Chris Seibert knew a drastic change was needed. The Portage girls basketball coach knew his team couldn't go on with such a poor effort from the free-throw line.
Just before Christmas break, the Indians were shooting 49 percent from the free-throw line, lacking any sort of confidence or concentration in what is supposed to be easy points.
Portage was not the only one. One look at local girls and boys basketball statistics reveals a struggle shooting free throw. Calumet's girls team was shooting just 44 percent as of two weeks ago, while Gavit was below 39 percent. It is not hard to find several players shooting below 50 percent.
They call them free throws for a reason. But too many players these days seem to dismiss the value of a simple free throw, Munster's Drew Hackett said.
"A lot more kids are practicing their 3-point shot, or their ball-handling, or anything else besides their free throws, really," said Hacket, who shoots 80 percent from the free-throw line for the Mustangs. "They're not focusing as much as they used to on the free throw, and I think that's having an effect on them. I don't think they find the importance of it anymore."
Or, like at Portage, players shot them well in practices, but it was a whole different story under game-time pressure.
Seibert ended up taking advice from Matt Thomas, the boys coach at rival Valparaiso. After reaching out to Thomas, Seibert started using the "Valpo free throw," which stresses fundamentals of the free throw.
"It's very patterned," Seibert said. "With your hand and foot placement, and the way your hand is on the ball, it forces you to shoot with proper form. It's pretty simple in nature, eliminating as much movement as possible and eliminating the opportunity for things to go wrong."
Portage's Kaitlin Doud struggled to find her mark from the line, making just 49 percent. Seibert's measures have boosted the team's free throw percentage to 56 percent, and Doud's has climbed as well. That 56 percent may be nothing to write home about, but Seibert said the girls are now missing short or long, instead of left or right.
"My entire life, I've never been a very strong free-throw shooter," Doud said. "With this new way of shooting, I'm going to the line with a lot more confidence, and I'm more fundamentally sound."
Part of the problem with the struggles, Doud said, is simply growing up without being taught the fundamentals of free-throw shooting.
"I think everybody growing up kind of had their own way of shooting," Doud said. "I never really had a coach tell me 'this is the correct way to do it.' As I grew up, I had different coaches telling me different things, so I kind of just threw them all together and made my own mixture to get by. Everyone shoots free throws differently. You have to find the right mixture of fundamentals in order to shoot consistently."
Munster's boys basketball team is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Traditionally one of the strongest free-throw shooting teams in Indiana, the Mustangs have nailed a solid 72 percent this season.
"We try to make sure they have proper fundamentals and stress the proper way to shoot the ball," Munster coach Mike Hackett said. "After that we try to stress concentration and focus, so the kids have confidence.
"I really think free throw shooting has a lot to do with confidence. When you go to the free-throw line, are you worrying more about missing it, or are you thinking about making it? It's an odd thing, because you can watch a kid in practice make shot after shot and then he gets in a game situation and they can't make a shot."
It's no secret that free throws have a significant impact on a game. Hackett used Carmel as an example. The Greyhounds are back-to-back defending Class 4A state champions. Simply put, good teams make their free throws.
Growing up in the Munster basketball program, Drew Hackett learned the fundamentals of shooting a free throw as early as second grade.
"It's what I focus on a lot," he said. "It's very important to my game. Free throws can win or lose ball games, and I don't want to lose a game for my team."