How Many Free Throws Does it Take to Be Perfect?

25 November 2014
Functional Fitness
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How Many Free Throws Does it Take to Be Perfect?

Looking for improvement? The tried and true method has always been practice… practice… practice… and then practice some more. If perfection is the goal, practice is the route. But how much practice is necessary for optimal performance? How many free throws do you need to take before you’ve achieved acceptable performance? How many repetitions does it take for our body to become perfect at what we are wanting to achieve?

Perfect Practice

Well, a critical aspect to this question is the kind of practice. We’ve said it before but it bears repeating. Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. If the functional movements you make during your free throw stroke are causing inefficiencies and bad form, it doesn’t matter how many shots you take; your mechanics will limit your performance.

However, perfecting the stroke so that your free throws exhibit perfect form means your practice will lead to perfection. Even though this doesn’t answer the question of how many shots it takes to be the next Kevin Durant, it’s a critical first step.

What’s the Goal?

Secondly, you need to establish your end goal. If you’re making 35% of your shots and you’re an interior player, maybe 50% is the attainable benchmark. If you’re the team’s sharpshooter, perhaps 80% is where you want to sit.

The number of shots it takes to get there is somewhat arbitrary and dependent upon your level of muscle memory around your form. Malcolm Gladwell made the 10,000 hours principle famous — that it takes 10,000 hours on any task to be a master of it. But this principle is over the course of a lifetime and you’ve certainly been playing basketball for many hours before now. But there remains an importance of repetition for muscle memory’s sake.

Letting Your Muscles Do the Rest

While that number of repetitions is dependent upon the individual, it does not mean you must practice with the same intensity and the same amount of repetitions every day for the rest of your life. Research suggests that muscle-memory-achieved movements stick with you, even when you aren’t practicing them. That’s why in a more long-term example, physically active people in their youth tend to remain fit and kick back up to full strength after lengthy inactivity much more quickly. Their muscles always have a memory of the specific actions.

While this is true, it’s not a suggestion to master a task and then set it aside for the rest of your life. You should continue to shoot free throws. It does mean, however, that after you’ve achieved your target percentage through perfect practice to achieve muscle memory, you can lighten the load a little bit. Taking hundreds of free throws every night after practice has diminishing returns; your body knows the motions and will respond optimally at lower workloads.

And performance is the ultimate goal. Interestingly, those clutch situations you’ll face at the free throw line will require you to clear your mind and to not outthink yourself. Let your muscles do what you’ve trained them to do; your brain will only get in the way. Just go through your process whatever it is (dribble, dribble, shoot?). Visualize. See it happen. Make it happen.

So remember, endless repetition is not the final word. Practice perfectly. Gain muscle memory. Let your muscles do the rest!

Photo credit: Keoni Cabral via Flickr/Creative Commons