How to Intercept a Basketball

Virginia Commonwealth v Southern California

In basketball, a bad pass will occasionally fall into a defender’s hands. More typically, however, defenders must use mental and physical quickness to intercept the ball. A turnover is valuable in basketball, not only because it provides your team with an additional possession, but also because the turnover often happens so quickly that it leads to a fast-break opportunity.

Defensive Stance

Defenders should never be flat-flooted. Instead, stand on the balls of your feet, with your knees flexed, ready to move quickly in any direction. Keep your hands out to your sides, away from your body. Take lateral slide steps when you move right and left, instead of crossing your legs. When your legs are crossed you’ll have to uncross them first before you change directions. With your legs uncrossed you can make a quick move if an opportunity to intercept a pass arises.

Mental Preparation

Anticipate the offensive play and be ready for an opportunity to step in front of a pass. If you’ve studied the opponent beforehand, watch for the plays you know they like to run. Otherwise, observe the offense in front of you and watch for the passing lanes. Try to anticipate when the ball will be passed to the player you’re guarding. If you’re mentally ready for the pass, you have a better chance of reacting quickly, jumping into the passing lane and catching the ball.

Understand the Situation

Think about the game situation when you go back on defense. If you’re protecting a lead in the final minute, for example, don’t try to intercept the ball unless you’re reasonably sure you can at least deflect the pass. If you miss the ball, the offense might get a quick basket. Conversely, be prepared to gamble on an interception attempt if you’re trailing in the closing seconds. In any situation, go all-out if you’ve committed yourself. Once you step out of position to attempt the interception, you should, of course, try to catch the ball if you can. If you can’t catch it, at least try to get a hand on the ball. A deflected pass rarely hurts the defense, and one of your teammates might recover the loose ball.


Coaches can run drills to increase their players’ ability to read a play and react quickly enough to intercept a pass. For example, place one offensive player in the middle of the free-throw line and two on the wings to his right and left. Give a fourth player the ball at midcourt and place two defenders between the ballhandler and the three potential pass receivers. Have the ballhandler pass the ball through the defenders to one of his three teammates while the defenders try to intercept the passes. Alternatively, place an offensive player at the foul line and two more in low post positions on either side of the lane. Put one defender in the middle of the lane. The offensive players remain in position as they pass the ball back and forth while the defender attempts to steal the ball.