High School Basketball Rules

Get the latest high school basketball rules and updates.

And learn the major rules of highschool basketball leagues summarized in the easy-to-understand list of terms below.

As a parent of a young player, I'm constantly surprised at the anger, frustration, and confusion I hear from spectators sitting in the stands during ball games

high school basketball rules

2012-13 NFHS H.S. Basketball Rules Simplified & Illustrated

A lot of the comments I hear come from parents who don't understand the referee's calls because they aren't familiar with the high school rules.

Don't sit through one more of your child's games without knowing the rules.

Each level of competition adopts slightly different rules. Find official rules for all types of basketball leagues.

If you're looking for an official H.S. basketball rules book, The National Federation of State High School Associations puts out a new one each year.

Just follow the link for the latest edition.

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The NFHS publishes playing rules for high school sports to ensure consistent standards for competition across the country.

They also put out another helpful resource called High School Basketball Rules by Topic.

This book organizes every rule and case play by topic to help you better understand the rules and how to apply them.


I've defined the major high school basketball rules below.

There are a lot of other basketball terms you need to know aside from these if you're going to spend much time around the game.

If you want a less technical, more general overview of the game, check out the basic basketball rules.

With this glossary of basketball terms, you'll have the major high school basketball rules covered.

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Alternating Possession – When there is a tied up ball between two opponents, teams alternate throwing the ball inbounds. An alternating possession arrow is used at the scorer's table to keep track of which team will receive the ball on the next possession. The direction of the arrow is reversed immediately after the throw-in ends. A jump ball is used only at the start of the game and each extra period.

Backcourt – The part of the court that is farthest away from the offensive basket. It refers to the team’s defensive half of the court.

Backcourt Violation – If a player is the last one on her team to touch the ball before it goes into the backcourt, she cannot be the first player to touch it in the backcourt.

Blocking – A personal foul caused when the defender makes illegal personal contact with an opponent who may or may not have the ball. Blocking is called when the defender impedes the progress of the opponent.

Bonus Free Throw – The second free throw awarded when a team reaches its 7th, 8th, and 9th foul in each half. It is awarded only if the shooter makes the first free throw. Once a team reaches its 10th foul in each half, the bonus is awarded whether or not the first free throw is made.


Charging (or Player Control Foul) – A personal foul occurring when an offensive player makes contact with a defender who has already established a set position. A player with the ball must avoid contact with a stationary defender by stopping or changing direction.

Closely Guarded (or Five-second Violation) – Violation that occurs when a ball handler in his team's front court is continuously guarded by any opponent who is within six feet of him while he is either dribbling or holding the ball. The offensive player has 5 seconds to either get rid of the ball or drive past the defender.


Dead Ball – A ball that is out of bounds or no longer in play for some reason due to the official’s whistle.

Defense – The team that does not have possession of the ball.

Double Fouls – When two opponents commit fouls against each other at the same time.

Dribble – A method of movement in which the player in control of the ball pushes it to the floor. The ball has to hit the floor before the ball handler lifts her pivot foot. The dribble ends when the dribbler catches the ball in one or both hands; palms or carries the ball in one or both hands; touches the ball with 2 hands at the time same; or the ball handler loses control of the ball.

Elbowing – It is a violation for a player to swing the elbows excessively.

Established Position – The position held by a defender who is firmly set in place with both feet planted on the floor. If an offensive player runs into a defender who has established his position, he will be called for charging.

Extra Period (or Overtime) – If the score is tied at the end of regulation, play continues for one or more additional periods until one team is ahead when the extra period ends.


Field Goal (see Scoring) – A basket that is made.

Five-Second Violation (see Closely Guarded)

Flagrant Foul – A personal or technical foul, which is violent in nature. Examples are fighting, striking, kicking, or kneeing an opponent.

Foul – An infraction of the rules, which results in a player being charged and penalized. Each player is allowed 5 fouls before they are removed from the game.

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Free Throw – An opportunity for a player who has been fouled to shoot the ball from the free throw line without being hindered by an opponent. A made free throw is worth one point.

Frontcourt – The offensive half of the basketball court.

Goaltending – Occurs when a player touches a shot ball while it is in its downward flight above the rim. It also occurs when a defender touches a free throw attempt outside the basket.

Guarding – The act of legally positioning a defender's body in the path of an offensive player without making contact by extending an arm, shoulder, leg, or hip into the path of the opponent.


Hand Check – A personal foul caused by a defender making repeated contact with her hands on her opponent.

Held Ball – When at least two players on opposing teams are both holding the ball so firmly that neither can gain control of it without undue roughness.

Holding – A personal foul caused by illegal contact with an opponent, which interferes with his freedom of movement.

Incidental Contact – Permissible contact with an opponent, which doesn't give either player an advantage or disadvantage. For example, a defender who doesn't see a screener coming may inadvertently run into him, and as long as the screener doesn't lose the ball as a result or get pushed excessively, the contact is allowed.

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Intentional Foul – A personal or technical foul, which keeps the opponent from capitalizing on an advantageous situation. It could be contact away from the ball or contact when a defender is not making a legitimate attempt to play the ball or a player. It also occurs when a player causes excessive contact with an opponent.

Jump Ball – At the beginning of each half, an official tosses the ball up between two opponents in the center circle to put it into play. The ball is tapped by one of the 2 jumpers and is considered in play when it touches a player outside the circle, or hits the floor, basketball or backboard. After the first jump ball, teams alternate taking the ball out of bounds in held ball situations.


Lane Violation – A violation called during a free throw situation against a player who enters the lane too soon.

Live Ball – When the ball is in play. A jump ball from the center circle starts each game and extra period. After the initial jump ball, the only way to put a dead ball back into play is by a throw-in or a free throw. It also describes a player who has the ball but has not yet used her dribble.

Offense – The team that is in possession of the ball.

Offensive Foul – A foul caused by an offensive player, usually in the form of charging.

One-and-One – A free throw situation in which the shooter is allowed a second free throw attempt only if he makes his first one.

Over the Limit – When a team commits more than the allotted fouls in a period, their opponent shoots bonus free throws.

Overtime (see Extra Period)


Period – A part of a game, like a quarter or a half.

Personal Foul – Illegal contact with an opponent while the ball is live, which hinders the opponent's offensive or defensive movement. A personal foul also includes contact by or on an airborne shooter when the ball is dead.

Rebound – Gaining possession of the ball following a shot. To be in good rebound position, a rebounder can’t push an opponent or extend the shoulders, hips, knees, or arms in a direction other than vertical, which would interfere with an opponent going after the ball.

Scoring – The value of each shot is as follows:

  • 3 points – A shot made from behind the 3-point arc (19' 9" arc)
  • 2 points – A shot made from the court anywhere inside the 3-point arc
  • 1 point – A free throw


Technical Foul – A non-contact foul by a player; an intentional or flagrant contact foul while the ball is dead; or a violation charged to the head coach because of violations on the sideline or from bench personnel.

Team Foul – Any foul charged to a team. Once a team reaches 7 team fouls, its opponent is in a bonus free throw situation.

Three-Point Play – A shooter who is fouled on a made basket gets to shoot one free throw for the opportunity to make a total of 3 points.

Ten Seconds in the Backcourt – A team has 10 seconds to advance the ball from their backcourt past the half-court line to the front court.

Three Seconds in the Lane – An offensive player cannot remain in the free throw lane for longer than 3 seconds while her team is in control of the ball in the front court. She has to clear the lane completely with both feet to stop the official’s count. If she receives the ball while she is in the lane, she is allowed to stay beyond 3 seconds in order to drive toward the goal for a shot.

Timeout – Any time a player, coach or official asks the game clock to be stopped. There are 4 types of timeouts: A 60-second time-out; a 30-second time-out; an official timeout in which the official needs the game stopped for some reason; and a media timeout, which is called when games are being broadcast and the stations carrying them need to run advertisements.

Traveling – A violation caused by moving the feet in any direction without properly dribbling the ball. It results in a turnover, and the ball is given to the opposing team. While holding the ball, a player has to establish a pivot foot which has to remain on the floor at all times until he passes, shoots, or dribbles. While holding the ball, his knee cannot touch the floor and if he falls, he must get rid of the ball before attempting to get up.

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Turnover – When the offense loses the ball and the defending team takes possession of it.

Violation – An infraction of the rules, which does not result in a free throw but the ball being given to the opposing team.

This glossary of high school basketball rules should be a helpful resource for you as you continue to learn about the game.

Click on the following links if you want information about:

High school basketball court dimensions

H.S. basketball court diagrams

Highschool basketball sizes

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