Dribbling is the first basketball skilled a player will learn. It is a great weapon for the offensive player when executed properly however it can also be misused and over-used. If you are being closely guarded the dribble may be used to create space for a pass to a team-mate or a drive to the basket. When teaching our junior players I often repeat the instruction “drive to score – not to explore.”
This is a simple way to emphasize to the players that it is unwise to dribble the ball without good intentions. There are too many times when a player dribbles the ball around and through the defenders trying to find a pathway to the basket and almost inevitably gets into difficulty and loses possession or breaks down the team offense.
Dribbling, like other fundamental skills, must be practiced until it becomes a natural movement. A good player seems to control the ball so well that it becomes almost a part of his body, enabling him to move anywhere on the court with complete confidence.
More players these days are developing incredible skills dribbling the ball behind their back, or between their legs using cross-over dribbling and reverses. Good dribbling is no longer the exclusive domain of the smaller players. Every player on the team is expected to be able to control the ball under extreme defensive pressure, keeping their head up and able to make a pass to a team-mate or strong drive to the basket.
A low, or control dribble is used whenever a player is in a congested area. The ball should be pushed to the floor and not batted. Cup the dribbling hand slightly. The fingers and wrist should be doing most of the work. The hand goes down with the ball as it is pushed to the floor and comes up with the ball as it rebounds from the floor. The offside arm should be raised and held steady to resist pressure applied by the defender. Do not extend the protecting arm as this may cause contact which could be called a foul. The body should always be between the ball and the defender. During the low dribble the ball should not bounce higher than between the knee and the waist level.
In a cross-over dribble the dribbling hand pushes the ball down and up to the opposite hand as the foot on the side of the dribbling hand comes forward. This enables a change of direction and protection of the ball from the defender. The cross-over dribble should only be used when there is sufficient space between the dribbler and the defender, otherwise a behind the back dribble may be used.
To help learn the behind the back dribble use a zig-zag drive down the court changing direction each time you change the dribbling had. Push the ball behind the back as the leg opposite to the dribbling hand comes forward. This keeps the opposite foot and leg out of the way as the ball hits the floor. As you change direction on the next half step your body will protect the ball until you make the next behind-the-back dribble.
When advancing the ball down the court without defensive pressure use the high, or speed dribble. Push the ball further way from the body to enable a quicker drive. Sometimes several steps may be taken between each dribble as the ball is pushed well out in front of the body. Players at the higher levels may use as few as two bounces to take the ball from the centre-line to the basket while running at top speed. However at the younger age levels it is more important to maintain control of the ball and your body while learning how to use the speed dribble.
When practicing alone, always try to practice at game speed. Sometimes players may be able to dribble quite well when alone and moving slowly, but once the game has started and defensive pressure is applied they may lose their technique and control.