The Art of Dribbling the Basketball – Who, When, and Why

Dribbling is one of the foundations of the game of basketball. Before passing and shooting are taught to toddlers, dribbling is the first basketball skill explored. Kids will try to dribble any ball regardless of its size, material make up, or weight. Eventually, they realize the basketball is perfect for bouncing in the house, on the carpet, and outside. As these youngsters grow older and join teams, the dribble, unfortunately, is an assumed skill. My coaching experiences will illuminate some unique, time tested ideas about the dribble. As you will realize, dribbling the ball is not an equal opportunity skill.

If you’ve watched a youth game lately you have seen an array of dribbling skills. The smallest kids usually handle it best due to their quickness and proximity to the ground. Big kids are frightened at the thought of having to dribble as his teammates scream at him to pass. You will also notice that many of the dribbling mistakes by kids are due mainly to having insufficient control of the ball.

One one hand, all kids should be given the opportunity to try out their dribbling skills in practice and in games. Even if an automatic turnover is the result, kids should be encouraged to try. On the other hand, there comes a time when dribbling under control and without turnovers is necessary for all players. What then happens to the kids who haven’t mastered the dribble? If you are the coach, how would you handle this predicament? The answer is the subject of this article.

Handling the basketball is a privilege reserved for those who have proven a competency to do so. Where does that leave the other players on the team? They should not dribble or must have specific limitations put on them. You may think this is limiting a player or not allowing all players to experience the game. If so, that’s your opinion. To me, until they take scoreboards out of gyms, not all players should be able to dribble.


This is an easy decision by the coach. Players who have exhibited the ability to handle the ball well in practice consistently, should be allowed to dribble in a game. An easy answer to the player and his parent when challenged is, “When you are able to prove you can handle the ball, you will be allowed to do it in a game.” Until then the dribble is a skill that must be worked on constantly if it is to be improved. The good news is that rapid improvement can be made by a player willing to work hard on the correct dribbling fundamentals and drills.


This becomes a more difficult task for the coach.

Level 1-Open court dribbling, such as in the back court, must be taught to all players early in their playing days. Once they can do this, add a defender to play “token” defense by staying in front of the dribbler, but not trying to steal. The third step is to play “live” one-on-one full court. You would be shocked at how many Division I players cannot successfully do this. Remember this when your son or daughter struggles to bring the ball up the floor in practice or in your driveway. This open court handle is much more difficult than it appears.

Level 2-Dribbling in the half court within the offense. This requires a player to dribble, just as it requires them to pass, rebound and shoot. Skills needed in the half court are one, two, or three dribbles to an open area or to pass to a teammate. Most of these dribbling situations are on the perimeter and require players to use good judgement in making passes, timing, and being strong with the ball.

Level 3-The advanced dribbler uses the bounce to create offensive advantages. The dribble can lead to an open shot, a drive to the lane or all the way to the basket. I call this an advanced skill because the dribbler will encounter physical contact, double teams, and big players around the basket. As a coach or parent you must determine whether your players are in Level 1,2, or 3. Without this kind of evaluation, players are misguided and uninformed about their ability to handle the ball.


The dribble is a lethal tool for players. When used properly, the dribble can carve up defenses and lead to big numbers on the scoreboard. In general, the dribble is used for the following reasons:

1. Advance the ball up the court.

2. Shorten a pass.

3. Improve a passing angle.

4. Balance the floor in the half court.

5. Gain an angle in the post.

6. Used as part of a set play.

7. Create an open shot.

8. Drive to the lane or the basket.

I encourage coaches to share this list with players. Each player should know exactly WHY they are dribbling the basketball. Too often the ball is dribbled just to be dribbled and is without purpose. Use the dribble to help yourself and your teammates improve scoring opportunities. Once you instill the Who, When, and Why of dribbling, your team will become a sharp, executing offensive team. Use this article to develop your own philosophy on the art of dribbling and remember that this is not an equal opportunity skill.