When baseball created a kids’ game by instituting tee-ball, smaller diamonds and more, it created not just a developmental pathway for children to progress through the game, but in the process, a tournament empire. Will the new youth basketball guidelines promulgated by the NBA and USA Basketball have the same benefit for event owners?
At the end of last month, USA Basketball and the NBA announced a set of guidelines for youth basketball designed to enhance helping beginning players learn the fundamentals of the game. They include smaller basketballs, lower rims, no zone defense and no three-point scoring for players 11 years old and younger.
The new format has been a long time in the making. In fact, two years ago, the NBA and USA Basketball established three expert working groups focused on: Health and Wellness, Playing Standards and Curriculum and Instruction. The rules and standards announced are the second set of guidelines to be released, following the initial NBA and USA Basketball Youth Guidelines announced in October 2016, which promote health and wellness by encouraging multi-sport participation and establishing age-appropriate limits on the number of games that youth should play.
According to an article in Sporting Goods Business (SGB), the new rules and standards “detail age- and stage-appropriate recommendations across four key areas–equipment and court specifications, game structure, playing tactics and rules–and were designed to help young players learn the fundamentals of the sport, build skills and achieve early success and provide enhanced long-term development opportunities.”
Aligned with the previously announced Youth Basketball Player Segmentation Model, the guidelines are specific to four age segments: ages 7-8, ages 9-11, ages 12-14 and grades nine-12.
Highlights from the rules and standards include a few items relating to the equipment and court itself:
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.
In this regard, the new format borrows from not only baseball (different field dimensions for younger players) but from tennis, where players use a lower-pressure ball and a shorter racquet, as well as a lower net, in order to practice their form and refine the skills they need.
Aspects of the game itself also change for younger players; these differences include:
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 three-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/.
For all recommendations relating to players in the ninth-12th grade level, the NBA and USA Basketball have adopted FIBA (International Basketball Federation) rules. These internationally-recognized rules promote player development, better game flow and a positive playing experience for youth basketball’s oldest age segment. Where a specific standard or rule is not indicated, the recommendation is to follow official FIBA rules.
So what can this mean to the following groups?
Event owners: Familiarize yourself with the new rules if you are playing events through USA Basketball; however, many other ongoing events will continue to use the equipment and rules they always have.
“Not everyone is going to be expected to run their events with the new rules and regulations,” Craig Miller, chief communications officer of USA Basketball told SDM. “They are really recommendations.”
Ultimately, he notes, the organization is trying to create more of an entry-level game for its youngest players since, “basketball has been very top-level oriented. We are now getting involved at the grassroots level and creating fun and enjoyment for kids.”
Venues operators: It’s a sure bet that vendors of sports equipment, including hoops and balls, will have to ramp up their new products to keep supplies stocked. Talk to event owners and find out what they’ll need (if, in fact, they will be playing in accordance with the new rules), and talk to vendors and find out how long it will take to have equipment ordered and stocked. If installation will be necessary, find out if it will require changes to existing structures. It’s safe to say that many venues see a mix of ages of athletes, so the ability to have hoops in two heights (that do not interfere with the game on any level) will become key to success.