A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


It wasnít until Jon was standing at the free throw line in his little league basketball game last Saturday that I realized something: Iíve never taught him how to shoot free throws.

Weíve covered just about every other kind of shot during his 11-year immersion in the Official Walker Family Sport: jump shots, set shots, hook shots, lay-ups. Thanks to recreation technology that allows us to raise and lower our outdoor backboard, heís even been able to practice dunking like the pros (a source of considerable consternation to Jonís father, who would prefer that he practice fundamentals more than flair).

But for some reason, weíve never worked on shooting foul shots. Perhaps that is because we Walkers are firm believers in the adage: "No hemorrhage, no foul." Whatever the reason, I had never seen Jon shoot a foul shot until Saturday.

It wasnít pretty.

First he tried a sort of two-hand set shot that nearly broke the backboard. Then he tried a leaning jump shot that almost went over the top of the backboard. After his fourth free throw of the day clanged harmlessly off the rim, he hung his head and shuffled to the other end of the floor and spent the rest of the game doing everything in his power NOT to get fouled.

Which is why we went to the gym last night to work on free throw fundamentals. I taught him the simple alphabet of shooting foul shots that a coach taught to me many years ago: Attitude, Balance, Concentration, Deep knee bend, Extension and Follow-through.

We worked on every facet of that formula for a while Ė the importance of going to the free throw line with a positive, successful attitude; making sure that youíre feeling comfortable and balanced at the line; concentrating on the rim and not paying attention to anything else going on around you (including possible mean comments on his hair, his shorts and his ancestry, which, of course, I practiced taunting him with), then bending your knees, extending your body and following through, as you would on any good shot.

We had fun practicing (especially the taunting Ė turns out Iím very good at taunting fifth graders with spiked hair and baggy shorts). And we had some success. By the end of our session Jon was consistently hitting 60 percent of his free throws Ė not great, but better. By a long shot.

This morning Jon and I were talking about the alphabet of shooting free throws, and Jon suggested that those rules could apply to just about anything.

"Like school," he said. "Itís important to have a good attitude in school. And you and Mom are always talking about the need to have balance in your life Ė thatís why you make me take violin lessons along with playing basketball, right? For balance? And youíve got to be able to concentrate in whatever you do Ė especially in school."

"Youíre right," I said. "Those rules all apply. But what about the deep knee bends?"

Jon had to think about that one for a second.

"Well," he said at last, "we bend our knees when we pray. Thatís good, isnít it?"

He had me there.

"And extending yourself?" he added. "And following through? Youíre always talking about that stuff."

Heís right. I am.

So now it seems we have a formula for shooting free throws AND a formula for living that consists of Attitude, Balance and Concentration, complete with Deep knee bends, Extension of self and Follow-through. Our semi-comprehensive study suggests it will improve your efficiency to at least 60 percent. Which may not be great, but it will probably be better.

By a long shot.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through