t have one without the other!” I work with players who improve their free throws dramatically in 30 days. Others that I work with improve very little. Why the difference? The player did not commit to both parts of being a good free throw shooter. Can your son or daughter become a good free throw shooter in 30 days? The answer is yes, if they commit to following these ten steps.
1. Get a routine – It doesn’t matter what the routine is as long as your child has one. Three dribbles and a deep breath? Fine. Two dribbles and a spin? Great. Do the same thing for EVERY free throw. That means games, team practice, on the driveway, EVERY free throw. This creates muscle memory and puts them in the zone no matter what the situation is or how much pressure they are facing. They have done this hundreds, maybethousands of times. A routine helps them be mentally tough. They have done this before, they can do it again. That kind of confidence only comes with repetition.
2. Have proper foot positioning – Feet hip width apart, strong side foot slightly ahead of weakside foot.
3. Bend the knees – Find the level of bend that produces the proper amount of power. This won’t be the same for everyone. Do what feels comfortable and yields good results.
4. Lean forward, but keep the back straight – Don’t keep the back perpendicular to the floor. Lean the chest forward.
5. After the routine, get the ball to the chin – This is the key step. After the routine bring the ball right in front of the chin with the wrist bent backward in shooting position. Pause in the position for about 1 – 2 seconds. This separates the routine from the shot and eliminates starting the shot from below the waist (a remnant of throwing the ball at a ten foot basket when they were small). Doing this minimizes the motion involved in the shot. Every movement from this point forward helps put the ball in the basket.
6. Keep the elbow in – While paused with the ball at the chin, make sure the elbow is under the wrist and not off to the side.
7. Snap the wrist – The fingers should be pointing down like the shooter is reaching into a cookie jar on a high shelf.
8. The guide hand is flat – The guide hand does not help propel the shot in any way. It holds the ball in place and then moves away from the ball with the fingers straight, not bent.
9. Follow through high with the bicep near the eye – Think of shooting the ball up into the basket rather than at the basket. Imagine your child shooting the ball out of a refrigerator box. The follow through should not hit the sides of the box.
10. Practice – All of the first 9 steps mean nothing without practice. How much practice is enough? How good does your child want to be? The MINIMUM number of free throws per day is 50. 100 is a better goal. Have them keep track of how many they make each time they practice for thirty days. Keeping track helps them see the improvement and keeps them focused. There are no shortcuts to being a great free throw shooter. None of this means anything if they don’t practice!
Note: If your child is small and cannot shoot the ball properly from the regular free throw line, have them move closer to the basket so they can shoot with proper technique. If you have an adjustable basket, lower it. That is a great way to develop good form in young players too.
Two free throw stories to wrap this up. In high school state tournament game I made a basket in the lane to break a tie score and was fouled with 3 seconds left. There was a timeout before I went to the line. I vivivdly remember sitting in the huddle listening to teammates and coaches talking about what happens if Mike makes the free throw and what happens if he misses it. At the time I was thinking there was no way I was going to miss that free throw. I was 100 % certain that shot was going in and it did. Why was I so confident? Because I had invested time in the gym, on the driveway, at the park practicing free throws for that moment.
When I was kid I had a spiral notebook (eventually several) where I kept track of all the time I spent each day practicing or playing. I recorded what I did and how many shots I made. That notebook gave me confidence that I could step to the line and make free throws when it counted most. If your child wants to be a good free throw shooter, have them follow the ten steps, encourage them to practice, and watch them quickly improve their free throw percentage.