What are Defensive Fouls in Basketball?

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Fouling is an essential element in basketball that can make or break games. As much as we hate to admit it, fouls can determine the outcome of a game, and anyone who watches basketball knows how big a foul can get. Numerous types of fouls govern the game and ensure that players act with proper decorum. 

The most common fouls called during the game are defensive fouls — but what exactly are they? And how can you avoid being called one? Let’s talk about that here. 

What is a Defensive Foul in BasketballWhat is a Defensive Foul in Basketball?

A defensive foul is a type of foul called during a game of basketball when a player on defense commits illegal contact or action toward a player on the offensive end. Defensive fouls can come in many forms; that’s why they are called multiple times in a game. 

These fouls were created to regulate physical contact and maintain proper decorum inside the court. Different defensive fouls are there to protect the ball-handler and allow them to score safely within the permitted physicality in-game. Much like any foul in the game, defensive fouls result in penalties ranging from ball possession to free throws. 

What is Considered a Defensive FoulWhat is Considered a Defensive Foul?

A defensive foul is one of the many types of fouls called in a game. Defensive fouls are typically called when a defending player makes illegal contact with a player on the offensive side — typically the ball-handler. The contact can come in several forms, including, but not limited to, pushing, holding, and blocking. As a rule of thumb, referees call a defensive foul when a player playing defense commits any physically excessive or violent move toward the opposing player. 

One of the most common types of defensive fouls is a “reaching-in,” which is called when a defensive player attempts to steal a ball but makes contact with the ball-handler instead. Another common defensive foul is “blocking,” where a defender gets in the way of a ball-handler without getting into a legal guarding position first.

Types of Defensive Fouls in BasketballTypes of Defensive Fouls in Basketball

Some of the types of defensive fouls in basketball are named after the primary action that leads to the foul. Here are some examples:


A blocking foul happens when a player steps in the direction where a ball-handler is running without establishing a legal guarding position yet. In basketball, you are technically allowed to block a player going for a drive, but you have to beat that person into the position first. However, if both of you arrive at the point of contact, the player holding the ball will get the benefit of the call. 


Pushing cannot be avoided in the game of basketball and any other contact sport, for that matter. However, pushing is only allowed to a certain degree, and once you cross that line, you will be called for a defensive foul. 


Attempting to swipe the ball off or poking a ball is an integral part of defending — but it’s always a gamble. A reaching foul happens when a defensive player tries to go for a steal but hits the ball-handler instead. In extreme cases, a player who reaches in and accidentally hits the face or the groin area of the ball-handler can get an unsportsmanlike foul. 


A holding foul is called when a defensive player uses their arms to restrict the offensive player’s movements. This is usually called in situations under the basket where players go up for a basket, but the opposing player holds them down to prevent them from getting a shot out — this usually ends up in free throws. 

Penalties Associated with Defensive Fouls in BasketballPenalties Associated with Defensive Fouls in Basketball

Much like any other foul in the NBA, defensive fouls can result in several things depending on the severity of the action. Of course, getting a defensive foul will add to a player and team’s foul count — five personal fouls will constitute an ejection, while five team fouls will result in bonus free throws for every succeeding foul.

If a defensive foul is committed when the offensive player is attempting to shoot, free throws are automatically awarded regardless of the team’s foul situation. Otherwise, a defensive foul committed on a non-attempt would simply mean a reset in possession where the team on offense can restart play. 

Examples of Defensive FoulsExamples of Defensive Fouls

Defensive fouls can come in many forms, such as Holding Fouls, Reaching-In, Hand-Check, Pushing Fouls, and Blocking Fouls.

Holding fouls are called when defensive players restrict the opposing player’s movements by deliberately holding them down with their arms. Pushing fouls are called when a player uses excessive force to knock out an opposing player off-balance. Blocking fouls are called when a defensive player steps into the path of the opposition without establishing a legal guardian position to block them off. 

Reaching-in and hand-check fouls are closely related because they are usually attributed to the action of going for steals. A reaching-in is called when a player who is going for a steal hits the opposing player. Meanwhile, a hand-check foul is called when the defender deliberately puts their hand on the opposition’s arm without the intent of going for a steal. 

How to Play Better Defense Without Fouling_ 3 TipsHow to Play Better Defense Without Fouling: 3 Tips

Defensive fouls can make or break games, so even though they cannot be avoided, you can do something to lessen them — especially in crucial situations. Here are some tips to defend without fouling: 

Stay in Front of Your Opponent

Staying in front of your opponent is a great way to avoid fouling. As long as you’re in front of your opponent, you wouldn’t need to reach in and potentially get called for fouls. In principle, staying in front of your opponent relies on your ability to move laterally without losing your balance. Keep your legs wide and your knees mobile — the best defenders in the NBA, such as Klay Thompson, Jrue Holiday, and Kawhi Leonard, have all these qualities. 

Face Guarding and Mirroring

One hand on the face and one hand to mirror the ball is one of the best ways to prevent opposing players from scoring without fouling them. Obstructing a player’s vision is a great way to distract them because no matter how good you are, shooting or passing blindly will always be risky. In addition to that, having your other hand track the ball gives the opposing player another thing to think about. 

Keep Your Cool and Discipline

Finally, keep your cool and discipline when defending. The temptation to swipe the ball or gamble for steals will always be there, but you have to keep your head in defending without fouling. If you gamble for a steal and fail, it leaves the lanes open for penetration and can result in one of your teammates taking a foul on behalf of your mistake. Meanwhile, keeping your cool and not instigating any unnecessary contact is, of course, something you have to learn unless you want to waste your fouls on unintentionally retaliating. 


Wrapping Things Up: What are Defensive Fouls in Basketball?

A defensive foul is one of the many types of fouls in basketball. As the name suggests, this foul is called on defenders for actions toward players on the offensive end. A defensive foul can come in the form of pushing, holding, reaching in, and many more. Defensive fouls can make or break games, especially during crucial situations — so learning to defend without fouling is an essential skill you need. At the end of the day, defensive fouls are there to protect the game from getting too aggressive so that we can all enjoy the game for what it is. 

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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