• LTC Brechin, USAF, Ret.

The CFA Basketball Throw . . . It takes more than just a good arm!

Updated: Mar 23

One of the most intriguing components of the Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA) for the US service academies is the kneeling basketball throw. Four of the five academies require the CFA. That is, the US Air Force Academy, the US Military Academy, the US Merchant Marine Academy and the US Naval Academy, all require that candidates accomplish this six-event assessment, which includes the 'odd' task of throwing a full-size basketball from your knees a far as you can. Any candidate that desires to earn an academy appointment (with the exception of the US Coast Guard Academy) should practice to improve their performance in this event along with the other five CFA components. In this blog, I'll provide a few pointers along with some resources that you may want to use as you prepare for the CFA.

The most important point is to prepare early. Waiting until a week or two prior to the CFA is the recipe for a poor performance. Clearly, a few elite athletes (who may routinely throw baseballs, softballs, etc.) are an exception, but the vast majority of candidates will need to practice! First, if you don't own one, buy a men's regulation basketball and a ball pump with a needle. Also, you may find that your 'old' basketball is smooth and difficult to grip so buying a new one will give you a nice surface to hold when you are practicing and, ultimately, taking the test.

Next, test yourself. How far can you throw the basketball from your knees? Be sure to warm up prior to trying the event, and follow the instructions provided by any of the four noted academies (i.e., USAFA, USMA, USNA or USMMA). The basics are:

  • Keep your knees parallel to and behind the throwing line and on the floor during the throw,

  • Feel free to use a 1-inch or less mat to cushion your knees,

  • Execute three throws in a 2-minute time period (to adhere to the CFA pace),

  • Note that you may use your non-throwing hand to steady the ball, and

  • Remember that you may not touch the floor beyond the throwing line with any part of your body until the basketball has landed.

Now that you have a measurement, you should set a goal for this event (and the others CFA components). The average basketball throw for men is about 70 feet. It is about 42 feet for women. With this comparison, you can now work toward your goal for this event. The basketball throw may be one of your best events or one of your worst. Consider your entire performance as you set your goals and then work toward achieving the best CFA results that you are capable of reaching

Establish a practice routine and stick to it. Perhaps, it is three throwing sessions a week allowing you to work on your throwing technique and distance. One suggestion is to use time after your other workouts to ensure that your muscles are warm. It is quite easy to stress a cold shoulder when throwing a full-sized basketball so ease into the routine and build strength in your arms, shoulders and related muscles.

A great resource that I recommend is from the ex-Navy SEAL, USNA graduate and fitness expert, Stew Stewart and Military.com. His article, How to Pass the Service Academy CFA, is quite thorough and provides a spectrum of exercises to help you improve your basketball throw as well as the other CFA events. I recommend using a brick wall (or other structure) to allow you to throw the basketball against it and recover the rebound as it bounces back to you. The idea is to make short throws to improve your throwing technique by practicing your grip, ensuring you are throwing the ball straight and building your strength. For distance, use other exercises and practice throws in an open area.

Test yourself periodically to record your progress on each CFA event, including the basketball throw. If you are not making gains in your throwing accuracy and distance, then you will need to reset your basketball-throw practice routine. Your progress may be slow, but keep up your robust practice routine, and I guarantee you will be successful in this event and the other CFA assessments.

I am often asked by my students why the kneeling basketball throw is included in the CFA. I've heard that it measures your body core strength. Also, that it measures "athletic potential." I'm really not sure. But I recognize that it will often signify which academy candidate 'prepared' and which one 'did not' prepare for the CFA. Ironically, the CFA, including the basketball throw, consisted of the same six events back in 1977, when I took the Candidate Fitness Assessment at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. In short, over all this time, it must be an important fitness indicator for the US service academies. And, when it comes to the kneeling basketball throw, it takes more than a good arm to make a successful throw!

[If you are a high school junior (or sophomore or freshman), let's talk. I help students prepare for the admissions process for the US Service Academies (i.e., the US Air Force Academy, the US Naval Academy, the US Military Academy, the US Coast Guard Academy and the US Merchant Marine Academy). Last year all three of my high school seniors were awarded military scholarships and Academy appointments. This year my seven seniors all have nominations and are applying for ROTC scholarships too. You can do the same! - Academician.us]

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