In any drill, the first shot and last shot are the most important because they’re the most similar to game shots. Here’s why:
Game shots are always the "first shot". You don’t get any warm-up shots. Any shooter knows that the feeling of shooting that first shot is different than shooting the second and third. During drills, you can calibrate your next shots based on the result of the first one, but in the game, that’s not possible. Once you shoot a shot, the feeling of that shot fades after a little while. And the next time you shoot, it feels like a “first shot” again.
The last shot of each drill is always when you’re the most tired. And players are usually a little fatigued during the game. Therefore, it makes sense that the last shot is more realistic because it closer approximates game conditioning.
My "first shot - last shot” theory isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Most guys would agree and say it was obvious. But even though they say they know, it usually doesn’t translate to their training. If players knew the first and last shots of a drill were the most important, you’d think they would be extra focused for those reps. But those are the exact shots where most guys concentrate the least.
Most players treat the first shot of a drill as a warm-up shot. It takes them a little while to get locked in. Maybe they’re a little bit cold. Maybe they’re still chatting with their teammate as they start the drill. Maybe they’re still thinking about the last drill, or what’s for dinner tonight. Its only after a few shots that most guys fully engage.
And at the end of the drill, guys are fatigued and just fling up the last shot to get the drill over with. When we’re exhausted and see the finish line of the drill ahead of us, it’s natural to let up. It’s much easier to lose concentration on the last shot when we see respite from our pain right in front of us. We stumble across the finish line rather than sprint through it. “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”
So, how can you improve the quality of your first and last shots? Being aware of our tendency to lose concentration is a good start. Simply saying “first shot - last shot” to yourself before you start a drill can help trigger deep focus. I sometimes even say it out loud to the guys I train. But another helpful strategy is to design your workouts and drills to make first shots and last shots more important. Below are some examples.
- First shot and last shot is worth double: For any drill that uses scoring, put a heavier weight on the first and last shot.
- Use a timer: By aiming for a certain number of makes in a certain amount of time, we naturally get our competitive juices flowing. To reach our target, we can’t afford to slack off on any shots.
- In-a-row: I use in-a-row shooting more often than just making 10 shots total. For example, if the drill is to make 3 in-a-row, you don’t have the luxury of losing concentration on that third shot. If you do you have to start over again.
- Kerr Shooting: Read my original article here for a detailed explanation of how it works.
Our habits define us. You don’t want to get in the bad habit of being unfocused during first shots and fatigued during second shots. So do what you can to get quality reps for your first and last shot reps. You’ll be better prepared for the game shots when they come around.