The John Wooden Nod
From the year he became the UCLA Men’s Basketball coach (1948) to the year he retired (1975), John Wooden was ambitiously and methodically-engaged in, what is commonly referred to as “Continuous Improvement.” Each off season, he chose one component of the game of basketball (e.g., rebounding, out of bounds plays, full-court press) and employed the scientific method of research in order to arrive at what was true about that particular subject. For example, after studying jump shooting, he determined, after polling several coaches, reading everything written on the subject, and interviewing experts such as Bill Sharman, the essential technical details were:
Preparation: Balance, Elbow above the knee, Wrinkle in the shooting wrist
Finish: Elbow above the ear, Snap of the wrist, Hand comes back down on the same path it went up.
And there was a reason for each.
Balance: In order to be able to jump on a plum line and avoid floating to the side.
Elbow above the knee: Keeps the shooting hand square to the target.
Wrinkle in the wrist: Eliminates having to cock the wrist during the shot (less movement).
Elbow above the ear: Causes a lift rather than a push.
Snap of the wrist: Provides backspin which allows the ball to go farther and produces a soft bounce should the ball hit the rim.
Hand comes back down on the same path it went up: Promotes the lift of the ball.
Oh yes. There was one more for the finish. It was a nod. Yes, you read that right. He believed, at release, the shooter should nod at the rim, in the same way a person nods at a someone when passing them on the sidewalk or in the hall. What was the purpose of this nod? Was it to say hello to the basket? Hardly.
The next time you watch a basketball game and someone is shooting two free throws, watch. When shooting the second shot, the shooter often moves his head back. Many think this is because he’s preparing to go back on defense. Whatever the case, his head is moving in the opposite direction as the ball, reducing acceleration. Coach Wooden believed every part of the body should serve a function in moving the ball toward the target and that includes the head.
Years ago, when shooting around in a gymnasium by myself for an hour, a young man came and began to do the same. He was majoring on shooting three point shots. I watched. When he missed, which was most of the time, his ball came short and hit the front of the rim. After about fifteen minutes of watching this fiasco, I asked him if I could help. He agreed and I introduced him to the John Wooden nod. He made twenty in succession. The twenty first hit the back of the rim.