The Lost Art of Shooting a Basketball

A couple of months ago, I met a basketball shooting coach named Tom Nordland, and since then, I have been getting to know him and his basketball philosophy on shooting. After realizing his passion for the art of shooting, I knew that I had to have him be a part of Basketball HQ in some way. Below you will see a basketball article on some of Coach Nordland’s shooting philosophy and a brief interview that I was able to have with him.



By Tom Nordland

The Lost Art of Shooting a Basketball


Dear Players,

I’m a shooting coach with 22+ years spent studying and teaching the skill of shooting a basketball ever since my long-time-ago high school shot came back to me in 1989.  During these years, I’ve produced three remarkable “Swish” videos that are getting rave reviews.  What can be shown is that what I teach is exactly what the greatest basketball shooters have always done.  It’s just the way any kid would learn to shoot if not hounded to do ineffective things like Squaring Up and Flipping the Wrist. I debunk those two instructions and a bunch more, like Elbow under the Ball, Shoot at the top of the jump, reaching into a Cookie Jar, etc., in my writings and my videos.



The great basketball shooters like Chris Mullin, Steph Curry, and Diana Taurasi had/have an open stance, a relaxed wrist and hand, shoot on the way up, etc. Once you know what I teach, you’ll start to see it in the few consistently great shooters. So, let’s use a real-life example, a tournament I went to in Northern California.

A local tournament brought together eight teams, so it was a chance to see a diverse group of basketball players under one roof, game after game. As I always am, I was struck by the poor to mediocre shooting, with an occasional good shooter to be seen. Most have no clue.


I saw air balls all over the place, and sidespin, even dead balls – some shot with two hands. Most shots were flat to very flat, and some went sky high (often short because of it). Most of the players squared up to the basket, and there was a lot of wrist-flipping. Some had the ball on line with the eye; others did not. You could see fear and doubt written on the faces of many kids when they shot. Missed Free Throws were commonplace. Of the 60-80 players I had a chance to see play in the games, only a couple of them appeared to shoot the same and well. It’s like there isn’t a “standard” of how to shoot a basketball can best be performed. (And I know there isn’t … yet!)




What is everyone trying to do to control the flight of the ball? Is anyone paying attention to basketball shooting technique, to the form? Does anyone make major improvement as the season progresses?

Here are some questions you can ask yourself as a basketball player or coach:

  • What am I doing to ensure accuracy and control of distance? Does it work?
  • Do I have a plan, or am I just guessing at how many muscles to use?
  • Is there any consistency to what I’m doing?
  • What kind of stance do I have, square or open?
  • How high do my shots go above the rim typically?
  • What kind of spin am I imparting to the ball?
  • How do I release the ball (throw, flip, push, two-handed, etc.)?
  • Is the ball aligned with my shooting eye as I shoot?
  • Is there a lot of variation in what I do?
  • Am I shooting from leg power, or do I hesitate and use more upper body?
  • Is there a “flow” to my shot, or am I jerky and tentative?
  • Is my follow-through focused and complete, or is it tentative or shaky?


The answers to these questions will lead you on a journey where you can examine what you do and probably start to improve. You can do a lot just by yourself, using your own attention to what you do. Awareness leads to learning, so your shooting will actually start to improve if you just shine the light of awareness on it. However, if you can also get some good coaching and, from it, come to know specifically what you need to become an always-on shooter (where you want to get), then you’ve really got something! Effective learning will be inevitable.

In Swish 3, I thought to express it this way:
“The Swish approach can give you a Road map to where you want to get (the way of the great shooters) along with the Vehicle (self-coaching) and the Fuel (awareness) needed to get there. The rest is up to you.”



Shooting the basketball is such a lost art that even the coaching has gotten off track. Coaches are eager to help you, but not many of them were excellent shooters themselves, and it isn’t easy to teach something you couldn’t do yourself. I know I couldn’t coach someone else during my phenomenal high school days. Even if a coach did shoot well, to teach someone to do what you do is a very different skill set. Just saying, “Do what I do,” won’t get you there. You need someone who’s broken it down into its basic pieces so you can then put them back together.

So beware of most coaching. I heard the venerable Coach Hubie Brown say on TV years ago, “Shooting coaches don’t make a difference!” From what I can see, I have to agree with him… for most coaches.


It’s easy to offer the “Party line,” what everyone else is saying, but the current state of shooting in basketball reveals that the more typical and so-called “Fundamentals” of shooting being taught aren’t working. I thought about the phrase, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Shooting coaching is so poor these days that I’m afraid most coaches aren’t even leading players to the water. They’re leading them away from the water with such instructions as square up, flip your wrist, etc.

We need a quantum leap, a different approach from what is mostly being taught these days.



For example, I find that the greatest shooters have relaxed wrists and hands (their hand’s flop in the Follow Through), and they have open stances. They shoot on the way up for most shots, not at the top of the jump. Their elbows are NOT directly under the ball. They dip the ball for greater accuracy (and it’s done “on line” with eye and basket).



Visit my website ( and read the articles, testimonials, newsletters, endorsements, and video reviews, and view the remarkable video clips on the “Shooting Gallery” page (many on YouTube, too). Most importantly, get the videos! This is a method anyone can learn and perfect to a fair degree. Work with me, and I’ll teach you how Mullin, Kerr, and Hornacek shot, and how Taurasi and Hammon and Curry shoot now, to mention a few. They all shoot the same way, and it’s what I did over 50 years ago! The great news is that it’s simple, it’s uncomplicated, and for most shots does not need exceptional athletic talent nor a Sports Psychologist!!!



You’ll start to see in your exploration that there are things that matter:

  • Stance matters –it affects power and alignment.
  • How you use the body’s power matters – you want to shoot from big muscles. A new way of saying it: (Do you have a Bounce in your shot?).
  • Alignment of the ball matters – direction is much easier if aligned with the eye.
  • How you set the ball matters – you want the ball on line with eye and basket as early and as long as possible, generating what we can call “Inertia.”
  • If you then shoot quickly and early, you “catch” the Inertia (and Up Force), obtaining much greater accuracy and a little more power.
  • Spin matters – it shows what your wrist and hand are up to. Funny spins mean variables.
  • How you release the ball matters… A LOT! It’s the “Delivery System!”
  • How your arm, wrist, and hand function (supported by the energy supplied by the lower/middle bodies) determines ball flight.
  • The Follow Through matters – focused attention on the target during and after the shot affects the “connection” to where you’re going.
  • And, of course, shooting confidence and concentration matter. If you’re filled with fear and doubt, any possibility for sustained performance flies out the window.



What I’ve realized in my research, my own shooting, and my coaching of the skill is that there are some simple principles that can make a huge difference! Understand and apply them, and shooting will no longer be the mystery it is now for so many players. If what I’m saying interests you, check me out and get my Swish, Swish 2, and Swish 3 videos (money-back guaranteed). There is an answer, and you can begin to master shooting as few people have! You will make more shots, and you could soon be the best shooter on your team, and then who knows where that will lead? At least the game becomes a lot more fun!

I’ll lead you to the water … do you want to drink it?





Tom Nordland is a shooting expert and coach from California via Minnesota. His videos, coaching, and writings are inspiring a Renaissance (a rebirth, a revival) in shooting around the world as players and coaches are taught the things that really matter with this skill. A great shooter as a youth, Tom was given the gift of seeing shooting like few have ever seen it.

He sees the “essence” of great shooting and how to get there. The good news is that it’s very simple. The few great shooters of today and yesterday mastered simple things, not complicated motions. Improved shooting is now possible for everybody in the game, and mastery is available to those who sincerely dedicate themselves to it. Visit Tom’s website to read his background and articles by and about him, his 10-year collection of newsletters, and view video clips and remarkable endorsements and testimonials for this approach to shooting.




BHQ Question #1: On average, how long would it take a player to rework their shooting mechanics to your system?

It’s impossible to say for sure.  It all “depends.”
It takes time to change a habit, but it’s also possible for learning to happen instantaneously.  You’ve had such “Ah-hah” moments, like finally getting “balanced” on a bicycle!  Your parents’ good words to “Lean left,” “Lean right,” etc., didn’t help at all. It was only the experience of falling enough times that taught you to balance.
Same with a basketball shot. It depends on motivation and to what degree a player’s level of awareness is. If she/he really wants it and commits a good degree of time doing basketball drills and learns to see things the way they are, learning can happen fairly quickly. A lot of time initially needs to be against a wall or with a partner, so the temptation to judge the results is eliminated or minimized. Play is encouraged, and slowing things down for increased awareness, shooting with extremes and opposites, and occasionally playing with the off arm/hand and in a low-pressure environment at first, will speed up learning. It’s very helpful that the answers with the Swish approach are very simple. They are like the natural way to shoot, so it won’t take as long as it would with something complicated and, maybe, awkward at first. Natural won’t’ feel awkward for very long.
When the player goes to a basket, notice how judgments and assessments start to cloud the experience. When that is generally overcome, and the player can look at a basket and his/her results with little or no attachment, learning will accelerate. Pretend situations would help, too.  The default “old” shot will be hanging around for a while, so returning to it when there’s pressure is expected. It would be helpful to love the old shot.  It’s how you survived as a basketball player, but you don’t want it anymore now. Love it and let it leave… when you’re ready.
With repetition, the “new” stroke will start to become more comfortable and effective. One day after many failures in pressure situations, there will be a little shift to the new stroke and pretty soon a bigger shift, and soon a monsoon of change and the new shot will finally push out the old and become the dominant, default habit.

BHQ Question #2: How early of an age would you recommend that coaches/parents start teaching their kids how to shoot?

If you have age-appropriate equipment (basket size and height and ball), you could probably introduce it at age 4-5. I’m reminded of a five-year-old boy in Pennsylvania named Clay whose coach dad had taught him the Swish Way. They had a five-foot plastic basket by their pool, and Clay used a ~5” diameter mini ball.  He was amazing. He could go back 10-15 feet or more and swish shots. I challenged him at H-O-R-S-E, and he beat me every time. I just couldn’t get adjusted to the tiny little ball. I actually did a little better left-handed since I wasn’t so attached to my performance.
In my Clinics with 10-foot baskets, I like them to be 11 and older, with younger ages allowed if they’re truly serious players and have sufficient strength.

BHQ Question #3: Who do you think the best pure shooter of all time was and why?

I’d have to say Chris Mullin. When I coached Dale Davis in 1999, I met Chris and attended a game there in Indianapolis. During warm-ups, I saw him take ~25 3-Pt shots around the arch without a miss, and most were pure swishes. He had amazing control, and that’s what my Swish Way gives you… control. I didn’t get that kind of accuracy and control from him, and he didn’t get it from me.  It’s just what anybody who’s aware and not hounded to do ineffective things (like “Squaring up” and “Flipping your wrist”) will figure out on their own. That’s why basically all of the great shooters shoot this way; it’s the natural and simple way to do it.
Years later, when he was with the Golden State Warriors, I met Chris again when I coached Adam Keefe. And when I asked him if my method, the Swish Way, was what he does, he said, “Yeah, but I never figured it out like that!” That’s it:  I “figured out” the aspects of a great basketball shot and, from my amazing mentors, how to learn and teach it. Just saying “Do this” or “Do that,” “Copy me,” etc., doesn’t work. You can’t best learn a skill by seeing just the finished product. You need to figure it out in small steps and finally put it all together.



Checkout Tom Nordland’s Website Now!


Follow Us On Social

Latest Content



One Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

On Trend

Most Popular Posts