NBA, USA Basketball announce age-appropriate rules and standards for youth basketball competitions

What height should the basket be set at for a game being played by eight-year-old boys or girls?

What height should the basket be set at for a game being played by eight-year-old boys or girls? What size ball should they be using? Should there be a 3-point line? Should they play man-to-man or zone defense? Should there be a shot clock?

These are all questions posed by parents, coaches and youth basketball organizations throughout the country. But there have never been universal answers to those questions as different organizations often played by different rules. A child could play on a nine-foot rim with a smaller ball in one league, then have to play on a 10-foot rim with a larger ball in another.

That lack of uniformity in youth basketball development led the National Basketball Association and USA Basketball to come together to establish guidelines to promote health and wellness, skill development and enjoyment of the game for boys and girls of all different age ranges.

“Our sport has lacked governance at the youth level so we came together really to establish what we think are a series of best practices for how to play the game at the youth level,” said David Krichavsky, Vice President of Youth Basketball Development at the NBA.

After announcing the Health and Wellness guidelines in Oct. 2016, the two organizations are ready to implement next step in their quest to improve the state of youth basketball in this country. That step is today’s announcement of a set of age-appropriate rules and standards for youth basketball competitions, which includes recommendations surrounding equipment, court specifications, game structure, playing tactics and rules of the game.

“What we tried to do is address questions that we would get all the time, whether it be from individual parents or the commissioners or coaches,” said Krichavsky. “We can answer all of those questions on a one-off basis, but now we have a set of standards that we can point everyone to and a set of standards that was developed by experts in our game and experts on youth development. So it will create a level of consistency that never existed before.”

The goal of these new guidelines is to establish the proper setting to help young players learn the fundamentals of the game, build their skills, achieve early success and provide long-term development opportunities. By using the Youth Basketball Player Segmentation Model, the rules and standards are specific to four age groups: ages 7-8, ages 9-1, ages 12-4 and grades 9-12. As players grow in their development, the guidelines adjust with them to keep them on track for success, growth and enjoyment.

“We’re excited to get these out and think it’s well overdue here in this country,” said Jim Tooley, the Chief Executive Officer of USA Basketball. “We’re the only country really that plays by multiple sets of rules compared to other parts of the world where everyone is pretty much playing FIBA standard rules across the board.”

Highlights from the new rules and standards include the recommended use of:

  • Smaller basketballs for ages 7-8 (size 5, 27.5” circumference) and ages 9-11 (size 6, 28.5” circumference). 
Using a smaller ball that is more proportional to the size of children’s hands allows for better ball control, leading to enhanced skill development.
  • An eight-foot basket for ages 7-8 and a nine-foot basket for ages 9-11, when possible. Lowering the basket height for younger players assists with developing proper shooting form and increases the opportunity for shooting success.
  • No zone defenses for ages 7-8 and ages 9-11.
 Removing zone defenses from play among younger age segments encourages movement and physical activity, and promotes the development of individual defensive skills related to guarding a player both on and off the ball.
  • Equal playing time throughout the game for ages 7-8 and throughout the first three periods for ages 9-11 (coach’s discretion after the third period).
 Equal playing time ensures young children have an opportunity to experience the game. While equal and fair playing time is encouraged throughout all levels of play, it should only be required throughout the entire game for the youngest age segments.
  • No 3-point field goal scoring for ages 7-8 and ages 9-11. 
Eliminating 3-point field goals for the younger age segments encourages players to shoot from within a developmentally-appropriate distance.
  • A 24-second shot clock for ninth-12th grade and a 30-second shot clock for ages 12-14, when possible.
 The 30-second shot clock for the 12-14 age segment, along with the 24-second shot clock for the ninth-12th grade segment, allows for more possessions for each team, better game flow and additional decision-making opportunities for players.

The complete guidelines can be found at: https://youthguidelines.nba.com/

“As the chairman of both USA Basketball and the Jr. NBA Leadership Council, as well as a parent whose kids grew up playing and loving the game of basketball, I’m proud that the NBA and USA Basketball are working together to develop and share these important guidelines, “ said Martin E. Dempsey, USA Basketball Chairman and Jr. NBA Leadership Council Chairman, Retired General. “The new guidelines include age-specific rules and standards that will ensure a balanced and positive basketball experience for youth of all ages.”

In terms of equal playing time, the key is helping coaches find the right balance between participation and competition.

“A key point here is that you never know whether a young boy or young girl is going to evolve into being a great player,” said Tooley. “This is designed for all kids; a lot of these kids won’t make their high school team let alone go to college on a D-I scholarship and end up in the NBA or WNBA. This is designed for them to have success on their own pathway and to have success you have to be a part of it, you have to participate, you have to play.”

When it comes to the 3-point shot, Tooley recalls conversations he’s had with a friend who coaches a group of nine-year-olds that are all eager to imitate Stephen Curry by launching 3-pointers from 25-plus feet from the basket. Krichavsky has seen it plenty of times as well.

“I think we’ve all seen those examples of kids moving beyond the arc and shooting from their hips and really shooting with technique that is really not the appropriate technique,” Krichavsky said. “So if we take that line away and teach kids proper form and reinforce that. Certainly we can bring that line back – and in our guidelines we do that – but it gives the opportunity to learn proper shooting form and reinforce that from appropriate ranges and then continue to have them step back. But keep that proper shooting form as they do so.”

Perhaps the most difficult practices to adopt will be the ones involving new equipment. Not many youth organizations currently have shot clocks. Not everyone has baskets that are adjustable to different heights to accommodate different age groups. While it may take time for all of these guidelines to be implemented across the board, both the NBA and USA Basketball have upcoming events that will highlight these new rules and standards.

“Our working group was pretty diverse; we had folks from the NCAA, high schools and AAU involved [in establishing these guidelines] so we’re hopeful that will help spread these rules and standards,” said Tooley. “And both the NBA through their Jr. NBA World Championship and USA Basketball with our U.S. Open Basketball Championships, we have our universe and touch points with a lot of youth basketball organizations that is much bigger than its ever been. So we’re going to be adopting these rules and standards along the way and we just hope it becomes adopted over time.”

With the guidelines available for everyone to learn and implement as well as seeing examples of those guidelines in action at the Jr. NBA World Championship and U.S. Open Basketball Championships this spring and summer, what are the next steps for the NBA and USA Basketball in their continued quest to improve youth basketball?

“We’re going to watch and listen, get feedback and see what we’re hearing out there and respond accordingly,” said Tooley. “But we feel pretty bullish that these are really solid principles to go by and both of our respective tournaments that we’ll be having will yield a lot of influence in this space as well. And I know both the Jr. NBA and USA Basketball are excited to get those up and running this summer.”