Basketball – Learn All the Rules and How to Play

Developed in 1891, the sport of basketball has grown to become one of the most popular ball games in the world. It started with students running, passing, and shooting a ball into two peach baskets as goals. 

It is now recognized as one of the most anticipated sports in major tournaments such as the Olympic Games and the International Federation for Basketball World Cup. Aside from the major tournaments, there are continental, professional, and commercial leagues locally.


Here we’ve created a guide so you can learn the rules of basketball and how to play. Let’s go! 

Basketball - Learn All the Rules and How to Play
Image Source: New Strait Times

Team Compositions

In professional basketball games, a team can have 12 players on their roster but will deploy five members only on the court at a time. Thus, the remaining players can be substituted throughout the course of the game.

Basketball - Learn All the Rules and How to Play
Image Source: NBA Canada

However, in semi-professional leagues, the team can have 16 players on their bench. A team will be organized and instructed by their team coach. 

The coach is responsible for the strategies to be employed by the players, designing plays that he or she thinks will work against the opponents, and deciding on the starting players and substitutions to be made in-game.

The two teams on the court play offense and defense alternately. If the team has possession of the ball, they attack and will try to score by shooting on the opponent’s ring (or hoop) while the opponents attempt to guard it. 

Team Plays

Offensive team plays involve textbook styles, or fancy styles, to penetrate the inside (under the net) court. These plays rely heavily on passing with teammates, cutting through opponents, and, finally, shooting the ball

There are two main types of defense that teams employ to block the shot of the offensive team. Zone defense means a player will be assigned to defend a specific area of their court and make sure that if the ball handler comes in, they will try to stop them with a block or steal. 

The other one is the man-to-man defense, which requires stamina for players because they will be guarding and following a specific player from the other team. A full-court man-to-man defense happens when the game is tight, by putting pressure on the team on the offense. 

Player Positions

By tradition, there are five positions in basketball: point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center. Each position entails different roles when on defense and offense respectively.

Basketball - Learn All the Rules and How to Play
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The center position is relegated as the best defensive player on the team and is usually the tallest. When defending their net, they stay underneath it and are usually responsible for blocks and rebounds, and they shoot the ball in the shortest distance directly under the hoop. 

The point guard is the best ball handler in the team and mainly responsible for creating plays for the team by making sure that they pass the ball to the right player at the right time. In defense, they guard their fellow point guard by stealing the ball. 

The shooting guard is the best attacker in the team which focuses on long-range and perimeter shots. They need to find an area free from the defenders so they can establish their footing for the jump shot.

Small Forward and Power Forward

The player that roams around the entire court is the small forward. They must be swift and agile to avoid the defensive players by cutting through them, and at the same time must be good defensive players to disrupt the opponent’s plays. 

They help the shooting guard in scoring, as they must be good in outside and inside shooting. 

The power forward helps the center in guarding the net and making sure to catch any rebounded shots and make another attempt at sinking a basket (scoring a point). 

Rules and Regulations

A basketball game is played in four quarters of 10 minutes each for professional and international competitions and 8 minutes each for local and semi-professional leagues. There is a half-time break of 15 minutes after the 2nd quarter. 

Basketball - Learn All the Rules and How to Play
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The timer is continuous unless the ball becomes “dead” in cases of a foul or violation, out of bounds, and free throws. A shot clock timer is also set to monitor the possession of the offensive team as they only have 24 seconds to shoot the ball.

The game starts with a jump ball or tip-off wherein the referee tosses the ball in the middle circle of the court. The players are scattered outside the circle.

The centers usually try to catch the ball or push the ball towards a teammate positioned outside the circle. The first possession of the ball is important to have the first opportunity to score a point

Scoring System, Court, and Ball Weight

The scoring system of the game consists of three categories. Three points are awarded for shots made outside the ‘three-point’ line, the area furthest from the net. 

Two points are awarded for any successful goals inside the three-point line. One-point is for free throws due to fouls committed by the opponent team. 

Basketball is played in a standard 50ft by 94ft court. The ball weight is different for the categories: 22oz for men, and 20oz for women. The players try to shoot the ball inside a horizontal hoop standing 10ft above the ground.

Violations and Fouls

Players are only allowed to pass, shoot, and block the ball using their hands. When other body parts are involved, such as kicking, it will be called a violation

Basketball - Learn All the Rules and How to Play
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Also, the team who touched the ball last before it goes out of bounds loses the possession. There are also several violations for each skill involved in the game. 

Referees serve as the ordinance officer in the game. They call out personal fouls or the act of any player that may create an unfair disadvantage against the opponent, which usually involves physical contact. 

Technical fouls are called for any unsportsmanlike conduct of a player and may lead to disqualification from the game or from the league.

Free Throws

Free throws are usually awarded when defensive players commit a foul during the shooting motion of an offensive player. 

A player is allowed to have five maximum personal fouls in a game. Once they commit the sixth foul they will be forced to leave the court and will not be allowed to return to play in the remaining time of the game. 

Also, in each quarter, a team will be in a penalty once they exceed a cumulative five fouls. There will be automatic free throws awarded for each foul committed after. 

Basic Skills

There are five basic skills in basketball in which all players must hone. These are dribbling, passing, shooting, blocking, and rebounding. 

Basketball - Learn All the Rules and How to Play
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In each skill, there are specific violations that the player should not commit, or else they will be called for a foul or will lose possession.

The first basic skill that a player must have is dribbling or ball handling. As basketball requires the ball to be dribbled when in your possession in order to move down the court toward the opposing net. 

Only one hand is allowed to dribble the ball, when two hands are used they will be called for a violation. Also, when the player takes more than three steps without dribbling the ball, it is a traveling violation.

Passing and Shooting

Passing happens when a player passes the ball to a teammate. There are different kinds of passes such as overhead pass, chest pass, bounce pass, and other more unconventional passes. 

When the player passes the ball to a teammate who then successfully scored a goal, it is called an assist. The steal usually happens during passes by the opposing team cutting off the direction of the ball.

One of the primary skills that all basketball players must have is the ability to shoot with precision on the angle, force, and footing during the release of the ball. A jump shot is the most common kind of shot. Others include a lay-up, bank shot, and hook shot, but what fans love the most is the slam dunk. 

Defensive Skills

For the defensive plays, the players must execute specific skills to guard their hoop against the opposing teams. These skills require perfect timing and great positions for the jump. 

Basketball - Learn All the Rules and How to Play
Image Source: Sportskeeda

The tallest players on the team, in the center and power forward positions, usually do most of the blocks and rebounds.

Blocks happen when a defensive player touches the ball mid-air and disrupts its path toward the hoop. However, the player must be careful to not touch the hand or any body part of the shooter or it will be called a foul.

A player can only touch the ball when it is still in upward flight. Blocking the ball when it is on a downward flight or right above the hoop is a violation called goaltending.


Rebounding is the act of catching the ball mid-air after it bounces off the board or the hoop. There are offensive and defensive rebounds. 

Offensive rebounds are when you catch a ball from a miss-shoot of your teammate. This is to give you another opportunity to attack

Defensive rebounds happen when the team on defense catches the ball and regains possession to begin their attack.


Sports fans love basketball for its display of incredible skills on passing, shooting, dribbling, blocking, and rebounding of the players. Regardless of their position, players execute the offensive and defensive plays they’ve trained hard for. 

There may be many rules and regulations in a basketball game, but you can learn them by constantly watching games. Hopefully, this guide has made the rules of basketball more clear so you can watch and play it with more enjoyment.


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