We will take a quick detour as we discuss the topic of energy transfer and talk about the movie Bravehart. Yes, you heard that right. Stay with me and it will all make sense.
Mel Gibson (playing William Wallace) has assembled his rag-tag army to fight the mighty British army. It looks on paper like they have no chance to win. Charging at them full speed are about 300 thundering heavy horses saddled with heavily armored and armed men, and behind them another 5,000 soldiers on foot. Mel’s men see this massive charge surging at them and aren’t doing anything – they look terrified as the ground shakes and the horses speed towards them.
In fact, Mel keeps yelling to his men in his fake Scottish accent to “Hoooold….Hoooold…..Hooooooold.” Finally at the last minute, right before the horses run through his line, he yells “NOW!” The Scottish army then picks up these huge long spears, plants one end of them in the ground and points the spear right at the oncoming charge. The horses can’t stop in time, the British realize they are in deep trouble as the horses run into their spears, and cutting right to the end, the Scots pick up a much needed upset victory.
Fast forward 700 years to this blog post. What is the point? I’ll come back to the movie in a bit.
With shooting, there is a very similar mental discipline with great shooters – they know how to be patient with the ball as they transfer the energy from their legs (using both legs with power distributed equally) into their core muscles (buttocks, stomach, back) and up to their wrists. This patience allows the leg power to easily create momentum into the ball as the player raises the ball to the release point at the wrists.
The problem with many shooters is that they are not patient with this energy transfer, which requires precise timing that MUST be sequential. This specific sequence is as follows:
1) Legs power up and with equally distributed power.
2) Core muscles tighten, and the core and shoulders start to move up off the ground.
3) The ball, which starts in the holster (not the shoulder, chin, or anywhere above the stomach), now starts to move up in sequence with the core.
4) The shoulders raise the ball and allow the wrist to “rotate” into a release position just above the shoulders as the player starts to leave the floor.
5) Player releases the ball.
The difficult part of this sequence is that all of those steps must occur in as little as .6 to .8 seconds for an accurate, fast shooter. That is fast. And it’s easy to see why it presents a problem for young shooters.
A common flaw we see is that shooters will raise the ball too early, reversing steps 2 and 3 above, before the energy is transferred into their core. Many times players will start the ball at the shoulders instead of the holster, which we immediately will correct. There is very little chance for energy transfer to occur if the ball starts above the mid-section.
Even when players start in the holster, they raise the ball up above the core muscles too early in the shot. We call this problem “leading with the ball,” when instead we want the player to “power the ball up with the legs.” This flaw is a sinister one. It’s very difficult for players to spot, and even more difficult to correct once it has become habit. But the obvious signs of “leading with the ball” are that you get a seemingly physically strong player struggling to find any range, arc or backspin on the shot.
So what happens to a player when they shoot out of sequence?
First, the ball finds itself up too high and waiting for energy. When the ball waits for energy, it has lost momentum, and now the player has to find a second burst of energy into the ball to restart momentum. The problem is that all of that power from the legs is now gone – and the only remaining source of power is the shoulder or what you may see has a “hitch” in a players shot.
A hitch looks like there are two shots in one. The player starts up, the ball hesitates somewhere, and then you see some sort of pike at the waist or ugly looking release with little arc and backspin. The player has literally tried to find power from sources not capable of getting the ball to the rim. Ugliness ensues, no one is happy, and both the player and coach get frustrated.
Fixing the problem is tough – but here is the lesson to be learned by a famous Scottsman waiting to be trampled by 300 armored heavy horse: Fight the temptation to act too soon. Timing is everything. Remember the movie and those words “Hooold…Hooold!” (said in a Scottish accent if you can)
The player hasto learn how to keep the ball in sync with the core muscles as the shooting energy flows up to the shoulders and wrist. Mental patience is the key to this success. And by far the best way we have found to teach this patience is with a heavy medicine ball.
As with all shooting mechanics training, limit the player to remain within 5 to 10 feet (1.75 -3.25 meters) of the basket using at least a 5lb (10kg) ball. Be sure to enforce that the player starts each shot with the ball in the “holster”, and allow the weight of the ball to require the player to power it up to the basket with their legs and core. The goal is to train the player to propel the ball to the basket with the leg/core muscle combination while still enforcing a proper release/follow through.
What the player will immediately recognize is that they cannot “lead with the ball” because it feels like shooting a ball made of lead. The player can no longer raise the ball too early, and as we have seen, the mind will start to recognize what you want it to do and will start to learn the new method. Have the player repeat this exercise in sets of 20 at this distance, then repeat it again at 8 feet, and then 10 feet.
Diligently continue this process for a couple of weeks, and both you and the player will be amazed at the results: a transformation of an inefficient, range-limited shooter into a smooth, effortless shooter with confidence. Unless of course the release mechanics need work, which we will cover in the next post in this series.
Teaching energy transfer requires discipline and patience. Every time you want to give up, or you see the player wanting to revert back to their old habits, just picture 300 heavy horse charging at you, (or a 6’5 long-armed defender) and stick to the program. Shooting confidently and accurately at long-range is one of the most satisfying parts of this game. It’s well worth the wait, and your shooting career depends on it.
Next up, the final addition to the shooting series: Release Mechanisms
Read the other posts in this series: