Rules of Basketball
Youth Leagues

Each youth basketball league establishes its own rules of basketball for competition. Whether you’re a player, parent, or coach you need to know the basketball regulations your particular league will be following.

This past season, my daughter was playing for a very experienced basketball coach, but he wasn’t aware of the size of basketball our age group was supposed to use. There are 3 different basketball sizes, and the team was playing with one size during practice and another size during the games.

Below you'll find the main youth basketball rules our league followed this past season. Compare them with the basketball regulations used in other levels of competition. Though they all share the same basketball basic rules, the governing bodies of each league modify them to suit their needs.

Click on the links below for information on the following related topics:

Rules of basketball for all levels

Positions on the court

Basketball terms you need to know

For the most part, these youth basketball rules follow those used by the National Federation of High School Basketball.

Youth Rules of Basketball #1 
Game Length

Games are divided into 4 quarters. Each quarter is 10 minutes in length. There is 1 minute between quarters. There is a 5-minute half-time period after the 2nd quarter.

Youth Rules of Basketball #2
Game Clock

The game clock runs continuously and only stops in the following situations:

  • During timeouts
  • While shooting free throws
  • During the last minute of the game on all dead ball situations.

Youth Rules of Basketball #3

Each team may call 2 timeouts per half. Unused timeouts cannot be carried over to the next half.

Timeouts are 30 seconds in duration.

There is 1 time out per overtime quarter. Timeouts left over from regulation do not carry over to overtime.

Youth Rules of Basketball #4

In the event of overtime, the duration of each quarter will be:

  • 3 minutes for the 1st OT period.
  • If the game is still tied after this time, a 2nd period of 2 minutes will be played.
  • If the game remains tied, a 3rd period lasting 1 minute will be played. 
  • If the score is tied at the end of 3 overtime periods, the game goes to sudden death (the first team to score wins the game.)

Youth Rules of Basketball #5
Playing Time

All players must play at least 20 minutes of each game. The only possible exceptions are:

  • Illness/injury
  • If a player is late to a game

If a player is late to a game, it may go against his playing time. Coaches must notify scorekeepers and the other coach of the player's late arrival and their intention of penalizing the player in playing time.

Violation of the 20-minute playing time rule could result in forfeiture of the game.

If a coach has sent a player to check in at the 5:00 mark and she does not get in until the 4:00 mark, this will not be considered a violation because the intent of the coach was to get the player in at the 5:00 mark, but he could not because play didn't stop to allow the player or players into the game.

Coaches should keep track of their own time and come in to a game with a written game plan of how they plan on allocating each player's minutes.

If a player is ill or injured, he should not dress in uniform for the game and should not be put on the score sheet if he isn't going to play.

Free substitution is allowed. Players must report to the scorer's table.

Random substitution makes it more difficult to keep track of each player's minutes. It's easier, but not required, to keep track if substitutions are made at the quarter and/or the 5:00 mark of the quarter.

If a coach has 9 players present, she can decide where her 20 discretionary minutes can be spent. If she decides to give all of them to the best player, one player can play all 40 minutes, provided that all other players get their required 20 minutes.

If a team has 8 players for example, they may decide to play their two top players all game. If they decide to give them a breather, they may do so. However, they are not required to sit every player a mandatory 5 minutes. However, they are required to make sure that every single player receives 20 minutes of playing time. 

Youth Rules of Basketball #6

Coaches must have a roster with player's numbers.

Coaches are required to check in at scorer's table at least 15 minutes before each game to fill out a score sheet. 

Youth Rules of Basketball #7
Arrival Time

No games will ever start more than 15 minutes early. Players are strongly recommended that they arrive for games at least 20 minutes before game time.

Youth Rules of Basketball #8
Minimum Number of Players

A team may start with 4 players. If a team has less than 4 players, a game may be declared a forfeit at the time the game is scheduled to begin.

Youth Rules of Basketball #9
Alternate Possession/Jump Balls

After the opening jump ball, team possessions will alternate on any tied up ball.

The start of each quarter continues with whichever’s team’s turn it is to get the ball.

If the game goes into overtime, a center court jump ball will start the period. The team that fails to get the jump ball will get the next jump ball. 

Youth Rules of Basketball #10
Lane Violations

A lane violation will be called if an offensive player remains in the lane longer than 3 seconds without the ball. 

Youth Rules of Basketball #11
3-Point Shots

The 3-point shot is in effect for all age groups.

Youth Rules of Basketball #12

A player fouls out of the game when he/she is call for a 5th personal foul.

Penalty free throws will be awarded on the 7th team foul during each half.

If a team commits 10 personal fouls in a half, the opposing team will be awarded an automatic 2 free throws on each subsequent foul.

Technical fouls count as a personal foul, a technical foul, and a team foul.

All technical fouls result in 2 shots and possession of the ball in bounds.

If a player or coach receives 2 technical fouls in any one game, they will be ejected from the game and must leave the gym immediately. 

Youth Rules of Basketball #13

Full-court pressing is allowed and may be used for the entire game with the following exceptions:

For the younger age groups (up to 4th grade), it’s a good idea to limit the amount of full-court pressing. Man-to-Man defense should be played for the first 3 quarters. In the 4th quarter, teams may press or use any kind of defense they want.

A team that is ahead by 10 points may not full-court press to extend their lead, but they may use any other type of half-court defense.

The intention of this pressing rule is to expose and prepare young players with the knowledge of how to run a press and break the press in their future seasons. It is not the intention of this rule to extend the lead and “blow the other teams out.” It is also the intention of this rule to allow every team a chance to get back in the game. 

Youth Rules of Basketball #14

Isolation offense (spreading players out wide so the best player can go 1-on-1) is illegal. 

Youth Rules of Basketball #15
Free Throws

The distance of the free throw for the young players (up to 4th grade) is flexible. Coaches should have players shoot from the maximum distance at which they can shoot a free throw with good form. The idea is to teach these beginning players how to shoot a proper free throw. 

Youth Rules of Basketball #16
Basketball Size

A women’s/youth ball size 28.5 is used for all age groups under the 6th grade.

All age groups 6th grade and up should use the men’s regulation 29.5 basketball. 

Youth Rules of Basketball #17

All players must wear their official uniform during the game. Any player not wearing their official shirts provided by the league will be called for a technical foul.

If a player chooses to wear an undershirt, it must match the team's basic color, or the default color may always be a black cut off shirt or a black T-shirt.

All players should wear as close to basic black shorts as possible.

Shirts must be tucked inside the shorts.

No player is allowed to wear jewelry of any type during the game. 

Youth Rules of Basketball #18

Only one head coach and one assistant may sit on the bench. 

Youth Rules of Basketball #19

Coaches may designate one parent from their team as the stat keepers for that game.

The official stats will be kept at the scorer’s table by a scorekeeper provided by the league.

Youth Basketball Rules #20

There is no maximum number of practices a team can hold. However, as a general rule practices should be limited to no more than a couple 1 1/2 hour practices a week. 

Youth Basketball Rules #21
Rules of Conduct

It is expected that all players, coaches, parents and spectators show respect for one another. Berating, fighting, foul language, or swearing is not allowed. Unsportsmanlike conduct of any kind will not be tolerated whether during the game or afterward in the parking lot, etc.

Violation of this rule for a player or coach will result in a technical foul and possible suspension from the league with no refund.

Abusive behavior from fans and parents on a particular team's sideline could also result in a bench technical. A bench technical will be charged to the coach.

Any spectator or parent using foul language or anything construed as less than positive behavior by the referees or administrator may be ejected. Multiple game suspensions could be imposed by the league administrator, depending on the severity of the situation and offense.

Please keep all cheering in a positive manner and show good sportsmanship. 

Rules for Breaking a Tie to Determine League Champion

  1. Head-to-Head Competition. 
  2. Point difference in head-to-head competition if more than one game is played between the two tied teams.
  3. If more than two teams are tied with the same record, the following will happen: 
    If one team has beaten the other two or more teams, they win the conference. 
    If each team has beaten only one of the two or more other teams that are tied, point differential for all eight games played will be used. The maximum point differential for a single game will be 15 points. Therefore, there is no advantage to blowing a team out.
    In the event of a tie in point differential, the next tiebreaker will be a coin toss.

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