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How to Play 3-on-3 Basketball: A Guide for Youth

For young athletes, 3-on-3 basketball offers a great opportunity to develop their skills while having fun on the court. In this guide, we’ll explore how to play 3-on-3 basketball in our Mountain 3-on-3 youth basketball league at Mettle Sports, Nampa Idaho

The Basics of How to Play 3-on-3 Basketball

General Play

In 3-on-3 basketball, two teams of three players each face off on a half-court. The objective is to outscore the opponent in a 20-minute game by 2s and 3s. Both teams shoot on the same hoop but must take the ball beyond the arc (3-point line) with each change of possession.

The half-court line is considered out of bounds, as well as the normal sidelines of the court.

Team Formation

You choose your teammates! Sign up as a team of 3-5 players. Make sure you pick teammates you have fun with and can trust to show up on game days.

More skilled players Look for players who complement your skills and understand the game. Communication and teamwork are vital in 3-on-3 basketball, so make sure you can work well together on and off the court.

Ball Sizes

The ball size used in the game will vary based on the grade level of the players:

  • 1st and 2nd grades: 25.5″ ball (boys and girls)
  • 3rd and 4th grades: 27.5″ ball (boys and girls)
  • 5th and 6th grades: 28.5″ ball (boys and girls)
  • Please note: basketball sizes are the same for girls and boys until 7th grade and older.

Coaches & Court Monitors

A court monitor or referee will oversee the game, ensuring that it’s played according to the rules and providing guidance when needed for the younger kids.

We do not allow coaches (or any coaching) during our league games! Our goal is for the kids to participate in self-directed play. Self-directed play has been proven to boost kids’ leadership skills, problem-solving ability, and creativity.

The Rules for How to Play 3-on-3 Basketball Rules

Determining Possession

Before the game begins, teams will determine initial possession through a game of “Rock, paper, scissors.” A court monitor or referee will supervise this process.


The game will be played by 2s and 3s. Two points inside the arc, three points outside the arc, and one point for And-1 free throws (when the player makes the shot but is still fouled).

A score will be kept during the game, but it won’t be displayed on a scoreboard. While we do not focus on W/L records or standings at Mountain 3-on-3, it’s important that we still track wins, losses, and points, as it’s essential to scheduling competitive games in the future.

Game Duration and Substitutions

Games are 20 minutes with a running clock and no time-outs. However, water breaks are allowed if the weather is hot or if players don’t have substitutes.

Unlimited substitutions are allowed after made baskets or a dead ball. In case a team is short on players, they can bring a sub to fill in. Subs are eligible with a signed waiver, even if they were not originally on the roster.

If no sub is available, a team may still play with only two players (3 on 2). Hint: you can always pick up a player from another team just finishing up in the gym if you cannot find a sub beforehand.

Possession and Jump Balls

Possession of jump balls will alternate between teams.

3-Second Key Violation

Players are not allowed to stay in the key for more than 3 seconds, as this will result in a turnover. Referees may give reminders to players who violate this rule.

Dribbling the Ball Past the Arc

Whenever there’s a change of possession, both feet and the ball must go outside of the 3-point line before the other team can score.

Changes in possession include:

  • Defensive rebound
  • Airball rebound (no “free backs”)

Ball Check

The ball must be checked behind the arc after the following scenarios:

  • Out of bounds
  • Made basket
  • Dead ball

Shot Clock

There is no stalling allowed in the game. The referee has the discretion to impose a 30-second shot clock when necessary.


Games are played by 2s and 3s:

  • 2 points per basket inside the arc
  • 3 points per basket outside the arc

Free Throws

When a player is fouled, they will only shoot one free throw to keep the game moving. They have 6 seconds to attempt the shot once the teams are lined up.

When the opponent reaches their 5th team foul, the fouled team enters into Bonus. One free throw will be worth 2 points. Subsequent fouls will follow the same format (no double bonus).

The single free throw will count for as many points as the shot they were fouled on is worth. For example, free throw scoring is as follows:

  • And-1 scenario: 1 point
  • Inside the arc shooting attempt: 2 points
  • BONUS free throw (fouled inside the arc when your team is in bonus): 2 points
  • Outside the arc shooting attempt: 3 points

Free Throws for 1st – 4th Graders

For younger players, the free throw line will be moved up. The referees will designate the shooting line accordingly.

Intentional Fouls

Intentional fouls, no matter when they occur, will result in 2 points for the fouled team, plus they will retain possession of the ball.

Settling Ties

In case of a tie, it will be settled with a free-throw shootout.

Each team will have 3 players shoot 1 free throw each (must be a different shooter each time). The team with the most successful free throws out of 3 will be declared the winner. If there’s still a tie after 3 shots, additional free throws will be shot alternately until one team makes a free throw and the other misses (sudden death).


In the 1st-2nd grade divisions, parents or guardians may sit with the players throughout the season.

In the 3rd and 4th grade divisions, parents may sit on the bench to help with substitutions for the first 2 weeks.

However, parents offering “subbing support” should refrain from coaching.

Liability Waivers

All players need to have a completed liability waiver signed by a parent or guardian to participate. In case a team is short on players, they may bring substitutes who also need to have a completed liability waiver.

Team Uniforms

Players should wear league shirts whenever possible. If league shirts are not available, teams may wear matching shirts or uniforms.

Parent and Player Conduct & Expectations

Player Conduct

To maintain a positive and respectful environment, players must adhere to certain conduct guidelines:

  • No swearing, taunting, or inappropriate behavior, both verbal and physical.
  • Unsportsmanlike play may result in a warning, sitting out at the referee’s discretion, or ejection from the game or league.
  • Excessive fouls may result in a technical foul, which will grant the fouled team 2 points and possession of the ball.
  • Hanging on the rim or net is not allowed.

Parent Conduct

Players should demonstrate good sportsmanship and shake hands with their opponents after each game. The goal is to allow the kids to play and learn from the experience, so no coaching from parents is allowed during the games. However, cheering for the players is encouraged.

Parents offering “subbing support” in the 1st-4th grade divisions should refrain from coaching.

Show Appreciation and Keep the Facility Clean

Lastly, players, parents, and spectators should take the time to thank the referees, staff members, and opposing players for their contributions to the game. Additionally, everyone should help keep the facility clean by picking up any garbage and water bottles at the end of each game.

By following these rules and guidelines, youth players can enjoy a fun and competitive 3-on-3 basketball experience while also learning important values like sportsmanship, teamwork, and respect for the game and one another.

I hope you enjoyed this outline for how to play 3-on-3 basketball! This format offers a thrilling and dynamic experience for youth players. We are launching our first 3-on-3 youth basketball leagues at Mettle Sports, Nampa Idaho. Follow us on social media or sign up to receive registration updates and reminders.