Repetitive Action in Sports

For a long time I’ve been interested in repetitive action in sports. I was on the high school tennis team and knew how difficult it is on a crucial point to get your second serve in after hitting the first one long. I played on my college soccer team and I was chosen to take the penalty kicks, which were even easier than sinking of a free throw. Is considered virtually a guaranteed point in the game where scores are frequently 1-0. In one game, against a team we had never beaten, I put the ball over the crossbar of the goal. I can still see the ball whistling high and remember wondering why my body (or was it my mind?) betrayed me at this crucial moment.

More recently, I became interested in golf. I soon discovered the problem that faced all golfers trying to lower their score. As you get closer to the hole, your nerves get jumpier. Stories abound of missed putts from incredibly short distances down 12 inches. I thought this retired podiatrist who sank 2,750 free throws in a row must know something that could be of great value to the millions of athletes around the world who are trying to put tennis balls in the service box, golf balls in cups, soccer balls and goals and, of course, basketballs and hoops.

The First Time I Heard of Dr. Tom

The first time I heard of Dr. Tom Amberry, the world champion free throw shooter, was when I was sitting in a donut store having a cup of coffee. I was skimming a local newspaper, and my eye fell on a story about a 71-year-old retired podiatrist who had made 2,750 free throws in a row to enter the Guinness Book of Records.

I can remember thinking there had to be a mistake there somewhere. No one is capable of that level of perfection, especially at that age.

In the story Dr. Amberry was quoted as saying that his free throw shooting routine took six seconds and was like “auto hypnosis.” Hypnosis has lurked around the edges of sports in an intriguing way for many years. But the idea of packaging it in six-second doses was new and very attractive to me.