Dribbling and Ballhandling

Written by

Most coaches use dribbling and ballhandling interchangeably. Though they are linked, the 2 skills are definitely separate.

Dribbling and controlling the ball is a skill that can be practiced alone and is separate from the other ball skills on the court. Ballhandling, however, involves knowledge of the game and integrates dribbling, passing and decision-making.

Practicing and improving your dribbling is a simple task. There are innumerable dribbling drills that are in use today that are challenging and effective. The set of drills that have come to be known as “Maravich Drills,” (after the late ball handling wizard Pete Maravich) are widely known. They include drills such as passing the ball around your body, dribble figure 8s, spider dribbling, drop and catch.

Practicing and improving your ballhandling requires imagination, as you have to put yourself in game situations.

Dribbling practice

“Maravich Drills” are very good at getting players comfortable with the ball. Below are some examples.

Dribble Figure 8’s – Spread legs about shoulder width. Dribble the ball through and around legs in a figure 8. Can be done multiple ways – front to back, back to front, low dribbles (as many dribbles as possible with dribble about shoe height), as few dribbles as possible (high dribble about waist high), can even be done walking.

Spider Dribble – Feet spread about shoulder width. Dribble the ball between your legs in the following manner – left hand, right hand in front of your legs; left hand, right hand behind your legs. Work to as fast a possible.

Drop and Catch – Hold ball between your legs with right hand in front of your body, left hand behind. Drop the ball and exchange you hand position and re-catch the ball before it hits the ground.

These are just examples. There are too many of these drills to list here. Pete Maravich devised these drills out of his imagination, his need for challenge and his drive to improve. You do not need to be bound by other people’s drills, challenge yourself to come up with your own drills.

I prefer to use skill in combinations that are relevant to multiple aspects of the game. It saves time and has a great sense of urgency. One of the ways I do this is to add dribbling into my stretching exercises.

Hamstring Stretch – While dribbling with your right hand, cross right leg over left. Bend at the waist, touch the floor with your left hand and bring your dribble down to shoe top level. Hold for an 8 count. Reverse position and switch hands.

Lower Body and Achilles Stretch – Dribble waist high while standing up. Step as far forward with your right leg as you can, keeping your back straight and your left heel on the ground. At the same time bring your dribble forward of your right foot, keeping the ball at shoe top height. Hold for an 8 count and then stand up. Switch legs and dribble hand.

Crossover – Same as above except, step forward with left leg. As foot goes to the floor, switch hands, right to left, keeping dribble shoe top height. Cross back when standing up.

Through Legs – Same as above except instead of crossing over, put ball through legs shoe top height.

Multiple Through Legs – Same as above except put ball through legs 3 times (left, right, left) on quick, successive dribbles shoe top height.

Torso Twist – Spread legs outside of shoulder width, dribble with right hand. Keeping legs straight, bring ball across body to left side, outside left foot and dribble shoe top height behind left foot.

These are just samples. You can develop a dribble stretch for any part of the body.

2 Ball Dribble Drills

I think the most effective way to improve your dribble, however, is by using 2 balls. Any dribble or drill you can do with 1 ball, you can do with 2. Stationary practice at first will build confidence. Stand on the baseline and try to control both balls. Then start to move. Go half court, then full court. Follow the lines around the court or in any route you can come up with.

Full Court – Dribble both balls at the same time down the court, alternate on way back

High-Low – Left hand dribble above shoulder, right hand shoe level down the court, reverse them on way back

Inside out with both balls

Crossover both balls

Spin with both balls

Behind back with one ball – crossover with the other

Behind back with one ball - through legs with the other

Backup dribble then crossover with both balls and explode forward

There are many others you can come up with. These can also be done with setting up chairs or cones and having players dribble around and through the obstacles.

Dribbling Points of Emphasis

  • Dribble the ball hard. The more time the ball spends in your hand, the more control you have of the ball. The harder you dribble, the quicker it gets back in your hand.
  • Head up at all times. Look at the rim or a spot on the wall during all practice.
  • Be uncomfortable. Practicing things you are not good at is always hard. If you seek to be comfortable you will never improve.
  • Use your imagination. Picture when and how you would use each of the dribbles.


The difference between dribbling and ballhandling is intent. Dribbling is the skill of controlling the ball as you bounce it to the floor. Ballhandling (at least 1 aspect of ballhandling) is what you do with that dribble.

Whether you use it to go to the basket, make a passing angle, escape from pressure or anything else, those situations have to be imagined and practiced.

Here are some situational drills

  • Full Court Lay-ups – Start on the baseline. Dribble full court with right hand in 5 dribbles and make a lay-up, come back with left hand. Then reduce the number of dribbles to 4 and then to 3.
  • Chair Changes Place a chair about 21 feet from the basket. It can be on top, on wing or in the corner. Start about 8-10 feet beyond the chair. Dribble straight at chair. At chair, use a change dribble (crossover, inside out, behind back, etc) to go beyond chair and make a lay-up. Try to get to the point where you need only one dribble to get to the lay-up. Practice all the changes.
  • Two up Two back – Set a chair such as in the drill above. Take 2 hard dribbles at the chair. When reaching the chair, take 2 backup dribbles. After the second dribble, push ahead into 1 dribble lay-up or pull-up jumpshot.
  • Dropstep Dribble – (works on footwork and ballhanding) – Phase 1 -Set up chair, foul line extended, facing the corner. Put a ball on the chair. Player comes out of the corner, jumpstop at the chair, pick up the ball and place it in shooting position. Player then dropsteps to the basket, using the inside foot as the pivot foot, takes 1 dribble for lay-up. Work both left and right side. Gradually move the chair back, constantly challenging the player to cover the distance with 1 dribble. Phase 2 – When chair is sufficient distance from the basket (35 -40 feet), place a 2nd chair near the lane. Player comes out of the corner, dropsteps, 1 dribble to the 2nd chair, then a quick-change dribble for a lay-up. As drill progresses, move the 2nd chair gradually closer to the first chair. Challenge the player to attack the first chair, no matter how close, make a change dribble, and get to the basket in 1 dribble from the second chair. This works on attack mentality, change dribbles, handling in close quarters, etc.

This drill can be done with any pivot.

  • Chair Curl – This is another great multi use drill. It combines shooting, ballhandling and speed and high intensity change in direction. Phase 1 – Place a chair, facing sideline, at the foul line extended, within the shooter’s range. Place a ball on the chair. Player starts on the same side block. Player sprints and curls around the chair (it can be from the baseline or over the top), picks up the ball and takes a jump shot.

Phase 2 – After shooter takes the jump shot, he chases down the rebound (puts it in if the jumper was missed – always end on a make), makes a 1 or 2 change dribble move back around the chair and takes a 1 dribble jump shot.

Phase 3 – Place a 2nd chair closer to the basket and to the side of the first chair. After rebounding (and scoring), shooter makes a 1 or 2 change dribble back around the chair, jabs at the 2nd chair, makes a backup dribble and a quick change to other side of the chair for a jumper.

Shooting drills can also be adapted to work on ballhandling aspects by adding changes of direction and pivoting to create 1 and 2 dribble opportunities for either jumpers or lay-ups.

Ballhandling Points of Emphasis

  • Teach mentality. There is too much dribbling for no reason in our game today. I like to teach that the primary purpose for putting the ball on the floor is to get a lay-up. If you don’t have an opportunity, don’t put it on the floor.
  • Basketball is a game of length. Work on lengthening the dribble. Work to get your opportunities with 1 dribble. You don’t beat defenses with your dribble. You beat people with your feet; you SEPARATE from your defense with the dribble.
  • Basketball is also a game of angles. Try to move in straight lines. Whenever you make an “East-West” move (something that takes you toward the sideline), re-capture a “North-South” path (direct line to the basket) as quickly as possible.
  • Don’t do in 2 dribbles things you can do in 1.
  • Practice outside your comfort zone. Experiment; go faster than you are used to, use your imagination. When working on new skills, don’t be concerned with loosing the ball. Just pick it up and do it again.
Don Kelbick

Coach Don Kelbick has had 27 years of coaching experience, 25 at the college level including 14 years as a head coach and 10 years as a Division I assistant including stops at Hofstra University, Marist College, Keene State College, and Florida International University. In 2 years as a high school coach, his teams produced 6 Division I players and was ranked #1 in Florida 28 out of a possible 34 weeks. In addition to coaching he has scouted for NBA teams, including the Knicks and the Hawks, and served as a general manager in the USBL.