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Youth basketball rules differ from official regulations used in high, college, and pro leagues. Unlike the more advanced leagues, there isn't a governing body that writes standardized youth rules. Typically, each league establishes its own rules and regulations to suit the gender, age, and ability levels of their players.
The main goal of youth leagues is teaching basic fundamental skills to beginners. The emphasis is not on winning, but on learning. As you look through the rules, you'll see this philosophy reflected.
Basketball rules for kids 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 an extensive list of topics covered in the rules of most leagues. I've included general guidelines common to many leagues contrasted with actual rules used in my daughter's 5th-6th grade co-ed youth basketball league.
For the most part, youth basketball rules follow those used by the National Federation of High School Basketball, with modifications to account for age.
Number of games
Number of players
Youth basketball leagues usually accept players from 5-13 years of age. They catch kids 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, that's not always possible.
No games will ever start more than 15 minutes early. Players are strongly recommended to arrive for games at least 20 minutes before game time.
Youth leagues use a youth size basketball. Youth balls comes in sizes 4, 5, or 6 with circumferences of 25.5", 27.5", or 28.5", respectively. Refer to this basketball size chart to learn more.
Many leagues play with the regulation 10' basketball goals, but for players under 8 years of age, the goal is lowered to 8-8.5'.
Only one head coach and one assistant may sit on the bench.
The game clock runs continuously and only stops in the following situations:
Here are some general rules of conduct typical across leagues:
There isn't a standard basketball court size for youth basketball leagues. Many times, the size of the court depends on the facilities that are available.
The standard court used by the NCAA (94' x 50') and the court used by high school players (84' x 50') are really too big for youth basketball players.
When a regulation-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.
A shorter court allows more actual playing time without losing so much time transitioning up and down the court.
There are probably more youth basketball rules directed at defense than any other part of the game. The differences between leagues can be significant.
Man-to-man defense is played so that players can learn the basic skills of individual and team defense.
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.
Teams are not allowed to pressure the ball full-court.
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.
Full-court pressing is allowed and may be used for the entire game with the following exceptions:
Here's a rationale for the pressing rule:
Officials want to avoid injury to young kids, and they 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.
The free throw distance for 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.
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.
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. Free throws can really eat up the clock.
Four 8-minute quarters are common for a youth league game. Each quarter is 10 minutes in length with 1 minute between quarters. There's a 5-minute half-time period after the 2nd quarter.
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.
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 boy's and girl's divisions.
Sometimes, there aren't enough girls that sign up to field a girls division, so boys and girls are mixed together.
Continue to Part 2...
If you're interested in youth basketball rules, you might be interested in the following topics:
What do those Basketball Terms Mean?
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