Lethal at the Line

By Staff

Coaching Management, 12.6, August 2004, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1206/bblethalline.htm

Charlie Goffnett, Head Womenís Coach at Alma College, tells his players to focus on the process, never the outcome. So itís probably no surprise that when asked what it was like to break the 14-year-old Division III womenís free throw record, he responds, "We actually broke the record?"

Goffnettís team made 338 of 413 free throws during the 2003-04 season for a percentage of 81.8. St. John Fisher had held the previous Division III womenís record of 78.3 percent for nearly a decade and a half.

Senior forward Karen Hall, a 5-foot-11 lefthander, led the team in free throw accuracy with 86 percent, but her teammates werenít far behind. "We didnít have anybody who was less than 75 percent," Goffnett says. "Usually as a coach, youíre hiding people at the end of ball games because you donít want them to get fouled and throw bricks up. Fortunately for me, I didnít really have to hide anybody."

The practice routine that yielded the record-breaking accuracy? "We practice free throw shooting every day between drills," Goffnett says. "Through a normal practice session, we shoot free throws four or five times for a couple of minutes, always after a hard drill. We use it as a time to catch our breath, get a drink, and get better at free throws."

The system gets his players ready for shooting free throws in game situations. "In a game, youíre running up and down the court, and then all of a sudden, the action stops and youíre shooting in a stationary, slowed-down situation," he says. "This prepares us for that."

Goffnett also readies his players mentally by having them establish their own free throw routine. "Usually itís something like, walk up to the line, take one breath, bounce the ball three times, and shoot," he says. "Whatever works for them is fine, as long as they go through it every single time. The routine works because it relaxes you and clears your mind. I tell my players, ĎJust take a deep breath, do your routine, and shoot it. Donít think. If youíve got a lot of different ideas floating around in your head, youíre probably going to goof it up.í"

To stress fundamentals, Goffnett pits his players against each other in the "perfect swish" drill. "We have a free throw contest where only shots that go in without hitting the rim count," he says. "In order to do that, you really have to put the proper arc on it."

He also emphasizes holding a high, one-second follow through. "One of the mistakes players often make is pulling their hand back really quickly after they shoot the ball," he says. "We tell them to hold their follow through for about one second, or until the ball goes through the net."

During close games throughout the season, the teamís free throw proficiency provided them some added self-assurance. "Free throw shooting is so important in the last two minutes of a game, and so we would remind them that we were leading the league or leading the nation," Goffnett says. "It definitely served as a confidence boost."