Basketball Rulebook
Play Violations

The basketball rulebook for your league will tell you what a player can do with the basketball, and what he can't do. We spend so much time working with our players in developing their basic skills, such as ballhandling and shooting and the basic offensive movements, we need to know what they can and can't do on the court.

The set of rules discussed on this page deal with very basic fundamentals of the game - violations to fundamental basketball skills, for the most part.

The following are some of the more common violations to watch out for - if your team commits any of these violations while in possession of the ball, they lose possession and your opponent is given the ball. This is my quick version of these rules; for a more detailed, official version I  suggest you download or buy a copy of the rules that govern your league.

Your league website may have it, or you can check out these books:

Basketball Rulebook
Dribbling Violations

Basketball Rulebook
  • You can't double dribble. Which means you can't dribble, stop dribbling, then dribble again, unless in between those dribbles you shoot or someone else - a teammate or your opponent - touches the ball.

    To stop dribbling means the player either touches the ball with both hands simultaneously, or cradles the ball in one hand so that the ball comes to rest.

  • The following are not considered dribbling violations:

    When you accidentally lose control of the ball and then regain it at the beginning or end of the dribble
    Tapping the ball away from other players (e.g., during a loose ball or rebound)
    Deflecting a pass and then gaining control of the ball

Basketball Rulebook

  • Once the player picks up the ball, he can't move his feet unless he dribbles the ball.

There are exceptions to this rule:

A player can pivot - i.e., move one foot while keeping the other foot stationary:

  • If he has come to a two-foot stop, he can choose either foot to move, but once he moves one foot, the other foot becomes his pivot foot and cannot be lifted
  • If he has stopped with one foot hitting the floor first, followed by the other foot, then the first foot to touch the floor becomes the pivot foot and cannot be moved

A player can jump off the pivot foot to pass or shoot, but the ball must be out of the player's hands when he lands; otherwise it is a travel (this is the basis of the two steps allowed for the layup)

A player can fall and slide on the floor while holding the ball; or while lying or sitting on the floor, a player can get control of a ball...

...but, the player cannot then roll over or attempt to sit up while holding the ball - this is a traveling violation

Basketball Rulebook
3 Second Violation

  • A player cannot stand in the opponent's key for three consecutive seconds once the ball has passed into the front court.

This rule - 3 in the key - has a little wiggle room for the referees. They likely won't call it if:

  • the player is trying to leave the key and gets tangled up with other players
  • someone else on the player's team is in the act of shooting
  • the player dribbles while in the key, with the intention of shooting a field goal

Basketball Rulebook
Getting the Ball over Half

  • Once a player gains control of the ball in his backcourt (defensive end), his team must get the ball over the half court line within a set amount of time - depending on the league, the team may have 8 or 10 seconds to get the ball over half.

The ball is considered over half when:

  • the ball touches the front court (offensive end)
  • the ball touches a player or official standing in the front court
  • the ball carrier has both feet and the ball in contact with the front court
  • If the team does not get the ball across the half court line in the given time limit, it loses possession.

Basketball Rulebook
Back Over Half

  • Once the ball crosses the half court line into the front court, it cannot be taken back into the back court by the offensive team. If the ball is last touched by an offensive player before landing in the back court, and then a player from the same team is the first to touch it next, this is a violation.

One exception to this rule is when a player jumps from his front court, gains new team control of the ball while in the air, and then lands in the back court (e.g., steals a pass). In this case, there is no violation.

Basketball Rulebook
Goal Tending

Basketball Rulebook
  • Goal tending occurs when the ball is blocked or touched by a defensive player after it has been shot and is still above the level of the rim and on its downward flight to the basket.
  • Goal tending results in the offensive team being awarded the points for the shot as if the shot went in.

Once the ball is deemed to no longer have the chance to go in, a block or deflection is no longer considered goal tending.

Basketball Rulebook

  • Interference occurs whenever a player:
  • Touches the basket or backboard while the ball is in contact with the rim
  • Reaches through the basket from below and touches the ball
  • Makes the backboard vibrate (e.g., slams his hand against the backboard or grabs the rim or supports)
    • Penalties for interference are the same as for goal tending - if the defense interferes with a shot, the offensive team is awarded the points as if the shot went in; if the offensive team interferes with the shot, no points are awarded and the offensive team loses possession of the ball.

    A few more things to include in your basketball rulebook:

    • When a player has the ball and is closely guarded by an opponent (the opponent is actively guarding him at a distance of less than three feet or so), the player must pass, shoot or dribble within five (5) seconds

    • Many leagues play with a shot clock - usually a 24-second countdown. The team with possession of the ball must attempt a shot for a field goal before the shot clock gets to zero.

      A shot attempt means that the ball leaves the shooter's hands before the shot clock signal sounds, and the ball touches the rim or enters the basket. e.g., if a player shoots, and just after he releases the ball the shot clock sounds, but the shot does not touch the rim (it's an air-ball or bounces off the backboard without touching the rim), then that constitutes a shot clock violation. Had the ball touched the rim, then there would have been no violation.

    Check with your league's basketball rulebook for their viewpoints on these violations. Like I stated above, these violations should be more or less universal, as they tend to deal more with the execution of fundamental skills and less with timing and organization details.

    But there are always minor interpretations that you need to watch out for, so check with your league's set of rules before game time.

    And don't forget to check out the other two pages on the site for other types of rules - Game Time, and Fouls.

    Again, for a more detailed, official version of the rules, check out:

    The better you understand the basketball rulebook, the better prepared you will be to coach effectively and help improve your player's knowledge of the game.

    "Keep it simple, when you get too complex you forget the obvious."

    - Al McGuire