The Myth of Holding Your Follow Though
Ask most youth coaches about the advice they would give to a player with a flat shot and the response is typically along the lines of: “hold your follow through.” I hear it in NBA gyms all the time as well, but in many cases, it is making the problem worse. The trouble is, when most players struggle with arc, the follow through isn’t the problem. The shot is flat and the player is told to hold their follow through up. When this is the focus, typically one of two things happen: either the shot gets even more flat and the follow through gets higher but nothing improves, or the player starts to realize that they can’t hold the follow through. Either way, what we should be learning is that in these cases we need to find the real cause of the problem.
I can remember being a brand new shooting coach working with a university team in Canada. I was in over my head, but it was a great way to learn. I held myself accountable to actually making players better and had high level players to work with.
I was doing a drill with the whole team and I wanted them all to hold their follow through. Two of the players couldn’t and I didn’t know why. Worse, I didn’t really understand why it was important; I was just repeating the same thing I’d heard other coaches saying. I knew I was spinning my tires, saying something but not ACCOMPLISHING anything. Why couldn’t these players hold their follow through and was it even important?
So I did something that has now become a regular occurrence when I see a new player and a strange result. I closed my eyes and tried to imitate their shot. I tried to feel what they feel.
Why was this player shooting a flat shot and not able to hold their follow through?
Why did their follow through actually appear to be going down, even when they were trying to hold it up?
In that moment, I learned something big. As I closed my eyes and lifted the imaginary ball up over my head like the player did, I realized my elbow was already as high as I could get it. Then, as I started to make the imaginary shooting motion I felt my elbow stay in place, while my forearm and hand pivoted around it. My hands traced an arc that started going up, then forward, but actually finished moving down as I released the imaginary shot. Very similar to a catapult in action, if you can picture that.
How can a player possibly hold a follow through up when their hand is moving down?
And then came the biggest question. The question I should have been asking all along. How can someone be consistent shooting the ball up, when their follow through is moving down?
I looked at the player again. He was a streaky shooter, capable of being the best shooter in the gym one day and then the worst the next two. It started to all make sense. His form was working against him. If he got it perfectly synchronized he was fine, but if he missed the release point by a fraction of a second, he was dead in the water. He was all touch and very little technique.
And the problem wasn’t the follow through. It was his release point and the fact that his hand was out of position on the ball. The problem occurred way before the follow through and trying to fix the follow through was like trying to prevent gun violence with a bandaid. Woefully overmatched and way too late.
That is when I started to realize that “hold your follow through” was some of the most overrated advice coaches give. That is when I started to focus more on where the hand was positioned on the ball and working to build habits that actually helped get the ball moving on the intended path.
That is when I took a major step forward as a shooting coach.