How to Steal the Ball in Basketball
Stealing the ball in basketball is a deceptively simple move. The actual process is straightforward -- swipe the ball away from someone when they’re dribbling, grab the ball as it’s in the air during a pass, or swat the ball away from the other player so that another of your teammates can grab it. But knowing when to try to for the steal and when to avoid the risk of a foul is difficult. Target players who are sloppy with the ball or who are showing you what they’re about to do.
Look for players who are sloppy dribblers, or who expose the ball when they pick it up. Someone who doesn’t seem to have a very tight grip on the ball as he prepares to pass -- especially if he’s holding the ball away from his body -- could be a suitable target if you’re fast enough. Loose dribblers who don’t keep that ball under control might be unwittingly offering you extra time to snatch the basketball away mid-dribble.
Watch players to see how their bodies move before they make certain plays. Some players telegraph what they're about to do. For example, if someone is about to turn to the right and throw the ball to a teammate, she might keep her arms still but turn her shoulders a bit. She’s attempting to fake you out by leaving her arms still, but her body is giving out clues that she’s going to turn. Looking at the player’s torso and shoulders can help you spot such moves.
Act a bit lazy yourself as you zero in on a ball you want to steal. In a January 2014 article on top defenders in college basketball, players told "Sports Illustrated" that they try to seem like they’re “off-guard” or “resting,” when in fact they’re watching the ball and waiting for a moment to strike. These tactics can make the player with the ball assume you’re not much of a threat, and he might be less likely to protect the ball carefully.
Keep an eye on where nearby offensive players are standing. You might have an opportunity to intercept a pass. If the player holding the ball decides you aren't looking and throws the ball to another player nearby, you'll be in a better position to dart in front of the intended target. Instead of trying to snatch the ball out of the air from the side, be ready to place yourself in the path of the ball so you're the one who gets it.
Practice defense with a friend to increase your ability to tell when to try nabbing the ball. One of you can practice dribbling -- and making it harder for someone to steal the ball -- while the other tries to take it away. If you can get a group of three people together, the third person can practice defending the dribbler, and you can try getting past the defense.
Also try to practice speeding up your reflexes. For example, "Sports Illustrated" noted that UCLA’s basketball team practices covering a flashing sensor on a wall to work on speed. In the same article, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Briante Weber said he would also try to drop and catch pens or swat bugs as additional practice.
Don’t touch the player who has the ball when you try to steal it, or you'll likely be called for a foul.
- Sports Illustrated: The Art of the Steal -- College Basketball's Top Defenders Explain Their Methods
- Basketball: Rules, Tips, Strategy, and Safety; Fred Ramen
- Teach'n Beginning Defensive Basketball Drills; Bob Swope
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Suzanne S. Wiley is an editor and writer in Southern California. She has been editing since 1989 and began writing in 2009. Wiley received her master's degree from the University of Texas and her work appears on various websites.