Pro Tips Guide to Common Basketball Fouls and Violations

The numerous types of fouls and violations in basketball can leave both players and fans confused. We're breaking them down to help you better understand the calls — and the reasoning behind them.

January 02, 2018
Basketball player getting fouled under the basket

Over the course of a basketball game, odds are that, as a player, you will commit a foul or two. These rules keep the fast-paced, high-energy game safe, fair and fun. Regardless, avoiding committing fouls is best because you don’t want to find yourself in foul trouble late in the game, or even “foul out” (removed from play) after committing five fouls.

There are a number of fouls and violations, though, so it’s important that you understand the most common ones. What’s the difference between a block and a charge? Why wasn’t that screen legal? What exactly are the referees signaling with those hand gestures?

Before diving into the specifics of each call, you need to understand the difference between a foul and a violation. Fouls can be against players, teams or coaches and can result in free throws or change of possession. Most fouls occur on defense, but some offensive fouls can also be called. The total number of defensive fouls a team, player or coach commits during the course of a game is recorded and, depending on how many are committed, can result in more free throws for the opposing team. When a team has committed a number of fouls, they are said to be in the “bonus” or “double bonus.” A bonus is usually awarded after seven team fouls, while a double is normally after 10. This results in automatic free throws awarded to the opponent with either “1 and 1” or “2 shot” formats. 1 and 1 means players must make the first attempt to have a chance at making a second. 2-shot means the player gets both attempts, regardless.

Violations do not count toward a total, and instead result in just a change of possession. Violations are typically offense-related, but some defensive violations do occur.

Here are some of the most common fouls and violations to look for.



When a player uses their hands to grab their opponent to impede or prevent them from moving or advancing with or without the ball.


When a player fails to maintain a set position while setting a screen or pick. Screens must be performed in a standstill manner.


When a player continually uses their hands on an opposing player. This foul is typically called on defenders at the perimeter to keep a safe distance between the ballhandler and the basket.


Similar to holding, this is when a player uses their hands in a fashion that referees deem illegal, typically in the form of touching a shooter’s arm or hand through their release or touching after an attempted steal.


When a player uses their leg or foot to throw off their opponent’s balance.


When a player excessively swings their elbows and hits another player.


When an offensive player makes contact with a defender who has established position in front of an offensive player with or without the basketball and is not moving. Some courts, especially those used for youth basketball, make this call easier to identify by having a “charge circle” marked below the basket. If a defender is outside the circle with their feet planted, it is a charge.


When a defender makes contact with an offensive player without establishing position, without giving proper space or is in the charge circle.


When a player or coach displays unsportsmanlike behavior, such as foul language, obscene gestures or arguing. Two technical fouls will result in ejection from the game.


When a player performs an act of violence that can seriously injure or harm others on the court. This can be unintentional or deliberate. Flagrant fouls can also result in player ejections at the referee’s discretion.



When a player takes more than two steps between dribbles or without dribbling the basketball. Traveling can also occur when a player who has picked up the dribble switches his or her pivot foot.


When a player dribbles the basketball in a manner that has their palm too far to the side or underneath the basketball.


When a player picks up their dribble to establish their position and then restarts their dribble, or when a player dribbles the basketball with two hands at the same time.


When two players gain possession of the ball and a brief battle for the basketball occurs. The referee will award possession to one team, alternating which team gets the ball each subsequent time it occurs.


When an offensive player brings the basketball over the half-court line and then retreats back over mid court during their possession.


When a player kicks the basketball.


Every player must remain in place until the ball is shot by the free throw shooter. If the offense travels into the free throw lane prior to the shooter’s release of the ball, then the shot does not count. If the defense ventures into the free throw lane too early, then another shot attempt is awarded to the shooter, if they miss.


  • 3-Second Violation: Offensive players cannot stand in the key for more than three seconds.

  • 5-Second Violation (Inbounding): A player must inbound the basketball within five seconds after the referee hands it to them to avoid a turnover.

  • 5-Second Violation (Offensive): An offensive player must pass, shoot or dribble the basketball within five seconds if being guarded by a defensive player who is within arm’s reach.

  • 10-Second Violation: Players must advance the basketball over the mid-court line within 10 seconds to avoid a turnover.

A better understanding of these fouls and violations can keep your plays sharper and games safer. Being aware can keep you on the court and out of foul trouble. So, lace up your shoes, drive to the hoop and score with a clearer knowledge of the rules today.


Want a copy of the basketball fouls and violations to easily reference? Print them here. Looking for more tips to improve your game? Explore expert advice from NBA Coaches.