Basketball freethrow shooting: The importance of the “conscious” and “subconscious” mind in improving free throw shooting:
Once Upon a time there were three brothers who all lived in the same complex. Their names were ‘Conscious’, Subconscious’ and ‘Unconscious’. These guys play ‘mind games’. Obviously there must be some interaction between the nerves and corresponding systems of nerves. The Cerebrospinal is the organ of the conscious mind and the sympathetic nervous system is the organ of the subconscious. The cerebrospinal provides the avenue by which we get conscious perception from the physical senses and maintain control of body movements. This nervous system resides in the brain’s center. The Sympathetic system sets up shop in a mass of ganglions at the back of the stomach and is called the Solar Plexus and is the avenue for the mental activity which supports unconsciously the vital body functions like heart beat, blood flow, blinking etc. They are all very receptive to light and knowledge as well as one’s environment and the Universality of man and his connection to God.
The impact that the subconscious mind has on the body is tremendous. It could be considered a multi-tasker. It is responsible for our hard drive or the memory storage bank, it is from here that we get our inspiration, it channels our thoughts, tastes and many other intricate tasks like controlling our heart beat, blood flow, cellular growth, bone growth, formation of muscle and nerve tissues, blinking etc. Almost all the physical processes that we never think about that helps sustain our daily lives. These are definitely constant underlying activities that are all in production each and every time you shoot a basketball and you definitely don’t want to have any conscious thought focused on any subconscious activity. You will have enough trouble concentrating on just a couple, simple conscious tasks during a free throw attempt. Makes you wonder what really controls your life.
The subconscious while controlling all regular bodily functions mentioned above, also is heavily involved in mental processes dealing with the ‘subjective mind’ or interior power. On the other hand, we have the ‘conscious mind’ which is also referred to as the ‘objective mind’ which deals with outward objects and impressions of life on the outside with the help of the 5 physical senses of sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. Free throw shooting only requires 2 of these namely sight and touch.
I have to share a personal experience where my subconscious actually manifested to me a life changing career. It was 1972, (you remember, where terrorism raised it’s ugly head by using international athletics as a platform to make political statements, and where the USA men’s Basketball team lost to the Russians on a controversial call) while I was representing Australia for the Olympic games for the first time, we got to travel with the team prior to the games around Europe and play some of the European teams as warm up exercises.
On this one particular warm summer day in the late August, we were in Italy passing through and we had a chance to see the “Sistine Chapel” which was painted by Michaelangelo in the 1500’s. This excited me because I actually had read his Biography while in High School and his work fascinated me. Now that I had the chance to actually stand where he stood, well, I really jumped on the chance. I felt like Moses in the movie “The Ten Commandments” when he went up to Mount Sinai and approached the ‘burning bush’ and God spoke to him in his slow, deep and penetrating voice saying ” Moses, put off thine sandals from off thine feet, for thou standest on Holy ground”.
As I approached the chapel, I still recall that I had some funny feelings that I could not explain. A mixture of anxiety, curiosity and feelings of respect. As I entered and laid my eyes on this phenomenon I was blown away. After gazing upwards for a few hours I remember still to this day saying these words, “There’s no way in the world that this work was done by any human being. This work was guided by the hand of God.” Little did I realize that it would take about 15 years before the impact of inspiration would take hold. Remember that the subconscious is a marketplace for gathering and storing inspiration. And of course it wasn’t for many years later that I realized how powerful the subconscious was and what we subject our minds to. “As a man thinketh, so is he”. Well I never realized that Michaelangelo’s work embossed a deep image into my mind and I guess if something leaves such a strong message on your mind then you will act upon it. Somehow, sooner or later it has to come out.
I had no idea that I had artistic tendencies since after I took an art class in High School, I really didn’t connect with it. I did enjoy technical drawing which was more about lines, symmetry, depth and 3 dimensional work geared more towards architectural vocations. To make a long story short, I did my Master’s degree in 1981 at Brigham Young University and chose as my Thesis and Dissertation to do an artistic project based on the greatness of man reaching his potential. I wanted to do something that would last a thousand years. So I chose to do a rendition of several athletes in action extending to their max in striving to reach their greatest potential and I decided to do it in tile, concrete and steel. I chose to do a 3-dimensional mosaic, which would weigh a half ton upon completion, would take over 400 hours to complete and it was done upside down and backwards, in my living room. Why a mosaic? Well I was so inspired by all the old masters I saw in my European travels I felt like I wanted to leave my mark using their medium.
The point I am trying to make here is that my subconscious changed my conscious processes into actually changing careers from a high school basketball coach to a full time traveling Sports artist where I painted Basketball court floors and wall murals with school mascots. This is powerful stuff and I have a testimony that won’t stop. You could say that I actually do exactly what Michaelangelo did over 500 years ago. Except he traveled by donkey and I fly in jets to get to where I need to go.(If the price of fuel does not go down then I may be riding a donkey to work). Also he mostly laid on his back and I spend most of my time on my knees painting floors. Also, He was one of the greatest artists of all time and I am just a commercial artist trying to make a difference by improving the aesthetics within institutions. You could say that I did succeed in this at least because according to the floor companies they say I was single handedly responsible for changing the face of graphics on sports surfaces in the United States and even the Globe. So you see one person can make a difference. It wasn’t my initial goal to do this. It just happened.
When we talk of ‘consciousness’ or the ‘conscious’, it may be a good idea to at least define the terms. According to Funk and Wagnall’s Standard College Dictionary, the word “conscious” means awareness of one’s own existence, feelings and thoughts, or of external objects and conditions; mentally awake.
On the other hand the term “consciousness” is the knowledge of sensations and mental operations, or of what passes in one’s mind.
It is the conscious mind that is responsible for the most valuable thing we have in life and that is the ability to “choose”. The conscious mind has the power of deductive, inductive and analytical reasoning. It is responsible for the “will” and all its capacities. Are you starting to see how your average free throw shooting process is going to take on a whole new life? We are talking about mind over matter, process over product and the beginning before the end. I would venture to say that most and I mean over 90%, no let me be more specific, over 99% of basketball players think of making the basket, or not missing. I have been asking players all over the world of every age and both genders for many years, what they think about at the time of release of the ball and you guessed it, all responses are the same. They think of the end result as opposed to the beginning mechanics which are the most important thing. More on this later.
Common sense tells us that the when a child is born the human mind is born with a blank slate or more specifically a blank tablet more commonly known as “tabula rasa”.
As time passes this “tabula rasa” starts to absorb and store a lot of information, just like a computer. There are actually 3 conscious stages that once we understand them it may enlighten us about our own behavior. How can we get better if we don’t know our problems? This can apply to many areas of life and not just shooting, which is really all we care about here.
First, there is the Pre-Conscious stage where voices and visions basically dictate and tell you what to do. You automatically obey the “voices of authority”. In this stage ‘obedience’ is paramount.
Secondly, there is the Proto-Conscious stage where automatic thoughts and feelings dictate your behavior or tell you what to do. Those in this stage are true believers, fanatic fighters for a great cause, perhaps a suicide bomber, or a kame-kaze pilot. It could be a helpless ‘wimp’ always complaining and languishing in apathy. Or it could be a self-righteous preacher who makes himself look “right” and others look “wrong”. In this stage being “right” is paramount.
Thirdly, there is just the “Conscious” stage where you are basically a master of your own emotions and feelings. You now have the ability to examine critically every concept, thought and action. You strive to increase your own competence in every aspect of your life that is important to you. You carefully observe the results you produce, using that as feed back to improve your concepts thoughts, actions and communications. In this stage producing results is paramount. This is where we need to be as coaches and players who have one thing in mind and that is to improve our percentages. Period. Become masters of our domain.
There are millions of people who constantly question and critically examine concepts, behaviors, beliefs, which are held sacred by their elders and contemporaries. These people want to produce improved results in their lives, in their careers, their relationships and their health and spiritual growth as well. It applies to any area where they think their results are below expectations, they seek to improve their knowledge, competence and skills. They also realize that some of their difficulties stem from their own destructive thoughts and behavior patterns acquired or developed during their own childhood. Their emphasis is on producing results and they are in control of the conscious stage.
By conscious, I mean critically aware, especially critically self-aware. Once I get into the finger placement and finger pressure accountability on the free-throw shot release you will better understand what I mean by critically self-aware. The proto-conscious person functions “on automatic” most of the time, like driving a car without thinking, or regurgitating automatic thoughts, or reacting emotionally like a puppet without critical awareness of the results being produced.
The critically conscious are definitely conscious of their consciousness. They critically monitor what they think, say, and do in order to produce the desired results. They develop the thinking skill of self-observation. The one critical aspect that I encourage we all inject into our own personal make-up if we want to improve our free throw shooting skills.
The conscious can and does actually instruct or direct the subconscious mind. It can be considered as a Big Brother or a bodyguard to the subconscious. But they definitely work hand in hand (excuse the pun). It is the conscious that dictates, controls and even overrules the subconscious thoughts if permitted.
Understanding the above paragraph will emphasize why during every free throw shot or any shot for that matter must have a conscious thought behind the action. You should never shoot a shot without a conscious thought involved because the human body as perfect as it is was not imbedded with a perfect shooting mechanism. We have the potential to create a perfect shooting mechanism but it must be consciously initiated only after a complete knowledge of perfect shooting principles is obtained and understood.
More specifically, your duty is to absolutely find out the reasons you do not make 95% from the free throw line. Children under 13-14 are excused from this high expectation. Usually it will be a physical and mechanical application which can be corrected and this is where the conscious, and subconscious start kicking in for your benefit and elevated shooting percentages.