“Square Your Feet”–The Basketball Tradition

“Square you feet!!!” is echoed throughout gymnasiums across North America (and probably the world). I’ve heard it thousands upon thousands of times. I would estimate the average basketball player has heard it at least 1,000 times by the time he/she is a senior.

It is ingrained in our psyche. “You must square your feet!” It’s almost as if a player doesn’t square his or her feet then that player is committing a mortal sin of basketball.

When I turn on the TV these days, I don’t see any prolific shooter squaring his or her feet. Curry–Turn. Durant–Turn. Lillard–Turn. Same thing for the WNBA and College Basketball. Doug McDermott turns. Jabari Parker turns. Breanna Stewart turns. Yes, instead of squaring their feet they square their shooting shoulder and hip. Why? Because by turning they are much better aligned to the basket and they develop less tension in the shoulders.

So why do the majority of coaches teach to “Square up?” when the best shooters actually turn their feet? It really comes down to a lot of misinformation and tradition. Last fall I discussed that in the 1930’s players were taught to shoot the two handed set shot. With a two handed set shot you must square your feet to the basket.

Hank Luisetti, an All American at Stanford, came along with the one handed set shot. He discovered that when you shoot one handed you need to turn your feet. Soon coaches (many were reluctant at first) were teaching the one handed shot. Here’s the problem–They continued to teach the two handed set shot from the waist down and that continues to this day.

Shooting is really all about tradition and Americans love tradition. We love Thanksgiving feasts and 4th of July Barbecues. We love sports traditions like the Terrible Towel in Pittsburgh, Weenie Races in Milwaukee and fans throwing octopi onto the ice in Detroit. Tradition can be a cool thing.

Then there’s tradition that is wrong. Obviously slavery, dueling and hazing fall into these categories.

And finally there is tradition that made sense at one time. An example of this is the ritual of shaking hands. This custom comes down to us from the time when almost everyone carried a sword or knife. If a person met someone whom he thought might not be a friend, he immediately grasped his sword with his right hand, ready to protect himself. But when he met a friend, he extended the right hand to show that he did not have a knife or sword in that hand.

Squaring your feet is just like shaking hands. It made sense at one time, we have done it for ages and we continue to do it but really don’t know why.

In the late 40’s Shirley Jackson wrote a disturbing short story called “The Lottery”. I remember reading this in college. The premise is about a small town of 300 that holds a lottery once a year for every household. What did the “winner” receive? They would promptly be stoned to death by the townsfolk.

So why did this lottery take place? No one really knew. The villagers do feel powerless to change-or even try to change-anything, although there is no one forcing them to keep things the same. They do this ritual because that’s the way “we have always done it.”

Many coaches look at squaring your feet to the basket in the same manner. “We done it this way, and that’s the way we will always do it.”

I want to leave you with a story that happened to me two weeks ago when I was in Arizona. I was visiting Charli Turner Thorne, Head Womens Coach at ASU, for a few hours in her office. She asked me if I wanted to stay and watch her workouts later that after noon. I told her, “Absolutely.”

She had a meeting so she left me in one of the offices to do some needed computer work. One of the assistants came in and said “There is an NBA player in the gym with a trainer.” I will protect the anonymity of both the trainer and player.

I walked to the gym and started watching the player shoot. He was being taught to: Square the feet. Back straight. WIDE stance. No dip. The player was missing time after time. It was an ugly shot to say the least.

By the way, I have failed to mention that the player shot 4.3% from the three point line last season. Yes, 4.3%!!! And he’s a point guard!!!

I explained to the trainer who I was and gave him my card. I responded, “I know how to fix his shot.”

The trainer responded, “How would you start?”

“You have to start with the turn. He has to align his shoulders, hip and elbow to the basket.”

The trainer paused and said, “I turned when I shot. And I know the best shooters in the world turn when they shoot. But–it would be hard for me to teach it.”

WHAT???? That’s like saying, “I need oxygen. Oxygen is important. Oxygen keeps me alive. But you don’t need oxygen.” This logic simply does not make sense!!!

I hope you get a chance to watch my videos below on the turn. It really makes sense when you think about it. Squaring your feet is one tradition that really needs to cease