Youth Basketball Rules

youth basketball rules

See how youth basketball rules differ from official rules used for older players. The goals, court dimensions, and ball size are some of the key modifications found in most youth leagues.

Typically, the rules vary from league to league.

Unlike other levels of competition, there isn't a governing body that writes standardized youth rules.

Before the season begins, make sure you receive a list of the rules that will be used in your league so that you and your young player know what to expect going into that first basketball game.

Keep in mind that the main goal of youth basketball leagues is to teach the basic fundamentals of the game to beginners.

The emphasis is not on winning, but on learning.

As you look through the rules, you'll see that they are written with this goal in mind.

Youth basketball rules tend to favor the offense. They help create an environment that allows young ball handlers to experience success and build confidence.

Below you'll find some basic youth basketball rules and guidelines used by many organizations.

I've alphabetized them by category to help you if you're searching for something in particular. Click on a specific item or scroll down the page to see all of the rules.

Check out these 5th-6th grade co-ed youth basketball rules used in my daughter's last basketball season. You'll notice that they vary from some of the guidelines in the list below.

NFHS 2012-13 High School Basketball Rules
101 Ways to be a Terrific Sports Parent
Baffled Parent's Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball
Survival Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball


Youth Basketball Rules #1
Age requirements

Youth basketball leagues usually accept players from 5-13 years of age (after they begin elementary school, but before they start high school).

Leagues are organized into different divisions by age group, and the groupings really depend on the number of players there are. Ideally, teams should be made up of players within 1-2 years of each other, but when enrollment is small, sometimes teams have a wide age range.

Youth Rules #2
Ball size

Youth leagues use a youth size basketball, which is actually the same size ball used by college women and high school girls. The circumference of the youth ball is 28.5 inches, and it weighs 20 ounces.

Find more youth basketballs...

Youth Rules #3
Basket Height

basketball goals

Many leagues play with the regulation 10-foot basketball goals, but for players under 8 years of age, the goal is lowered to 8-8.5 feet.

Youth Rules #4
Court size

There isn't a standard basketball court size for youth basketball leagues.

The standard court used by the NCAA (94 ft x 50 ft) and the court used by high school players (84 ft x 50 ft) are really too big for youth basketball players.

A court about 74 ft x 42 ft is a nice size for young players, but youth courts come in all sizes.

basketball court size

Many times, the size of the court depends on the facilities that are available. Youth leagues don't always have access to regulation-size courts, and games are played on smaller courts like those in school cafeterias. When a standard-size basketball court is available, youth league games are often played from sideline to sideline on one half of the larger court.

A smaller court is really important for young players so that fatigue doesn't become as much of a factor. As they are learning how to play basketball, a smaller court allows the players to handle the ball more instead of spending so much time and energy running up and down the court just trying to get from one end to the other.

Youth Basketball Rules #5

There are probably more youth basketball rules directed at the defense than any other part of the game.

Teams are not allowed to pressure the ball full-court.

Defensive players have to drop back past the half-court line. It doesn't matter whether it's after a made shot, a turnover, or a rebound, teams have to drop back to half-court and allow the ball to be dribbled down without pressure. Once the ball crosses half-court, the defense can guard the ball.

Man-to-man defense is played so that players can learn the basic skills of individual and team defense.

wrist bands

At the beginning of each quarter, the teams line up facing each other at half-court and identify the players they will be matched up against.

The two players who will be guarding each other are given wristbands of the same color to wear so that they can keep up with each other.

Stealing the ball is allowed once it passes half-court, but shot blocking is not allowed. If a player takes a shot, the defender is allowed to stand with arms extended straight up in the air, but she cannot jump up or swat at the ball.

Youth Rules #6

basketball foul

Officials want to avoid injury to young kids, so they try to discourage rough play by blowing their whistles at the smallest physical contact.

Even though basketball is considered a contact sport, young players are not big enough, strong enough, or mature enough to handle the kind of contact that occurs at higher competitive levels.

Youth Rules #7
Free throws

Free throws are usually only awarded for fouls that occur during the act of shooting. Typically, there are no bonus free throws or 1&1s.

Sometimes the clock stops while shooting free throws, but not always. Talk about a time waster – shooting free throws can eat up the clock!

In some leagues, players shoot from the regulation 15-foot free throw line, but in other leagues a line is marked on the floor about 2 feet closer.

Youth Rules #8
Game length

Four 8-minute quarters are common for a youth league game. To speed up the game, the game clock runs continuously and only stops at the end of each quarter, during timeouts, and for designated group substitutions.

Youth Rules #9

youth basketball

Under 10 years of age, it's not uncommon for teams to be co-ed (boys and girls together on one team).

After about the age of 10, leagues are usually separated into boys and girls divisions.

Sometimes there aren't enough girls that sign up to field a girls division, so boys and girls are mixed together.

Youth Basketball Rules #10

The duration of half-time is anywhere from 5-10 minutes. There aren't usually any locker rooms around, so players have enough time to grab a drink, have a short meeting with their coach on the bench, and maybe shoot around for a few minutes.

Youth Rules #11
Jump balls

The game begins with a jump ball, but after the opening tip the alternating possession rule goes into effect. Any time there is a tied up ball, teams alternate throwing the ball in-bounds.

Youth Rules #12
Number of games

Seasons usually consist of 8-10 games with one game per week. Sometimes there is a tournament scheduled at the end of the season, but not always.

Youth Rules #13

There aren't usually any youth basketball rules regulating the type of offense a team can run. Offensive plays should be kept very simple and focus on the basics of passing, catching, and moving without the ball.

There are really two common offensive set-ups for youth basketball players:

  1. One player is designated as the point guard to bring the ball down the court, with two players out on the wings, and two players inside the key as post players.
  2. Two guards play out top to help each other bring the ball down, two wings stay out wide, and one post works the middle.

A clever and fun way to teach kids how to play basketball is to let them watch the professional games on TV. Guide them through the steps that those players do. A way to stream basketball games is through Direct TV deals which allow you to watch all the games necessary to make your youth team a winning one!

Youth Rules #14

official basketball rules

Sometimes 2 officials call the game, but most of the time you're lucky to have one show up.

Youth basketball leagues don't usually hire regulation officials; instead they depend on high school or college kids to help out.

Most of the time, the experience level of the official doesn't matter too much because the level of play is so low.

They mainly serve to keep the game organized and help the youngsters have some idea of what's going on.

The officials may or may not use their whistle, and they may or may not have on an officiating uniform.

I will have to admit I was a bit disillusioned at one YMCA game when the young kid actually officiated our game in baggy beach shorts and flip flops!

Youth Basketball Rules #15

Players can rotate to several different positions throughout the game. Rather than lock players into specific positions when they're just starting out, I like to give them a chance to experience playing at different spots.

The focus at this level is teaching the basic fundamentals of dribbling, passing, shooting, rebounding, and defending. These skills are needed by every player no matter what position they play.

Youth Rules #16
Pre-game warm-up

Teams are usually given a minimum of 10 minutes to warm up before a game. Youth games are often scheduled in between other games, so there may not be any additional time to shoot around.

Players are not able to take the floor until the previous game is finished and both teams have cleared the floor. If there are no other games going on, teams are able to take the floor as early as they'd like.

Youth Rules #17

Most leagues have strict youth basketball rules regarding substitutions to ensure that all players get equal playing time.

Obviously, the exact amount of time each player is on the floor varies due to a number of factors, like the number of players on the team and injuries that occur.

girls basketball

Usually at the 4-minute mark of each quarter, the buzzer will sound, play will stop, and substitutions will be made.

Each player is guaranteed to play in at least 2 quarters.

For a team with 10 players, each player could expect to play half a game, or about 16 minutes. But for a team with 12 players, not everyone will play 2 full quarters.

Coaches are required to keep up with the number of quarters a player plays each game. If someone plays in 3 quarters one game, someone else is selected to play 3 quarters the next game.

Youth Rules #18
Switching ends

Teams switch ends of the court at half-time. They remain on the same bench, but they shoot at the opposite goal for the second half.

Youth Rules #19
Three-point line

Many youth basketball leagues don't use a 3-point line. However, some use the high school 3-point line.

Youth Basketball Rules #20

Coaches are allowed a couple timeouts a half.

Youth Rules #21

It is standard to have one team wear a light-colored jersey (Home) while the other team wears a dark-colored jersey (Visitors). However, sometimes teams don't have uniforms, and players just wear scrimmage vests over their t-shirts.

Youth Rules #22

Officials are usually pretty loose with calling violations. If they blew their whistle every time a beginner traveled or double dribbled, the game would be stopped constantly.

If the infraction is blatant or a player keeps repeating the same mistake, the official will stop play and explain to the player what he is doing wrong.

If you’re interested in youth basketball rules, you might be interested in the following topics:

Coach Youth Basketball: 10 Things I've Learned From Experience

Youth Basketball Training: 25 Practical Tips

Fun Team Building Games for Kids

Basketball Terms

If You're a Little Kid, Basketball Practice Should Be Fun!

Symptoms of Burnout in Your Youth Basketball Player

Youth Basketball Camps: Basketball Crash Courses for Kids

The Pros and Cons of Little League Basketball

Help Your Child Get the Most Out of Summer Basketball Camps

How to Select the Right Basketball Camp for Your Child

>> >> Youth Basketball Rules