The Rules in Youth Basketball That You Need to Know

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The basic rules of basketball are pretty simple and there are only about 10 of them that carry any game. However, did you know that there was very recently an announcement jointly made by USA Basketball and the NBA that distinguishes pro- and age-appropriate game rule recommendations and what the differences are? Or do you know that there are some rules that are misunderstood by many coaches and game officials? As a youth basketball coach it is part of your job to know the rules, teach them to the players, and help to hold each game accountable to those rules whether they favor your team at any given point in time. However, it is also incumbent on you to know what rules your league follows, since not everyone will follow the same ones. That said, Hustle Fitness is here to help you have confidence on and off the court and to help you know your game.

The Rules of the Game in Youth Basketball

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The following are the rules that every single player, all coaches, and all officials must absolutely know. Note that in some cases, these are impacted by the USA/NBA announcement, but for the most part the transition to those rules will be slow, so for now, in the summer of 2018, these all apply almost entirely across the board, unless otherwise noted:

  • Different points for different shots. A free throw is only worth 1 point, most baskets (field goals) are worth 2 points, and the ultimate way to score is a 3 point shot. Note that some youth leagues are moving toward eliminating the 3-point shots.

  • Jump balls or tip-offs. At the beginning of the game control of the ball goes to the team that gains it. The other team gets the ball the next time and then the teams alternate for the rest of the game until there is a new jump ball or at the quarter or half or going into overtime.

  • Violations due to dribbling. No player can travel. This means they cannot walk or run with the ball more than 1 ½ steps. No player can double dribble, which means using both hands or dribbling, stopping, and then dribbling again (they must shoot or pass first. It is also a violation to palm the basketball or pivot their feet while holding the ball.

  • Fouls. These are called personal fouls in basketball and are handed out by officials when players lose control and push, hold, hit, slap, trip, or otherwise act unsportsmanlike toward others. In the NBA a player will be ejected from the game for 6 fouls and in most other leagues it is 5.

  • Blocking and Charging. These generate fouls - a charge happens when an offensive player runs over or pushes a defensive player. This results in the ball being awarded to the defense. Also, if the the defense does not position themselves in front of an offensive player, they will be called on for blocking against the offense.

  • Violations on foul shots. No players can enter into the foul lane during a free throw until the ball makes contact with the rim.

  • 10-second violations. This rule only applies on boys’ teams. The offensive team has 10 seconds to get the ball over the line midcourt. If the violation occurs the defensive team is awarded the ball.

  • Backcourt. When the offense gets the basketball past the midcourt line it is not allowed to take the ball back across that line while they are in possession of the ball. This results in the defense being awarded the ball.

  • 3-second rule. This means that no player on the offense can stand in the lane, key or paint, for more than 3-seconds, or the ball is turned over to the defense. In some youth leagues this is a 5-second rule.

  • 5-second count on inbound plays. This means that players must pass the ball or shoot within five seconds, or it is turned over to the defense. If the player is being guarded he has to dribble within that five seconds.

  • No dunking during warm-up. This only applies to high school and college basketball teams and results in a 2-free throw penalty before the game.

  • Rebounding your own airball. This can be legal if it is not an attempt that a player makes to pass themself the ball and was a legitimate shot attempt.

  • Chest high dribbling. This will only result in a violation if the player does not maintain dribbling control of the ball at all times.

Recommended Rule Changes in Youth Basketball

Some of the changes that USA Basketball and the NBA announced include:

  • Smaller ball sizes for smaller kids

  • Lowered basketball hoops for smaller kids

  • Removing zone defenses for players up to age 11

  • Equal playing time for the smallest kids, with coaches discretion for slightly older kids, up to age 11

  • A 24 second shot clock, or 30 second shot clock for younger kids to allow for more team possession time

Keeping Up with the Rules

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These and other training and practice guidelines have been released in an attempt to make youth sports healthier for the athletes. As a coach of a youth team, following any announcements made by USA basketball, as well as continuing to follow Hustle Fitness for more tips and tricks, will keep you sharp, on your game, and ahead of the curve. Your players, their parents, and the officials will all thank you for being aware of the rules and the trends and it will make for a more rewarding and easier job for you.

Remember that not every one of these changes, or rules, will apply to your league, so it is incumbent on you to find out which ones do and adjust your coaching and your teams’ skills and knowledge to them. It is also incumbent on you, as the coach, to be part of making sure that during games the rule book is followed. It can be uncomfortable to confront an official, and you should approach them with the utmost respect, but if you know the rules you will be on good standing doing so.

Felipe Leon