Warning! This article has scientific terminology that you probably don’t care about unless you’re a bit of a nerd like I am, but I promise it will all make sense, especially once you watch the video demonstration at the end.
When many people think about balance, they often think about being on balance before the shot and overlook the importance of balance and stability once in the air.
There are 2 major ways to maintain balance while in the air:
1. Core stability - Tightening your core will prevent excess motion while in the air.
2. Lower body manipulation (Spreading the feet) - Increases the Moment of Inertia, thereby decreasing angular velocity (speed of rotation).
Lower body manipulation (spreading the feet) will be the focus of this article. Don't worry if you are not familiar with the terminology. There is an amazing demonstration video at the end of the article that will clarify everything for you.
As a shooter, there are times when you will have to turn in the air. If you are right handed and driving to the right, often times, your right foot and right shoulder will be behind your left side, and you will be forced to turn in the air to bring your right shoulder forward. Twisting in the air, although sometimes necessary, can add an extra variable to your shot and can decrease consistency.
Clearly, aiming at a stationary target while turning in the air is more difficult than aiming while balanced and in control. There are some great shooters who commonly twist in the air and land at around 90 degrees - JJ Redick and Carmelo Anthony are two examples - but, most of their twisting happens after the release as a by product of the rotation created by pushing from the right shoulder. This type of turning is not the concern of this article.
I am referring to the turning that must occur before the shot in order to bring the shooting shoulder forward when the shooting shoulder starts off behind the non-shooting shoulder. In these situations, players will often kick out one leg or spread their feet in order to increase their moment of inertia (I), and slow down in the air so that they can remain stable and time their alignment perfectly.
As soon as you leave the ground for your jumpshot and start to turn in the air, your body begins to follow this formula of angular momentum:
Once you're in the air, your angular momentum will remain relatively constant. This means that when your moment of inertia (I) increases, your rotational speed (w) will decrease. In other words, if you spread your feet or kick out one leg while in the air (increase moment of intertia), you will be able to slow down how fast you are turning (decrease angular velocity) and regain control and stability of your upper body.
In the following demonstration, you will see that by spreading out one's arms while spinning, you can control your speed. The more you spread them, the slower you go. In the event that a shooter must turn in the air before releasing, they can use this same principle with their feet to slow down in the air and time their alignment! The further you spread your feet, the slower you will turn, and the more control you will have to time your alignment.
A method that most great players and shooters use, instinctively, is to kick out one leg or spread their feet in the air. This will cause the player to slow down and regain control of their body while in mid air and significantly increase their ability to time their alignment and hit their target. Little do they know, it is the conservation of angular momentum in action!
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