Is the Hot Hand a Myth?

We hear it in almost every game. As soon as a shooter makes a few shots in a row, the announcer yells, "He's on fire!"

To the unassuming eye, shooting streaks are a part of basketball. Some games you'll be cold, and it feels as if nothing will go in. During other games, you'll be so hot; you'll feel like you couldn't miss even if you close your eyes. However, upon closer inspection, does the hot hand really exist? Does your previous shot's result affect your next shot?

Luckily for us, three researchers, one from Cornell and two from Stanford, set out to answer those very same questions. Their surprising conclusion: there was absolutely no correlation between successive shots. In laymen's terms, the hot hand is a myth. A streak of four misses or four makes is the result of chance, not because the player made or missed his previous shot.

Although their conclusion is surprising to most of us, the great shooters in the NBA already knew this. Ray Allen, J.J. Redick, and Larry Bird shoot without a conscious. They don't hesitate for a second no matter if they made or missed their previous shot. They understood statistics. If they were a 50 percent shooter from the field and they missed 10 shots in the game, they should expect to make the next 10 shots. And if they didn't, they knew that during the next game they would "be on fire" because overall they were a 50 percent shooter from the field. Their confidence never wavers.

So how can you create a great shooter's mindset? Here is a simple 3 step process that will help you overcome that mental barrier.

1. Know your shooting percentage, and work on improving it. The higher your shooting percentage, the more "hot streaks" you'll have. Be realistic and honest about how good of a shooter you are.

2. Create a simple cue for your shot. We use the cue "middle to middle" to remind players to take their middle finger to the middle of the rim. That's all they think about prior to the shot.

3. Don't completely forget about the previous shot, but also don't dwell on it. Keep it analytical, not emotional. Remember it just long enough to make an adjustment on your next shot. If you were short on your previous shot, add a little more power on your next one.

That's it. Remember, basketball is as much mental as it is physical.

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