Introduction: How to Shoot an Underhand Free Throw

In basketball, when a player gets fouled, they have a chance to step up and shoot free throws. A free throw is a shot that is taken from a marked line 15 feet away from the basket. The shot is taken without anyone guarding the shooter, and a made free throw is worth one point each.

It is commonplace nowadays for basketball players to shoot their free throws the same way they would shoot a regular jump shot. However, since no player is guarding you while you are shooting, this is not the best geometric way.

The best way to shoot the shot is actually underhand. Underhand means that the shooter holds the ball below their waste and moves their arms upward to shoot. It is also sometimes known as a “granny style” shot. It was made famous by NBA hall of famer Rick Barry, who used the style to become the third best free throw shooter in NBA history. The underhand free throw is the best style because it gives the ball the right spin and trajectory.

I have personally seen the success that this style of shooting can have. On my high school basketball team, I struggled to consistently make my free throws. Then, I decided to switch from shooting free throws like my normal jump shot to shooting them underhand. After some practice, I was able to make about 85% of my in game free throws, leading my team in this percentage.

In this tutorial, you will learn how to shoot a free throw underhand to improve your free throw shooting ability. This tutorial works best for those who have some basic knowledge of basketball. If you follow these simple steps, you should be a regular Rick Barry in no time!

Step 1: Materials Needed

To be able to master the underhand free throw, there are only a few materials necessary.

  1. Basketball - This is what you will be shooting.
  2. Basketball Hoop - This is the goal you are shooting the basketball towards.
  3. Basketball Court- It is best to practice on an indoor court because the dimensions and court lines are correct.
  4. Time and Patience - This is not an easy shot to learn and it will require a lot of practice to master. Also, it will be uncomfortable at first so it is important you remain patient and know that with more practice you will improve.

Step 2: Line Up Feet

The first part of the shot is lining up your feet the correct way. This is important so your body is aligned straight to the basket. The alignment makes sure that everything will go straight and therefore, be accurate. Here are the steps to line up your feet

  1. Face the basket - Once at the free throw line, stand with your body looking at the hoop you are shooting at.
  2. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart - Next, have your feet the same width apart as your shoulders. An example of what this should look like is the first picture.
  3. Locate the small circle on the free throw line - On the free throw line on every indoor basketball gym, there is a small dot or nail that represents the center of the line. It lines up with the middle of the rim. The second picture shows where this circle is.
  4. Put your feet equidistant from this circle pointing toward the basket - After you see this line, put each foot the same distance away from the line. Your left foot should be to the left of the dot, and your right foot to the right of it.

Step 3: Develop a Pre-Shot Routine

When shooting a free throw, repetition is crucial. A player must go through the exact same motion every time, so they have the muscle memory to be consistent. Part of this repetition happens before the shot is even taken.

  1. Receive the ball - The referee will bounce you the ball. Make sure to catch it before moving forward.
  2. Take a deep breath - A deep breath will calm down your nerves, as a free throw can be a stressful shot.
  3. Go through your usual routine - Your routine is entirely yours; there are no guidelines. You should do whatever you want to be comfortable. For example, you could bounce the ball in front of you three times and spin the ball in your fingers. The important part is to do the same thing every time.

KEEP IN MIND: You only have 15 seconds to shoot once you receive the ball, so make sure your routine can be done in those 15 seconds.

Step 4: Hold the Ball Symmetrically on Each Side

The first part of the underhand free throw that is very different from a regular shot is the placement of the hands. Instead of having one hand shoot and the other guide the ball, both hands are equally important. They keep the ball going straight toward the target by guiding it.

  1. Place your left hand on the left side of the ball with your thumb on top - The hand placement can be seen in the picture above. You can see that the shooter's hand is on the side of ball and his thumb is on top while his pinky is on the bottom. An easy way to think of it is that you are carrying a heavy item with both hands. The ball represents this heavy item and should be held the same way.
  2. Place your right hand on the right side of the ball with your thumb on top - This hand placement is the same as the other hand's placement, just on the opposite side.

TIP: Make sure that your hands are symmetrical. Therefore, if you drew a line down the middle of the ball, both hands should be a mirror image of the other.

Step 5: Aim for the Back Rim

Now that you have your body and hands positioned correctly, you must pick a spot to aim your shot. Aiming is important because it gives you a spot to shoot the ball toward and stay focused on. Therefore, your ball will head the right direction.

  1. Look at the rim - The main area you should be aiming is the rim because it is where you want the ball to end up going.
  2. Focus on the middle, back of the rim - If you are aiming at the rim, the best point to aim is the middle back. The location is indicated in the picture above. You should aim for the middle because that is where you want the ball to end up. You do not want it to go to the side because that is not where the net is. You should aim for the back rim because a shot is more likely to end short. Therefore, if you aim at the back and it goes short, the ball will go in the net.
  3. Keep your eyes here throughout the length of the shot - It is important to keep your eyes locked on your target at all times because it locks you in to the point where the ball should end up.

NOTE: If your shot tends to go long and hit the back rim, you can change your aim point the the middle, front of the rim.

Step 6: Cock Wrists Downward

A huge benefit to shooting an underhand free throw is the soft touch on the shot. That touch gives the ball a much better chance to go in if it happens to hit the rim. That touch is gained from two things: trajectory and backspin. The backspin is all in the wrists. The wrist motion starts by cocking them down and then up which will come later in the instructions.

  1. Flick your wrists downward - The flick can be seen in the two photos above. The first photo represents the before while the second represents the after. As you can see, the shooter's wrists go from straight to bent inward toward the body.
  2. Exaggerate this motion so they are cocked as far downward as possible - By exaggerating the motion, you will have your wrists cocked as far down as possible, which will help you keep them that way throughout the length of the shot and generate the right amount of backspin.
  3. Keep them like this until release (more information in upcoming steps) - Do not flick your wrists up until release. The flick up will be covered in a later step.

NOTE: This may feel uncomfortable at first, but the more you do it, the more used to it you will become. Just know that the discomfort is normal.

Step 7: Bend Legs and Explode Upward

This step is the most important part of the shot. In most other basketball shots, the arms and legs both do the shooting and propel the ball toward the hoop, but in an underhand shot, only the legs do the shootings - the arms are only used to guide the ball. Thus, the leg motion is essential to successful shooting an underhand free throw.

  1. Keep arms dangling at a comfortable position with a very slight bend - Again, the arms are just a directional tool for this shot. Therefore, they should be positioned comfortably and loose below the waist. The first picture above shows what the arms should look like before the shot. There should be a slight bend to avoid locking the arms and becoming stiff. It is crucial to keep the arms loose and comfortable.
  2. Bend your legs slightly downward - The bend downward is up to the shooter to determine. There is no correct length to bend. You should make sure you bend just enough to generate enough power in the explosion upwards to get the ball to the basket.You should bend as little as possible to gain that momentum.
  3. Explode your legs upward - Once you have reached the lowest point of your downward bend, quickly fire your legs into a straight position. The second picture above shows what this motion should look like. A good way to think of this motion is to imagine doing a squat. After you squat down, you are supposed to quickly push yourself up. The same goes for shooting an underhand free throw.

NOTE: Make sure this motion is very quick. It should be a very fast, fluid motion.

Step 8: Use Arms to Guide the Ball

Now that your legs have generated the power of the shot, you must use your arms to send the ball in the right direction. The positioning of the arms should guide the ball straight toward the hoop.

  1. While exploding upward with the legs, bring the arms with - The momentum from firing your legs will naturally bring the arms along. Make sure you do not stop that momentum and that you let your arms start to move upward naturally while maintaining the comfortable position they are already in.
  2. Keep elbows still; do not fling the ball - Your arms should still be slightly bent and loose from before. Now, it is important to keep that slight bend in tact and not move your elbows. If you do, it will cause you to fling the ball. Flinging the ball takes away the consistency of the shot and it will not be accurate. Also, make sure your arms are not stiff, specifically at the shoulders. Although you shouldn't move your elbows, you cannot lock your arms at the shoulder. Keep everything loose and comfortable.
  3. Move arms upward with elbows and arms in the same position - With your arms remaining in the natural position, move them upward simultaneously with your leg explosion. Think of your arms as a pendulum. A pendulum swings but does not bend at the string just like your arms move but do not bend. As you can see in the picture above, the shooter's arms are not flinging the ball toward the basket.

NOTE: This is also a very quick motion, and it happens simultaneously with the leg explosion.

Step 9: Flick Wrists Upward for Backspin

Earlier, we discussed the importance of backspin on the shot and we cocked our wrists downward. That step was done so we could flick our wrists upward at release. The upward flick is what generates the backspin and to do so, the wrists must still be cocked downward.

  1. Right before release, flick wrists up - When your arms are straight out in front of you, you are ready to release the ball. While letting go, your downward cocked wrists should quickly move upward. The first picture above shows the wrists before the flick while second shows where your wrists should end up. The motion illustrated in those pictures will be quick and generate the backspin.
  2. Be sure not to move elbows, just wrists - Always keep in mind that the only thing you should flip up is your wrists. If you flip your elbows up, you will do the flinging motion that you need to avoid.

Step 10: Follow Through High Above the Head

Earlier, you learned that the soft touch of an underhand free throw comes from its trajectory and back spin. You learned that the back spin comes from the wrists, and now you must learn the correct way to follow through so you can get the right trajectory.

  1. Keep arms moving the same direction; do not abruptly stop - After you release the ball, do not stop your arms from moving. Keep your arms going the same direction they were going. Let the momentum guide them and continue upward.
  2. Finish with arms high, above your head - Like in the previous step, keep moving your arms upward until they are all the way above your head. The picture above is what your arms should look like when you are finished. This is the final step in the shot.

Step 11: Repeat and Practice

Now that you know how to shoot the shot, you can only master it by practicing. The more you practice, the more efficient you will be. Practicing is time consuming but easy to do.

  1. Get the ball back
  2. Repeat steps 1-9
  3. Do this over and over until the motion is comfortable

I hope that these instructions have shown you how effective an underhand free throw can be. If you follow all of these steps, I guarantee that your free throw shooting will improve greatly. Now grab the materials, get to your local gym, and become the best free throw shooter around!