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How to Play Basketball

Six Parts:Learning the RulesDribbling and PassingShootingPlaying DefensePlaying WellLearning Basketball Variations

Originally invented as a way of keeping students busy during the cold winter months, basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891. The first game was played by shooting a ball into a peach basket nailed to a railing, and the ball had to be retrieved with a long dowel after each successful shot. Fast-forward through the decades and names like Jordan, Shaq, Kobe, and LeBron are almost immortal. Basketball is one of the most entertaining, challenging, and exciting sports in the world. You can learn the basic rules and the fundamental skills necessary to play.

Part 1
Learning the Rules

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    Get a ball and a hoop. All you need to play basketball is a ball of the appropriate size and a net that it fits through, set at a challenging-enough height. The specific requirements for regulation basketball are included below, but the history of basketball is the history of making do with what you have. The first basketball hoop was a peach crate nailed to a railing. Use empty boxes, soccer balls, or whatever is available if you don’t have access to a hoop.[1]
    • Basketballs are typically available in four sizes: youth, intermediate, and adult sizes for people of varying sexes. Made of rubber materials and synthetic leather, basketballs are widely available at sporting goods stores. Find a ball that you can comfortably shoot without wobbling your wrist. At most gyms, youth centers, and other athletic places, you can borrow basketballs to practice.
    • Regulation hoops are ten feet high and 18 inches (45.7 cm) in diameter, typically backed with a plexiglass board off which players may bounce shots. While full-court basketball is played with two hoops, one at each end of a 94-foot long court, it’s only necessary to have one hoop to play a half-court pick-up game, or to shoot around with friends.
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    Break into two teams. For a full-court game, basketball is played by two teams of five players each. While it's also common to play half-court ball with teams of three, however many people you've got playing, it's important to have an even number of players on each team. Alternate basketball games for uneven numbers are included in the last section.
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    Score points by shooting the ball through the hoop. In basketball, an offensive player can score between one and three points with a shot, depending on where the shot is taken on the floor.[2]
    • Extending in a half-circle, about 20 feet (6.1 m) from the hoop on most courts, should be the "three-point line," beyond which shots are worth an extra point. Inside that arc, all shots are worth two points.
    • Foul shots are worth one point each and are taken from the free-throw line, which is 15 feet (4.6 m) from the hoop. Players will be awarded between one and three free throws if they are fouled during a shooting attempt, or fouled after the other team has accumulated too many fouls.
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    Move the ball by dribbling or passing. When you have the ball, you have to either be stationary, with one foot planted on the floor to pivot from, or you have to be dribbling the ball, bouncing it up and down on the floor. When you're planted, you can pivot around on one foot, but that foot has to remain planted if you're not dribbling. You can still jump to shoot or pass, but when you come back down you need to have gotten rid of the ball.
    • When you start dribbling, you must dribble constantly as you move, until you pass, shoot, or stop dribbling to plant on your pivot foot. If you stop dribbling, you cannot re-start dribbling, which is a foul called a "double-dribble." It's also important to avoid "over/under" dribbles, in which you pick up the ball from underneath and turn it over to dribble it down. Learn to dribble properly in the following section.
    • If you're driving in to shoot, you can pick up the ball and take two steps without dribbling before you shoot or pass. More than two steps will result in a traveling violation. If you've been dribbling and you stop, you cannot take two steps.

Part 2
Dribbling and Passing

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    Stand correctly. If you've got control of the ball on offense, you need to crouch in a low position to guard and protect the ball while you dribble. In a proper dribbling stance, you should be crouched, knees flexed and shoulder-width apart, standing on the balls of your feet.
    • As you're learning, bounce the ball constantly with each hand, switching back and forth between your left and your right to get a feel for handling with both or your hands, staying crouched, and point your opposite hip toward the basket.[3]
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    Bounce the ball with your fingertips. To control the ball properly and control is securely, it's important to dribble with your fingertips, not the palm of your hand. When beginners first touch the basketball, it's common to slap or chop at it with the palm of the hand, rather than gripping and pushing with the fingertips. With some practice, you'll be able to get a good feel for how much force to put on the ball to get it to pop right back to your hand.
    • Just start bouncing the ball, standing still at first. Flex your wrist to bounce the ball and try to keep your elbow in to your hip and move your elbow as little as possible. Like many things, dribbling should be all in the wrist.
    • Make sure the ball is inflated to the proper specs, or it’ll be difficult to bounce up properly. Follow the directions on the ball you've got and add a little air, if necessary.
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    Try to keep the ball about waist-high. It's difficult to control the ball at first, and beginning players have a hard time keeping it down and controlled without looking at it constantly. But practice dribbling as low to the ground as is comfortable. Dribbles that come all the way up to your chest are easy for defenders to pick off. Try to keep it at your waist, no higher.
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    Keep your head up. If there's one thing coaches will harp on when you're learning to ball, it's this. As you're learning to play, it's critical to keep your head up and look around, instead of looking straight down at the ball as you bounce it. Good ball players can see their teammates, opponents, and the hoop at the same time. Practice dribbling without looking at the ball and your skills will improve immensely. It's hard to know where to go and where to pass when you've got your eyes locked on your sneakers.
    • Staying low will give you less opportunity to make a bad dribble and lose control of the ball. Aside from being more difficult to swipe, it'll also be more difficult for you to screw up your dribble.
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    Start moving, when you're ready. Basketball isn't played from a standing position most of the time, so it's important to start dribbling on the move. Start by walking as you dribble, at a comfortable lope. When you're comfortable dribbling and walking, start jogging, and eventually start trying to do short sprints while you dribble. Don't worry about going super-fast, just worry about controlling the ball.
    • Set up some cones or chairs in the driveway and practice dribbling around them in figure-8s, going as quick as you can, but focusing on controlling the ball. Keep it low, keep your head up, and control the ball as you dribble quickly.
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    Practice dribbling with both hands. When you start learning to dribble, it'll be most comfortable to dribble with your dominant hand, the hand that you use to write. Unless you want to always go to one side, though–which will make you a very predictable ball player–you'll need to diversify your ball-handling skills.
    • Practice doing drills with your dominant hand to learn the fundamentals, but spend a part of each dribbling session dribbling with your weak hand, too. Try the same drills, going around chairs, walking and dribbling, then eventually running. Great ball players are just as good from both sides.
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    Practice making different kinds of passes. Don't listen to the ball hogs: a great pass is always better than a mediocre shot. Learning to make crisp and accurate passes is an essential part of the basketball game. You should get comfortable making passes that go straight to your teammate without making them move for it.
    • Make chest passes. Take the ball on either side, in both hands, as if you were trying to squeeze the air out of it. Bring it in to your chest, then flick both hands outward to pass the ball to a teammate standing a comfortable distance away, without letting the ball touch the ground. Both wrists should flick out, away from you, as if you were swimming the breast-stroke.
    • Make bounce passes. Hold the ball in the same way, as if you were trying to squeeze it. About halfway between you and your teammate, bounce the ball into the ground and to the other player. Practice making the pass so it only bounces once and comes up comfortably to your teammate's chest. Practice one-handed and two-handed bounce passes.

Part 3

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    Square up with the basket each time you shoot. Every time you want to shoot, it's important to "square up," which means you need to point both sets of toes so they're pointing straight at the hoop, then align your hips so you're aiming your front-side parallel with the hoop. Your shots will be more accurate when you square up, if you're following the correct fundamental techniques for shooting.
    • When you're getting ready to take a shot, stop dribbling and take the ball in both hands, and square up to the hoop. Practice your pick-up step, in which you take one last dribble and turn your hips in one fluid motion.
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    Balance the ball on your dominant hand. Your shooting hand is your dominant hand, the hand you write with and the hand it feels most comfortable to dribble with. Keep your shooting elbow in tight to your hip, and keep the ball balanced on your finger-tips on the bottom of the basketball. Bring it up even with your chin and bend your knees, crouching.
    • Your power will come with your shooting hand, but you can stabilize the ball and balance it using your other hand. Touch the ball gently with your other hand on the side of the ball. The whole power from the shot should be coming from your other hand, though.
    • To practice your shot motion, lay on the ground with the ball and hold the ball straight up with your shooting hand. Practice rolling the ball straight up into the air a few inches with backspin, coming straight back down into your hand.
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    Roll the ball off your hand. When you've got the ball in the proper shooting position, extend your shooting elbow straight up and forward, rolling your wrist forward, as if you were trying to reach into a cookie jar on a high shelf. Continue extending your shooting arm, up and out, toward the hoop. Let the ball pop forward when your arm extends to the end, rolling backward as you release it. Keep following through with your hand, putting it in the cookie jar, after you've released the ball.
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    Push off with your feet, jumping straight up. To get extra power from your shot, crouch down and pop up with your legs as you shoot. When your arm gets to the highest point, you should jump slightly, extending your legs and putting some extra power under the shot with your jump.
    • Don't jump forward, toward the hoop, jump straight up. This is a common mistake with beginners. You want to jump straight up in the air and arc the ball towards its destination, not launch it forward.
    • Free-throws are generally taken without jumping, and you don't have to jump to shoot. However, it's difficult to get the ball into the hoop using arm strength alone, so most shots taken will be "jump shots."
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    Aim for an imaginary dime on the lip of the rim. Most of your first couple of shots will probably clang off the rim or the backboard loudly. Not a problem! Shooting a ball into a hoop that high isn't easy, and it takes a lot of practice. It can be difficult to know exactly where to aim: the red square on the backboard? The top of the hoop? It can be helpful for some beginners to visualize a small coin balancing on the front lip of the rim, and that what you're trying to do is knock it off with your shot.
    • Most beginners aim too high, and this exercise trains the eye to lower the "sight picture" of the shot, aiming more at the rim. If your shots tend to be too low, change the exercise so that you're aiming at the back of the rim, where it connects to the backboard. This will do more to correct your aim.
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    Practice lay-ups from both sides. Lay-ups are an important part of playing basketball and a great fundamental drill to learn. Good basketball players should have lay-ups locked down so well they'll never miss one in a game situation. it should be an easy two points.
    • Start at the corner of the free-throw line on your dominant side. Dribble in toward the hoop from an angle, and pull up when you get near the second to last line on the side of the lane-marker. About there, take your steps and jump off the foot closest to the hoop (if you're dribbling righty, jump off your left foot). Bounce the ball off the backboard, just at the top corner of the square on the back, and into the hoop.
    • It helps some beginners to imagine a string tying your dominant hand to your dominant knee, to help remember which foot to jump from. As you drive in, let your shooting hand "pull" up the knee on that side, jumping off the other knee.
    • When you've got the mechanics down, try lay-ups on the opposite side, using your other hand. It'll feel awkward at first, but being able to drive the lane on both sides will make you a much better basketball player.
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    Shoot constantly, from everywhere. Shooting practice is a great way to get a little exercise and have some fun. Just shooting around is one of the best parts of basketball practice, so there's little excuse to skip it. Try shooting from all around the court, inside the key, from different angles. Dribble around while you shoot, so you're killing two birds with one stone. Practice shooting when you're tired, and when you're fresh.
    • Practice shooting free throws. Good basketball players should be able to make free throws almost automatic. Take them over and over again until you can memorize the shooting motion and commit it to muscle memory.
    • Don't waste valuable practice time shooting half-court hail-marys or NBA-distance three-pointers. Get your fundamentals down and practice knocking back 10 in a row inside they key, before you work on making miracles.

Part 4
Playing Defense

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    Learn your role on defense. When you're playing defense, your goal is to keep your opponents from scoring. That means you need to disrupt passes, try to steal the ball if possible, and block shots. It's your job to be annoying, sticky, and disruptive to the other team's ability to pass and score points.
    • Most teams will play "man-to-man" defense, which usually means that you'll be matched to another player on the opposing team, who you'll guard for the rest of the game. This is, in most cases, the player who also plays your position.
    • In more advanced basketball, sometimes a "zone" defense is used, in which you'll be given an area of the court to guard, and you'll pick up any player who moves into it. Think of it like an imaginary bubble that you're trying to protect.
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    Learn the correct defensive stance. Basketball isn't all about offense, and your game needs to be fluid on both sides of the ball. To learn to play sticky defense, learn to get low and get wide. Crouch, with your feet more than shoulder-width apart and put your arms straight out at your sides, extending and making yourself as wide as possible. Stand on the balls of your feet and make sideways movements to guard the player with the ball. Lock your eyes on the ball.
    • Aim your lead hip toward the side-line, and your back hip toward the hoop that you're defending. You want to make it as difficult as possible for the person you're guarding to get between you and the hoop, so it's more effective to "push" them by aligning your hips properly. With some practice, this will become second-nature.
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    Practice your side-to-side movements. The hardest thing about playing defense is staying in your defensive crouch and trying to stick to the offensive player like glue. It's hard to move side-to-side quickly, so the more experienced you are at doing the side-to-side shuffle step, the better a defensive player you'll be. Practice running sideways, taking a big step to the side in one direction, crossing your trailing foot just behind your lead foot, and pushing off again. Then, go back the other way. Practice this until your legs are sore.
    • Most coaches will train players by dribbling from side to side, and defenders switching their positioning depending on how the offense moves. You can practice this yourself, sliding around laterally in the driveway at home.
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    Stay on your feet as much as possible. Beginning basketball players often make a common mistake: jumping in the air too much. It's tempting to Try to block your opponent's shot by jumping in the air with your arms outstretched every time it looks like they're going to shoot, but train yourself to keep your feet on the ground as much as possible. It's very easy to pump-fake, going up for a shot and pulling it back down as soon as you take off into the air, leaving you vulnerable and useless as a defender.
    • Instead, train yourself to stand up very straight when you see your opponent pull it down to shoot, and throw your arms straight up in the air 90 degrees. This will be just as disruptive as a jump, and you'll still be locked down ready to play defense, if need be.
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    Grab rebounds. Another essential part of playing defense is training yourself to grab the rebounds when they come. If your opponents have taken a shot that's failed, don't let them have a second chance for it. Post-up down by the basket and grab the ball when it bounces free. If it's up for grabs, be the one to grab it.
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    Avoid fouls. While charging into a defender will earn you a foul on offense, most fouls that happen are called on the defense. In your attempts to be a disruptive presence on the court, you've also got to learn where the line is and avoid crossing it, or you're going to get a foul called.
    • Hitting, pushing, or slapping at the arms of opposing players will be a foul every time. Keep your eyes focused on the ball. If you touch the ball, it can't be a foul.
    • Reaching out and grabbing an opponent will earn you a foul. If you've gotten beat off the ball, you can't cheat by reaching out for the jersey and grabbing it.

Part 5
Playing Well

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    Learn the role of each position on the court. If you're on a basketball team, the major positions have specific rules and roles that govern each job. To improve your skills, it's a good idea to learn the specifics of each position and learn what place you might fill on the court.
    • Centers are the big players who guard the hoop. The center is usually the tallest and most physical player on the court, whose job revolves around grabbing rebounds, posting up near the hoop for easy tip-in shots, and guarding the hoop on defense. Famous centers include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, and Yao Ming.
    • Forwards are the second-biggest players on the court, physical enough to play defense and go down low, but dexterous enough to shoot from the outside. Good forwards make excellent cuts and are powerful physical presences in the arc. Famous forwards include Charles Barkley, Bill Russell, Tim Duncan, and LeBron James.
    • Guards are the architects of the offense. The guards are the players that carry the ball down court, set up plays, and shoot from the outside. The guards typically score the most points and are valued for quickness, accurate passing, and sniper-like shooting. Great Guards include Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Magic Johnson.
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    Practice your fundamentals to improve your skills. If you want to be a better basketball player, practice your fundamentals. Good dribbling, shooting, and defensive skills are the best way to spend time becoming a good player. Don't practice making behind-the-back passes, or lowering the hoop so you can practice your 360 dunks until you can shoot lay-ups from both hands, 10 times out of 10, and you can make 20 free throws in a row.
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    Pass frequently and keep the ball moving. Good basketball teams can keep the ball moving at all times, keeping the defense off balance and on their heels. When your team has the ball, keep your passes quick and crisp to move the ball around and find an open lane to the hoop.
    • It's a common misconception that basketball needs to be played by virtuosic ballers who all dunk non-stop and hog the ball. Good players pass, selfish players dribble around constantly and lose the ball. Practice your passes.
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    Practice grabbing rebounds. One of the most unheralded basketball skills is the rebound. Because lots of shots miss, the ball will end up somewhere unpredictable, bouncing off in one direction or another, sometimes straight up in the air. When the ball goes wild, both teams have a chance for getting control of it, meaning that the ability to out-jump your opponents and grab it is very valuable. When you practice shooting, practice running up on the hoop to grab your own rebound, if possible.
    • If you play down low, as a forward or a center, practice "boxing out" the other players with your backside, muscling them away from the prime real-estate. Get low and stay wide, keep your arms out, and keep your eyes on the ball to give yourself the best chance of grabbing the board.
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    Learn to set picks for your teammates. As you learn to work as a team, you'll eventually want to start working out plays and formations, most of which involve some kind of pick and roll. Setting a pick means using your body as a barrier, for one of your teammates to run a defender up against. Most of the time, forwards will set picks for guards, though any player may set a pick on offense.
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    Learn to make cuts. When your teammate has the ball, you need to move around. Don't just stand there flat-footed waiting for a pass! Make cuts under the hoop, Try to shake your defender, and get open. Give your team supporting options by moving around and staying fluid. Find open space and look for the open shot.

Part 6
Learning Basketball Variations

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    Play “horse.” If you don't want to play a full-on game of basketball, "pig" or "horse" are great ways to have fun on the court and work on your shooting at the same time. Legend has it that His Airness himself, Michael Jordan, took games of horse just as seriously as practice.
    • Horse can be played with any number of players. The first player takes a shot from anywhere on the court. If the shot is made, the next player must make the shot from the same place. If the shot is missed, that player receives the first letter in the word "pig" or "horse" (the only difference is the number of letters. Each shot results in another letter. The game continues until the losing player has spelled out the entire word.
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    Play “21” if you’ve got an odd number of players. 21 is the perfect game to play when you've got an un-even number of players, though it's perfect for three. In 21, every player plays against every other player, in an attempt to be the first to 21 points. Every shot inside the arc is worth one point, and every shot outside is worth two.
    • After scoring a basket, the player may shoot free-throws (worth one point each) until one is missed. If you score once and then shoot 20 straight free-throws, you win the game.
    • If you miss a shot and another player tips it in, rebounding and shooting in one fluid motion. Your point-total goes back to zero (if you have less than 15 points) and back down to 15, if you've got between 20 and 15. If the 15th free throw is missed, the player goes back down to zero.
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    Play knockout. A good game for practicing free-throws and playing with a big group of people is knockout. All players should line up at the free throw line. The first person in line shoots a free throw. If the shot is missed, the player must grab the rebound and keep shooting the ball until making a shot. As soon as a basket is scored, the player returns to the end of the line. As soon as the first player's ball touches the rim, the second player may shoot. If the second player in line scores a basket before the first player, the first player is knocked out. As soon as one player scores, the next person in line may shoot.
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    Play “baseketball.” Basketball is like a shooting drill plus baseball scoring and trash talking. Invented for the film of the same name by the South Park creators, basketball is basically two teams that alternate trying to score points from three different "bases," while the other team tries to psych them out. Each missed shot is an out.


  • Wear basketball shoes and movable clothing for playing basketball.
  • Drink enough water.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Have good sportsmanship. Don't fight with your opponents or trash talk. A good way to show respect for your opponents is to shake hands after the game.
  • Don't give up even if you aren't that good at first.
  • Always eat something healthy before a game
  • Don't yell at your teammates if they make a mistake. It will make him or her lose confidence. Chances are he or she will play worse because they're nervous that you'll yell at them again. How would you feel if you keep getting yelled at?
  • After hitting someone, apologize. Also, if you are the person hit, accept the apology. Nothing good comes from bad feelings.
  • Don't be afraid to ask your teammates for help if your a beginner.


  • Always be alert and concentrate. Don't fool around because you might get hurt. You don't want the ball to hit the back of your head, do you?
  • Play at your own risk. Basketball players face many injuries, including, but not limited to: sprained and twisted ankles, broken arms and wrists, and even concussions.
  • If you feel extremely tired, stop playing and get some rest. When you feel better, play. Basketball can be intense and strenuous.

Things You'll Need

  • A good basketball to practice with
  • A basketball court
  • A good basketball hoop
  • Basketball shoes

Article Info

Categories: Basketball