How to Make Ten Free Throws in a Row

basketball hoop

Yesterday I decided to break out of my usual routine. Instead of getting up at 5:30am and going straight to my computer, I would throw on some workout clothes, run to the gym, and work out.

I woke up and the first thing I thought was, “Ugh…I just want to go get my coffee and sit in front of the computer.”

It was a battle.

Instead, I got up, put on the clothes I laid out the night before, and walked out. It was still dark. It was a little cold. There were rabbits all over the sidewalk. I popped my headphones in, pressed play, and off I went.

Who knew you could see so many stars in a city like Chicago? Turns out that, at 5:38, you can see a lot of them. It was a clear morning and seeing stars in the sky gave the whole run a mystical experience.

Then I saw the moon. It was red and looked like a shadow was going across its face. Turns out there was a blood moon that night.

blood moon
Image by jurvetson

Very cool.

A high-tempo song came on and I pumped my legs a little faster. I decided to take a detour to extend the run a little, so I went by a bakery. A friend of mine used to work at a bakery and he’d tell me stories of having to show up at 3am or something crazy like that to start the baking process. Sure enough, there were some people in there behind the counter, scurrying about. The place was still closed. It smelled amazing.

So I’m running along in the dark on a near-empty street. There is a blood moon on my right, a bunch of stars hanging above me, and the smell of tasty baked goods enveloping me. The music is thumping in my ears, keeping me going.

And I’m so glad I changed my routine today.

I got to the gym and noticed the basketball court was empty, so I decide to check a ball out and shoot around.

I always start with a few layups and then focus on hitting some free throws. I used to have a hoop growing up, so I’m no stranger to shooting around. But I’m just shooting for fun, making about half my shots when an idea pops into my head.

Make 10 free throws in a row—then you can leave.

This is good. I’ll work on hitting 10 free throws in a row. I’ll write about it. I’ll learn something about myself. I’ll accomplish something. I’ll have a story.

But first there’s the thing: I need to make 10 free throws in a row.

So I make one. Miss the next.

Make one. Make another. Miss the next.

I do this for a few minutes until it hits me—I’m going about this like a flailing cat that’s fallen in a swimming pool.

I need to be more methodical about it. Smarter. It hits me: I have the goal all wrong. It wasn’t to try to make a shot, and then another, and then another until I strung 10 together.

My goal was to make ten shots in a row, which—believe it or not—is a very different goal.

I needed to create a consistent, repeatable way to shoot free throws so I could do it 10 times and make them all. In a row.

So I focused on my form. Where I stood relative to the hoop. How much my knees flexed. How many times I dribbled the ball. How I held the ball. How my knees led through my body to my wrist and to my release. What I looked at as I went through the motion.

The feel of it.

So I worked on that for a couple of shots until I found something that was comfortable. That I could do over and over.

I aligned my right (shooting) shoulder with the hoop, instead of centering my body with the hoop. I bounced the ball to the right of my right foot, instead of between my feet. I tried to create a direct line between the path my arm would take and the center of the rim.

I made one, two, three, four, and then I missed.

I felt the difference on the fifth try. I knew why I missed.

So I started again, keeping it all the same. All the while trying to turn my brain off because there’s a lot going on in there too (“Don’t choke! You’ll have to start over! How long will this take? Can I do it today? Or is it a week/month long project?”).

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

And here my mind really started to race. Can I really do this now? What if I miss???

But I went through the motions, repeated everything, and shot again.

8, 9

I wanted to take a little break to gather myself here, but instead pressed on. Keep it all the same, I told myself.

10, 11, 12, and then I missed.

I did it! I couldn’t believe it! If you would’ve asked me the night before how long it would take me to do this, I would’ve said at least an hour…I think.

But the crucial discovery I had was understanding that I wasn’t trying to make a free throw and then 9 more in a row after that.

I could’ve done it that way, and it would’ve taken me a LONG time to do it.

Instead, I worked on a system to be consistent. The first time it failed, but it didn’t matter. I just had to find a consistent way to shoot and figure out what to tweak to make it go in.

Once I had that it was just a matter of time.

These kinds of things happen all the time, and instead of banging our head against the wall or “trying harder,” sometimes we need to step back and figure out what the hell we’re trying to do.

Lessons:

– Breaking out of your routine is a healthy, fun thing to do.

– Pay attention to what you’re doing and make sure you’re being smart and methodical about the goals you’ve set for yourself.

Image by arturodonate

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