My high school sporting career was brief and unremarkable, but – surprisingly – many of the one-line motivational messages from my JV basketball coach stayed with me through the years. Chief among them: they're called free throws for a reason.
A free throw is a penalty shot taken by a player who has been fouled by an opposing player, usually while attempting to score. They are always taken from exactly the same spot in exactly the same circumstances; they are completely uncontested and the game literally stops for them. Free throws are easy to master through practice & repetition and are, therefore, one of the easiest opportunities to score points and impact a game.
But they are difficult for really tall players.*
Shaquille O'Neal was the most dominant NBA center of the late-1990s and early-2000s. He was a four-time NBA champion, both league & finals MVP, a 15 time all-star, and lead the league in scoring twice. Shaq was big and powerful, and even the best centers in the league could not stop him. And he was terrible at free throws.^
As a dominant inside player, Shaq liked to force his way to the basket – and he drew a lot of fouls in the process. So not only was he bad at shooting free throws, but he shot a lot of them. His career free throw average was just 52.7%, resulting in 5,317 missed attempts. Those missed free throws represent 18% less points scored per game when averaged over his career.
If you're seven feet tall – or have Shaq-like dominance in your career of choice – maybe you can get away with such a glaring weak spot in your performance. But everyone else – including the majority of top performers – has to work hard for any advantages they get. That means practicing free throws over and over and over until you can do them with your eyes closed.
What are your daily "free throws"? What easy-to-practice activities improve your quality of life or chances of success? One simple example is brushing one's teeth – we've done it so many times that the act requires virtually no conscious thought, yet it improves health and reduces expenses. Swish, another perfect free throw!
What else? One person might automate bill payments to avoid late fees and reduce mental clutter. Swish! Someone else might rehearse an important presentation over and over so that the words flow easily in front of an audience. Swish swish! Let me sneak in another financial example – how about contributing a consistent amount to retirement accounts each month? That's a great way to set aside for the future with a minimum amount of effort or stress. Nothing but net!
These little "free throws" might not seem like much on their own, but – just like their basketball analogs – they offer easy ways to succeed when life throws a few elbows.
Timothy Iseler, CFP®
Founder & Lead Advisor
Iseler Financial, LLC | Durham NC | (919) 666-7604
Iseler Financial helps creative professionals remove stress while taking control of their financial futures. As both advisor and accountability partner, we help identify current strengths and weaknesses, clarify and refine your long-term goals, and prioritize understandable, manageable, and repeatable actions to bring long-term financial well-being. Reach out today to take the first step.
* The quick version is: a ball approaching the basket from above has a greater probability of going in than a ball approaching it from an angle, so shooting with a big arc is advantageous. A regulation hoop is about 89% larger than an NBA basketball, so there is a relatively wide margin of error (a ball approaching the basket from above can be off-center by about 44.5% in any direction and still go in.) It's not very difficult for a six-foot player, for example, to get a nice, big arc on a free throw; but a seven foot player – whose finger tips might be level with the rim when the ball is released – is more likely to shoot a free throw at an angle.
^ Malcom Gladwell discusses this phenomenon in a great podcast episode, pointing out how Wilt Chamberlain, the most dominant player of his era, was a terrible free throw shooter. I'm a bit younger than Gladwell, so I'll pick on Shaq instead.