Tips for Subbing With Youth Basketball Teams

By Joe Haefner

Check out this forum discussion on subbing for youth teams. There are some great subbing methods such as the “piece-meal” & “numbering” methods.

Subbing for Youth Teams

Here is the numbering system I used in the past:

1. I would assign a number to each player. If I had eight players, I would make sure that 1 & 2 was either a good ball handler and/or scorer. Then, I would do the same thing for 6&7. This way, you have a player who can score and/or handle the ball on the court at all times.

2. If we played 4 8-minute quarters, I would sub every 4 minutes.

3. I subbed for the next numbers in line. For example, if I had players 6,7, 8 on the bench. I would sub for 1,2,3. When I had 1,2,3 on the bench, I would sub for 4,5,6. When I had 4,5,6 on the bench, I would sub for 7,8,1. When I had 7,8,1 on the bench, I would sub for 2,3,4.


  1. Rusty G — January 19, 2010 @ 11:38 am

    Where I get a little hung up is how to get the boys (age 12) to find a player they are to guard….not hard at first, but then the other team shuffles substitutions into the game and the kids get confused as to who to guard….Any method or suggestion? I’ve tried when your man leaves you must pick someone…

  2. Joe Haefner — January 19, 2010 @ 8:28 pm

    Rusy, at the youth level, I would just yell “match up” or “point at who you are guarding” or “guard who is guarding you.” That seems to work well for me.

  3. token bacon — November 21, 2014 @ 12:30 pm

    Que Sera, Sera

  4. Brad — January 22, 2017 @ 2:39 pm

    Here is our scenario our team has 5 real starters ,that function well both sides , coaching staff plays the kids 5 in 5 out. The first set holds them to a couple points but after subbing we go into a deficit by ten say at the end of the quarter. Is there a platform for how subbing should happen, please an thank you it is greatly appreciated.


  5. Jeff Haefner — January 27, 2017 @ 10:09 am

    Depends on age level, situation, etc. At the youth level I believe it’s all about developing and figuring out the best substitution method so everyone can develop. There are lots of factors to consider and often using more than one method to substitute it best.

    With my young kids, sometimes I start the top 5. Sometimes we do 5 in and then 5 out. Sometimes I start the bottom 5 depending on competition level. Sometimes I start the 5 players that gave the most effort in practice that week. Sometimes we play equal minutes. Sometimes I mix top and bottom players together and keep the team pretty much the same level the whole game. It’s all about trying to develop your players and there is a lot to consider in my opinion.

  6. brad — January 27, 2019 @ 11:06 pm

    great advice to sub with a purpose…keep at least one of your best players out there…I made a sub plan so I can have the best and worst players out at the same time (I need 2 subs) and take out 2 medium players at the same time. This will make a difference

  7. Pete — May 5, 2019 @ 6:41 pm

    Hi Jeff,
    I have 12 players with 11 very able players and 1 big but not mobile player who needs a lot of conditioning and skills work – mostly footwork.
    I’m struggling to work out just how I run the team;
    Do I start with my strongest 5?
    Have you come across this before?.

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