Tom Amberry

Tom Amberry, born 1922, is a retired Californian podiatrist. Everyday he goes to his local basketball court and throws 500 shots from the freethrow line with a 99.5% accuracy. Amberry holds the world record for consecutive freethrows. In 1993 at the age of 70,and after 40 years away from the sport, he shot his way into the Guinness Book of Records by sinking 2,750 consecutive freethrows. Amberry didn’t miss on the 2,751st shot: ‘They were closing the gym for the night, so I had to stop,’ he says. Over a period of 12 hours, and having to deal with a volleyball practice going on at the other side of the gym, Amberry worked away, three bounces, shoot and swish.

Amberry’s journey to this pinnacle of sporting achievement began when he retired in 1990 and decided he needed a hobby. ‘I heard they have free throw shooting in the Senior Olympics, so I started practicing. I had no concept of a method — just step up to the line and shoot. A couple of months after I started, I met a guy at a Senior Olympics free throw competition in Palm Springs who’d been coaching high school basketball for 28 years, and he said, ‘You won’t beat me because I’ve shot 30,000 free throws in the past two months.'”

Amberry took up the challenge and began a serious study of free throw shooting. ‘The more I read about it and looked into it, the more I realized the only way you do it is practice. You have to perfect all parts of your technique; then it’s just focus and concentration. A free throw takes six seconds, and you can’t think of anything else during those six seconds—you have to put all other thoughts out of your mind. Each shot is a separate shot, and it’s the same ritual every time.’ Amberry was hired by the Chicago Bulls as a freethrow consultant in 2002 and was able to boot their averages from 60% to 87%.

Amberry’s process is not revolutionary; it is simply his ability to train the brain to make the best of the body’s motor functions. He calls it ‘auto-hypnosis’, but is commonly known as BCL or Brain Centred Learning, and is now being used by some of Europe’s top soccer clubs to give their players the extra edge. By using patterns and rhythms and making footballers touch the ball 500,000 times a season as opposed to the 100,000 the players at FC Barcelona touch it, players’ awareness, vision and pace can be increased by 20%. Listen to the BBC’s hour long radio programme on ‘Sport’s Final Frontier’ by clicking here. UK residents only, I’m afraid.

Disciples of Dr. Freethrow’s techniques include this senior athlete who broke the world record for freethrows in an hour in 2008. Although not as accurate as Amberry, still amazing.

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