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Traveling in Basketball The Ultimate Guide to the Rule

Basketball player in blue and gold dribbles the ball to avoid traveling.

When learning to play basketball for the first time, it’s important you understand how to do the right things on the court. At the same time, it’s also important you know how to avoid doing the wrong things on the court — such as traveling.

So, what is traveling in basketball?

Traveling is a violation in basketball that occurs when a player in possession of the ball illegally moves one or both of their feet. There is a wide range of ways traveling can be called, but they largely occur when an offensive player takes more than two steps.

A traveling violation, also known as ‘walking’ or ‘taking steps,’ is a coach’s worst nightmare. For the most part, traveling violations are unforced errors that should be avoided at all times. Since there’s a lot to learn when it comes to traveling, we’ll break down everything you need to know.

What Is Traveling in Basketball?

When most people think of a traveling violation, they think of taking too many steps without dribbling the ball. While that’s a broad definition of this rule, it doesn’t explain the full spectrum of what the referees consider a traveling violation.

According to the NBA’s official rulebook, there are eight major considerations when traveling in basketball. Let’s take a closer look at what’s considered traveling:

  1. If you receive the ball while standing still, you can use either foot as your pivot foot, but only one foot.
  2. When receiving the ball while progressing, you’re allowed two steps if coming into a pass, shot, or stop. You’ll get an extra ‘gather step’ if you haven’t dribbled yet.
  3. If you want to dribble after receiving the ball (when standing still or coming to a full stop), the ball has to leave your hand before your pivot foot is raised off the ground.
  4. When you have possession of the ball, you must either pass or shoot the ball before the pivot foot returns to the ground. Furthermore, you can’t be the first person to touch the ball if you drop it once the pivot foot is raised.
  5. If a player falls to the floor when holding the ball, you’re not allowed to benefit from purposefully sliding.
  6. You’re not allowed to touch the ball after shooting unless it touches the rim, backboard, or another player first.
  7. You’re not allowed to touch the ball after passing it unless it touches the rim, backboard, or another player first.
  8. Once you receive the ball or end your dribble, you can’t touch the floor consecutively with the same foot.

Traveling violations can only be called on the ball handler after they catch the ball or after they stop their dribble. In addition to that, you must be in-bounds to travel.

Once the travel happens, the referee blows their whistle and possession is awarded to the defense. The ball is taken out on the sideline nearest the spot of the violation.

How to Avoid Traveling in Basketball

College basketball player in silver and red drives to the basket against players in red.

Understanding the rules is the first step in avoiding traveling when playing basketball, but it won’t guarantee success with the ball in your hand. Much like everything else in this sport, you’ll need extensive practice to feel comfortable enough holding the ball.

Luckily, there are a lot of things you can work on to reduce your risk of traveling in a game. One of the biggest tips we have is called the jump stop and it’s a reliable way to set yourself up for success when receiving the ball.

This occurs when you land on the court and both feet touch after receiving the ball. This is a preferred way to receive the ball because it allows you to choose your pivot foot. This gets tricky when landing on one foot because you don’t want to make a mistake by taking an extra step.

The jump stop is extremely easy to practice whether you’re alone or with your team. When with the team, the coach lines up the players at the baseline about five feet apart. When the whistle blows, the players start running towards half-court.

Players then perform the jump shot on the second whistle. While they’re doing that, the coach yells out a foot and direction to pivot on.

There are four choices here: left foot back pivot, left foot front pivot, right foot back pivot, and right foot front pivot. The coach changes the foot and direction every other time he blows the whistle.

If you’re alone, do the same thing, but take your coach out of the equation. Mix it up — do it with the ball, without the ball, in different areas of the court, and try doing it with some defense if you have some friends that want to practice.

The more comfortable you are with receiving the ball or picking up your dribble, the less chance you’ll have of drawing traveling violations on the basketball court.

Of course, there is a wide range of other techniques that factor into traveling in basketball. Let’s check out some more of them below!

What Is a Pivot Foot in Basketball?

The pivot foot, as we discussed above, is one of the most important facets of a traveling violation. If you don’t know how to utilize the pivot foot properly, let alone know what the pivot foot is, you and the referee will become best friends.

The pivot foot is the foot you use to pivot when holding onto the ball without dribbling. It’s the foot that must remain planted if you want to avoid a traveling violation. It acts like a hinge, allowing you to rotate 360 degrees to create space between you and the defender.

The only time a player is allowed to move their pivot foot is when going up for a shot, passing the ball, or starting a dribble (if they haven’t used their dribble already). Moving the pivot foot before any of these events results in a traveling violation.

To practice your pivot foot, the drill we discussed above will do the trick. For beginners, take the jump stop out of the equation and just work on your pivot foot standing still.

Grab a friend to play defense and have him get in your face so you can get some resistance while trying to keep your pivot foot planted.

If you’re coaching a team, have everyone pair-up and grab a ball. When you blow the whistle the first time, have the player with the ball start pivoting and continue this for several seconds.

When you blow the whistle a second time, the player with the ball needs to pass to their partner so they can start pivoting.

Do this back and forth until both players are exhausted. The more tired they get, the harder it will be to keep that pivot foot. Also, make sure the player without the ball keeps their feet moving while the other player is pivoting — don’t let them stand flat-footed at any time throughout the drill.

What Is a Gather Step in Basketball?

Woman holding a basketball in the bleachers.

The gather step, also known as the ‘gather’, isn’t a new concept to basketball, but it’s one basketball fans have long been confused over. The NBA attempted to clear up that confusion by adding a provision in the rule book that explains the gather step more clearly.

The provision was added in 2019 but has been changed or tweaked several times throughout recent history to better define the gather step. As of now, the NBA’s official rulebook defines the ‘gather’ as the moment a player “gains enough control of the ball to hold it, change hands, pass, shoot, or cradle it against his body.”

It’s important to note that the definition above only applies to a player who receives the ball or gains possession of a loose ball.

If the player is coming off a dribble, the ‘gather’ is defined as the moment a player puts two hands on the ball, puts their hand under the ball bringing it to a pause, or gains enough control of the ball to pass, shoot, cradle, or change hands.

In addition to that, the NBA further incorporates the new ‘gather’ definition into the traveling rules by explaining the following:

  1. Players that are progressing can take two steps if they’re coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball.
  2. Players that are progressing can take one step before releasing the ball if they haven’t dribbled yet.
  3. Players that are progressing while dribbling can take two steps if they’re coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball.

The NBA also defined that the first step is when a foot or both feet touch the ground after the player makes contact and ‘gathers’ the ball.

What Is a Zero Step in Basketball?

The zero step is another offensive term in basketball that is rather new to the NBA due to the clarification of the ‘gather’ rule. In relation, the zero step is the step taken by the player when gathering or gaining control of the ball.

In other words, the zero step is that extra step players are allowed to take when gaining control of the ball. It’s the reason why so many players in NBA play might look like they are traveling, but they’re following the traveling rules — most of the time.

The thing with the zero step is that it’s only allowed when a player is progressing and when they have one foot on the ground.

Let’s say you receive the ball from a teammate. The foot that hits the ground the moment you catch the ball is considered your ‘zero step.’ Under the old traveling rules, you would have just one more step before deciding what to do. With the new rules, you still have your two steps.

On the other hand, this rule wouldn’t apply when a jump stop occurs or if you received the ball with both feet flat on the ground (standing still).

What we’re seeing in the NBA — and what younger players should start practicing — is how to take advantage of the zero step. Practice putting it to use in slow motion. Teach yourself to legally take three steps before you shoot, pass or dribble.

The defense won’t expect it and you’ll get a lot of early reactions from the defender, which just means you get to take more advantage of the situation.

What Is a Euro Step in Basketball?

There are a lot of offensive maneuvers that allow players the ability to create space whenever it’s needed. One of the most popular and beautiful-to-watch basketball maneuvers in basketball is the euro step. Unfortunately, it often gets called as traveling in basketball.

The euro step is when you take full advantage of the two steps you get while progressing and stopping your dribble. It’s largely used in the paint area to gain space for a layup, but it can also be used around the perimeter and even when passing to a teammate.

A euro step requires the player to take two long steps in a zig-zag motion to swiftly move around an opponent or trick them into thinking you’re going one way. Since the player quickly changes direction from side-to-side during a euro step, it’s also referred to as the ‘side step.’

The term ‘euro step’ exists because the move was originally popularized in European basketball leagues before making its way to the NBA and most basketball leagues in the Western world.

Now, everyone uses it and it’s an extremely effective move. Knowing how to perfect the euro step gives you a weapon to use throughout the game.

Eventually, the other team will expect you to use this step, at which point you can use another maneuver to keep the defense guessing.

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