What Is A Reach-In Foul In Basketball? Rule Explained

Have you ever gone for a steal only for it to be called a foul?

It’s called a reaching foul. But what exactly is it?

A reach-in foul is a personal foul that occurs when a defender tries to steal the ball from the offensive player who has the ball, then makes an illegal contact that obstructs his progress or path.

But there’s more to this foul than you might think. Here’s everything you need to know plus effective tips to avoid this foul.

What is a Reach in Foul in Basketball?

Technically, you cannot find the term reach in foul in basketball rulebooks. The term was just derived as a description of a personal foul that a defensive player commits when he tries to reach in and poke the ball from the opponent in an attempt to steal it.

There are limitations to the extent of your defensive tactics and moves to keep the game competitive and to level the playing field.

For example, you need to allow a reasonable amount of space between you and the opponent with the ball. You’re not allowed to hold, push, or obstruct his path or progress by extending your arm, leg, or knee.

In an attempt to do a legitimate steal, a defender who’s very much in the zone might become too aggressive. The pitfall is that what’s intended to be a legitimate steal might turn into a reach-in foul when he makes an illegal contact, such as by grabbing the ball handler’s arm.

There are exceptions, though.

For example, if the defender accidentally contacts the opponent who has the ball, but it doesn’t affect his balance or doesn’t impede his progress to the basket, a reach-in foul might not be called.

How Does a Reach in Foul Occur?

Reach-in fouls are among the most common personal fouls in many basketball games. That’s inevitable. After all, basketball is a contact sport.

How does a reach-in foul exactly occur anyway?

Here’s an example. Say a defender is heavily guarding an opponent.

To snag the ball out of his hand, he accidentally slaps the wrist of the opponent with the ball. This is considered a reach-in foul.

Another example is when a defender pushes the opponent who has the ball so that he loses balance. In this case, the referee will blow the whistle and call the defender out for a reach-in foul.

Sometimes, the offense employs certain moves that can throw defenders off balance, leading them to commit a reach-in foul unwittingly.

They deliberately do this to secure possession of the ball. And depending on the circumstances, the offended team might even get free throws!

Tips to Avoid a Reach-in Foul When Stealing

Player defending with arms out

What can you do to avoid committing a reach-in foul if you’re playing on the defense? We’ve got some useful tips for you to consider.

  • Timing is everything.

When guarding a player with the ball, you can still try to snag the ball away from him. This can be difficult, especially if the opponent is a strong and agile dribbler.

So, during your team practice, try doing some defensive drills. Improve your speed and timing.

Try to grab the ball with both hands when the ball handler is not dribbling. As you grab the ball, do a quick turn so that the defender is now behind your back.

This takes a lot of rigorous practice and exercise. But you can dramatically improve your speed, timing, and agility over time. These are all essential in reducing the possibility of committing a reach-in foul when attempting a steal.

  • Position strategically.

Do not cross the ball handler’s personal space determined in your league’s rulebook. Just position yourself as close to him as possible so that you can attempt a legitimate steal without committing a reach-in foul. Keep your palms facing upward when trying to snag the ball away.

With this hand position, you can avoid unintentionally tapping or touching your opponent’s forearm.

Also, the ball handler might not anticipate the movement of your hand coming toward the ball as he tries to switch positions.

Reach in Foul Hand Signal

What happens when a referee spots a reach-in foul? He whistles at the offending player. Then, he makes the hand signal for the reach in-foul.

He crosses his forearms, making an illusion of an X. One palm remains open while the other palm will be curled into a fist.

What is the Penalty for a Reach in Foul?

When a player commits a reach-in foul, the ball will be awarded out of bounds to the offended team. Typically, a single reach-in foul does not result in free throws being given to the opponent.

But in some circumstances, for example, when the offending player’s team has accumulated a series of combined fouls, free throws will be awarded to the team that has been fouled on.


What’s our take-home point now? While you can’t read a reach-in foul anywhere in the varying leagues’ rulebooks, players, coaches, and referees know it well. That’s because it’s one of the most called-out fouls in basketball games.

It’s just a term to easily describe a kind of personal foul involving a defender making illegal contact with the opponent who’s in possession of the ball.

To avoid it altogether, respect your opponent’s personal space when he’s driving to the basket, and practice legal ways to make a steal. While contact is inevitable in basketball, do your best to minimize it as much as possible.

Read these next:

Leave a Comment