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An examination of the maintenance of preshot routines in basketball free throw shooting.

Preperformance routines have been found to help focus attention, reduce anxiety, eliminate distractions, enhance confidence, and be extremely helpful to mental preparation for an upcoming performance (Lidor & Singer, 2000; Weinberg & Gould, 2003). Many athletes have developed the ability to reach the ideal performance state by associating concentration to specific preperformance routines (Schmid & Pepper, 1998). Preshot routines have been shown to be an effective concentration cue in many different sports such as golf, bowling, basketball, tennis, and skiing. (Cohn, Rotella, & Loyd, 1990; Kirschenbaum, Ordman, Tomarken, & Holtzbauer, 1982; Lobmeyer & Wasserman, 1986; McCann, Lavallee, & Lavallee, 2001; Moore, 1986; Orlick, 1986; Weisberg & Pein, 1992).

Wrisberg and Pein (1992) postulated that closed skills (e.g., free throw shooting in basketball, serving in tennis and volleyball, punting and place kicking in football) are often the types of skills in which athletes utilize preperformance routines to prepare for the best performance. Routines may help structure the time before performance and between performances so when it is time to perform, athletes are mentally ready (Weinberg & Gould, 2003). Schmidt (1982) also suggested the preshot routine may provide a way of reactivating the appropriate physiological and mental state before each shot, thus increasing the chance for a successful performance. Schmidt and Pepper (1998) supported this notion by stating that preperformance behaviors enhance performance by getting the athlete ready for the task at hand.

In essence, preshot routine enable athletes to focus thoughts on a series of well-rehearsed cues, thus reducing the likelihood athletes will focus on potentially detrimental thoughts such as the outcome, negative thoughts, or physically performing actions (Boutcher & Crews, 1987). For instance, in other activities, focusing attention on hand movements while playing the piano has been found to detract from the performance (Schmidt, 1982).

Rather than be perceived as superstitious actions, Lobmeyer and Wasserman (1986) found that preperformance routines in basketball free throw shooting significantly contribute to the accuracy of the shot. In a similar study, Gayton et al. (1989) had free throw shooters alternate between using a preshot routine and not using one prior to shooting free throws. Results revealed a significantly greater percentage of baskets made with the routine.

The aforementioned studies suggested that a preshot routine may assist basketball players by reducing the variability of movement in the shot, thereby increasing confidence. Wrisberg and Pein (1992) revealed that higher percentage free throw shooters were more consistent in executing preshot routines than lower percentage free throw shooters. In addition, no significant effect was found between preshot interval and gender, as well as preshot interval, shot accuracy, and situational factors.

Little research was found which examined athletes' specific actions within routines. Lobmeyer and Wasserman (1986) suggested investigators should compare performance outcomes between situations where athletes follow a set routine to situations where deviations occur (e.g., a player who usually dribbles three times, instead uses five dribbles). This investigation examined whether shooting percentages were affected by following and deviating from a specific routine during free throws. It was hypothesized those basketball players who maintain the same preshot routine from shot one to shot two will have significantly higher free throw shooting percentages than those who changed-routines from shot one to shot two.



The participants in this study were 16 athletes (9 men and 7 women) between the ages of 18-23 years old from two men's and women's basketball teams competing at an NCAA Division I institution in the southeast. The athletes performed ten or more free throws cumulatively over five separate games that were observed. Although participants signed informed consent forms, they were not informed when they would be observed to maintain external and internal validity. However, in keeping with the ethics code of section 47 of the APA code, the names, images, and likeness of all participants were not made public knowledge.


The current investigation revolved around the observation often (five men's and five women's) varsity intercollegiate basketball games. Two observers were present at each of the ten basketball games. All data were collected from either the end- or side-court positions to afford each observer the best view to allow the most accurate recordings.

Two researchers, independent of each other, monitored and recorded performance routines for each free throw taken by any player on the teams using the Preperformance Observational Checklist (PPOC) created for the express purpose of this investigation.

For each free throw attempted the following information was observed and recorded: gender, player number, time in the game (first half/second half) and a physical description of the preshot routine (deemed any physical movement, pauses in movement, number of dribbles and/or spins of the basketball). Only "two shot" free throw experiences were observed. "One and one" or one free throw due to a technical foul or three point plays were omitted from this study. To ensure internal validity individual data recorded were compared. No differences were found among the written observations collected by the researchers.

Only those basketball players who attempted ten or more free throws over the five observed games combined were included in the study. Prior to data collection, the researchers determined that for a participant to be considered maintaining a preshot routine, the players would have to perform the same routine at the foul line prior to each shot 90% or more of the time. A same routine is defined as experiencing the exact actions from shot one to shot two. Those players not following a routine from shot to shot two below 90% of the time would be considered non-maintainers of a routine. The non-maintaining routine group maintained routines 0-30% of the time. There was a large discrepancy between non-maintaining routine and maintaining routine groups respectively.


An independent t-test using SPSS 10.0 was utilized to compare the maintenance of a preshot routine and free throw shooting performance. In addition, the mean free throw shooting percentages were calculated and compared via independent t-tests between maintenance groups, gender and time in the game (first or second half). See Table I for the mean demographic data of free throw shooting percentages.

The results indicated that athletes in the Maintaining Routine Group (MRG--maintained the same routine during successive free throws 90% or more of the time) made 74% (214 of 290) of the free throws. While, athletes in the Non-Maintaining Routine Group (NMRG--maintained a routine less than 0-30% of the time) made 68% (166 of 240) of attempted free throws. Moreover, the NMRG had a lower shooting percentage, 65%-70%, from the first free throw to the second, while the MRG shot 65% and 82% on the first and second attempts, respectively.

Men averaged a 77% (265 of 345) free throw shooting accuracy, with 8 of the 9 men qualifying for the MRG. Women averaged a 67% (214 of 315) free throw shooting accuracy and 3 of the 7 women qualified for placement in the MRG. Men (247 of 322) and women (103 of 134) in the routine group both had a 77% free throw percentage. When free throw shooting percentages and maintenance percentages were examined in relation to the times free throws occurred during the games (first or second half), the mean shooting percentages for all participants combined was 68% (first half) and 74% (second half). Furthermore, all participants maintained a routine 86% of the time in the first half and 94% of the time in the second half.


Although the results did not support the hypothesis that the MRG would have a significantly higher free throw percentage than the NMRG, the athletes who maintained a preshot routine had a higher free throw percentage (74%) than those who did not maintain a preshot routine (68%). This finding supports Lobmeyer and Wasserman (1986) who found that athletes who maintain a preshot routine perform with greater accuracy at the free throw line than those who did not maintain a routine. Similar literature provides empirical support for the popular belief that a preshot routine facilitates athletic performances in closed skills (Gayton et al., 1989; Weinberg & Gould, 2003; Wrisberg & Pein, 1992).

Lobmeyer and Wassermann's (1986) suggested the accuracy may be explained through Skinner's (1968) pre-current operant theory. This theory states that a "current operant" directly involves reinforcement while a "pre-current operant" indirectly affects the situation through subsequent operants. In free throw situations, the current operant is the shot, which may be reinforced by a successful attempt. The preshot routine may be considered to be the pre-current operant, affecting the shot and thus indirectly influencing the outcome of the free throw. A pre-current operant may affect a current operant by altering the probability that the current operant response will be effective for producing reinforcement (Skinner, 1968). As applied to free throw shooting, preshot patterns may serve to limit the range of possible actions performed in the actual shot, thus giving the athlete more control over the outcome of the free throw (Lobmeyer & Wasserman, 1986).

In this investigation, the maintaining routine group increased free throw percentages from shot one (65%) to shot two (83%), while the non-routine group's free throw percentage decreased from shot one (70%) to shot two (65%). A possible explanation for this may be that those who follow a routine incorporate a rhythm from shot one to shot two. The rhythm may serve as a pre-operant, in the sense that the routine helps athletes control actions during the shot.

Certain important situational factors may have influenced the results of this study. First, the score of each game may have influenced performance. The five women's games observed were all relatively close contests, while the men's team won all of the games handily. Athletes may perceive an increase in pressure at the free throw line at the end of close games which may influence outcomes. Perceived pressure and anxiety may have debilitating effects on concentration and subsequent performance (Burke & Brown, 2003). Thus, the female basketball players may have been focusing so much on outcome that the routine may have been altered or interrupted.

More importantly, the non-maintaining routine group consisted of only one male and four females. In addition, the maintaining routine group consisted of eight men and three women. The greater free throw percentage for the MRG may be confounded by the fact that men had a higher free throw percentage than women. The free throw differential may be a result of the low number of men in the NMRG.

Another variable examined was free throw shooting percentage during different game times (first half, second half). Athletes may not have perceived the free throws as being as influential (on the outcome) in the first half and thus did not concentrate as fully on executing the preshot routine. Future research in the area of preshot routines and closed skills may benefit from utilizing longer observation protocols and larger samples of basketball players at various levels (i.e., high school, college, professional). Also, future research may want to examine the development of preshot routines during practice situations. Particular attention may be focused on both the mental and physical aspects of free throw shooting routines (Burke & Brown, 2003).
Table 1

Mean Demographic Data of Free Throw Shooting Percentages

Group Number of Free Number of Free Free Throw
 Throws Made Throws Attempted Percentage

Routine Group 214 290 74%

Routine Group 160 240 68%

Men 265 345 77%
Women 214 315 68%

Group Number of
Routine Group 11
 (8 men and 3 women)
Routine Group 5
 (1 man and 4 women)
Men 9
Women 7


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Wrisberg, C. A., & Pein, R. L. (1992). The preshot interval and free throw shooting accuracy: An exploratory investigation. The Sport Psychologist, 6, 14-23

Daniel R. Czech

Georgia Southern University

AJ Ploszay

University of Tennessee

Address Correspondence To: Kevin L. Burke, Ph.D., PO Box 8076, Georgia Southern Unviersity, Statesboro, GA 30460-8076.
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Author:Czech, Daniel R.; Ploszay, AJ; Burke, Kevin L.
Publication:Journal of Sport Behavior
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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