In Game 6, Giannis hit 17 of his 19 free-throw attempts, and the Bucks won the national title. “I made my free throws tonight!” he said. This – and the 50 total points he scored – cemented Giannis’s status as a legend at the age of 26, and denied Chris Paul (age 36) perhaps his last opportunity to win his first-ever championship.
Giannis 1, Paul 0.
But Giannis is going to play again next year, and his overall free-throw percentage could, if we’re honest, use some work. How can he get reliably better at free throw shooting? How can anyone? How can you increase your mastery of any skill or concept? How can you improve your brain’s ability to get your memory or body to do what you want?
Let’s stick with free throws for now, but the principle applies much more broadly.
You might think that the prescription would be to practice shooting a bunch of free throws. Let’s compare that to an obviously silly alternative, like…oh, say, never practicing a single free throw. Here’s how you might set up a 100-shot practice under these two conditions:
Option A: 100 shots from 15 feet. This is a regulation free throw. You would shoot 100 of these 15-foot shots.
Option B: One shot from 12 feet, one shot from 14 feet, one from 16, one from 18 – and repeat that 25 times. You would never shoot a regulation free throw.
I’m here to tell you that Option B is better. In other words, practicing no free throws at all has a good chance of being better than practicing exclusively free throws.
How can this be?