A Little Happier: A Free Throw in Basketball Shows the Power of Words

There’s a proverb that we’ve all heard, but that probably many of us disagree with: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

No! Words have tremendous power. I was astonished to hear this story about the power of words, from the world of professional basketball.

One challenge of playing basketball is shooting free throws. Having players who accurately shoot free throws often makes the difference between winning and losing a game, and therefore, winning or losing a championship.

I would assume that players would use any advantage they could to get better at making their free throws and that coaches would insist that players use any advantage they could suggest.

But that’s not the case.

There’s a technique called the underhanded free throw — sometimes known as the “granny” — which is very different from the traditional overhanded approach. You grip the sides of the ball, bend your knees and lift both arms in simultaneous motion up through the release. This kind of free throw is easier to do smoothly and consistently.

For instance, Rick Barry earned the title of one of the best free-throw shooters of all time; he holds a career free throw average of 90 percent, and he swears by this technique.

But despite the immense stakes of professional basketball, players rarely use it. Even players who are notably bad at free throws rarely use it. And coaches don’t insist on it.

And the reason they don’t use it? Because they’re afraid that people will make fun of them for it, that they’ll say that the players look silly making a free throw this way.

You might think, weighed against the thrill of victory, as well as the financial rewards of winning, these players wouldn’t care about some taunting words.

But even in the intensely competitive world of basketball, words have tremendous power. The players won’t use this approach.

Here is a video of Rick Barry using this technique.




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